Pictures

Captain Kenneth Boss

Captain Kenneth Boss

Captain Kenneth Boss

 

Unit : No.2 Forward Observation Unit

Army No. : 304014

Awards : Military Cross

 

Captain Boss was a Forward Observation Officer with No.2 Forward Observation Unit. The following is a letter which he sent to his mother on the 18th January 1945, whilst he was serving with the 6th Airborne Division in the Ardennes.

 

Well Mum, I'm now out of the front line and am again with the Unit in a "rest area". It's quite a treat to be sleeping in anything but a frozen hole in the ground. Of late too, I've felt rather like in the position of an Aunt Sally at the Fair - there for everyone to take a shot at. If you read the Daily Herald of 9/1/45 you will know where I was on that date. Funnily enough I'm still not allowed to tell you in which country I am although it's freely printed in the papers.

 

Before pulling out of the front line yesterday I had an experience which once had I never want repeated. I've often read of German mass murders but so often I've disbelieved these reports - especially in view of the "starving" bulge which we were doped with. However these massed murders do occur - Yesterday morning, I and my 3 lads occupied a small village - the name of which I'll remember to my dying day. We were amongst the first Allied Troops to arrive there. Women & children were everywhere crying. It was true that their homes had been blasted to Hell by our artillery but even so we usually got at least stoney stares - but never tears. Often there was much rejoicing.

 

In my very best "----" which incidentally is rapidly improving through repeated use, I enquired of a local padre why the people were crying. Well, it appears that on Christmas Eve the Maquis came down from the forests & shot 4 German Officers in their Mess. Christmas Day the Germans rounded up 40 fellows between the age of 15 to 20 - and took them away. The villagers thought that they had been transported to Germany, but yesterday after the Germans had evacuated the part of the village in which they were living 40 bodies were found in the cellar of a Café. All of the 40 had been machine gunned to death. I visited the cellar personally with my three men - and saw a sight which I'll always remember. 40 bodies! Dead since Christmas Day - stinking like nothing that I've ever smelt before, 40 bodies torn to ribbons in what must have been a withering fire. Faces shot away; hands missing; stomachs torn into pulp by bullets. It was terrible! Wives, mothers & fathers - bringing out the bodies & trying to identify their sons, husbands or sweethearts! God, we in England have never known what War is. I've seen dead bodies here before but never - never such cold blooded murder! My two signallers could eat nothing for the rest of the day - everywhere stank of death. One could taste it in the very air. I left that village at midnight - oh, and was I pleased.

 

The village which Captain Boss refers to is Bande. The Resistance in fact attacked on the 5th September 1944, and killed three German soldiers. Two days later the village was liberated by American troops, but the Germans reoccupied it during the Ardennes offensive and, on the 24th December 1944, a unit of the SD arrived and arrested all the men in the village. Having been questioned, they were lined up outside the cafe and, one by one, led through an open door, shot in the neck and their bodies dumped in the cellar. 34 Belgians were murdered that day. The only survivor was 21 year old Leon Praile, who, after 20 had been shot, ran to the woods under fire. Following the discovery of the massacre, a war crimes court was established but only one man was brought to trial; Ernst Haldiman, a Swiss national and member of No.8 SS Commando. Convicted in Switzerland in April 1948, he was sentenced to 21 years in prison but was released on parole in June 1960.

 

The following letter was written on the 9th February 1945, whilst the 6th Airborne Division was in Holland:

 

Dear Mum,

Well, I'm still alive - and kicking hard. So sorry that I haven't been able to write for the last few days but I've not been doing my normal job - I've been on one with "bags of excitement!" Will tell you about it when I come Home. All that I can say is that it was a "special" job. Incidentally don't expect to hear from me for another few days. Another "special" job. Incidentally if this is a success then I think that I'll be given some [?] leave in Brussels. Boy oh boy! If it isn't a success then I'll write to you from Stalag. Don't worry though Mum - I'm as good as in Brussels.

 

Have heard it rumoured that my 3rd pip is through. Nothing official mind you. I'm still a Lieut for the present.

 

By the way - am now in a position to tell you that I'm in Holland & have been for the last 2 weeks. Have had bags of excitement & plenty of hard work - up all day & most nights too! A good nights sleep will do me a lot of good. We are smack up in the front line & are having quite a party with Jerry. The thaw has set in & the local river (look on your maps in Newspapers) has risen 23 feet. Yes the land is flooded to a depth of about 10 feet for about a mile on either side of the river. Mum, when I come home I'll never stop talking - If only I could tell you of all my experiences. I wouldn't have missed this for a fortune.

 

Saw a funny event the other day. A Church Army mobile Canteen pull up in a forward area. The Para boys went almost crazy. It was unbelievable! Nothing like this had ever been seen by us before. Down came the counter & up popped a face "Yes chaps?" a fellow asked. Screee - crash! Mortar bombs burst all around. The Para boys were torn between diving for cover or having a cup of "char". It was decided for them. The chap behind of the counter suddenly disappeared - the counter banged shut. "Sorry chaps" a voice yelled "I've come to the wrong place!" and away the van tore. Yes we are still waiting for a Y.M.C.A. or NAAFI van to show up. And we'll keep waiting I bet!

 

Now I've seen enough dead to fill a cemetery of my own & I'm now becoming quite hardened to death, but the other day or rather night I did have a bit of a shock. It was about 01.00 hrs, & pitch black. I was on a patrol with a Major & a Sgt Major. For about 4 hours I had been crawling on my belly and just then I was in a German trench about 200 yds long. Half way along it I came across what I thought were sand-bags at the bottom of the trench. Cautiously I went to wriggle across them - mud & water was squelching beneath me - I put my hand on what I thought was a sand bag in order to push myself across. Instead of a bag - I was laying on a body which had just been thawed from out of the snow - and my hand was on the face. You know Mum how you feel when you see a dead mouse - well I guess that I must have felt the same way, only I couldn't jump on a table. All I could do was lie there - to have done anything else was to invite a bullet into my carcass. I was in enemy territory you see.

 

A thing that I noticed today which I've never noticed before - the horses in Holland don't wear blinkers! Queer really. Incidentally the last O.P. that I had was in a village, and in order to walk from one house to the next one had to wade through water up to one's chest!

 

ps. Have read the account of Bande in the papers which you sent. It was not true. My account was. They do not mention the four Germans being shot. Also the men were machine gunned not shot with a revolver.

 

 

The next letter was written on the 12th February 1945, immediately after his return from the "special job" referred to in the first paragraph of the previous letter:

 

Well Mum, I said that I'd get that 48 hr leave in Brussels - and by Jimoney I've got it! I leave here on the 15th for what I intend to be 48 hrs of riotous living. I feel that I need it too. I'm afraid that I can't tell you much about what I've been doing in the last few days except that I've been in German occupied territory for 48 hrs - with a wireless set. The C.R.A. - (Commander of the Royal Artillery) - a Brigadier - congratulated me afterwards & said that it was the first time that anything like this had ever been done by any Gunner in the British Army. No Mum, they are not my own words - they were said by the C.R.A. I could hardly believe my ears.

 

I'll tell you more about it in a later letter but just now Mum I'd dead wacked. I intend sleeping for the next 48 hrs if possible. I've been for the last almost 3 days without a wink of sleep and continuously soaked to the skin. Incidentally I now know what it's like to be hunted by dogs. I also know what it's like to clean one's own revolver - having buried the butt into some poor devil's brain.

 

Mum, I must pack up. There's much celebrating here just now to see me back. I want to celebrate by going to bed. I'm out of the front line now for a short rest. Will write to you from Brussels. Am taking the Bdr. who accompanied me.

 

God Bless you all at Home - you don't know just how much I'd like to see that Home for 48 hrs.

 

Love,

Ken

 

 

For his actions on this operation, Captain Boss was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:

 

Lieutenant Boss was the artillery officer of a patrol of two officers and two other ranks ordered to cross the River Maas near Roermond on the night of 11th February 1945, with the task of lying up 3000 yards behind the enemy lines and returning the following night.

 

Lieutenant Boss was carrying a 40 lbs. wireless set when at midnight the patrol encountered two Germans. Using his hands and revolver butt he struck down both of the enemy, one of whom was killed and one believed killed. Next day this officer with the wireless set left the lying up place in daylight, and by himself, did a two mile reconnaissance without cover amongst small parties of the enemy with a view to engaging suitable artillery targets.

 

Although this was his first patrol, this artillery officer led the party back through the enemy lines the next night.

 

Considering his lack of experience and the fact that he was soaked to the skin from the outset of this patrol under severe weather conditions, Lieutenant Boss displayed remarkable qualities of leadership, courage and aggressiveness for a junior officer.

 

 

Captain Boss took part in the Rhine Crossing and was the Forward Observation Officer attached to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. He was instrumental in bringing down several artillery concentrations onto and breaking up a strong party of German infantry which counter-attacked "C" Company on the 25th March. These positions were subsequently shelled by the enemy throughout that afternoon, during which Captain Boss was wounded and evacuated to a hospital in Nottinghamshire. He succumbed to his injuries on the 9th June 1945, aged 24. Before he died, Boss had been informed that he was to be awarded the Military Cross for his actions in the Ardennes, which made him feel a little uncomfortable as he was acutely aware that many had been killed without such recognition, but he was nevertheless happy at the pleasure it gave his family, and that "I have some small symbol showing that I didn’t let them down".

 

It is clear that his comrades in No.2 Forward Observation Unit regarded him extremely highly and were deeply shocked that he had died. The following letters were sent to his parents, first from Lance-Sergeant George Halewood, in whose company Boss carried out the Ardennes patrol, and from the Commanding Officer, Major Harry Rice.

 

L/Sgt G. Halewood 921274

No.2 Forward Observer Unit

Figsbury Barracks

Winterbourne

Salisbury Wilts.

 

Dear Mr and Mrs Boss,

 

I wish to write these few lines in an attempt to convey to you my feelings at the loss of one of my best friends, also of one of the most gallant and understanding officers I have ever had the pleasure to meet, also now I consider it an honour to be able to say to other officers and men I worked with Capt. Boss.

 

It is impossible for me to attempt to console you in your great loss but I will say this, Ken had a premonition that he wouldn't see the end of the war when we were on patrol over the River Maas in Holland he said his time was short.

 

We are at present in street training having just arrived back from leave, that is when I first heard about Capt Boss and I was annoyed, after Ken was wounded I took him down to the airborne medical base and at first he refused to be evacuated, he said he wanted to go back to his men, he was forced to go, since then I have been trying to get news of him but the C.O. here never seemed to bother. I asked permission to write to you and it was refused. When we came back to England I went to the Battery Officer and enquired they said they knew nothing but would try and find out. I told them if they had any news to telephone or telegraph me and I could have come to see him whilst on leave. I never had no word until I returned from leave, then it was too late.

 

Well Mr and Mrs Boss I cannot think of much else to say except that Ken has told me so much about his Mother and Father and Family that I should greatly like to meet you all that is if you and time allows, I don't think we shall be in the country much longer.

 

One thing I have forgotten Capt Boss done the finest job in action in this unit and whilst this unit is active his name will never be forgotten he was to us ranks just one of the boys, he was all for the Gunners and he treated us like men.

 

I must finish now saying that I am greatly sorry at your great loss.

 

Yours Sincerely

 

George Halewood

 

 

2 F.O.U.

Figsbury Bks,

Winterbourne,

Dauntsey,

Nr Salisbury

Wilts.

 

14/6/45

 

Dear Mr Boss

 

I cannot tell you how shocked and distressed I was to learn of Ken's death and on behalf of the officers and men of the Fou may I offer you and Mrs Boss our deepest sympathy on your loss.

 

I had a letter from Ken whilst we were still in Germany and in it he seemed to be very cheerful and slowly recovering in fact we were all most relieved because we had not heard anything of him from the day he was wounded and we could not find out where he was or what had happened to him. It is such a terrible tragedy that after getting on so well he should go so suddenly.

 

Speaking for myself, I feel Ken's death most deeply because I could never have wished for a better or braver officer, nor a more loyal one. I found I could always trust him in any job I gave him to do and he was most popular with all the officers and men of the Unit. As you may know Ken always used to do F.O.O. with the 1st Canadian Parachute Bn and while we were planning the airborne operation across the Rhine the C.O. of that Bn sent a message to me to the effect that he must have Ken as his F.O.O. because they all admired and trusted him so much. Nor was their faith misplaced because on the morning after we landed East of the Rhine the Canadian Para Bn was very heavily counter-attacked by the Hun and it was largely due to Ken's coolness and good shooting that the counter-attack was eventually beaten off. When I tell you that the Canadians had 60 killed and 100 wounded in that attack you will realise how serious the situation was, and when the Hun had withdrawn many of the Canadian officers came over to Ken and thanked him for saving the situation. It was for this and his fine work in the Ardennes and Holland that he won the M.C. which he so richly deserved.

 

We are in the throes of re-forming the Fou now and will soon be off to have a smack at the Japs, and it is the fine example Ken has set, and one or two others, that will be an inspiration to all ranks in the Unit and help us to live up to the glorious traditions of the Sixth Airborne Division, traditions that Ken has helped to make.

 

I would ask you and Mrs Boss to forgive me for not attending the funeral as my father has unexpectedly returned from Germany for a few days, but I have instructed my Adjutant, Gordon Lane, to represent me. I only wish more people had been available to attend but the Unit is scattered all over England on Embarkation Leave at the moment.

 

I am spending the last week of my leave visiting all my men who are still in hospital and I would very much like, if I may, to come and call on you during that week, and tender to you and Mrs Boss in person my deepest sympathy.

 

Yours Sincerely

 

H.J.B. Rice

 

Back to No.2 Forward Observation Unit

Back to Biographies Menu