Private Stanley Derbyshire
Unit : Signals Platoon, Headquarters Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 14375898
As I stood in the doorway of the Dakota plane, with a canvas bag containing a large heavy wireless set strapped to my back, an American crewman with a Cigar in the corner of his mouth placed a large black jacket on the floor, stood on it, patted me on the back and said, "Give 'em hell boy...". I replied, "Its all right for you, you're going back!" I then proceeded to parachute in to Arnham...
When I landed I had difficulty getting the wireless set off of my back, and I asked a fellow signaler to give me a hand. He replied, "Will you hold my pigeon?". It was the first I'd ever heard of a pigeon on board the plane! He then proceeded to pull a cardboard cylinder from the side of his leg, where it had been attached. He asked me to hold the cylinder explaining, "The bird is alright, but can you put your hand over the end so it can't escape." "Right", I said. But unfortunately took my hand off, to put my arm through the parachute harness, and the bird flew into a nearby tree. "Sorry about that", I exclaimed. My friend was very worried about his loss, and the last I saw of him, he was rattling the cylinder full of seed, trying to coax the pigeon down!
I then reached the outskirts of Arnham, where I met a little old lady, handing out 'Black Cat' cigarettes. The chap in front of me took one, and continued towards Arnham. Having only taken a few more steps, he was approached by a young women, who came up to him and said, "So pleased to see you, its been a long time, have you an English cigarette?" And to my utter amazement, the chap handed over the cigarette he had just been given by the little old lady!
Following these incidences, the reality of war hit home...Mortar bombs, bullets, etc...we were reminded of what we were here for... The wireless was useless, progress was slow. we met a lost General, he shuffled across a field with his walking stick, and asked us if we new where his headquarters were located. We went two days and nights fighting from house to house, but only got as far as the river, just in sight of the bridge.
It was here I was shot and taken prisoner... As a walking wounded I had to help look after my comrades. One said, "Stan, I heard the Germans are giving out Bibles, can you get me one?" I thought, how amazing, religion has reached these tough men. And then he said, "The pages on them are ideal for cigarette papers!"
I saw some dreadful things, I had to help a doctor amputate a soldier's leg, and then I was asked to bury the leg, whilst fighting off a pack of hungry dogs.
As a prisoner of war, I was packed on to a train to Germany, and sent to work in a salt mine. The food was ok, and Red Cross parcels got through. The Scotsmen put all the dried fruit into a barrel until hogmanay, and we got drunk as lords!
On April Fools day, 1945, we were forced to march South, with only potatoes to eat... we marched for a month. Thousands of political prisoners were also heading in the same direction. We heard gunshots, and saw many bodies that had been marched and slaughtered by the S.S. soldiers. Even our German guards were terrified of the S.S. I decided to escape, but was captured a day later and put among some Russian P.O.Ws. Eventually our guards disappeared and I was left to find my way back home to England, so I missed V.E day.
It is not a happy ending, because I was only a young lad and had to celebrate my 21st birthday as a P.O.W. I was then sent to Palestine for more fighting, but thats another story...
Copyright: Stanley Derbyshire.
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