Pictures

CSM Bob Barr

CSM Robert Barr

 

Unit : Headquarters, 3rd Parachute Squadron, RE.

Army No. : 2025392

 

The following account was written in 2003 by Mark Hall, the late son-in-law of CSM Barr. My thanks to Mark Hall's son, Murray, for passing on this account.

 

A short history of his life and war years "Normandy to Wismar"

 

Early Years: December 1911 - August 1939

 

Robert (Bob) Barr was born on Christmas day 1911, in a small flat in Henderson Street, Leith. His parents were, Mary and David Barr. His father was a gents' hairdresser and rented a shop in Leith. After a short time, the family moved to St. Boswells in the Borders of Scotland. He was the eldest child and had two younger sisters, Margaret and Rita. The Family later settled in Broxburn, Midlothian, where his father continued his trade as a barber.

 

They remained in Broxburn until Bob completed his education at the local High School. He was a bright lad and at sixteen years gained, credits in all subjects studied. He began a five year apprenticeship as a plumber with Messrs Inglis and Co. His first choice would have been to be an apprentice mechanic but money was tight at home and a plumber earned more money! After 5 years work and attending night school at Napier College, (now Napier University), and Ramsey Technical College he obtained his City and Guilds certificate and Higher National Certificate in plumbing studies.

 

In the early 1930's, once a student had completed his apprenticeship, the employer found it cheaper to employ another apprentice and so Bob, like many others, had to seek employment with another firm, as a fully-fledged journeyman plumber. This he duly did and gained employment with Messrs. McKenzie and Moncur at their premises in Buccleuch Street, Edinburgh. He remained with this company until 1939. As a member of the Territorial Army (TA), he was called up when war broke in 1939.

 

Bob joined the Boys Brigade and enjoyed the discipline and comradeship of this Youth group and on June 1929, joined the Royal Engineers Territorial Army as a Sapper. For the next ten years he attended drill nights and weekend summer camps. In March 1934 Bob was promoted to Lance Corporal and in May of the same year he gained his second stripes to full corporal.

 

In June 1935 he was appointed to Lance Sergeant and in May 1938 he was promoted to full Sergeant. It should be noted, from his service records that, from 1930 - 1938 he attended every summer camp. Bob also loved hill walking in his beloved Pentland hills which were closest to home but was also a keen hiker in the Lammer moors and the Grampians. One could say "an outdoor lad" in all aspects of his young life.

 

War Years: August 1939 to June 1944

 

On the 27th August, 1939, prior to the war commencing, Bob was "called up" and because of his service in the TA. He kept his rank as a sergeant. Many courses followed and by 1941, he was promoted to the substantial rank of Company Sergeant Major (CSM). Bob underwent further training and postings to Halifax, Pangbourne, Saltburn Scarborough, Dingwall and Ripon. On 15th October, 1942, he was posted to Chatham, Kent, as an instructor, C.S.M.I. Being an instructor did not suit Bob, and after only a short time, he heard about the formation of a new airborne unit with an R.E. parachute squadron as part of the division. Anxious for some real action he applied for a transfer to this unit, knowing that there was a vacancy for a Warrant Office 2 (WO2). On the 2nd August, 1943, he was finally posted to No.3 Parachute Squadron R.E. as the Squadron Sergeant Major.

 

He arrived at Beacon Barracks, which are situated between Andover and Salisbury on the Salisbury Plain, wearing a BLACK BERET. The young lads in the unit - all veterans of a parachute course wore the coveted RED BERET and were quick to notice the SSM's lack of suitable apparel! Major J.C.A. Roseveare, D.S.O, the officer commanding the squadron, was quick however, to correct the deficiency and our Bob was sent "at the double" to Chesterfield and R.A.F. Ringway, on a parachute course.

 

Eight jumps later, no mean feat for our lad in his early thirties, he returned wearing his coveted RED BERET and sporting his Airborne Wings. He was "one of them now" and as such could be respected and accepted as a "necessary evil"!

 

Towards the latter part of 1942, a new Division was quickly taking shape in the south of England and was called the 6th Airborne Division which played an important part in the Normandy landings, D-DAY, and the subsequent liberation of German occupied Europe.

 

The units of the Royal Engineers comprised the following;-

        1. H.Q. R.E,

        2. 3rd Parachute Squadron R.E.

        3. 591 Antrim Parachute squadron R.E.

        4. 249 Airborne Field Company R.E.

        5. 286 Airborne Park Company R.E.

 

Normandy landings, D-DAY, "Operation Tonga"

 

The tasks set for the 3rd parachute squadron, which comprised 3 troops and an H.Q. troop were to capture and destroy the five bridges over the River Dives at Troarn, two at Bures, one at Robehomme and one at Varaville. The remainder of the 6th Airborne Division was firstly to capture the bridges over the River Orne and the Canal de Caen between Benoville and Ranville and to establish bridgeheads on each side. To destroy the guns at the Merville battery which threatened invasion troops landing at Sword beach to the west. The final objective was to seize and hold the area below the Rivers Orne and Dives, roughly from Troarn to Caen.

 

Departure

 

After many months of training at Bulford and the south of England for D-Day it finally arrived on the night of 5/6th June, 1944.  At 11.30pm on the night of the 5th June the men were paraded, fully equipped and 'tooled up' on the airfield near Bulford. The Dakota aircraft were lined up ready to transport them to France. Bob was in the first plane with O.C. Major 'Tim' Roseveare D.S.O, 'Rosie' to his men.

 

By 11.50pm. The planes took off. The 'lads' all 'hooked up', lots of talking, even laughter, as they neared the coast of France. The noise of flak from the German guns below. The men no doubt anxious, sweating palms, adrenaline levels high. The singing had stopped, the chain smoking continued. (Apparently the worst time for a parachutist is the five minutes standing at the open door of the aeroplane waiting for the green light to come on and then you're off.)

 

Arrival

 

Major Roseveare jumped first, followed by the rest of the troops, Bob jumped last. It was a shambles! They all landed on the wrong D.Z.. The O.C. and Bob were supposed to have dropped on D.Z. 'K' near Touffreville, which was the nearest spot for the bridge at Troarn. They landed instead on D.Z. 'N' which was just north of Ranville - a distance of 7 kilometers from their target. Two and three troops who were supposed to land on D.Z. were scattered and wide. It would appear that the R.A.F. navigators had mistaken the river Dives for the river Orne, in the low-lying mist. Many of the Sappers were dropped into the flooded river marshes and because of the weight of the kitbags and other equipment and weapons they carried, sunk into the marshland and were drowned.

 

The demolition party never arrived at the Merville Battery. 3 troop were luckier and the troop commander was able to collect sufficient men and stores to carry out the demolition of the Varaville Bridge.

 

One Sergeant, who found himself almost alone near Robehomme, with a few Canadian paratroopers, collected all the explosives from their Gammon grenades, and single handed, cut the single span lattice girders on the Robehomme Bridge and dropped the span into the river Dives. Later, more Canadian paras and sappers arrived in the area and attacked the bridge abutments, thus increasing the destruction of the bridge.

 

Troarn & Bures Bridges and Le Mesnil Crossroads

 

Bob landed in the middle of a tree. In order to release his harness, he removed his rather expensive sheepskin gloves - a present from his wife - and allowed them to drop to the ground. Several minutes later, on his way to find the others, he remembered the gloves and made his way back to retrieve the said mittens. Ella would no doubt have preferred to buy another pair for him but remember folks, in these days there were clothing coupons!

 

The Major had also to free himself from his parachute and kitbag and was pleased to be greeted by a smart salute from his S.S.M. Barr. Many years later Major Roseveare was to comment on this and say how much this increased his morale!

 

Their task now was to collect the lost troops and find the containers, which contained all their supplies and equipment. The containers had been fitted with a delayed action device, which ensured that they landed in about the middle of the 'stick'. They were also fitted with lights in a triangulated arrangement which opened up on landing to hold a light above standing crops, wheat and corn etc, there was chaos everywhere, troops from every formation in the division were milling about trying to locate their respective rendezvous points. Gliders were a hazard as they came in low with a swish and a thump burning planes which had been hit were crashing about them, so they had to keep their wits and their eyes open.

 

The majority of 3-parachute squadron, H.Q. and two troops although dropped on the wrong D.Z.'s north of Ranville managed to join up with Rosie. The next task was to gather and locate the containers and from them collect a sufficient quantity of explosives and demolition equipment to destroy the bridges over the river Dives. The containers were found and the folding trolleys were loaded with necessary needed General Wade shaped charges which were important and necessary to blow the masonry arch bridge at Troarn.

 

More troops arrived at the makeshift rendezvous point Major Roseveare decided that he had sufficient men and explosives to carry out an attack on the three bridges at Troarn and the at Bures. He expected the arrival of two gliders, which carried further charges to destroy the five spans of the bridge at Troarn. Apparently the gliders landed safely at the correct D.Z near Touffreville about 6 kilometers away.

 

The men, heavily laden, set off on the long march to Troarn. The weight of the trolleys bogged them down, plus the fact they were carrying a few injured men. The Major decided their progress was too slow; he wanted the job done before dawn. "Could do with a jeep sergeant major; see if you can rustle one up". The sergeant major lifted his eyes towards the heavens and I will not mention what he said. Suddenly, as if by magic, out of the murk a jeep and trailer appeared. The jeep belonged to 224-parachute field ambulance and was driven by a young Scottish lieutenant in the medical corp. The vehicle was duly stopped and Rosie ordered his sergeant major to commandeer the vehicle the conversation went something like "I am afraid at this moment in time our needs are greater than yours". The medical supplies were emptied out and the explosives and charges loaded on along with the troops. Off they went. They had about 7 kilometers to travel and passed through Herouvillette and Escoville without incident.

 

To add to the story about the acquired jeep, Bob met that second lieutenant medical officer 40 years later on one of his visits back to France to commemorate D-Day. Bob was with a party of the 9th battalion and was asked by their leader retired Lt. Jefferson to give a small account of the R.E's activities at Troarn. He did so and then Mr. Jefferson said "Bob, I have someone here you would like to meet". It was the medical officer who had lost his jeep. Needless to say, the jeep was never returned.

 

The long pull up the hill to the Bois de (Woods) Bavent was a punishment. Some of the troops had injuries from the drop, which did not help matters. At crossroads at the edge of the woods the O.C. called a halt to reorganize, progress was too slow, and the injured in the vehicle were dropped off along with the other troops. Prior to D-day it was always stressed that anyone injured on the drop zone would have to be left.

 

Bures Bridges

 

Members of 8th battalion and the medical contingents were to 'dig in' and await events. Captain Tim Juckes an officer whom Bob respected greatly and most of the sappers were sent through the woods to destroy the two bridges at Bures. Their journey was un-eventful and they reached the bridges in about an hour. Both bridges were prepared and at 9.00am were blow successfully and destroyed. The sergeant major was ordered to round up all the injured and escort them through the Bavent woods to Bures back to the Mesnil Cross-roads.

 

Le Mesnil Crossroads

 

The injured were to make their own way to the Field Ambulance at Le Mesnil crossroads. During the journey two of the injured slowed the remainder of the party down and were taken off the trolleys, which carried the remainder of the equipment. They would have to find their own way to the Field Ambulance Station at Le Mesnil. Dawn was breaking and the two sappers said they hadn't a clue where Le Mesnil was, even today you blink and you miss it.

 

The sergeant major said he would assist them up to a point, by leaving little arrows made from twigs on the ground, whenever his party changed direction and they should follow them. He bade them farewell wished them luck and his party moved off again. The two sappers followed at a snails pace, one of them using his upturned rifle as a crutch while the other one shuffled along. They followed several sets of arrows until the came to a junction where three different tracks merged. No sign of anymore twig arrows. They had to use their own wits no doubt to Le Mesnil.

 

Jeep Ride to Troarn

 

Major Roseveare, Captain David Breeze, Bob and seven other ranks, with half a ton of explosives and special charges now set off for Troarn and the bridge over the river Dives. The Major was driving the jeep. It was a dark and gloomy night and as he journeyed he failed to see on the edge of the wood a barbed wire roadblock. Unable to stop in time and collided with the barbed wire road block. Lance Sergeant Irving, a member of the team had acquired a set of wire cutters prior to setting off. "Fine said the Major we will be on our way again soon". How wrong could he be. According to Bob, the wire cutters were so blunt that they couldn't cut through a block of butter? Another story told is that when Sgt. Irving was trying cut through the barbwire he was joined by one of the sappers in the team who asked if he could help and produced a torch and shone it onto the blockade. Can you imagine what was said to him!

 

Troarn

 

Twenty minutes later off they went again with no sign of the enemy. On entering Troarn they stopped short of a set of crossroads. Two of the team got out to have a look and weigh up the situation. At that time a German soldier on a bicycle appeared and had to be dealt with swiftly. Surprise was now lost and it was a matter of jumping aboard the jeep and making the best speed towards the bridge. Because of the heavy load they were carried, the jeep could hardly make more than 30mph. As they rounded a sharp bend - there were Germans and a running gun fight ensued. Bullets were whizzed about from all directions but the benefit of the steep gradient they soon reached the bridge without any further opposition.

 

They unloaded and laid the General Wade connected to cordtex detonating cable and an igniter. The central part of the bridge was blown and the whole job took less than five minutes. The time was 5.00am. A return through Troarn would have been fatal as the Germans were now aware of their presence. They had no more explosives so could not carry out any more damage. Only armed with Sten guns for protection, they decided to set off along the track at the side of river. They finally ditched the jeep as they ran out of track.

 

The Morning After at Mesnil

 

It was now necessary for them to swim several watercourses before they took to the woods of the Bois de Bavent and arrived at 3 brigade headquarters at Le Mesnil about midday. A very bedraggled and exhausted party. Apparently, during their journey to Le Mesnil, they escaped death on many occasions. Shot at by the Germans, shelled by the Royal Navy, bombed by the Royal Air Force and unappreciated by the French.

 

A jeep and trailer arrived from Touffreville, D.Z.K, with troops from battalion and 3 squadron. The jeep was loaded with General Wade charges, which gave the opportunity to make another attack on the Troarn Bridge. 8th battalion fought their way back into Troarn and covered the sappers on their way down to the bridge. Another span and one of the bridge piers were blown and destroyed by Lt. Tony Wade and his sappers. They then withdrew and made their way back to the crossroads in the Bois de Bures where they joined up with the 8th battalion. The time was now 2.00pm and all the bridges were now destroyed.

 

In the week that followed

 

8th battalion with sapper assistance completely dominated the area with aggressive fighting patrols and no threat to the bridgehead materialized from this quarter.

 

In the Le Mesnil area a fierce defensive battle to hold on line began. 9th parachute battalion barely existed as a battalion. The Canadians also suffered many casualties. The 3rd parachute squadron played a vital role in holding back attacks, which the enemy mounted with tanks and self propelled guns in the Le Mesnil, Chateau and St. Come area. This continued for the next five days.

 

Relief was supposed to come from the 51st Highland Division but unfortunately they failed to arrive. They suffered heavy casualties in the St. Come area. However relief finally arrived from the 12th Devonshire's, 12/18 Hussars and the 12th parachute battalion.

 

Freed from the front line duties, the sappers got on with the task of mine laying and clearance of mines, road cratering and the laying of booby traps. Then there were the more domestic tasks such as the supplying of water and the building of bunkers for H.Q. and Field Ambulance.

 

They remained in the Normandy area, fighting skirmishes here and there until the middle of August. On the 17th the great advance began. The 6th Airborne led on the left flank and the mobile warfare made a pleasant change from the trench warfare of the past weeks. They reached the river Seine at the end of August and then withdrew to return to England. On 5th September they arrived back home to refit and retrain for the battles ahead i.e. the Ardennes and the Rhine crossing

 

N.B. The operational strength of each parachute squadron was 18 officers and 127 other ranks. During the Normandy landings the total casualties suffered by the two parachute squadrons were 94 troops. In the next six weeks in the Normandy area three officers and 19 men were killed, 5 officers and 45 soldiers were injured and 5 officers and 17 other ranks were reported missing.)

 

Ardennes

 

After fighting their way up through Dozelle, Honfleur and other villages and small towns along the northern coast of France the squadron was withdrawn from the fray and on 5th September returned to England to refit and retrain for the battles ahead i.e. the Ardennes and the Rhine crossing. After a short leave the squadron returned to the south coast of England, Bulford area where they regrouped and the order of the day was training, training and more training. During the months of October, November and December 1944 most of the division went on courses in street fighting. Various places were sited in the blitzed areas of Battersea in London, Southampton, Yarmouth and Weymouth. As sappers, they had to concentrate on the destruction of pillboxes and any other heavy wire obstacles which would be found in heavily defended locations in built up areas. Many daytime and night-time exercises continued with many parachute drops and courses in bridge building at the School of Military Engineering at Ripon. On 20th December, in the middle of one of these courses, the squadron received orders to get back to Bulford immediately. The lack of progress in the Ardennes was of no great surprise. Hence the quick return to barracks. The squadron returned to the war in the Ardennes. No 1 Troop was to parachute into the war zone with other parachute units and the remainder to travel by sea.

 

On Christmas Eve 1944, the remainder of the squadron, 'all kitted up' were on a train headed for Folkestone and on Christmas day, CSM Bob Barr's 33rd birthday; they boarded a ship bound for Holland. Prior to moving out the squadron had their Christmas dinner in the transit camp. After a reasonable crossing, they disembarked in Ostend. They were then crammed into trucks and driven 30 miles to a small village called Viche where they awaited more transport. The Flemish people who found them accommodation in their own homes warmly welcomed them. They remained in that area until the 29th December when their transport finally arrived and took them to the river Meuse and after to St. Gerard where they were billeted in a large empty Chateau. For the next ten days the squadron remained in that area and were kept busy building bridges or clearing mine fields. Between the 10th and 17th January 1945, the squadron was up and away again this time towards Marche. Still lots of mine field clearances and bridge building en route. The only Germans they saw were two forlorn prisoners in a trailer on the back of a jeep.

 

January 19th - 23rd the squadron was engaged in holding a long stretch of the river Mass in Holland. They were well looked after and billeted by the Dutch people. In order to arrive at their destination in Holland in the daylight they had to leave their location in the Ardennes during the night and join up with the 3rd Brigade column and travel right up through the Ardennes and eastern Holland to their new location in the village of Heijthuijsen, which was five miles west of Roermond. The weather was freezing cold and frequent halts had to be made to allow the drivers to restore their circulation before changing over. The jeeps were not built at this time for comfort and the only way to keep warm, to wrap up in blankets or by sitting in a sleeping bag. The convoy lasted 15 hours, enough to sap the strength of the fittest. Bob did say that he felt that in the Ardennes the squadron had done a little towards helping the Americans out of a rough spot. Although their contribution had been small, the fact that they had been 'on the ground' had helped the Americans to regroup prior to ironing out the bulge in their front. Bob had much admiration for the men of the 101st American Airborne Division.

 

The squadron left Heijthuijsen on the 19th February 1945 and travelled by road to their new destination in western Belgium. They arrived the next day, 20th, at a lovely chateau in the village of Biervelde near the city of Ghent. Lots of training, and other sapper activities for the next three days and on the 23rd February the squadron was on the move again, this time by train and arrived in Ostend where the whole unit was housed in a well run transit camp. "Lots of alcohol to be had here". Apparently when the allies reoccupied the town they found a German dump of a million bottles of champagne, which bought for 65 francs per magnum of champagne. Two days in the area were enough, and I imagine there were a few sore heads about! The squadron was called back to England. Possibly the troops were quite happy as the cheap price of alcohol had made them with no money. They were flown home and arrived at an airport near Swindon and transferred to Bulford.

 

The Rhine Crossing

 

The month of March 1945 saw the allied armies stretched along the west bank of the river Rhine in preparation for crossing the river into Germany. In England the 6th Airborne Division was making itself ready for another airborne assault. The 3rd Airborne parachute squadron R.E. was on leave between 1st- 8th March and on their return to Bulford found lots of activity going on. Reorganisation of the unit was necessary, because of lack of transport and engineering equipment. The squadron was split into two troops instead of the normal three, which had previously gone into action. The next two days the squadron was engaged in more training and were briefed and prepared for "Operation Plumber", an apt name for the Squadron Sergeant Major - a plumber - on the Rhine crossing. On the 19th March they moved to Tilbury docks where they sailed again for Ostend. They arrived in Ostend the next day and were transported to Geldingen near the river Mass.

 

On Christmas day 1944 Bob had received as a Christmas present from his sister-in-law, a 1945 "Letts diary". The CSM, not a man of many words, kept this diary. His first entry (written in bold type below) began on Monday 19th March 1945 and ended on Friday 18th May 1945.

 

Monday 19th March 1945

Moved to Transit

I understand this to mean, he moved into the same transit camp as No1 troop who had spent another week after the remainder of the squadron had moved out on the 12th March for Ostend and prepared for 'Operation Plumber'.

 

Tuesday 20th March 1945

Embarked Tilbury

 

Wednesday 21st March 1945

Arrived Ostend, Left Ostend

 

Thursday 22nd March 1945

Arrived Geldingen

Obviously he rejoined the squadron at the location near Mass.

 

Friday 23rd March 1945

Still at Geldingen

It was a beautiful spring day in eastern Belgium, mild and sunny. No.1 troop were selected to do the Airborne drop under the command of Captain Freddy Fox. His team comprised two officers and forty-seven other ranks. Two other ranks went in two gliders loaded with jeeps and trailers. The remainder, as Bob says in his diary entry, still at Geldingen. Secrecy was the order of the day so that the approaching airborne operation would not be jeopardized. All red berets were packed into their kitbags and all vehicle signs painted out. At 21.00 the sound of the aircraft of the invading army could be heard. Screened by fighter planes came the Dakotas, Stirling's, Halifax's and Gliders carried the "Paras". The squadron was formed up and ready to move off across the river to rejoin their colleagues. As they left the village out came the red berets and were once again the 3rd Parachute Squadron R.E. They were proud to be linked with their colleagues who had jumped.

 

Friday 24th March 1945

Entered Germany - Geldingen

 

Sunday 25th March 1945

Transit area awaiting turn to cross the Rhine

They followed the river Mass down to Venlo passing through area, which they had occupied a month earlier. At this time they did not have priority to cross that day. They remained in fields allotted to them; about ten miles back from the river. They were worried about the fate of their colleagues in No.1 troop. Rosie went forward to find out. And returned with good news. No.1 troop had landed with few casualties. Captain Freddy Fox was wounded in the arm by a bullet.

 

Monday 26th March 1945

Started breakthrough - Crossed the Rhine - Met parachutists near Wesel about 16.00 hours - Into Rarbown area - A bit rough - German gun post

Anxious to rejoin the division on 26th March, the squadron crossed the Rhine early, on the folding boat bridge, completed the day before by sappers at Xantes. They finally joined up with No 1 troop and arrived at their allotted harbour. A wooded hillock, containing heavy flak guns which had been an objective of the 9th battalion. It had taken the squadron two hours to cover a distance of ten miles over roads, which resembled good cart tracks.

 

Tuesday 27th March 1945

Left about 03.00. Went up to Lodden - Came under shellfire - Left Lodden arrived at farmhouse on road to Rhade

 

Wednesday 28th March 1945

Left farm moved 32 miles up to Rhade - Boche falling back - Some shamble - Billets good Nazi S.S. quarters.

The day the squadron left the farmhouse to try and join the brigade column. The weather was perfect, the countryside very beautiful. The officers and men were in high spirits. They advanced twenty miles that day and reached the village of Rhode. The surge forward of the 21st Army Group began that day and continued almost unchecked, until the end of May. "Their tails were up" and little could stop them. The cry was 'bash on'. They did bash on and covered twenty to thirty miles per day. They met little resistance and were hardly checked in their advance. Whenever possible, they would sleep in farm buildings where they fed on the best. Lots of milking cows, bacon and hams hanging from the rafters, eggs were plentiful and the odd chicken was served up for dinner. The advance continued towards Crefeld.

 

Thursday 29th March 1945

Left Rhade moved up to near Crefeld

During this time the squadron were kept busy clearing roads, demolition work, clearing twisted steel reinforcements and concrete blocks. Building and repairing bridges

 

Friday 30th March 1945

Left farmhouse near Crefeld for a place called Stavide

They left the farmhouse at 04:00, more building, and repairing and demolition work in progress.

 

Saturday 31st March 1945

Left Stravide, which is near a road to Gravin

Many searches were carried out to find a suitable site for bridging the Dortmund-Emms canal. In the early hours of Sunday the first German snipers fired. Two batteries of 88mm guns were found in the woods. Graven had apparently been shelled from this position the day before. During the skirmish two N.C.O.'S were wounded. One of them later died. More fighting ensued until the German contingent finally surrendered under a white flag.

 

Sunday 1st April 1945

Moved up a lot nearer to Gravin. Again, some shambled. Place well liberated pretty quiet now

 

Monday 2nd April 1945

Crossed Dortmund-Ems Canal near Osnabruck. Stopped 4km from the Canal in farmhouse. Pretty exciting. Boche a/c [aircraft]

The canal was crossed by way of a bailey bridge, constructed by 591squadron, aided by No.1 troop. No.2 troop taped out a route and cleared it of obstructions where necessary. The object of the routes was to reach the main Osnabruck road. The next few days were spent on road repairs. The weather had now changed and a steady down pour of rain coupled with a ceaseless stream of vehicles made progress very slow.

 

Tuesday 3rd April 1945

Left the farmhouse and went on for another 15 miles nearer Osnabruck. Arrived at Ladling

During the night of the 3rd, half of troop rested whilst the other half carried on. The C.S.M. was with the lot that carried on to Ladling.

 

Wednesday 4th April 1945

Remained here today. First break since we started and we really needed it. Fine morning.

All the army sappers wanted and needed was sleep. They relieved the remainder of the troops left behind that day.

 

Thursday 5th April 1945

Started off at 07.00 today travelled for miles, 65 miles, lots of prisoners. Stopped 10km from Minden.

They followed the Pegasus signs nailed to the trees, which marked the route all the way from the Rhine to the Baltic.

 

Friday 6th April 1945

Rested here at Holyhausen. Again pretty good.

Apparently No.2 troop had been busy building bridges over the river Wessor at Peterhagen and rejoined the squadron at 01.30 hours on the 7th April.

 

Saturday 7th April 1945

Left Holyhausen 16.00 hours - scramble. Arrived Wiedensahl 21.30 hours. Very dark and strange night.

 

Sunday 8th April 1945

Left Wiedensahl 10.00 hours, arrived at Mesmerode.

When No.2 trooped returned from bridge building at Petershagen and Mesmerode they arrive to find a large dump of excellent brandy. They managed to liberate four cases, each bottle was labelled ''Reserve pour le Luftwaffe en Finlande'' Great joy and jubilations that night and thank you Luftwaffe.

 

Monday 9th April 1945

Stayed Mesmerod

I should think so too after last nights party! During this period, the squadron were kept busy bringing reports on the demolition along the Wesser-Elbe canal for some 20 miles.

 

Tuesday 10th April 1945

Left Mesmerode 10.00 hours arrived Negenborn 18.00 hours.

Travelled through some nice countryside to Negenborn, which is north of Hanover. No trouble.

 

Wednesday 11th April 1945

Rest here, Negenborn, for the day near Hannover.

Area searched nothing untoward found. Received the news that the squadron was to build a folding boat bridge over the river Elbe.

 

Thursday 12th April 1945

Left Negenborn 09.00 went back 56 miles to near Peterhagen.

It is quite strange that during a war that units can take time off to train. Apparently this was the 'norm' for the British Liberation Army, especially when there were large engineering tasks to be tackled. The squadron were not "happy chappies" at being sent back sixty miles, as they were quite delighted to be at the front of the advance. The site chosen was at a village near Peterhagen.

 

Friday 13th April 1945

Stayed here. Dead quiet. On bridging.

Today the squadron built a 340-foot bridge across the river Wesser. Hard work for all ranks. The current in the centre of the river was very swift but they managed to complete the bridge.

 

Saturday 14th April 1945

Still here near Peterhagen. Bridging. Visited Minden.

The squadron stripped down the bridge and reloaded it onto lorries. In the afternoon Bob visited Minden. Of most interest were a couple of small factories. One of them, which interested him, was full of woodworking machines and light timber of all descriptions. It was an aircraft factory, building planes of the light reconnaissance type similar to an Auster.

 

Sunday 15th April 1945

Left Negenborn on road to Celle. Stopped in forest near Eschide. Four Boche planes straffing and bombing.

On arrival he heard rumours of the atrocities discovered in Belsen camp

 

Monday 16th April 1945

Left here 09.00 hours. Passed Eschide on way to Uelzen. Stopped in woods. Atrocities in the village 15 men, 3 women, 2 kids killed.

The atrocities referred to in Bob's diary were discovered in a ditch in the village. All murdered by the Germans. It is thought the dead men; women and children were Russian slaves who had taken their freedom early.

 

Tuesday 17th April 1945

Left woods 09.00 hours passed through the village arrived at Rassau 6km from Uelzen.

The orders for that day were to assist and support 3rd brigade. To encircle the east and north of Uelzen. To clear villages and cut off the retreat of German troops. Very little fighting took place

 

Wednesday 18th April 1945

Stayed in farm at Rassau. Pretty comfortable. Opened bottle of champagne at night.

Not bad for some, but there had been some activity during the night. No.2 troop had encountered small gunfire during the night.

 

Thursday 19th April 1945

Stayed here today. Caught 3 prisoners.

The squadron rested for the next two days while they sorted themselves out

 

Friday 20th April 1945

Stayed here. Revisited Uelzen. Found a posh car.

 

Saturday 21st April 1945

Stayed here visited Uelzen for some electrical gear. Found plenty.

 

Sunday 22nd April 1945

Still here, OK

Today was marked with a combined divisional engineer church parade, which was held in a large barn and conducted by the army chaplain the Reverend Childs.

 

Monday 23rd April 1945

Left Rassau and went on about 20km to Seedorf.

The squadron were on the move again this time to support the 3rd brigade. They remained there until the 30th prior to crossing the river Elbe. However their time was not wasted. Stores were replenished and vehicle were repaired and overhauled for the last big push across Germany

 

Tuesday 24th April 1945

Still here

 

Wednesday 25th April 1945

Still here. Nice rest good room, no view. Weather grand.

 

Thursday 26th April 1945

Still here.

 

Friday 27th April 1945

Still here. Weather glorious but looks like changing.

 

Saturday 28th April 1945

Still here. Weather now horrible. Sent off parcel to Ella.

 

Sunday 29th April 1945

Still here, Boche thrown out of his home earlier is now in the pighouse, very appropriate.

 

Monday 30th April 1945

Left Seedorf stopped at Houndaf. Left at 20.00 hours and crossed the Elbe.

The 3rd parachute brigade crossed the Elbe by a folding boat bridge early on the 30th April and relieved the Commandoes to the east of the town. The remainder of 3rd Para crossed by ferry.

 

Tuesday 1st May 1945

Crossed the Elbe at 04.00 on the ferry then stayed near Horse for a few hours sleep before arriving at Boizeburg.

The squadron were making their way towards Boizenburg. Their attention was focused on the village of Horst. The Germans were there, but no signs of them surrendering. It was decided to fire a few salvos of shells over the village. One salvo was enough when a good number of white flags appeared in the village and the town was quickly taken. The prisoners were rounded up and handed over.

 

Wednesday 2nd May 1945

Left Boizenburg 16.00 hours. Arrived Wismar on the Baltic after an amazing breakthrough. Boche seemed to be giving up. Thousands of prisoners.

 

Thursday 3rd May 1945

Occupied Wismar. Billeted in the harbourmasters office at 03.00 hours.

 

Friday 4th May 1945

Searched area for arms etc. Still staying here. Looks like a holiday.

Their reason for being in Weismar was to stop Russians from entering and overrunning Denmark

 

Saturday 5th May 1945

Still here looks like the war is over.

From the 6th May until the 14th May the life in Weismar for the squadron, was like a holiday. A lot of boating and yachting. The weather was perfect. On the 7th May it was announced that the war was over.

 

Tuesday 15th May 1945

Still here, orders to go home by the 21st or sooner.

 

Wednesday 16th May 1945

Sweating on the word to go. It has come. Move off at 07.25 tomorrow to go by plane.

 

Thursday 17th May 1945

At last! Passed back over our old route. Down over the Elba and through Lavenburg.

 

Friday 18th May 1945

Emplaned in a Dakota at Lavenburg Airport. 14.25 arrived Brussels. 16.20 left Brussels by Stirling aircraft at 18.10. Arrived in England at 20.00 and left by truck for Bulford.

 

Saturday 19th May 1945

Still doubtful if I'm going or not.

Bob was at Bulford camp until 21st May. This was last entry his diary

 

Post War

 

Bob remained C.S.M. of 3 Parachute Squadron in 6th Airborne Division until demobilization in December, 1945. During the war years he was awarded the 1939-45 star, the France and Germany star, the Defence medal and the war medal 1939-45.

 

In September 1949, Bob reenlisted in the Territorial Army airborne squadron. Although now 38 years old he resumed his parachuting career, he must have been one of the oldest men in the British Army T.A. to be still jumping. He was awarded the Territorial Army efficiency medal with clasp and in 1955 the British Empire medal [Military Division] for services to the Territorial Army.

 

On the 8th September, 1954, he was recommended by his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel P.M. Bennett, R.E. commanding No. 131 Airborne Engineer Regiment, T.A. for an award of the British Empire Medal, B.E.M. This application was finally recommend by Lieutenant General F.H. Fisting GOC-IN-C Eastern Command. He was gazetted in the supplement to the supplement to the London Gazette of Friday 31st December, 1954, as follows; -

 

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD - ST. JAMES'S

 

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the BRITISH EMPIRE MEDAL, [MILITARY DIVISION] to the under mentioned; - 22282883 SERGEANT MAJOR ROBERT BARR, CORPS. OF ROYAL ENGINEERS.

 

Bob Barr continued serving with the troop until the 20th September, 1957, when he left to take up employment with the Crown Agents as a Water Engineer in Nigeria

 

Bob never spoke about his exploits during the war until he was about 70 years old, when one day he said to Ella, that he would like to attend one of his old unit reunions in London. He eventually made contact and attended a reunion. Then he decided he would like to return to France and in particular to the Troarn area of Normandy. Enquiries were made and he found that members of the 9th parachute battalion made annual returns on the 6th June to the Merville battery and surrounding areas. Contact was made with Mr. Alan Jefferson, a Lieutenant in the battalion and reservations were made Many more reunions with 3rd parachute were enjoyed. On each occasion he was accompanied by one of his grandsons, also his son-in-law and even better loved his return to France. In particular the Troarn area, where he used to meet up with his old comrades at a dinner in a Troarn hotel, usually on the eve of the 6th June.

 

Bob died on the 18th October; l995 aged 83 years, 2 months short of his 84th birthday. He was cremated at Warriston Crematorium and his ashes subsequently scattered on Soutra Hill near to the old Monks hospital in the Lammermoor Hills where he loved to walk as a young man.

 

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