Men of the 2nd South Staffords Signals Platoon

Private Allan George Herbert


Unit : Signals Platoon, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion The South Staffordshire Regiment

Army No. : 4915809


Allan George Herbert died in the early 1990's. His daughter, following an attempt to discover some information about his wartime activities, received a letter in 1997 from the then Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Cartwright, who at Arnhem was a Lieutenant commanding the 2nd South Staffords Signals Platoon. Private Herbert was his batman. The letter reads:


Dear Mrs Tait


I have just read your letter in 'Pegasus' journal asking for information about your father, Alan George Herbert, who served in the Signal Pl of 2nd Bn The South Staffordshire Regt.


He was a regular soldier before the War (No supplied) and would have been with the Bn at Nowshera (India) in 1939. The Bn returned to England in 1940 to Wheatley and moved to St Albans. They stayed there until Feb 1941. After being at Pontypool and Kingsclere it moved to Carter Barracks, Bulford, in 1942 to train as a gliderborne Bn of the 1st Airborne Division. I joined it at Bulford.


We left Bulford on 16 May 43 for North Africa and arrived at Oran (Algeria). From there we went to Sousse (Tunisia) to prepare for the invasion of Sicily on 9 July 43. There was a shortage of gliders and I didn't [go] but I'm fairly sure Alan did. The Bn did a good job but, because many gliders landed in the sea, casualties were heavy (20 offrs and 330 soldiers). The Bn came back to Sousse on 13 Jul 43. We then went to Italy on 12 Sep 43 and chased the Germans up the East coast until 13 Oct 43 when we went back to N. Africa for return to UK. We left on 28 Nov 43 and arrived at Woodhall spa in Lincolnshire on 10 Dec 43. We were sure that we were going to be used for the D-day invasion and were very fed-up when the other Airborne division was chosen instead.


From Jun 44 onwards we travelled round airfields and loaded up our gliders for sixteen operations all of which were cancelled at the last minute because our armies in France and Belgium were advancing rapidly. Finally we were given the job of capturing the bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem (Holland) some 65 miles into enemy lines ahead of our Second Army. This Army was expected to link up with us within 48 hrs but, unknown to us, the enemy forces at Arnhem included two armoured divisions (9 and 10 SS Panzer) with plenty of tanks. Our Division, arriving by glider and parachute, had none.


I was in charge of Signal Pl and Alan was my driver/batman: he looked after me while I looked after the rest of the Pl!


We took off from Manston in Kent on 17 Sept 44 with a  jeep and trailer and a couple more signallers in our Horsa  glider. Only half of the Bn was with us; the rest were due the next day. We made a good landing and watched three para bns dropping before they set off on their 7 mile trek into Arnhem to capture the bridge. They met fierce opposition and only one bn got there. We were told on Monday to help the paras even though the rest of our Bn hadn't arrived. The Germans did their best to stop us getting to Arnhem and it was dusk when we linked up with the paras. We decided to put in a combined attack as soon as the rest of our Bn arrived. But our radio link to them wasn't working and I had to go back to find them. I was glad to have your father with me as it was an unpleasant trip. When we did attack, the Germans had been strongly reinforced with tanks against which we had little defence or ammunition. We got as far as the town museum before being halted and overrun. We had heavy losses and only about 100 got back to the Divisional defensive position at Oosterbeek. The Second Army didn't reach us and on 25/26 Sept the Division withdrew across the river. Of the 43 Offrs and 720 South Staffords only 6 Offrs and 133 soldiers got across.


I had been shot in the attack and was lying on the floor of a large barracks at Apeldoorn (10 miles north of Arnhem), where the captured British wounded were collected, when your father found me. He was helping the doctors and medical orderlies who had stayed behind to look after us. He was not injured and I was delighted to see him again. I think that he was put on one of the early trains that took us off to Germany. We all ended up in a dreary, overcrowded POW camp at Fallingbostel (Stalag 11B) North of Hanover. I didn't see him there as all the officers and many of the soldiers were distributed to other camps. I think that he stayed there until released in May 45. Conditions got a bit better but Stalag 11b was a very unpleasant place in which to spend the rest of the war.


When I got back I called at his address at Brierley Hill but he wasn't there. I left my address but didn't hear from him. I stayed in the Army after the war and spent most of my time overseas. After I retired I met war-time comrades at Lichfield reunions and at Arnhem but had no news of him. I'm very sorry we didn't meet again. I have always remembered him as a very likeable man and a good comrade to be with when the going got tough.


Hugh Cartwright.


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