Bill Griffin aged 15

Bill Griffin, 1941-42

Bill Griffin in 1945

Bill Griffin, 1948-1949

Bill Griffin's medals

Bill Griffin's Mentioned in Despatches certificate

Notification of Bill Griffin's MBE award

A certification of Bill Griffin's Haakon VI Freedom Medal

Sergeant Neville George Griffin


Unit : Adjutant and Quartermaster Branch, Headquarters 1st Airborne Division

Army No. : S/57452

Awards : Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Mentioned in Despatches.


Neville George Griffin, known to everyone as "Bill" was born in India on the 25th September 1923. The exact location was Clifton Murray Hills, which is now part of Pakistan. His name came about as a result of their Afghan cook not being able to pronounce "Neville", it always came out as "Bill".


His father had been a soldier with the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who had seen service in the Great War and decided to settle in India and signed on with the Indian Army Ordnance Corps.


On the 22nd April 1938 Bill joined up as a boy soldier, aged 14 years and 6 months, in Kirkee, India and just three days later he was on a troopship bound for England. He was sent to Buller Barracks in Aldershot to undertake his training as a clerk in the Royal Army Service Corps. He was to be based there for 3 years learning his trade, before being sent to his first post at Reigate. Here he worked for General Bernard Law Montgomery as a member of South East Army Command in 1941. He had to take dictation from the General on a regular basis using his skill as a shorthand writer, a skill that would make him invaluable to senior officers throughout his career.


At the age of 17˝ he was old enough to join up for Regular Service and volunteered for the newly forming-up Airborne Forces. After he had made his application he was sent for a thorough medical, which he passed. One of his first appointments was as a short hand clerk and typist to General F. A. M. Browning, the first G.O.C. of the Airborne Division. As part of the Adjutant & Quartermasters Staff he was also answerable to Lieutenant-Colone J. A. Goschen, the first Assistant Adjutant & Quartermaster General of the Airborne Division.


In April 1943 the 1st Airborne Division (in 1942 the original Airborne Division had split to form two units, the 1st and the 6th Airborne Divisions) was ordered to mobilise for North Africa. Bill travelled by troop train from Bulford to Liverpool docks, where he embarked on the H.M.T. Stirling Castle. From Liverpool they sailed to Garoch in Scotland where the convoy formed up to sail for Oran in Algeria, landing in May. From here they moved to Mascara in Tunisia where the 1st Airborne Division was preparing for the invasion of Sicily.


At this stage Bill had a new boss, Major-General G. F. Hopkinson, known as "Hoppy" to all. Whilst very busy typing out the orders for operations Fustian and Husky, "Bill" still found time to undertake a parachute course. He carried out 5 jumps including one by night. Having become parachute qualified he was attached to the 2nd Parachute Brigade for further operations on the 10th July 1943, but the operation was cancelled.


After operations on Sicily were completed the remnants of the 1st Parachute and 1st Airlanding Brigades returned to their respective camps in North Africa. Bill was again kept very busy, sometimes long into the night, typing out the orders for the 1st Airborne Division's next major deployment - the invasion of Southern Italy. They eventually set sail for the Italian port of Taranto in September 1943. The Royal Naval task force consisted of the Capitol ships HMS Howe and King George V with the USS Boise attached for the operation. Bill and the Divisional Headquarters element sailed in HMS Aurora. From Taranto the 1st Airborne Division pushed the German forces back past Foggia. This is where Bill and the main part of the Division moved forward to in October. The conditions were quite appalling on the flat open ground of the Foggia airfield area and every time it rained the plain flooded. There was a very high rate of jaundice in the 1st Airborne Division in this environment. The Division was eventually relieved by General Montgomery's 5th Corps of the 8th Army.


In December 1st Airborne Division moved back to Taranto to begin their relocation back to the United Kingdom. The convoy that Bill was in sailed back to Liverpool and straight from docking they were sent to the 'new' Divisional Headquarters at Fulbeck Hall in Lincolnshire. Given two weeks disembarkation leave, in the New Year of 1944, it was spoilt by him falling ill. After his recovery in hospital he was sent to a Holding Depot, where the authorities wanted to post him to a Line Infantry Unit. Bill protested that he was a trained Airborne Soldier and was thus posted back to the 1st Airborne Division.


Along with the Divisional planning staff Bill regularly travelled to Moor Park where the various further airborne operations were planned after "D-Day". Lieutenant-Colonel P. H. H. H. Preston, who was now Bill's immediate boss would let him visit his fiancé, Dorothy, who lived nearby, on the strict instructions that he did not say a word about what they were doing in the area.


On Sunday the 17th September 1944 Lieutenant-Colonel Preston, Bill, S.S.M. George Fairhurst and Corporal Norman Davidson with a jeep and trailer flew from RAF Fairford in a Horsa glider flown by men of No.24 Flight, "G" Squadron, The Glider Pilot Regiment to L.Z. "Z" near Heelsum in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. Bill was not particularly happy about going by glider, as a trained parachutist he would have preferred to be "jumping in" on the operation.


"Lieutenant-Colonel Preston, the A.A & Q.M.G. [Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General], a South Lancashire Regiment officer, insisted I go with him in his glider as he wanted me to take his little black leather office box. We were the second glider out of Fairford, and I did not enjoy the ride!" [1]


They encountered some flak as they crossed the Dutch coast and upon landing another glider cut across their front causing the pilot of their own glider to veer away. Although no one was hurt the nose was dug-in and the tail high in the air, with Bill's typewriter lost in the crash. Once on the ground the situation from Bill's point of view did not improve as he witnessed other gliders landing;


"Hamilcars had a problem landing. I saw a glider pilot screaming from his injuries following a bad landing. I gave him morphine and left him. It was all I could do for him." [2]


The small team of men as part of the 1st Airborne Divisional Headquarters element moved into the woods on the Eastern side of the L.Z. towards Wolfheze and set up their "Q" Cell, a supporting office for the A.A. & Q.M.G. in which the Logistics Staff were to work. Later when the HQ came under sustained German mortar fire they had to move back amongst the gliders and set up under the wing of a Hamilcar.


On Monday the 18th the Divisional HQ moved to a new location in the small village of Oosterbeek, arriving there at 17.30 hours.


"We formed up and marched up the main road to the Hartenstein [Hotel]. We thought it was just like an exercise. We went past the body of General Kussin. We went straight into the cellar." [3]


By Tuesday the 19th things were no longer like an exercise and the fire into their area from German guns was beginning to increase. The main problem now was that the Germans held the re-supply dropping zone and numerous methods were used to try and redirect the aircraft.


"Re-Supply signals used to be put into SLIDEX [a simple code system used by the British Army up to the 1980's]. We got a couple of supply drops through. Stanley Maxted [a BBC reporter] was there, and passed re-supply information through the BBC link and then onto 1st Airborne Corps. On one occasion Colonel Preston sent me out with a Verey pistol to attract pilots attention, but the Germans were doing the same thing on the perimeter and it was to no avail." [4]


On Wednesday the 20th life around the Divisional HQ was decidedly unhealthy and getting worse.


"Colonel Preston told me he wished to see Colonel Packe [the C.R.A.S.C.], and asked me to go and get him. I asked Norman Davidson to come with me. "Not likely" was the immediate reaction, but he came anyway. We crossed the main road, and saw a house with a dim light which was a cellar. I stuck my head in and said, "Colonel Packe?". I was lucky not to get shot. I told him he was wanted, and with a very unhappy Colonel Packe we padded back across the road." [5]


Eventually Lieutenant-Colonel Packe and his small admin staff moved into a slit trench near the Hartenstein HQ, being quite near the AQ office it would much easier for Bill to get Colonel Packe next time!


Between Thursday the 21st and Monday the 25th it was one continuous round of bombardments from the encircling German forces. On the night of the 25th Bill and the other AQ Staff were told about Operation Berlin, the evacuation plan for what remained of the 1st Airborne Division.


"We were gathered together and told about the taping of the route to the river. I had the great joy of smearing Colonel Preston's face with lamp black from the Tilley lamp. We were told that if a man was wounded he was to be left behind. It was my twenty-first birthday, and I thought 'today I'm going to die'. I never thought I'd see my twenty-first birthday out. Three of the Divisional Headquarters Clerks got out: Corporal Daniel Lewis, Corporal Norman Davidson and myself. I got out in a Canadian boat. We couldn't start the engine and it was drifting down the river before we eventually got it going. Having got over I headed for a Dorset [Regiment] soup kitchen. Heading back from the river in a DUKW it slipped on a dyke and we all ended up in the ditch, but the driver got it out and drove us to Nijmegen." [6]


Upon their return to the U.K from Holland, via Belgium, they were taken straight back to Fulbeck Hall. After a couple of days they were sent on survivors leave.


Their priority on return to Fulbeck Hall was sorting out and collating the various citations for bravery. They were set a time limit by the authorities as the 1st Airborne Division was to be on parade at Buckingham Palace on the 6th December 1944. Bill, however, would not be attending the parade as he had been given permission to marry, the big day taking place on 9th December 1944 in Abbey Wood, Woolwich.


By May 1945 the Division had been brought back up to strength and they were tasked with liberating Norway and taking the surrender of the German garrison there. Bill sailed to Norway in an L.S.T. via Leith in Scotland with the AQ Office truck. He remained in Oslo until October when the Division was returned to the U.K. Whilst in Norway he was awarded the King Haakon Medal.


A service was held in Salisbury Cathedral on their return for the disbandment of the 1st Airborne Division.


Bill was sent as Chief Clerk to 1st Parachute Brigade Headquarters as a Staff Sergeant. It was during this time that Bill helped Brigadier Hill set up the Parachute Regiment Association.


February 1946. Palestine. Where Bill worked for Brigadier Hugh Bellamy (he sometimes scared other Senior Officers as he was a very strong willed character).


November 1946. Palestine. Bill gets his promotion to Warrant Officers Class II and is posted to 6th Airborne Divisional HQ, against Brigadier Bellamy's wishes! At Div HQ he took on the task of Chief Clerk at the age of 23. His immediate boss was now Major-General Eric Bols. During this period he was awarded a Mention In Despatches.


April 1948. Return to U.K. with the residues of 1st Parachute Brigade, then posted to 2nd Parachute Brigade HQ in Germany, which was renumbered 16th Independent Parachute Brigade Group. He stayed with the Brigade until 1952.


1952. Posted to Egypt, The Canal Zone, via Cyprus.


January 1953. Posted to R.M.A. Sandhurst until April 1956. Here Bill had to drop a rank back to W.O.II, but after a short period he gained his rank of W.O.I officially.


May 1956 - April 1957. Posted to 138 Supply Company in Germany.


1957 - 1960. Posted to H.Q, B.A.O.R. to work in the G-Branch.


1960 - 1963. Posted to Western Command, Chester. It was whilst at this post that he took his Commission, December 1962.


January 1963 - August 1965. Posted to Singapore, 3 Army Air Supply Organisation, as the Air Despatch Officer for 55 Company, Air Despatch, R.A.S.C.


August 1965 - 1967. Posted as a Staff Captain, Q-Branch to HQ Yorkshire District in Catterick. This where he was awarded his M.B.E.


1967 - 1969. Posted to the M.O.D. as a Staff Officer to the Chief Of The Defence Staff. Promoted to Major after just 11 months as a Captain.


Between 1969 and 1978 Bill undertook various Staff Appointments, having transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and made responsible for promotions and postings.


He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on 24th September 1972.


He and his wife moved to the Amesbury area in 1977.



Main information taken from an interview with Bob Hilton. 19/02/10. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Quoted from 'Arnhem, The Fight To Sustain' by Brigadier Frank Steer.


My thanks to Bob Hilton for this account.


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