Trooper Ted George

 

Unit : "B" Squadron, 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment.

 

Ted George, a policeman before the War, joined "B" Squadron of the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment during the latter part of 1943. The following is an edited transcript of an audio recording which he compiled for Nick Porter, the son of Corporal John Porter of No.5, and later No.2 Troop.

 

Your Dad's nickname was "Yorkie"; we all referred to him as "Yorkie" because he was a Yorkshireman. His regimental number was 14374083; being a 14 number indicates that he must have joined the latter end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943. I don't know where he came from when he came to the 6th Airborne Recce Regiment, but he was there when I joined at the latter end of 1943. I believe he came from an experimental tank regiment; swimming tanks and all that sort of thing. "Yorkie" was in No.5 Troop of "B" Squadron, which was the Reconnaissance Squadron, and consisted of motor cycles, Jeeps, and bren gun carriers. The bren gun carrier was stripped down to the bare minimum, hardly any metal on them at all. That was the only bit of armour that we had.

 

The Troop Commander was Rex Laycock. He was a typical English officer, quite a nice chap but always very correct. The Troop Sergeant was a Sergeant Hart from the 10th Hussars, and the Troop Corporal was Jim Croft. The composition of the Troop was five little lightweight motorcycles, one of those stripped down carriers and a Jeep. Our troop consisted of 11 men; five motorcyclists, the carrier with a sergeant and gunner, and a couple more others. Your Dad was a motorcyclist, Sergeant Hart rode in the carrier, and the officer in the Jeep. Now in an ordinary reconnaissance regiment it consisted of 88 men, of course they had the backup of light scout cars, half tracks, armoured cars. Their equipment was carried for them on 3-tonners, but being an airborne soldier you couldn't have that luxury, what you wanted you carried and if you couldn't carry it you didn't have it. Maybe somebody would put it on the carrier for you but they'd always moan that it was full of ammunition and something like that.

 

A payload in a Horsa glider was 5 of these little light weight motorcycles and a Jeep. There was a side entrance and we bumped the jeep in the side entrance, first putting in the five motorcycles. We loaded them fan-wise; one in the middle, two at the side, leaning to the side and another two leaning, so they were sort of fanned out. They had proper, quick release fastenings. Then we bumped the jeep in sideways. So in each Horsa glider we had five motorcycles and a Jeep. The [Hamilcars] had a Tetrarch tank, or one of our alleged armoured carriers and probably another jeep. There's a bit in [the book, "Red Berets 44"] about the Reconnaissance Regiment about some blokes going around on pedal cycles, which they did, some fellows did reconnaissance on pedal cycles because they were nice and quiet; they could whizz along in the dark or half-dark and nobody knew they were coming.

 

The brief that the 6th Airborne had was to hold the high ground on the left flank of the invasion front, to knock out the Merville Battery, to secure and hold the two bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne River, and to destroy the bridges at Bures.

 

We were in an assembly area at Oxford, sort of like a concentration camp, for three weeks before we left. But before that we had a big parade, the whole of the Division at Bulford, where General Montgomery came and saw us, and told us where we were going there was a big plain, and you would entice the German tank army on to this plain, have a tank battle, knock them out and that would be a way of going to Berlin. We would not be overseas for very long; our job was just to secure the bridgehead and away we would go.

 

When we went to Normandy, HQ Squadron had ten parachutists who went ahead of and were supposed to find us a harbour but alas five of them landed in the swamps and were never seen of again for a good number of years because they were drowned in the swamps.

 

So away we set off for Normandy from Brize Norton. Each has their own task on landing, but the task of your father's troop was to go to Bures to see if the bridges had been blown. If they hadn't been blown then they had the explosive to blow them. The Horsa glider [John "Yorkie" Porter] went in, as far as I can make out his chalk number was No.75, and it was towed by an Albemarle plane, which was a fleet air arm plane. 

 

The village we were supposed to have landed in was Ranville, which was outstanding because the church tower was beside the church; it wasn't attached to the church like every other church in the world, this one had the tower some yards away from the church itself. We didn't see Ranville because we never got anywhere near there. We landed at a place called Breville. No.5 Troop did set off, as far as I know, to look and see if the Bures bridges were blown and found that they were and then returned to us. That first evening of D-Day, we did go out to try and find the Germans, which is what a reconnaissance regiment does. Anyway night came and we settled down for the evening. There were some shells and odd bits and bobs of firing.

 

One other little comical thing, we were in a Force [Parkerforce]; ourselves, the airborne artillery, and an infantry regiment under a Colonel Parker. We were supposed to go full pelt as far as we could towards Paris; it's farcical really, but this is true. But what happened was the 21st SS Panzer Division were in the area so that finished that completely.

 

We did recces round the bridgehead the next day, probing for the Germans and finding them. You shouldn't have engaged them but to note where they are and to radio back to Squadron Headquarters, who in turn told Regiment, and Regiment told Divisional Headquarters. Now the formation was, five of these little motorcycles in front, followed by the bren gun carrier with the sergeant, at the back the troop officer. That's how we went down the road to do our reconnaissances. This went on for a couple of days.

 

We stayed in the Bas de Ranville area in the woodyard; the woodyard's still there, we've been to it several times. There was once while we were there an attack from the Germans in the Escoville area. We then found out the plain Montgomery was on about, knocking out all the German armour, was in fact Escoville plain which was at the back of the woodyard. There was an attack by some tanks once but for some unknown reason they came just so far and no farther. It has been said that we had some trailers that the Headquarters Squadron, that had the supplies, used. In the middle of these trailers they carried the ammunition and the wheels were very wide, and they contained the petrol and they towed these around to whoever wanted them. This is a tale which is supposed to come from prisoners of war; that the Germans thought these trailers were flame throwers and never attacked us.

 

From the woodyard we went down into Ranville village into the orchard, where we got knocked about a lot, we had quite a lot of casualties. It's by the side of the church, it's a little housing estate now, this orchard, and I often think of the blood that was spilt in that orchard from the shelling and one thing and another. We would go out and do reconnaissance and then come back to this orchard and be shelled at night and during the day.

 

Gradually the front settled down. The Germans dug in, we dug in on this left flank. We were eventually withdrawn to a place called Ecarde which was by the Caen Canal, just a short distance from the bridges. There were two bridges by the way, there was Pegasus Bridge which everyone knows about and the one next door to it called London Bridge, or at the time it was called London Bridge, it's now called Horsa Bridge. And that was built by Eiffel, the same man who built the Eiffel Tower.

 

We settled down at Ecarde. We used to have a few days in Ecarde then we would probably have to go and guard the bridge or maybe go out on a recce, or go up into the front line wherever it was. Now there's a lot of talk about the front line... it annoys me sometimes you often hear these people about going up the front line - they've never been near the front line; that's the sharp end, and there's not many people there. We're probably only a few yards from the Germans and they're unhealthy places to be.

 

We used to go up for 10 days and then come back to Ecarde for 10 days or maybe do a job, go in the line somewhere else where it probably wasn't quite so busy. But it was a very unhealthy place to be. Often we would share it with the Royal Marine Commandos; they were a good outfit to be with. But we did this quite a lot, and when I hear these various people on television saying that they entertained the troops in the front line or they were the first to be in the front line and things like that, I do a little laugh to myself because they weren't, they were never up in the front line. It was a very lonely place to be.

 

It was at Ecarde, one lovely summers evening, when the bombers came over and bombed Caen, destroyed Caen, blew Caen to smithereens. It seemed a good idea at the time, but as we got old and probably been to Caen, sometimes wonder if there need to be all that damage done to such a beautiful town. Breville of course was blown to smithereens because it was right on the end of the flank and the Germans kept coming round and getting down to us. We had the use of the Navy out at sea, and they would fire and help us a bit, but in the end General Gale decided that Breville had to be taken out. So one beautiful evening that was blown to smithereens but it saw the end of the Germans.

 

Anyway we carried on this front line duty until August, in the line and out the line, living in holes. Rations were okay, we had a bath now and again. It wasn't much of an existence; it was something like the First World War, the trench system of the First World War; not great long trenches just fox holes.

 

The tanks that Montgomery told us were going to come and do a big tank battle did come, and had a tank battle out on Escoville plain and got knocked out, and what few were left came back and we were left there again. We didn't come home as we were promised.

 

Anyway the great day came in August when we were told to advance out of the bridgehead, having been confined there three or four months this was great of course. We broke out. The first village we came to was a place called Putot-en-Auge. We took on the Germans, and shouldn't have done, and lost several men. We learned a little bit of sense there.

 

Just before the break-out while we were in the line one day, our second in command, a Captain Fehr, a very nice chap and a sergeant major were both wounded. The sergeant major not too bad. Captain Fehr was badly wounded, although he did come back I think he died shortly after the war due to these wounds, he'd only be in his early thirties. Anyway we set out from the break out, had this little battle at Putot, several of our chaps are buried there, on to Pont L'Eveque, more little skirmishes, Pont Audemer, Trouville and Deauville. We got as far as the Seine and we stayed there for a couple of days at Honfleur and we came home.

 

Ardennes

 

Home to Larkhill, with a few empty beds in the huts where we lived; the chaps that wouldn't be coming home again. And we came home on leave. Happily we were reorganised. We had a new Squadron Commander, a man called John Jasper Selwyn; a man that had won the Military Cross at Dieppe and another Military Cross somewhere else. He was a Captain. And Ernie Jones, who had been a troop commander, he was made second in command. [John Porter] was promoted to a full Corporal, this time in 2 Troop because 2 Troop had several casualties. 2 Troop had a new troop commander, a Lieutenant Alastair Wilson. We did away with the little light weight motorcycles in the troop. Instead of having the little motorbikes, there was a jeep, a Dingo which is a two-man armoured car, and a carrier, plus at this time B Squadron had three Cromwell tanks. We thought they were wonderful these tanks; next time we went over we'd be blasting them to smithereens with these three Cromwell tanks.

 

Anyway we did exercises, we did a lot of exercises, and lo and behold about 2 days before Christmas 1944, at 4 o'clock in the morning, we were knocked up and told we were going to the Ardennes. Jerry had made a push in the Ardennes, now known as the Battle of the Bulge, and we were going out there to help. So instead of going home or going with friends for Christmas, we went to the Ardennes.

 

We arrived in Belgium and set out to a place called Hans-sur-Lesse which is in the Ardennes. And it was cold. It was really cold. Crackly, icy snow. I by then had qualified to a big 350 motorcycle, but on the way down from Ostend to Hans-sur-Lesse, I must have been off it more than I was on it, everybody was slithering and sliding. We left the tanks, it was too slippery for them so they weren't a lot of good. They did eventually come to us at Hans-sur-Lesse, but due to the slippery roads they didn't carry out any patrols or anything like that so they weren't so good after all these wonderful tanks.

 

We set about doing a few patrols with minor skirmishes around Hans-sur-Lesse. I went with your dad and the rest of the troop, I was attached to them on a motorcycle on their first recce through the snow in the Ardennes. I can remember the name of the place quite well, there were two villages, Jemelle and Forrieres. We went slowly along this road, looking out all the time, but we could see nothing had happened much because the snow was undisturbed. And we came to the village and stopped, and Alastair Wilson said, "What do we do now?" Remembering that he'd just come from a tank regiment, being Royal Armoured Corps he'd always been in a tank regiment or an armoured car regiment, he comes to this airborne outfit and all they've got is a little Dingo and a Jeep and a little carrier. "What do we do now?" Well there's a chap in the troop called Jack Stanton, he was a real Black Country lad, a wonderful fellah, but I always remember his reply, he said "Yow'll 'av to walk now Mr Wilson, yow can't ride any more". And poor old Alastair said "What sort of an outfit have I come to?" I can remember your Dad laughing. Anyway we went into Jemelle and Forrieres, I can remember walking behind your Dad on this occasion. Found no Germans, it got dark and away we came, back again to Hans-sur-Lesse.

 

The next day we went over the top of the hill at Hans-sur-Lesse and into the valley. We kept watch over this valley, looking for the Germans that may have escaped from Bastogne or somewhere like that. I can't remember how long we stayed there, it must have been a week or so, and eventually we came back. I used to do night patrols for them.

 

Away we went to Holland, to a place called Maasbree, and lo and behold we were billeted in civvie billets, which was very nice. Just a little way up the road was a town called Blerick by the side of the river, and the other side of the river were the Germans. And we weren't too bad there apart from it being so cold. We had quite nice suits, we had snow suits and one thing and another. Eventually the silly tanks came. And we would go up to Blerick; there were woods at each side, and we would go up there and make sure that the Germans hadn't come over the river and were not hiding in the woods, and also we would do patrols along the riverside because it was thought that the Germans would try and get over the river at night time, but as far as I know they never did. After Normandy, it wasn't a bad number really, it wasn't bad at all. Came the end of February, home we came. The tanks stopped in Holland.

 

Rhine Crossing

 

After Arnhem, when [the 1st Airborne Division had] lost a lot of planes and a lot of gliders, there weren't enough for us all. Some of the Regiment went by air but your Dad went by sea and went over with the first wave. I think it was the Northants Yeomanry; I can never remember whether those floating swimming tanks were called Crocodiles or Buffaloes, anyway over they went to the other side of the Rhine. Both the air drop and the river crossing were very strongly opposed, particularly the air drop. There was a lot of German paratroopers the other side, but to prevent anyone getting through to us before the other troops got through to us, the artillery fired a box around the dropping zone to prevent anyone else getting through to us. [There were] enough that were there nevermind anyone getting through to us.

 

"A" Squadron took eight tanks over the Rhine. One tank came out of the glider and landed on the Rhine bank while the glider was in the air, we think that they must have seen the Rhine approaching and started the tank up and it was in gear. One landed upside down, one ran forward hit a wall and bent up its gun, and one Yankee paratrooper of the 17th Airborne Division, that landed on top of us in the wrong place, he knocked it out with a bazooka because he didn't know what it was. These sort of things don't happen in John Wayne films.

 

Eventually we met up at Hamminkeln and I went back over the Rhine to collect our three tanks. I can't remember the name of the place, but the next morning, after they linked up with us, the tanks on the road, everybody cheered them away, no more going up with Dingos, carriers and Jeeps, exposing themselves, we were going to go ahead with the tanks. They were smoking and leaning against the scout cars and things like that and cheered the tanks up the road and away they were going. Just out of sight and there were several big bangs, and the next thing we saw the tank officer and one or two people coming back, the three tanks had been knocked out. So hey ho, it was away, back again to reconnaissances with the Jeeps, Dingos and carriers and a few of us on our motorbikes.

 

I can't pin point any incident, it was incidents all the way. You had what the Yanks now call fire fights; this was all the time. There was one instance of when we were all going in a nice long line along a road, across the field were a battery of 88mm anti-aircraft guns. People sort of pointed to them and slowly carried on, then realised that these guns were coming down, being brought down towards us and then they opened fire. "B" Squadron got through but "C" Squadron got badly knocked about. At this time we'd got the Inns of Court Reconnaissance Squadron attached to us and also our own 22nd Independent Parachute Company, and this Battery was attacked and knocked out. We took some prisoners, besides other things.

 

There was another argument about Minden Bridge; whether the Tank Troop captured it first or whether it was 2 Troop. Whenever we meet there's always this argument.

 

There were a lot of incidents like this, a lot of little fire fights. We kept at it the whole of the time, until that magical day when all the Germans seemed to be laying down their arms and we carried on then to Wismar on the Baltic where we met the Russians and armistice was declared. We stayed by the side of the Baltic Sea at this place called Wismar and did a bit of sort of local government work, and one of our jobs was to prevent the displaced persons, the people who'd been used as slave labour, from annihilating the local population. [We spent] a pleasant three weeks and away we came home.

 

Palestine

 

We came home, licked our wounds, and had a long leave. When we came back to our camp at Larkhill, a lot of the people had gone because they'd finished their time, they were older than us they were in their late 20s, 30s. The sergeant major had gone, a lot of the sergeants had gone. The CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Godfrey Stewart, an Irishman, had gone and in his place we had Lieutenant-Colonel Leggard. Ernie Jones, who had been the second in command, had been appointed squadron commander. Your Dad was promoted sergeant. But we kept on the same sort of formation; Jeeps, Dingo and carriers, with six or seven of us as blitz troopers on a carrier.

 

Remember that the war in Japan was still on and we were destined to go there. "Yorkie" went to India with a few more as the advance party, we were due to join them. But thank heavens, for us, the atom bomb was dropped and the war in Japan finished. But we didn't reap the benefits of the high life in Germany as a lot of other troops did, some of them would have stayed in England. We went to Palestine. Your Dad came back to us from India; he always called it his cheap holiday. He was made the troop sergeant of 2 Troop with [Lieutenant] Alastair Wilson, because Sergeant Hart, being a full time soldier, he left us, went home, was demobbed. We had to stay.

 

I think we were called the strategic reserve in Palestine. First of all we were in a camp at Jaffa, not far from the sea, but we had an awful lot of guards to do because the Jews were playing up, blowing this up and blowing that up, the King David Hotel, paratroopers were murdered. And then we went into Fort Latrude [Latrun?] which was a police station, and we would go out on these internal duties with the Palestine police to try and keep law and order. We'd go into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on leave.

 

Another thing I remember, we had a lot of Jews in the Recce; German Jews, French Jews, Belgian Jews; continental Jews who had escaped from Hitler, escaped from Germany, and the CO recruited them thinking it would be good from the language point of view. And of course it was, you had a couple of them in a troop and they all spoke the language, either German or French or something like that; they were very very handy. But of course, what other army other than the British Army would send Jews to Jewish troubles?

 

One day we were told that the 6th Airborne Recce, a little old outfit, a sort of a raiding party, was being broken up and we were being sent to the 3rd The King's Own Hussars. Not a great outfit. They had big armoured cars. Your dad was made troop sergeant of an armoured car troop. Because having been a policeman and done first aid course I was appointed the Corporal in the medical inspection room; the doctor's deputy. So I didn't see your dad much but we did now and again have a little natter, because he was one of the old and originals, and somehow the old and originals used to get together and have a little natter and talk about Normandy and things like that, and the old officers and the old colonel, old sergeants and old sergeant major.

 

It was a very pleasant outfit really because in the Armoured Recce we didn't really have proper barracks and proper cookhouse, everything was rough and ready. You were given the food and you cooked it yourself and looked after yourself, whereas in the 3rd King's Own Hussars we had a permanent barracks at Sarafand with a cookhouse, properly cooked meals, knife and fork and things like that.

 

The Jews did raid our camp one lunch time, some people said it was the IZL, some people said it was the Hagana, and some people said it was the Stern Gang. These were the three that were causing trouble in Palestine. Whoever it was I don't know, but anyway we beat them off I think a couple of them were killed, but none of our lads were hurt which was the main thing.

 

I was in the police force before I joined the Army. I should have gone back a lot earlier but I enjoyed the Army, and stayed that little longer. Eventually I got a letter from the Chief Constable saying either stay where you are in the Army or come back in the police force, of course I decided to go back in the police force. I went round and spoke to everybody; the old ones, Norman Stocker, Mick Wood and all the old crowd, and found that your Dad was somewhere in the Be'er Sheva area, which I believe is somewhere on the Egyptian border, so I thought I'll go and see him and say cheerio. So I went and saw him, it was late at night, and said I'm on my way home. He'd got all his armoured cars in a ring like they used to with the covered wagons in the old Western days. I don't think he had an officer, I think he was on his own then, and I said cheerio to him. As I went I remember he fired me a couple of green verey lights to see me on my way.

 

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