Sergeant Henry Callaghan
Unit : HQ Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 3854424
Awards : Bronzen Leeuw
I joined the Loyal Regiment in April 1932 and left the Army in January 1956, at my own request with the rank of Warrant Officer.
I went to India for one year in 1935, moving to Palestine in February 1936, defending the Jewish settlements against the Arabs. I changed Battalions and went to Shanghai in October 1936, just as the Japanese invaded Northern China. We had to defend the perimeters on the International Settlements and to cope with the influx of some two million Chinese refugees fleeing from the Japanese. They were allowed to sleep on the pavements from dusk until dawn and then we had to move them on to their allocated rice stations. It was not unusual to have to dispose of some 400-500 dead bodies every morning. This went on until we were posted to Singapore in March 1938. I left Singapore on New Year's Day in 1939 to be posted to Aldershot and eventually onto the Reserve in April 1939.
I was recalled to the Colours in June 1939 and off we went to France in September. They formed a Platoon from each Battalion in the Brigade to form the Bde Anti-Tank Company and we were armed with French 25mm anti-tank guns, three to each platoon, Platoon HQ consisting of 1 x Officer and his batman. Company HQ consisted of Major. Gidlow-Jackson, of the Loyals, his batman and a CQMS. Dad's Army indeed!
When the balloon went up we advanced into Belguim and came out twice as fast! On the way back through I set up a strong point in a corner shop with a view of three approaches. A German 'stonk' demolished us and I was wounded pretty badly and unable to command any further. My crew got me to a hospital ship and I was safely evacuated to a hospital in North Wales for three months. Fit again on discharge I went on a gas course and then was put in charge of a mobile gas chamber with a territory from Carlisle in the North down along the west coast to Pembroke dock in South Wales. After six months I had to be taken off [this task] on medical grounds and I returned to the 1st Bn [The Loyals] in Lincolnshire.
I volunteered for Special Service and was called forward in August 1941 and posted to the 3rd Parachute Battalion, 8 Platoon, C-Company as Platoon Sergeant. Completed parachute course a very happy man and soldier. In early 1942, along with Lieutenant Pat Street (ex Welsh Guards) I was sent on a month long Advanced Infantry Assault Course in Loch Ailart in Scotland, it was the most horrific experience of my life. On return I was posted to 'A' Company as C.Q.M.S. (happy days). Off to North Africa in November 1942. May 1943 I was posted to Headquarter Company as C.S.M, and when the fighting had finished we had all become the very first 'RED DEVILS'.
Down a rank to C.Q.M.S. again and into the Reserve Company, and hearing about the Sicily job mightily lobbied the CO of the Advance Party for the drop to accept me in his 'stick', the gallant [Major A.P.H.] 'Pete' Waddy. I managed to get to the bridge first light next morning [14th July 1943], but was abruptly ordered off by the only other occupant, the redoubtable Alastair Pearson and one didn't argue with that particular officer. I was wounded and medically evacuated to North Africa.
I didn't go to Italy, but remained behind along with the rag, tag and bobtails of war to clear up the ex billet area. This included the remains of the Divisional ammo dump which had gone up a few days prior to the Sicily take off. Major Lonsdale was the O.C. and we had to work damned hard all through the heat of day, every day. We had a little solitude in the cool of the evenings and we relaxed in the 'Clangers Club', I of course was founder and chief Clanger, Dickie became our only officer Clanger. Boy, did we have fun! I got into a spot of bother and even in spite of a very spirited effort by the Major (it was rumoured that he even threatened to punch the Provost Marshall on the nose), I was Court Martialled and reduced to the ranks.
I arrived home just in time to get promoted to Sergeant (and Provost Sgt) and off we went to Arnhem. Amongst the various places that I fought in the battle of Arnhem, none was more aptly named than that by 'Jerry' himself, 'Der Hexenkessel'. It is here that I would like to pay special tribute to Captain. Dorrien-Smith, [2 i/c of B-Company] of 3 Para Bn. When we finally got permission to [withdraw] from the killing ground [western Arnhem on Wednesday the 19th September] the Captain organized the evacuation by small parties to leave at five minute intervals and to collect at a point in Oosterbeek to await our arrival, as he and I were to be the last to leave. We had to leave a few very seriously wounded behind, promising to return for them as soon as we had re-established ourselves in our new positions. There were countless dead of course. He had previously lost his brother, killed in action and they were a family from the BUFFS for generations, and those two brothers were the last of the males in the family name. We had only gone about 100 yards when he seemed to stumble, I went back to him, only to find he had been killed immediately, shot through the head. I could do nothing for him except to verify that he had his I.D. discs with him and I then rejoined our lads in Oosterbeek to reorganize them.
After we got home to Spalding, I was visited by his sisters and it was the saddest moment of my life to tell them, but they were happy to know that he had not suffered in death. He was a brilliant and gallant leader and the men worshipped him and his command of us was beyond praise. He really should have been publically praised and decorated for his outstanding command and acre of those of us who survived.
The area allocated to my small command lay to the [north of?] Oosterbeek church on the extreme face of the Lonsdale Force and I chose as my Platoon HQ a barn in which was the village hearse and underneath the seat lay the traditional top hat and frock coat. I borrowed the hat and went down to our cellar, which was full to the brim with wounded and I tried to cheer them up - saying that I was to be the Airborne Rep at Hitler's funeral in Berlin. Above ground I told the lads when they warned me to be carefull of snipers, 'Don't worry lads, nothing can hit me under this!'. Good for morale, but man, was I scared. Along came Major Cain of the South Staffs (later V.C.) and with him and my P.I.A.T. he tried to lob a shot over the barns, only succeeding in bringing the slates down around our heads. He later successfully disposed of vehicles elsewhere and got his well deserved V.C.
I have missed out of context a very important point in later conduct, for the rest of the battle. After organizing my remnants into 5 sections, I went into the church to report to someone that I had an available force, just in time to hear Major. Lonsdale's address to us. I saw Jimmy Cleminson and we exchanged smiles and winked at one another. The effect [of Major. Lonsdale's speech] on the lads was electric. Back went the shoulders and up went the heads and the eyes shone with determination, and we were RED DEVILS reborn.
Finally we were evacuated over the Rhine on a dark night and we, of the Old and Bold, the 3rd Battalion, returned to Spalding. Later [October] we and the 11th Bn were amalgamated and posted to Melton Mowbray to reform the new 3rd Battalion. Lt-Col. Lonsdale, DSO, MC was our new Commanding Officer and I was C.S.M. of my original 'C' Company. The new set of re-enforcements were volunteers from the AA gunners, even some lads who had originally intended to join the Royal Navy. Some months of real hard slog was the order of both day and night, seven days a week. We were being licked into shape as a cohesive and active fighting unit. V.J. day came and went, still the slog went on and on relentless.
The rumours said we were for abroad, where ????? We arrived at Port Said via a troopship and slowly trickled into Palestine. What a turn-up! There was I in the Loyals in 1936 defending the Jews against Arabs, and now, we were defending ourselves against the Jews. Lt-Col. Lonsdale left on posting elsewhere and that was the last I saw of him and served under him as a soldier. We met at reunions and exchanged cards, sometimes the odd chat on the phone. We met at the 40th Anniversary of the battle of Arnhem, and spent some time on a Rhine boat, 14 days.
For his actions at Arnhem, Sergeant Callaghan was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but in its place was given the Dutch Bronze Lion:
During the entire Airborne Operations at Arnhem 17th / 25th September, 1944, this NCO displayed the most outstanding gallantry. He acted as the RSM from the 21st to the 25th September. On the 21st and 22nd September, when the Battalion's armament was reduced to grenades only, Sergeant Callaghan collected and distributed vast quantities of German arms and ammunition which he obtained from No Mans Land in front of the forward defended localities. All this work was done in the face of practically continuous mortar and small arms fire. On the evening of the 22nd, his sector was relatively stronger in fire power than it had been immediately after the parachute descent. He also performed throughout invaluable work at the Regimental Aid Post bringing in many wounded under fire. His zeal, enthusiasm and undisputed gallantry all through the operation was magnificent and an inspiration to all ranks.
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