Sergeant Jack Campbell


Unit : No.2 Troop, 591st Parachute Squadron, RE.


The following was researched and compiled by Peter Paul Rea for the Airborne Battle Study Group, Northern Ireland. My thanks to Hugo Mitchell for supplying a copy.



Jack Campbell joined the T.A. in 1937 and was attached to 188 (Antrim Fortress) Battery, Royal Artillery, who were attached to 'Grays Point Fort', just outside Helens Bay on the south shore of Belfast Lough. Built at the turn of the century it was one of two positions covering the entrance to Belfast harbour. Its twin was built across the Lough on the north shore at Ballylumford. It was Armed with two 6" Coastal Guns, formally in open casemates but subsequently covered with concrete roofs, and attached to the 'Fort', lower down on the shoreline, were three Searchlight emplacements and it was here Jack received his training and met J. Bowden. The 188th Headquarters was in a Building in York Street, Belfast.


Jack was encouraged by a R.E. Sergeant, attached to the battery, to transfer to the engineers and so in 1939 he joined the 591 (Antrim Fortress) R.E. Subsequently the 591 (Antrim Fortress ) R.E., was to be formed as a Field Company and Jack, Jim and eight others were sent to Rippon for training.


In 1940 the 591st was transferred back to Portaferry, Northern Ireland for training and was renamed 591 (Antrim) Field Company, Royal Engineers. He was a Corporal at this time and was billeted in Bank House in Portaferry. Before the war Jack had a motor car and so he was the Companies driver and though he had never driven anything heavier that a Morris was sent to Kinnigar to bring back the Company's Motor Transport, after about 10 minutes instruction.


The Company again transferred back to England and were posted to the region of Luton and were engaged in wiring defences to the Eastern Company HQs at Luton. Transferred again he found himself as a driver, in M.T., and stayed at Woodbridge Camp, near the Wash. During this time the Company was engaged in preparing the harbour of Kings Lynn for demolition in case of German invasion.


In 1943 the Company was transferred to the Parachute Regiment and was re-named 591 (Antrim) Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers. Some 80 men volunteered, but only 40 men completed the course. Here Jack met Captain Jock Hanshaw and Sapper Paddy Coyle [of Londonderry, killed on the 11th June whilst clearing a minefield at Le Port; a ball from an 'S' mine hit him in the back of the neck as he lay prone. He has no known grave].


During the run up to D-Day, the Squadron helped in preparing the dummy fortress, for training purposes, for the attack on the Merville Battery. On the 6th June 1944, D-Day, the Squadron flew off to attend to various tasks in the Parachute and Glider landings in France. Sergeant Jack Campbell of No 2. Troop was to take part in the demolition of the Merville battery.


Sergeant Jack Campbell was to drop with 9th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, under Terrence Otway and take and destroy the Merville Battery. The 9th Battalion was to drop on DZ 'V' outside Varaville, just one minutes flying time from the coast. The Pathfinders who were flown in Albermarles of 295 and 570 Squadron, R.A.F., were correctly dropped on the DZ which was only 1000 yds by 500 yds but their 'Eureka' beacons were smashed on landing and the bulk of the Battalion, including Sapper Campbell were dropped wide. The 14 Albermarles carrying, the advance Canadian parties, including the DZ protection party and the Merville Battery recce party, made a scattered drop and of the 71 Daks (C47s) from 46 Group, carrying the Battalion, 17 aircraft dropped on DZ 'V', 9 aircraft dropped within 1 mile of the DZ, 11 aircraft dropped within 1 miles, nine Canadian sticks dropped 3 miles to the east into the flooded Dives, 5 sticks dropped up to 3 miles to the South east and others 15 miles away from the DZ. Jack Campbell himself dropped into the flooded Dives river area around Varaville. During his descent he lowered his leg bag as instructed, but it broke away and he landed upright in some 600mm of water armed only with a 36 grenade, a hunting knife and his battle blouse stuffed with detonators, all the rest of his kit was lost. Moving through the water towards Varaville, he met a Canadian officer who gave him his Sten as he also had a pistol. Jack met up with Captain Henshaw and fought with the Canadians during the battle around the village.


The 1st Canadian Battalion was to destroy the bridges at Varaville and Robehomme and then to clean the enemy out of the village. The Germans were dug in around the crossroads at Varaville and had a large HQs at the Chateau De' Varaville and protected a main Radio transmitter near the village.


Major Murray McLeod, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, arrived at the R.V at 0030 hrs and there found that the assembling men had been bombed by Lancaster's who were to hit the Merville battery. With only 15 men, one Piat, three Stens, eight rifles and one pistol he set off to attack the Chateau. Close by it he met a small group of No 8 platoon and shortly reached the German positions. This consisted of a long trench, just behind the gatehouse to the chateau. It was reinforced with concrete and fieldworks, with a bunker at each end, M.G. positions and backed by an emplaced 75mm gun. When the fighting started, Major McLeod was joined by a 2" mortar and a Vickers M.G. and while overlooking the enemy position from the first floor of the gate house he was mortally wounded by fire from the 75mm. At this time a large explosion was heard which told the men that Sergeant Davies had blown the bridge. Sergeant J. Campbell supplied the detonators, the one he had stuffed into his blouse. The position was taken after heavy fighting and only after the 2" mortar had shot up the entire length of the trench. Lt. Walker was killed and Major McLeod died of wounds. During the fighting, Jack and Jock Henshaw occupied enemy trenches at the cross-roads in the village. By l000hrs the fighting was over and the Battalion was relieved by the 1st Special Service Brigade and was able to reach the remainder of the Canadian forces at Le Mesnil at about 1800hrs.


Sergeant Campbell, and Jock Henshaw went through the fighting in Normandy and one occasion when Jack was clearing a track through a minefield to recover a jeep and 6 lb gun which was dropped by parachute, the rabbits were jumping around through the mines much to his disgust. During the breakout he set up and controlled a Class 40 Bailey Bridge over the River Dives at Troarn and took part in the drive from Normandy.


From Normandy he returned to England and was rushed back into the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. He was always up at the front line, either laying or clearing mine fields. On one occasion, due to a U.S.A. sentry sleeping in his foxhole he and Captain Henshaw, advanced some half a mile into the enemy line while recceing a road to see if it was free of mines. The sentry was in a listening post and was to stop them when the reached his position. The first they knew of the danger was when they walked past German outposts and heard them talking. When they quickly fled back to the line, the sentry now awake, was about to shoot when Sgt Campbell in no uncertain way told him what he thought of him, and it was only the thought of letting the Germans know where they were that stopped them shooting up his foxhole.


Sgt. Campbell then went to Officers Training and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. While waiting for a transfer to the Parachute Royal Engineers, the war ended in Europe.


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