Corporal Robert E. Parnell
Unit : 6th (Airborne) Divisional Ordnance Field Park, RAOC
In Normandy, Corporal Parnell's Landing Ship Tank made two attempts to arrive on Sword Beach, having first been turned away by the Beachmaster. He disembarked carrying a bicycle, which like so many others was almost immediately abandoned without use, and he had to run at one point to avoid flail tanks engaged on mine clearance.
Once encamped in the 6th Airborne Division's area, the unit set up latrines consisting of a tent inside which was a hole in the ground with two poles to sit on; a most uncomfortable arrangement which attracted swarms of flies. Parnell took an empty plywood US ration box, placed the open end over the hole and cut a circular hole in its top to create a seat, which was in turn covered shut by another plywood sheet, and this proved to be more comfortable and kept the flies away. When the officers discovered that the other ranks were enjoying such luxuries, Parnell was instructed to make another for their latrines, and these prototype portaloo's accompanied the RAOC wherever they went. Parnell recalls that Lieutenant-Colonel Fielding, the Assistant Director Ordnance Services, ordered the men under his command to use only three sheet of toilet paper per day.
When the ammunition dump in the Divisional Maintenance Area was set ablaze by German shelling on the 22nd June, the men were ordered to remain in their dug outs until the shelling had lifted, whereupon they evacuated the area. Parnell was asleep inside a half-buried supply container, quite oblivious to all that was going on as he was completely deaf in one ear; a disability which he had managed to conceal when he joined the Army. He awoke to find himself alone and surrounded by exploding ammunition. Having waited for the commotion to subside, he abandoned the supply container and rode out of the area on a motorcycle. Having rejoined the others, an officer asked if he had been able to remove his Jeep from the area; saying that he had not Parnell offered to return for it but was told to leave it.
On a later occasion he was told to deliver a message to a Headquarters in Bayeux on a motorcycle, and remembers proceeding along roads which had been screened with sacking to prevent observation by enemy aircraft. Stopping to relieve himself on the way, he remounted to find that the wheels would only turn backwards, so he pushed it on for some distance before some passing soldiers fixed it for him by bouncing it up and down.
Parnell carried a Sten gun, and was walking with it one day when an officer pulled up in a vehicle and told him to climb on the back. As he did so, the gun hit the side of the vehicle and the ever-temperamental weapon fired a single shot into the air. As this was a common occurrence, the officer was quite unphased and told him to hurry up.
Parnell accompanied the 6th Airborne Division to the Ardennes in December 1944, where he recalls it being very cold travelling in an open Jeep, and some men stuffed their trousers with straw in an attempt to keep warm. In March 1945, the Field Park drove their trucks and Jeeps across a pontoon bridge over the Rhine, which he remembers as a precarious experience but despite much flexing the bridge remained intact. In the post-war period, Parnell served with the 6th Airborne Division in Palestine before joining the British Army of the Rhine. He left the Army in 1953 at the rank of Warrant Officer.
Along with other surviving veterans of D-Day, Parnell was awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 2015. A newspaper article records; "A Worksop veteran who risked his life in the liberation of France during World War Two has been commended for his bravery with one of the country's highest honours. Robert Parnell, aged 91, received a letter from the Ambassade De France, informing him he had been appointed to the rank of Chevalier in the Légion d'honneur. The veteran, who was a corporal of the 6th Airborne Divisional Ordnance Field Park, received the honour for his involvement in the D-Day landings of June 1944. Mr Parnell said: "I do feel honoured, but I have been reluctant to have any publicity on this, because it's not something I feel I should be particularly proud of. It's all to do with the war which was horrible and not something I enjoy talking about." It was Robert's wife, Dorothy who contacted us with the news of her husband's honour."
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