Staff-Sergeant John Harold Jenkins
Unit : No.2 Flight, "A" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Army No. : 5627278
Jack Jenkins enlisted into the Devonshire Regiment on the 20th June 1940, and volunteered for the Glider Pilot Regiment in 1942. On the 18th September 1944, he and his second pilot, 1444200 Sergeant Ernest Ronald Wood, took-off for Arnhem in Horsa glider chalk no.974. He submitted the following account of what ensued, to Bob Hilton in 1997.
Load on Operation Market: Jeep. Trailer of ammo. 1 Lieut. 1 Corporal. 2 Privates RASC.
Glider: Horsa Mk.1. HG983.
Tug Aircraft: Stirling.
The Regiment called for approx 1000 volunteers in August 1942. I did my flying training on an RAF Course at Burnaston, Derby, flying DH82 Tiger Moths, & Miles Magisters. The course completed successfully I went to Shobden near Hereford, and converted to Hotspur Gliders holding 2 pilots and 8 men. The next step was to Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where I converted to Mk.1 Horsas, behind Whitleys. (Tug aircraft at Shobden were Lysanders and Miles Masters). The Squadron was formed at Hurn Airfield in August 1943, and then moved to Harwell, Berks.
It was here on 17th September 1944 that I took off for Arnhem [Note: the date is incorrect, it should read 18th September]. Unfortunately just as I was Airborne, the Stirling developed a fault in the port inner engine and I had to pull off and do an emergency landing just inside the perimeter.
We took off again on 19th September, this time as a loan glider combination, with orders to link up with the Polish Airborne over the channel. Owing to patch cloud we failed to locate them and on approaching the enemy coast, we encountered troublesome flak.
I called up the Tug Pilot on the intercom, which was carried through the cabletow, and asked him what he thought of the situation. He replied that he had heard over the radio that all Landing Zones at Arnhem were in enemy hands, but he left the final decision to me.
The flak started again as we turned north towards the Dutch border and so I decided to pull off, in order to give the Stirling better evasive action, and continue our journey by road, with the jeep and trailer.
We eventually arrived at Nijmegen and reported to HQ where Colonel S.G. Griffith and SSM K. Mew were stationed. We were given permission to continue our journey to Arnhem, but when we were on the way a few miles on, SSM Mew chased us in his jeep and ordered me to turn back and report to HQ where I was to remain.
My second Pilot had already decided to stay behind, so I returned with the SSM and the jeep crew left us. I never heard what happened to them.
After Arnhem, Jenkins took part in the Rhine Crossing. The following was written in 1988.
"A" Squadron of the Glider Pilot Regiment, in the Army Air Corps attached to the British Airborne Divisions, had been in feverish training for several months, practicing mass take-offs and landings, first at Harwell in Berkshire and finally at Rivenhall, in Essex, for the forthcoming Rhine-crossing and my new Co-pilot, F/Sgt K. "Andy" Anderson of the RAF, proved to be a very reliable companion.
Owing to very heavy casualties on the Arnhem Operation, the previous September, the Regiment which had been composed purely of Army volunteers, had need to call on the services of volunteer RAF pilots recently returned from their training in Canada, to make up strength. I helped to run a Battle Course, near Newbury, in order to teach them how to look after themselves on the ground.
The morning dawned, when we were called to a pre-operation briefing, to find that our glider combination had been selected, together with eleven others, for a special assault on the small village of Hamminkeln, a village about eight miles further east of the main dropping zones near Rees and three miles south of Dingden.
The plan was for twelve gliders in the "Coup de Main" force to cross the River Rhine at Rees and head eastward for Dingden at a height of 3,000 ft, being towed by Stirling aircraft. The River Issel and the road to Wesel, running side by side, crossed their track about two miles west of Dingden. This was to be our point of release after a signal from an Aldis lamp, from the rear gunners turret... the glider pilot pulling his release knob, which separated the glider from the towrope. An immediate 90 degree turn to starboard would thus give three miles of freeflight, heading due south for Hamminkeln.
A beautiful scale model of the village had been made by the intelligence boys and each glider combination was shown their exact point of landing, in order to ring the target.
My friend of flying school days at Derby, S/Sgt J E Edwards, with whom I had shared the same instructor, Flying Officer Harry Horsfall from New Zealand, was briefed to land in the large back garden of a house. This he miraculously did and secured the house as a temporary H.Q.
My own point of landing was in the middle of a small field, just beyond the cemetery, near a farmhouse and windmill. My track therefore, was a free flight of three miles, a turn to port over the Church spire, lower flaps and approach the cemetery. Not a very good omen, I thought, but at least a good landmark! My track therefore, was down, we were to rendezvous in the village, under Capt Tony Turner, OBE., in order to organise the civilians. Unfortunately, our beloved instructor, Harry Horsfall, was reported to have been killed on a bombing mission. I like to think that we did not let him down!
The briefing having been successfully completed, we then met the troops, who were to accompany us. To my great surprise and delight on both sides, I found my "live load" consisted of a section of my old Devonshire Regiment, some of whom I had commanded as a platoon sergeant. I can still see the relief on the faces of three of them, as they greeted their old sergeant, no doubt thinking "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."
The morning of March 24, 1945, was fine and clear and after an uneventful take-off, we soon linked up with the mainstream. What a stirring sight, glider combinations as far as the eye could see, with an umbrella of fighter escort that put heart into us all. I could not help wondering what would happen though, when we parted from the main force and went off into the blue!
We eventually crossed the River Rhine at Rees as planned and then our troubles started. General Montgomery, in giving effective cover for his ground assault over the river, had laid smoke screens, which together with some thin low cloud, completely obscured the ground below. We were therefore in the hands of our tug crew up front and prayed that the navigator's dead-reckoning would give us the correct point of release.
Suddenly, the green Aldis lamp flashed from the gunner's turret and so with a waggle of our wings as a thank you and a "This is it Skipper" from my co-pilot, we were released from our tow. The wind noise lessened as our airspeed dropped off from 130 to 90 mph our gliding speed when fully laden.
Selecting a quick trim on the controls, I took a look at the starboard wingtip, noticed that it was pointing at a slightly darker patch in the cloud and turned sharply towards it, until we were heading straight for the patch, this executing a 90 degree turn, without having to worry about the compass during the turn.
We glided gently down, completely isolated and our only compass reading told us we were heading in the right direction - due south. Then the fireworks started - a series of ominous thumps from all around us, a swishing sound nearby, as another glider plunged earthwards, with pieces falling from its burning fuselage. Our altimeter was reading a fraction under 2,000 feet and still we could not see the ground. Andy stuck his head through to the rear and called for safety belts to be fasetened. It was then that I decided to take a chance.
I would do a blind box-turn on wingtip and compass and lose 200 feet on each of the east, north and west legs. I would then turn south again on to my original heading and pray that we had not drifted too far off track. This I did and a little under 1400 feet showed on the clock as we turned on our 180 degree reading once more. One of the great dangers when gliding "blind" is overshooting the target - one can always look for the area ahead, but once the target has passed behind, all is lost.
Andy by this time had discarded his safety belt and was coolly standing up in the cockpit, peering down into the murk. Suddenly, he gave a great shout - "Church spire ahead, Skipper, ten degrees starboard". Thank God for the R.A.F. and good old Andy in particular, I thought fervantly. Looking across, I saw for the first time in my life, a miracle. The smoke was still a blanket, but just about half a mile ahead, or so it seemed from our height of approximately 1000 feet, was a small circular opening in the haze, about the size of a dinner plate and up through this hole, that beautiful church spire was pointing triumphantly to the heavens.
I altered course slightly, turned over the spire at 600 feet, put on full flap and made a model approach. The ground suddenly appeared a few hundred feet below, the stones in the cemetery were standing out stark and white! Down we went, the airspeed now down to 75 mph and, leaving a small chunk of our starboard wingtip up a tree, we touched down in a soft ploughed field. We finally came to rest about 100 yards from our planned touchdown, practically intact.
In seconds, our passengers were scrambling out, two being sniped as they did so. Andy and I followed suit, after automatically setting the flaps to neutral. (Such is the habit of long training!) We hastily set up the beloved Bren gun in one of the deep furrows, alongside the glider and we were in business!
As we lay there, with tracer shooting overhead, Andy, remembering his Battle School instruction, casually remarked, "Comforting thought Timo that most of the muck is a foot above the tracer, don't you think?" and he took up position on the ground alongside, with magazines at the ready for a quick change.
We gave the Devons covering fire, whilst they unloaded their equipment and they then advanced to the edge of the field, taking cover behing a hedgerow. The spasmodic fire was still a little troublesome, so we engaged the snipers, who were holed-up in a house several hundred yards ahead.
After a few short bursts from our Bren, things seemed to quieten down and Andy remembered the flask of tea, still in the cockpit of our Glider. I made a dash for this and after retrieving the flask, still in its padded casing, we both retired to the lee of a farmhouse wall. When the cap was unscrewed, we found to our great chagrin, that a stray bullet had gone clean through the bottom of the thermos and the contents had saturated the inside of its casing. "Oh well, it was probably cold anyway"! said Andy.
We then decided to take our leave of the Devons and cautiously made our way through the churchyard, to our Glider Regimental HQ the rendezvous being a general shop, in the village square, of Hamminkeln. The officer commanding our small party, Capt Turner OBE, was busily organizing the round-up of all the civilians; the women and children being accommodated in the church and the men, in the church hall. Several Dutchmen, who were on forced-labour, were overjoyed at our presence and were put on their own, in the vestry, to their great delight.
Our shop HQ was just across the courtyard, and my particular job was to guard access to the wine cellar below - a job which unbeknown to me at the time, was to start me off on the road to being a real wine lover, and eventually something of a connoisseur. Some of the locals, under escort, were detailed to milk the cows, in order to provide relief for the animals and sustenance for the children, whilst each woman was allowed to go home, also under escort, and bring back one suitcase of necessities.
I well remember how my protegé, with her small child, ran the whole way back to her cottage, with repeated fearful glances over her shoulder at the awful "Red Devil" accompanying her. When we arrived at her home, she found that she had mislaid the key and I had to restrain her from scrambling through a window of broken glass, in her terror.
I entered myself and let her in through the door and she then hastily grabbed a large suitcase, which was already packed in readiness for emergencies. After a quick search, I gave the OK and we retraced our steps to the church. "But for the Grace of God, these might have been our own women folk", I thought and as graciously as I could, took the heavy bag from her trembling fingers and carried it the rest of the way.
In the evening, the Germans counter attacked and used the church spire as an aiming-point for their artillery. We had several casualties amongst the civilians, as one shell burst in the organ loft and another beside the pump, in the courtyard outside.
That night, our friends the Dutchmen were noisily singing, until the early hours and we found next morning, when inspecting the wine-cellars, that a passageway led from them, under the courtyard, to a trapdoor in the floor of the Vestry, the cellar being sealed off under normal conditions, by an iron door, which by some strange coincidence had been left unlocked. They had obviously been celebrating their release from captivity, with some well chosen bottles of Hock.
The following day, the battle had quietened down and our HQ Runner, a certain enterprising NCO with equestrian tendencies, found himself a saddled hack and his running was therefore done on four legs instead of two.
The Ground Forces, eventually linked up with us, much to our relief and we had orders to proceed some miles back from the front, to Army HQ on the main landing zone. A detailed "Order of March" was therefore prepared which I believe, is still in the possession of S/Sgt J E Edwards who was eventually awarded the DFM for his part in the landings.
Briefly, the Glider Pilots were to proceed from Hamminkeln, back to RHQ on bicycles. (In the approved GPR resourceful manner!) Our bagged being towed behind in the various wooden hand-carts that abounded in that part of Germany and our walking wounded, were to be classified as "Baggages"! Our Scout cum Runner, would of course bring up the rear mounted on horseback. However, at the last moment, we decided not to deprive the locals of their transport and so the two dozen or so of our little party footslogged our way back, instead.
Our arrival at RHQ and our re-union with the remainder of our Squadron, was greeted with the typical remark - "Where did you lot get to?".
Jack Jenkins was released to the Army Reserve on the 20th May 1946. In 1999, he was given the opportunity to fly a Tiger Moth again, and the event was reported in the Shoreham/Steyning Herald on the 12th August 1999, under the title "Airman Jack's Flying Back".
Fifty-seven years after flying a Tiger Moth during the war, and 83-year-old has taken control of the plane again to fulfil an ambition. Jack Jenkins, of The Framptons, East Preston, celebrated the years since his first solo flight in style by flying again and toasting the event with champagne. Wearing his original white silk scarf from Army days and clad in Biggles-style helmet, goggles and flying jacket, Mr Jenkins boarded the Spirit of Pashley at Shoreham Airport. "I wore my Army tie and I took my wings that I keep in my pocket as a good luck omen," he said. "I was excited. I was looking forward to it immensely."
Mr Jenkins originally planned the trip for April, but, owing to bad weather conditions, it was postponed four times. The fifth attempt brought beautiful, clear blue skies and perfect flying conditions. "We took off northwards over the Downs at 3,000 feet. The skipper asked me where I would like to go and I said East Preston. We flew over to Littlehampton, then he gave me the stick, so I did a few turns over East Preston. Even though it was 57 years ago, it all came back. It was a bit like riding a bicycle - you never forget. It was a lovely trip and it was just like old times. It was exactly how I remembered it."
After the half-hour flight, the plane landed and Mr Jenkins gave a thumbs-up signal to his friends waiting at the Aviation Services Ltd viewing gallery. Together with the pilot and other staff at the airport, Mr Jenkins toasted the occasion with champagne.
The Tiger Moth Jack Jenkins flew at Shoreham was rebuilt in 1985 by students at Northbrook College, based at the airfield. It was named the Spirit of Pashley after Cecil Pashley, who was chief flying instructor for Southern Aero Club, which was started in 1911 and was the first at Shoreham. The aircraft was taken over by the college in 1952 and eventually used as an instructional airframe. It was deleted from the register in 1972 until students took up the challenge to rebuild it.
Jack Jenkins joined the Devonshire Regiment in 1940, qualifying as a drill and weapons instructor. However, he had an ambition to fly, so in September, 1942, he volunteered for the airborne forces. After physical and mental tests to weed out the "faint-hearted", Mr Jenkins was selected for flying training under RAF instructors as a potential member of the Army Glider Pilot Regiment. After just 14 days with just over 10 hours' flying time, he soloed in a Tiger Moth. He completed the course, then more followed with glider training on small craft carrying eight men and then operational gliders. These were large enough to hold 30 men, or a jeep and trailer and four men.
"I soloed the same day I started - after just 95 minutes' dual flying. The course ended in August 1943, and I was accepted into the regiment, promoted to Staff Sergeant Pilot and presented with the coveted red beret and wings." Mr Jenkins flew troops all over Europe during the war and was held in reserve for ferry duties on D-Day. One memorable expedition was to capture a village in Germany and the load he was flying was Mr Jenkins' old platoon of the Devonshire Regiment. "That was the final operation in Europe and we converted onto smaller gliders for action in Burma. We ceased flying on May 12, 1945. Our posting overseas was cancelled as the Americans dropped the atom bomb and it was all over."
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