Major Allen Parry

Major Allen James Maule Parry


Unit : "A" Company, 9th Parachute Battalion

Service No. : 69160

Awards : Military Cross


Allen Parry was one of four sons of Canon Allen James Parry. All four served in the forces and two were killed; Peter Francis Parry of the 1st Battalion The Essex Regiment died in North Africa on the 26th November 1941, and Captain/Reverend George Edward Maule Parry, the Chaplain of the 7th Parachute Battalion, was killed in Bénouville on the 6th June 1944 when the Regimental Aid Post was overrun.


Major Allen Parry commanded the 9th Battalion's "A" Company. The chief task assigned to the Company for the invasion was to fly to Normandy in three Horsa gliders, land inside the Merville Battery and attack the casemates with Sten guns and flame-throwers. Despite the fact that approximately three-quarters of "A" Company were to participate in this, Major Parry and some thirty others did not accompany them, but were instead dropped over DZ-V with the remainder of the Battalion. Parry was to be one of the ten-man advanced party of the 9th Battalion who were to jump with the pathfinders at 00:20, half an hour before the main force. His task was to establish the Battalion Rendezvous and signal its location when the main drop took place by means of a red Aldis lamp. The glider assault was felt to be an extremely risky, almost suicidal venture that could result in severe casualties amongst those taking part. Nevertheless the whole Company volunteered to be a part of the G-B Force, as it was known, but Major Parry made a point of selecting from amongst the volunteers as few married men as possible.


The advanced guard and the pathfinders took off from RAF Harwell, where the Albemarles of 295 and 570 Squadrons were based. "Ten of us had visited the airfield to 'bomb up', collect and fit parachutes and meet our pilot. We were the only ten of the Battalion to depart from this airfield, from which also flew the Pathfinders of 22 Independent Parachute Company and Divisional Headquarters... Ever since returning from France in 1940 on the occasion of the Dunkirk evacuation, I had been apprehensive lest I should not one day be among the lucky ones to return. Thus, on the evening of 5 June I found myself at Harwell airfield waiting to emplane on what was to be the biggest operation ever undertaken by British arms. I was well aware of this fact, which added to my suppressed excitement."


"Everybody was very calm, outwardly at any rate, and going about his business quietly. I stuffed my haversack into my leg kitbag in which I was also carrying an Aldis Lamp. Seeing me do so, my batman, Private Adsett did likewise; so did one of the sergeants. I told them I couldn't guarantee they would see them again but they appeared to be quite content to take the risk rather than strap them to their stomachs for the jump. A frightful job of getting into one's harness. Although we had fitted chutes a couple of days before, mine didn't fit at all well now. After a few further adjustments, it fitted beautifully thanks to Adsett's beneficial advice. {The} Kitbag became a bit of a problem as the quick-release mechanism had come adrift and reposed in the bottom of the bag. As there was not sufficient time to look for it, I had to be content with tying the rope onto my harness."


Having been at RAF Harwell for just over an hour, the pathfinder and advanced parties began to board their aircraft at 22:30. "This was most difficult as we were all very heavily laden. The only entrance was the aperture in the floor of the aircraft. One had first to crawl under the fuselage, grab a doubtful ladder and then, by using every ounce of strength, lever oneself into the interior. When all ten of us were in, we were sweating like pigs and cussing each other because of our extreme discomfort. I found it quite impossible to strap my kitbag to my leg so had to be content to secure it with but one strap round my right ankle, and praying to God it would not slip off before I wanted it to. Sergeant Easlea spent several minutes swearing at the crush."


Once over France, the ten paratroopers were spared the discomfort of flying inside the cramped Albemarle and were allowed to jump over DZ-V. "We couldn't get out fast enough. I eased my way towards the aperture and just fell out. Catching my KB {Kitbag} on the port side of the aperture caused numerous twists in my rigging lines, a sight that perplexed me slightly. Worse still, I couldn't reach sufficiently far down to release my KB. I was beginning to think I had 'had it', when with a final effort, I succeeded in releasing it. All this took time and I didn't once look down to see how I was doing. It was, therefore, with a considerable shock, both mentally and physically, that I touched down. My legs must have been miles apart. Before landing, however, I was conscious of hearing bullets and made up my mind then and there that they were all destined for me. I felt a devil of a target sitting on the ground, ridding myself of my harness and emptying my KB. No more than two or three aircraft had dropped before us so we could claim to be among the first forty or so to land in France."


Major Parry had unfortunately been dropped off target and as he made his way onwards, quite alone, the one hundred Lancaster and Halifax bombers of the RAF, which were to bombard the Merville Battery, put in an appearance but unfortunately they released their ordnance south of the Battery and on top of the 9th Battalion's advance parties. "I made off in the direction of the RV, had just reached a ditch when the {bombs} descended all around me. I felt certain that I couldn't be missed. Bombs were dropping on my right and left for some ten minutes... Many of the bombs dropped in the field in which I found myself. I took cover in a ditch and, whilst hoping for the best, feared the worst. I was scared out of my wits. I bit the dust and there prepared to meet my end. When they ceased to fall I breathed a sigh of relief. In contrast to this noise, the next I heard was a rustling in the hedge. I lay very still for a few moments and breathed yet another sigh of relief when I heard whispered "Punch", to which I replied enthusiastically "Judy". At long last I was no longer alone and joined up with two Canadians who were as lost as I was... They seemed to think that I should be able to direct them to their RV." Both of the men had lost their weapons and so Major Parry, with a pistol to hand, gave one of them his Sten gun before they headed off together.


"By this time, 01:00, I was getting a little agitated at the passing of time and still I hadn't made the RV. I collected about a dozen other chaps and eventually saw a red light. For the third time, I breathed a sigh of relief and approached the red light which was held by the inevitable {Lieutenant} Joe {Worth - the Battalion's Intelligence Officer}. Sergeant Easlea was there, waving his torch, also {Major Eddie} Charlton and {Captain Hal} Hudson, but precious few others. I eventually found the tree I was looking for {the designated Rendezvous} and was amazed to see my batman was already there. His direction finding at night was evidently better than mine. I congratulated him and he said, "Good evening Sir. What kept you then?" I replied, "I had one or two little jobs to do on the DZ and here I am." That didn't impress him either!"


"All this time I had been lugging the heavy kitbag with which I had jumped. It contained an Aldis lamp which I was to flash to mark the RV for the Battalion... I knelt to unpack the bag, pulled out the lamp and my haversack. To my surprise there was another haversack. Adsett, who was leaning over me, said, "Thank you very much Sir, I believe that one is mine!" I said to Private Adsett "Now you go up that tree and I will hand you the lamp, and when I give you the word you can start flashing." He said, "Oh no, you're OC party, you go up the tree and I will hand YOU the lamp." So up the tree I shinned and he handed me the lamp."


Despite waiting for several hours, only one hundred and fifty men of the 9th Battalion presented themselves at the Rendezous. Lieutenant-Colonel Otway made the decision to proceed and attack the Merville Battery with what little men and equipment he had. Major Parry led the advance to the Battery with some thirty men of "A" Company at his side. "The CO {Otway} decided that I must lead the assault in the absence of Ian Dyer, OC, "C" Company, and that "A" and "C" Companies would constitute the Assault Party. The signal for the assault to begin would be the blowing of the {Bangalore} torpedoes... There was no time for anything more than cursory orders. I explained that there would be no communications, as we had no wireless and that each party would have to go independently. I arranged a signal for the assault to begin {Parry blowing his whistle} and we deployed along the line of the cattle fence which marked the perimeter of the minefield."


With fifty men in the Assault Party, Major Parry decided to split these into four groups, one for each of the gun casemates. Nos.1 to 4 casemates were to be attacked by groups commanded by Lieutenants Alan Jefferson and Mike Dowling, CSM Barney Ross and Colour Sergeant Harold Long respectively. CSM Ross was to have commanded the 2nd Sniping Group, but very few of his men had turned up and he had no idea what part he was to play in the assault until Parry approached and said, "Any other NCOs? Oh you'll do, Barney."


The Battalion waited for the gliders to arrive before beginning the assault, but after one passed over unsuccessfully and the others were nowhere to be seen, the attack could wait no longer and so Major Parry blew his whistle to signal the assault. Everyone lay down to the ground and moments later the Bangalores blew a twenty foot gap in the wire. Lieutenant-Colonel Otway shouted "Get in, get in!", and so Major Parry ran into the minefield with the Assault Party charging after him. Parry was amongst the first to be hit. "I was conscious of something striking my left thigh, my leg collapsed under me and I fell into a huge bomb crater. I saw my batman, who was just alongside me, looking at me as if to say, "Bad luck mate", and off he went." Private George Adsett, Parry's batman, was killed during the assault.


"In the bottom of my rather personal bomb crater, I assessed my position. My left leg was numb and my trouser leg was soaked in blood. Having a miniscule knowledge of first aid I removed my whistle lanyard and tied it to my leg as a tourniquet. My knowledge was evidently too limited, as I applied it to the wrong place. Realizing, after a brief interval, my error, I removed it, thus restoring some form of life to my leg; sufficient at any rate, to enable me to clamber out of my hole and continue with my appointed mission."


By this time the assault was drawing to a conclusion. Parry made his way to No.1 Casemate and noticed some German prisoners. "Most of them were wearing greatcoats and soft hats and didn't appear to be expecting us. As I entered the enormous casemate it was possible to discern only two or three of my party. I was somewhat weakened by the loss of blood and passed through the casemate to the firing aperture at the far end, where, to my intense dismay, I saw not a 150mm gun, as was expected, but a tiny, old-fashioned piece mounted on a carriage with wooden wheels. I estimated it to be a 75mm and it was clearly a temporary expedient pending the arrival of the permanent armament. This was an awful anti-climax, and made me wonder if our journey had really been necessary."


Parry sat on the sill at the bottom of the firing aperture, but moments later there was an explosion immediately outside and he felt something strike his wrist. His first reaction was that he had lost his hand, but upon inspection Parry was considerably relieved to find that he had suffered only a small cut from a shell splinter. He proceeded to deal with the captured gun of No.1 Casemate. "We all carried sticks of plastic explosive, detonators and fuse wire and I instructed a sergeant to make up a suitable charge which was placed in the breech of the gun... We re-entered the casemate, now full of acrid smoke, and upon inspecting the gun I was reasonably satisfied that sufficient damage had been inflicted upon it to prevent it playing a part in the seaborne assault, which was due in two and a half hours."


Major Parry then proceeded to check the damage inflicted upon the remaining guns. "I visited No.3 gun after the party responsible for its destruction had withdrawn. Lieutenant Halliburton went to inspect No.4 gun and reported to me that he considered it had been successfully neutralized. Whilst marshalling the prisoners prior to withdrawing, Lieutenant Slade came along and informed me that the position was due to be shelled in a very few minutes by {HMS} Arethusa. I ordered Lieutenant Halliburton to lead numbers one and two parties back to the Battalion. At this stage I was feeling weak from a considerable loss of blood." He continued to carry out his duties, however. The Naval liaison party had not arrived and so less direct means were used to convey a success signal to HMS Arethusa, in the hope of aborting their bombardment. Parry ordered that yellow smoke candles were to be set off at intervals of no more than five minutes, half an hour after dawn. He hoped that a spotter aircraft might see the smoke and relay a signal down the line, though Parry knew that this would not happen in enough time to prevent Arethusa from opening fire. As it happened, the guns of HMS Arethusa did not open fire. The reasons for this have not been firmly established, but it is believed that, contrary to their orders to open fire on the Battery if no success signal had been received by 05:30, Arethusa was later told that they should only open fire if confirmation was received that the Battery was still active, such as its shells being fired at the invasion fleet.


The 9th Battalion prepared to leave the Merville Battery. "There were quite a few soldiers still in there and, as best I could, I shouted to them to make their way out. I felt very weary and was not as mobile as I would have wished. Slowly, and with some difficulty, I made my way to the point of exit, where I saw what can only be described as an urchin's soap box on wheels. This seemed to me a godsend and I decided to mount it and begin my withdrawal. By lying on my back on the trolley, and propelling myself with the heel of my right foot, I was able to make very slow progress. It was, however, exhausting, and I considered my chances of reaching the rallying point remote. As I was reflecting upon my chances a sergeant {Taylor} of my Company came into view, took off his toggle rope, attached it to my chariot and proceeded to drag me along the dusty track to the rallying point. During this journey, while shells were still landing nearby, I drank several mouthfuls of whiskey from the flask which, attached to my belt, I regarded as an important part of my battle accoutrements."


Sergeant Taylor wheeled Major Parry to the rallying point and his arrival was witnessed by Major Smith of Headquarters Company. "He {Parry} took a brandy flask from his pocket, gulped a mouthful and beamed, "A jolly good battle, what?" The grim faces of the men burst into smiles, and the sullen group of prisoners looking on in bewildered amazement. He insisted on being allowed to stay with the Battalion, but the Commanding Officer {Otway} ordered him to go to the Regimental Aid Post and he did so reluctantly."


The Aid Post was established at a farm called the Haras de Retz. Major Parry was one of twenty-two wounded who were left here as the 9th Battalion pushed on towards Le Plein. "I lay on the floor next to {Captain} Hal Hudson who had serious intestinal wounds. He was barely conscious and deadly white. Watts came in and dressed my leg, assisted I believe, by Private Comley. The MO had to leave hurriedly to rejoin the Battalion, but left us in the charge of two German medical orderlies who were awfully good, and couldn't do too much for us."


The wounded remained at the Haras de Retz until the end of the 6th June. The Reverend John Gwinnett and his driver, Private Allt, had been at Brigade HQ at Le Mesnil, where the 224th Parachute Field Ambulance were based, and upon hearing that there were wounded at the farm they took a German truck to the scene to bring them to Le Mesnil. The vehicle could only carry four men at a time and so they had to make several trips back and forth. When at last Major Parry's turn came, later in the evening, the return journey was not without incident. "We nearly ran into an ambush en route and sheltered for half an hour at a Château in which refugees had collected. Hal {Hudson} was taken out of the car but nothing could be done for him. A French doctor there had lost all his belongings, including his instruments, as a result of the Allied bombing. A woman in the Château hastily made us a Red Cross flag which we gave to a German orderly to hold. We placed him on the nose of the vehicle as a precaution. We hoped, by this, to avoid getting shot at should we encounter another ambush. As luck would have it, we had no trouble and arrived at the MDS at 2130." Despite the severity of his condition, Captain Hudson recovered from his injuries after several years of hospital treatment.


Major Parry recovered from his injuries and rejoined the Battalion after its return from Normandy. For his conduct with the Battalion throughout the War he was, in 1945, awarded the Military Cross:


Major Parry jumped with the Battalion on 6th June 1944 in Normandy and on 24th March 1945 over the Rhine. He has taken part in every action fought by the Battalion in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, and has never deviated from the highest standards of leadership and courage. During the assault on the Sallenelles battery on 6th June 1944, although wounded in the leg early in the fight, he led his party with skill and determination against considerable odds so that their task of destroying the enemy guns was completely successful. He then organised the withdrawing of the Battalion from the battery, only handing over command, when no longer able to walk. Evacuated to England, he soon rejoined the Battalion and as Second in Command during a prolonged period of intense shelling and mortaring, he displayed a steady courage and cheerfulness as he went about among the men, which was of inestimable value. Since then he has commanded a Company with unflagging devotion to duty, leading his men in action with calmness and skill and at all times setting a fine example of the first-class regimental officer.


The vast majority of this biography has been taken from "The Day The Devils Dropped In", and I am indebted to its author, Neil Barber, for granting me permission to repeat it here. This excellent book, about the 9th Battalion during the first week of the D-Day landings, can still be purchased via the Shop section of the site.


See also: Brigadier Hill.


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