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Private Peter Russell

Private Peter Russell

 

Unit : Headquarters Company, 9th Parachute Battalion

Service No. : 14592538

 

The following has been contributed by Peter Russell, the son of Private Peter Russell.

 

Peter Russell was born on the 11th November 1924 and was brought up in Brussels, Belgium. His father, Major Daniel George Russell, served in the British Embassy Belgium in the inter-war period. At the age of 15, he escaped Belgium via Dunkirk in May 1940 with the rest of his family. He moved to his father's home town, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, until being conscripted into the army in 1943. Initially joining the Royal Fusiliers, he volunteered and was accepted as a paratrooper in November 1943. An article in the Isle of Wight Mercury dated January 1944 stated the following:

 

A letter comes from Major D.G. Russell, M.C., now serving in Scotland, whose family, until a few months ago, lived in Park Avenue. His son, Peter, aged 19, who is well known here, was in the Royal Fusiliers, but volunteered and was accepted for the Paratroops. He has now obtained his "wings." Major Russell refers to several of his local friends and sends them good wishes.

 

A letter written by my father in 1998 stated that he was in the 6th airborne, 9th parachute battalion, HQ Company and that his commanding officer was Captain Gordon-Brown to the end of the war. The letter was addressed to Lieutenant General Napier-Crookenden in which my father was attempting to establish the movements of the 9th Parachute battalion from Dec 44 - April 45.

 

Normandy

Although my father never mentioned his experiences in Jun 1944, an article in the Isle of Wight Mercury dated Jul 1944 stated the following:

 

Peter Russell, son of Captain D.G. Russell, M.C., R.A., formerly of South Bank, Park Avenue, has a stirring story to relate of his experiences on invasion day. He formed one of a party of paratroops who landed twelve miles behind the German lines. Their glider made a crash-landing, and he sustained a dislocated shoulder and arm injuries. He is now in hospital in England. After the accident he was unconscious for, he thinks, about half an hour. After that he had to use German weapons to get though their lines.

 

His party had to leave the pilot of the glider behind suffering from two broken legs and an arm. They bandaged him with improvised splints, left him a 24-hours' ration and promised to rescue him if possible. When they reached their objective in a certain village they were joined by other paratroops, and after 48 hours' fighting secured 165 German prisoners.

 

Then they got hold of a Jeep, and went to rescue the pilot of the glider, who is now in hospital in England. Until they returned to their objective the party lived on tablet rations and cheese provided by the French. The writer speaks highly of the succour rendered to them by the French people, who helped them all the time, even tearing up their blankets and sheets to act as bandages. An old French farmer proudly produced a bottle of Cognac, which he had hidden from the Germans.

 

Capt. Russell was for some time before the war attached to the British Consulate at Brussels with his family and his wife and her sisters - the last-named are still living in Park Avenue - they left two days after the war began, and had an exciting journey to England.

 

He was eventually evacuated to England and ended up, according to my mother's statement, at Cardiff Hospital. During the remainder of the war, my father served with the 9th Parachute battalion in Belgium, Holland and Germany. I have some verbal recollections from him and also information from members of my family.

 

Battle of the Bulge

He told me that the 9th parachute battalion came in towards the end of the campaign. He remembers being posted on the front line after the American soldiers had pulled out and most of the heavy fighting had been finished. He can remember being close to the German lines but stated that they were a spent force by that time. At one time, he told me that a group of them cooked a chicken that they had managed to find.

 

Bande

In January 1945, my father was part of a contingent that arrived in Bande, Belgium. He described to me that he had to carry the "stiff" bodies of executed local men from a cellar and line them up on the side of the road to be placed into coffins. Having been brought up in Belgium and as French was his first language, he acted an interpreter. He told me that he had seen some gruesome and upsetting sites, particularly at Normandy. However, these experiences had not prepared him for what he saw a Bande, particularly as they were his own countrymen. He kept in touch with the townspeople of Bande after the war.

 

Brussels

Whilst being posted in Brussels, he told me of an incident where he was followed round the city wherever he went by armed men in civilian clothes. It turned out that they were the local resistance and that they were suspicious of a British soldier with a local French accent. Unfortunately, my father did not complete the story and tell me how it ended. He found the whole episode amusing.

 

Holland

The only recollection he gave me was the condition of the people in Holland towards the end of the war. He described them as being in a similar condition as the inmates of the concentration camps, the only difference being that they were free to walk the streets.

 

Germany

I know very little about my father's movements during Operation Varsity and the subsequent operations in Germany. He was wounded in the leg at some stage and evacuated back to England.

 

Palestine

My father served in Palestine and Egypt until leaving the army in April 1947. His final rank was Orderly Room Sergeant.

 

Post war

My father married in December 1945 and had three children. He worked for the Atomic Energy Authority for most of his working life after he left the army and died in November 1998.

 

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