Private Edwin Dennis Cramp
Unit : No.2 Platoon, 21st Independent Parachute Company
Army No. : 14421210
The following was written by Gil Boyd BEM after an interview with Dennis Cramp in 2006.
Born: Slough on the 17th of March 1926
Educated at: Bisley Boarding School
Joined The Army
Dennis joined the Army as soon as he could after leaving school, as his brother Robert was in the Kings Own Royal Regiment of Lancaster as a bandsman. On his 17th birthday, 10 months earlier than he should, he joined the same unit and trained as a wireless operator. After the completion of his course he was posted at the end of August 1943 to the South Lancashire Regiment.
Training and War Games
The Regiment spent most of the latter part of 1943 in the Shoreham area playing war games to bring them up to strength and effectiveness.
On the 23rd of December 1943 he remembers vividly, as being aboard a troop ship crossing to Northern Ireland with the whole Regiment in what he describes as "mountainous waves, every man was thoroughly sick, and the high winds covered everybody on deck with vomit, and there was nowhere and nothing you could do to be able to get out of the way." On arrival in Northern Ireland they were based at Carrickfergus Camp. It was there after much deliberation that Dennis volunteered for the Glider Pilot Regiment.
Glider Pilot Regiment
It was now early 1944, when he was posted to Euston in London to take his Pilots Qualification Examination. This exam he passed with flying colours. He was then sent to Larkhill and then to RAF Booker, at High Wycombe in April 1944 to actually do his flying training. (You had to be able to fly engined aircraft in the first place before you were allowed to be a Glider Pilot.) Dennis found the Tiger Moth a real challenge to fly. He could take off without a hitch but, no matter how hard he tried he could not land it safely. He later remarked, seeing Glider Pilots land at Arnhem "I always wondered why you needed to be a pilot first to fly gliders, because they just crash landed them at Arnhem, and I could have done that."
It was whilst he was there that Major "Boy" Wilson of the 21st Independent Parachute Company came to interview the failed pilots as he knew that they were made of tougher stuff than the average soldier, and Dennis was passed for Parachute training.
It was June 1944 when Dennis completed his parachute training at Ringway, near Manchester. On completion, and on receipt of his wings, he was posted to the 21st Independent Parachute Company at Swinderby in Lincolnshire. At that time there were no billets for the troops, so they were housed in private homes. It was much later that accommodation became available for troops, and eventually moved into barracks at Newark in Lincs. There unit carried out many training exercises and drops around the Swinderby area.
21st Independent Parachute (Pathfinder) Company
The OC of the Company was Major "Boy" Wilson whose name was famous as one of the older and bolder officers within the Parachute Regiment and was once Boy Browning's senior officer in the First World War. It was amazing to think that now at the Dawn of Operation Market Garden Browning was to be the formations commander for the drop on Arnhem. The 21st Independent Parachute Company consisted of 186 officers and men. 1 Platoon was commanded by Lt David Eastwood, 2 Platoon by Lt Speller and finally 3 Platoon by Lt Hugh Ashmore. Dennis found himself as a Private soldier within 2 Platoon for the duration.
Operation Market Garden
from the memories of Dennis Cramp
The First Day
It was mid-morning on the 17th of September 1944 that the 21st Independent Parachute Company took off in a number of Stirling bombers from Fairford in Gloucestershire. The Company jumped on mass and at exactly 1240hrs Dennis was one of the first "Pathfinders" to touch the Dutch soil of Ginkel Heath. It was there, that he and his comrades marked out the DZ with smoke and tape for the larger formation that was to follow. Each Platoon had a DZ or LZ as their respective responsibility which is listed at the end of this article. Major Wilson parachuted into a German position, with a sentry immediately surrendering to him, he then took the OC to a slit trench where even more German soldiers surrendered believing that the war was truly over for them. How wrong they were. That first day was very quiet, with no exchanges of fire on either side.
The Second Day
It was the second day, that Dennis remembers, gliders crash landing on the DZ, and German Flame throwers engulfing the wooden gliders from which he still hears the screams from the troops inside even today. It was also this second day that the Germans realised what was happening and set about repulsing the Airborne throng with anti-aircraft fire and masses of small arms fire as Paratroopers fell to the ground. In many respects, they were slaughtered before they landed. Throughout all of this, the Pathfinders had to remain on the perimeter of the DZ to ensure all formations following in the next days had the Drop zone clearly marked by day or night for their drop.
Constant Mortar Fire
The Pathfinders centralised their operations in Oosterbeek woods. Dennis remembers vividly being mortared relentlessly by what they soon named "Moaning Minnies" because of the sound of the German mortars made as they fell on their positions. Whilst they were in the woods the Germans would firstly use extremely loud music to stop any firing, and then in a their best English say "Men of the 1st Airborne Division, you are in a hopeless position, surrender now to the soldiers of the Third Reich" In Dennis's words "We waited until he had finished and every time he came and repeated his loudspeaker message, we opened up with everything we had."
It was many days later that his formation learnt that the 2nd Army had not made it to the Bridge, and the order was given to retreat. The 21st took up positions in Oosterbeek village, and Dennis remembers being in a Veterinary Surgeons house. To this date, he hasn't returned to try and find the house he left in tatters after the battle. Some days later on Monday the 25th, they were all withdrawn to the river at nightfall, following mine tape laid during the day. Their feet were bound in blankets and any material they could find to ensure there was no noise to attract fire or giveaway the fact that they were all withdrawing. One fact Dennis recalled to me which has never been published in any books of the battle to my knowledge, was that during the night two machine guns positioned on the far bank where the crossing was taking place, would lay a path of non stop tracer rounds. This gap between the two guns then ensured that the withdrawing formation kept within its boundaries as they crossed in boats or swam.
Of the 186 men that made up the formation of the 21st Independent "Pathfinders" Parachute Company, 20 were killed over the period, 46 were missing in action, and 120 were safely evacuated, of which Dennis was one.
It was a very moving experience interviewing Dennis Cramp and to have met him personally. I was very proud to have shaken his hand. The circumstances at which I did this, were regrettable, as it was on the day that he was fighting another battle, to recover his sick 88 year old wife Maria from the hands of the Social Services in Blackburn. Sadly, had it not been for the publicity of this incident, we would never have been aware of such a brave Airborne Warrior in our midst. Due to his wife's long term illness, of which he nursed her fulltime at home in Accrington, he had no spare time available to join his local PRA. When she had a stroke and was placed in the local hospital, he was asked to look after her at home to free up her bed space. The irony now is that, the Social Services have gone to court to have Maria taken into their care at a Nursing Home at Dennis's cost, when all they both want is to spend their twilight and last days together as husband and wife. This truly is a remarkable man, who deserves our full support, and I for one will continue to provide that support to a fellow Parachute Regiment member. His life will be honoured on ParaData for future generations to see what this man did for our country. UTRINQUE PARATUS.
Dennis Cramp completed Parachute Course No.121, which ran from the 18th June to the 1st July 1944; his record states "Good performer, confident & reliable, keen & enthusiastic." In May 1945, Dennis Cramp accompanied the 1st Airborne Division to Norway to oversee the German surrender. In June, he joined the 22nd Independent Parachute Company, and was transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps on the 23rd August 1946. Dennis Cramp passed away on the 9th January 2018.
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