RAF Broadwell R E H Sheriden



Memories of events leading up to D day of 2nd world war by former Captain  R.E.H. Sheridan and Adj of 1st Royal Ulster Rifles, with ref to their stay at RAF Broadwell Preparation

This account is really about the preparation of the paratroops for war and not really about RAF Broadwell, part II is the actual use of RAF Broadwell in the war

1st Battalion, The Royal Ulster Rifles, was one of the three infantry battalions which made up the Air Landing Brigade of the 6th Airborne Brigade. The other two battalions were the 2nd Bn Oxford & Buckingshire Light infantry, and the 12th Bn The Devonshire Regiment. The two other brigades of the division were the 3rd and 4th parachute brigades, consisting of the 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th, and 13th battalions of the parachute regiment and the 1st Canadian parachute battalion. The division also included specialist-supporting units such as medical, light Artillery anti-tank and anti- aircraft batteries, armoured reconnaissance and Royal engineers.

The units of the Air Landing Brigade and certain other elements of the Division, were organised, equipped and trained to go into battle by glider, which meant that they could take into battle with them heavier and more powerful arms and equipment than could be "dropped" with their comrades in the Parachute Battalions. On the other hand, glider-borne troops could not carry the same "punch" in the way of heavy arms, equipment and vehicles, as did normal infantry units, which was the price which had to be paid to achieve the great element of surprise associated with the use of airborne troops.

There were two types of operational gliders, the Horsa and the Hamilcar, The Horsa the main troop carrying glider, was designed to carry about 24 fully equipped me, or a mixture of men and heavy equipment. The larger Hamilcar, and enormous aircraft with a wingspan of 110 feet was capable of carrying a load of nearly 8 tons, which could include a light tank of anti-tank gun with the towing Jeep and crew. Both types of glider were almost entirely of wooden construction., and built . I understand, by furniture, not aircraft manufacturers, and being without heavy engines and fuel tanks had little of the fire risk associated with powered aircraft. With large braking "flaps" they required no "runway" to land and could be put down with great accuracy in fields or other rough ground which would be impossible for normal troops carrying ‘planes. Each glider had two pilots, usually from the glider pilot regiment – army personnel trained for the purpose – but on some occasions by RAF bomber command pilots. The aircraft used to tow Horsa to its destination was normally the C47 or DC3 as it was sometimes known, the plan also used for dropping parachute troops. The larger Hamilcar required a 4-engined bomber such as the Lancaster or Stirling. On the occasions when we had the opportunity to meet and talk with the RAF crews, they would leave us in do doubt that tow8ing gliders was not their favourite pastime. With a glider and 24 mend "hanging on behind" they couldn’t "duck and weave" to avoid enemy flack, which would have made the task of the glider pilots impossible and resulted in broken tow ropes and gliders scattered around far from the intended landing Zones.

One of the "ideas" which prompted the creation of and Airborne force was to support and assist attacks against enemy defensive positions by landing behind the enemy lines and seizing important features such as roads, bridges and high ground, thereby disrupting the enemy’s supple lines and communications, and, reducing his ability to withstand the main attack. Hopefully, the efforts of the airborne troops would be such that the main attack would be successful, when they would be relieved and withdrawn to prepare for their next airborne operation, but it had to be accepted that if everything didn’t go according to plan, the airborne troops would be expected to hand on "to the last man and the last round".

Bearing in mind the limits on the loads which could be carried in ‘planes and gliders and also the need for maximum mobility of the troops once they were on the ground, close attention had to be paid to what was carried,, and uncertainty as to the strength with which the enemy could and would react against an airborne landing once the initial "surprise" had been over come, meant that priority had to be given to arms and ammunition. In addition to the "tools of their particular trade" – Bren-Gun, rifle, pistol mortar, etc, each officer and man carried as much ammunition and grenades as he could fit into the pouches of his webbing equipment and the pockets of his camouflaged smock; on one hip a water bottle and the other an entrenching tool and on his back a small haversack containing a mess tin, "Compo pack", toilet gear, ground sheet, a spare pair of socks and whatever other small items could be fitted in.

The "Compo pack", or "hard rations" were small cardboard boxes about 6 inches square and 2 inches deep which contained small blocks of concentrated meat, cubes of dried porridge fried tea sugar and very hard biscuits, and 2 tables of concentrated chocolate. Each man was also proved with supply of concentrated fuel tablets and a small collapsible metal frame into which the fuel tablets could be fitted and ignited for heating water or whatever else he might be "cooking " in the mess tin. The pack was intended to keep a man going for at least 48 hours by which time contact would be made with supporting troops. When crumbled, mixed with water and heated the meat tablets made a very palatable stew and could also be used to soften the biscuits, which was about the only way they were edible. The porridge was prepared in the same way. It was very sweet and satisfying and by no means unpleasant. Although there were strict rules against any form of looting, with dire penalties promised fro anyone found guilty of that offence. Airborne troops, the same as others, were very adept at scrounging additional food stuff from whatever sources happened to be available, particularly if it appeared that it would there wise go to waste!.

In addition to his "Compo pack", each man was provided with an "Escape package". This was a small fabric pack, which could be sewn into the Battle Dress, or carried in the pocket. It contained a number of tablets, including Benzedrine tablets, were only to be used in an emergency and which were understood to keep a man on his feet when otherwise near exhaustion. These packs also contained a small compass, hacksaw and maps printed on silk like cloth, all intended to facilitate escape in the event of capture, or movement if "lost" in strange territory.

The army groundsheet consisted of a large piece of canvas about 6 feet by 3 feet, coated with rubber on one side and with buttons and buttonholes along the long sides. It could be worn like a cape, or used to lie on or lie under or suspended overhead in the form of a bivouac. It was an item of equipment which I had always disliked from my days in the O.T.C. at school, but which I eventually came to appreciate.

A standard item of army equipment was, of course the gas mask. This consisted of a small cylinder of charcoal or some other substance through which one breathed air along a corrugated tube attached to a rubber mask held over the face with elastic straps. I don’t think the design had changed since the 1st World War, and when being worn it was impossible to see or do any thing except gasp for air. This was all carried in a haversack which was normally worn on the chest, but which we fond so cumbersome and restricting that its use was dispensed with. It was hardly likely that the Germans would use poisonous gas against us in the circumstances in which we were expecting to meet them.

By the end of 1943, the 6th Airborne Division was concentrated at Bulford Camp, near Amesbury in Hampshire. We knew by this time, or deduced without being officially informed, that the Division together with 2 American Airborne Divisions which had arrived in England, would be used to spearhead the planned invasion of Europe. By this time, we were well trained, very fit, and ready to go. General Gale the Division Commander had in fact introduced as the Division Motto:- "GO TO IT". We were ready to go, but didn’t know "when’ or "where".

As we moved into 1944, training effort was concentrated mainly on exercising the entire Division, presumably with the object of developing the skills of the various staff and specialist groups and, in particular, to iron out the problems associated with mass formations o9~ircraft and gliders and getting these to the right place at the right time. These exercises culminated in "MUSH’ during which we flew half way across the channel before turning back to our landing zones on home ground, and which must have given the German sentries along the French coast cause for some concern.

Physical fitness was not overlooked. Once a week, every officer, warrant officer, non—commissioned officer and man was required to indulge in a 6 mile cross country run, and returns had to be made to Brigade H.Q. to that effect.

Emphasis was also directed towards liaison with other units with which we would probably operate. Short attachments were arranged for both Officers and other ranks with the American Airborne Divisions, and groups from those Divisions joined us for short periods. Similar liaison was developed with the Commando units with which we were to be involved, with football and rugby and other sporting activities.

A high standard of discipline was insisted upon. Any man found

Guilty of anything other than a minor offence was immediately dispatched from his unit, the justification for this being that if he couldn’t be relied upon to observe the rules in what were peaceful conditions, he wouldn’t be likely to do so in the stress of battle. This might have seemed a "way out" for the faint hearted, but there was never any evidence to that effect the opposite in fact. Discipline was of avery.high order, and serious crime,such as absence without leave was almost non—existent.

The month of May was marked 14 a series of visits and inspections by "Top Brass", including General "Boy" Browning the Commander of Airborne Forces, the Colonel of the Regiment supported by) previous Colonels of the Battalion who had moved on to higher rank in the War Office and elsewhere, and ultimately by H.M. King George together with Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The most impressive visit of all, however, was that by General Montgomery—’as he then was —the Commander in Chief of all the "D" Day landing forces.

After his tremendous military successes in Africa and Italy, it was a considerable satisfaction to us all to know that "Monty" would be in command of operations, but even that satisfaction was greatly enhanced by his visit one day in may, 1944. We were all formed up on the edge of Salisbury Plain with our battalion drawn up in three sides of a square with all ranks facing inwards as he walked slowly through the ranks looking at each man to the left and to the right as if to make it clear that he knew us and we knew him. Instead of being dressed in the formal attire usually adopted by visiting generals, he appeared exactly as we had seen numerous pictures of him in the desert. Corduroy trousers, battle dress jacket, web belt around his waist and the airborne forces maroon beret on his head bearing the Parachute Regiment badge. After walking through the ranks he went back up the hill, climbed onto the bonnet of a Jeep and then waved to everybody to gather round to hear what he had to say. There was a mass rush to get as near the Jeep as possible, and a complete lack of formality, but I am sure that there had never been a complete assembly of the battalion with everybody so completely hushed to hear every word that came from his lips.

It was the usual speech, which we knew, he had made on numerous occasions to other battalians but it suffered in no way from repetition. We were "the cream of the British Army" and there was no doubt that we were going to "hit the Germans for six" right out of France and occupied Europe. However, he warned that there was to be hard fighting ahead but that he had no intention of asking us or any other unit of the invasion force to take on anything, which he was not completely confident we could achieve. The effect was electrifying. After three cheers called for by our Commanding Officer, Hank Carson, Monty departed with his entourage, leaving behind a battalion which was not only well trained and well equipped, but which was also quite confident of’ success under his command.

It was about this time, towards the end of May, that I, as Adjutant of the battalion, received a thick official booklet, marked "OPERATION OVERLORD" and "TOP SECRET". This let out all the administrative detail, which had to be complied with before and for our move to our Concentration Area. There was no indication as to the location of the Areas, or when the move would take place, but all preparations had to be completed by, I think, the 25th of the month. This particular booklet related only to the Air Landing Brigade, but it gave me a glimpse of the enormous administrative detail which had to be worked out covering all the invasion forces then assembling in the South of England. After consultation with the Commanding Officer and the Second in Command it was my job to extract all the details applicable to our battalion which then had to be communicated by Battalion Orders to the Company Commanders and others responsible.

This was a particularly busy time for everybody, but as luck would have it, I suddenly developed a lump on the side of my face which became very inflamed and painful. I decided to pay an unofficial visit to our Medical Officer, Capt."Dai" Rees, to get him to take a look. He prodded my lump around a few times, then extracted a very sharp looking scalpel from his tool kit and told me to lay my head on the table, lump uppermost. This I did. A quick "stab" followed by a squeeze and a piece of plaster, and he pronounced me fit for the invasion! • Several years later, Dai Rees became a highly qualified surgeon, while I still carry the scar of one of his first ‘operations".

All personal possessions not essential for operational purposes had to be packed, labelled and disposed of, either by consignment to one’s home or to a hut specially set aside for the purpose. It was unavoidable that after several years moving. around various locations in England, individuals had accumulatednumerous surplus items of clothing, electric heaters and Primus Stoves, small radios, bicycles, books and anything else which could be used during times of relaxation, which were going to be few and far between during the coming months.

One problem peculiar to an airborne unit is that a number of people such as cooks, clerks and others do not fly on operations, but follow up later by whatever means available, in this instance, by sea. They would bring with them all clothing and equipment which we couldn’t carry with us but which we might need if our "stay" was longer than anticipated;

and assuming that we were still alive and in need of it. All these items had to be packed into our army packs and consigned to our "Rear Echelon". So, we were then left with only the clothing, supplies and equipment we would take with us to our Concentration Area, or Transit Camp as it became known, and with us in our gliders and which we hoped would sustain us until our "Rear Echelon" caught up with us, wherever

In addition to all these tasks, special "refresher" sessions were run for specialist groups in the use of radio codes which, hopefully, would prevent the enemy listening—in to our radio communications and thereby finding out where we were, what we were doing, and intending to do. No doubt in certain circumstances this -was of value, but in the situations in which we were to find ourselves, there was frequently too little time to bother about encoding and de-coding messages when immediate action was called for, and in any event, German radio operators would have some difficulty understanding messages transmitted in broad Belfast or Cockney accents.

The importance of health and medical care were not overlooked. All Ranks were reminded again and again the importance of good hygiene and personal cleanliness; never to miss an opportunity for a "shit, shave and shampoo". Repeated instruction was given on the use of the "field dressing" which every man carried, and in the application of tourniquets and splints. The Regimental Aid Post of each battalion was commanded by a qualified medical officer, with trained medical orderlies and stretcher bearers, but their scope for medical attention was limited and the best they could hope to do for casualties was to administer pain filling drugs such as morphine and to keep casualties alive until they could be transported back to an Advance Dressing Station where surgical operations and similar sophisticated treatment was available.

I have no recollection of guidance being given as regards sexual activity in strange places. "Condoms" had always been made available in England at 2 or 3 pence a time, and were in high demand particularly when troops were going off on leave, and to catch a "dose" was a military offence which could be serious for an officer or N.C.O., being looked upon as a "self inflicted wound". Catching a dose of "crabs" was embarrassing perhaps, but not so serious, as it ~ involve any loss of duty time. Maybe it was a mistake to neglect this question, or maybe, as Adjutant, I was left out, but venereal disease became a major problem after the end of the war.

Those last few busy weeks at Bulford were by no means a matter of "all work and no play", which would have made "Tommy" or "Paddy" a very dull boy. Frequent dances were held in the large Bulford Camp gymnasium and veil attended by all ranks including the contingencies of A.T.S. girls in the vicinity, and W.A.A.F.S from the R.A.F.Station at Netheravon. Parties were held in the Officer’s Mess’s of the various battalions and other units, including the R.A.F. at Netheravon, and we were authorised to use army transport to bring girls to these functions from as far afield as Newbury and Hungerford, towns where we had been located and where we still bad many friends. In our Mess at Kiwi Barracks, these parties were always very lively occasions with ample food prepared by the Kitchen staff, plenty of somewhat unconventionable dancing to the Quick steps and Tiger Rag of the Mess gramophone records, - the consumption of considerable quantities of beer and finishing up with a spontaneous and noisy "Sing-song". It might be thought that such parties, at such a time, would be the occasion for "skullduggery" of one sort or another. This was not the case. It was always made clear that transport for the ladies’ homeward journeys would leave at midnight, and leave it did, and I have no recollection of seeing a girl the worse for drink, although I cannot say the same for some of my fellow officers, and maybe they couldn’t say the same about me!.

Following our move to Bulford, some married Officers and Other Ranks had, from time to time, arranged for their wives to stay in the vicinity in such towns as Amesbury and Andover, and when it didn’t interfere with their normal duties the men concerned would be given "sleeping out" passes at weekends. As we moved into 1944 and the probable date of the return to Europe approached, this concession was withdrawn, which gave rise to considerable adverse comment by the people concerned on the grounds that wives were less of a security risk than the ladies invited to attend dances and parties in the barracks. However, security wasn’t the problem. Higher Command decided that to have wives in the vicinity when we were preparing to depart on what ums obviously going to be a somewhat hazardous undertaking would give rise to anxieties and tensions which were best avoided. There was, of course, no secrecy about the fact that an invasion of Europe by Allied forces would shortly take place. For weeks, the roads around Bulford and the surrounding area bad been choked with military

traffic heading for the South and South West. All unit signs and emblems had been removed from uniforms and vehicles to reduce the risk of giving away information as to the Allied Order of Battle. 40 years later, one of our officers, Captain Huw Wheldon — later Sir Huw Wheldon, Managing Director of BBC Television — presented a TV programme about the Allied counter— intelligence operation put into effect before "D" Day to keep the German High Command guessing as to "where and when" the invasion would take place. The same question was exercising our minds, but I’m sure that we weren’t as -worried about it as the Germans.

And so, the days passed quickly, until the 25th May, when we were ready to go, and on that day we received our orders to implement the planned move our Transit Camps. Our "Rear Echelon", under our Quarter Master Captain Billie Beattie, who would be bringing along our reserves of clothing and other supplies would be "travelling" by sea, and moved off to a camp on the South coast, while a very disconsolate "E" Company, under Major Gerald Rickord, was left behind at Bulford, ready to send out reinforcements when needed.

As we drove along the narrow roads of Wiltshire and Berkshire, we gained some idea of the immensity of the operation being put into motion. Columns of tanks of all shapes and sizes, troop carrying vehicles, supply lorries, ambulances, artillery, all heading in the opposite direction to us, and enormous dumps of ammunition and supplies stacked up in woods and other areas where they were concealed from the air.

The Transit Camps had been set up close to the airfields from which we would take off, and for the 6th Airlanding Brigade, were at Broadwell, Blakehill Farm and Down Ampney in Oxfordshire. Our battalion was split between Broadwell and Blakehill Farm, with the main body, including Battalion 1-lead Quarters, at Broadwell. The camp at Broadwell was located in a field close to Broadwell RAF Station. The camp consisted of numerous rows of white Bell tents, two or three large whit marquees, and a line of semi—permanent ablution facilities including toilets and showers. At one end was a large hut of solid construction which was kept under constant guard, and we were soon to learn the reason why. It contained a small sca’le model of a stretch of coastline about 20 miles long and stretching about the same distance inland, and including in miniature every detail imaginable. Towns, villages, houses, churches, farms, roads, tracks, rivers and streams, canals, railways, telegraph poles, fields, hedges, tall trees and short trees, and all in their natural colours, exactly as would be seen from the air, which was the way we were going to see it. We were

not informed of the area which the model portrayed until a day or so before "D" Day, but I suppose that anyone who knew the area which included the River Orne and the Orne Canal, could have identified it. Hence the need for strict security.

The camp was surrounded by a high chain link fence ~with the single gateway controlled by Security Guards, and we were told that once inside there was no going out without very good reason The Camp Commandant and staff were from the Airborne Forces Depot, and the attention’ which had been paid to the Administrative details and requirements of the camp and its occupants was first class in every respect. We had only brought with us essential supplies and equipment for the airborne assault operation, but all our requirements for an extended stay had been anticipated including not only cooks, cooking equipment and food, beds, bedding, but also all-manner of sports and recreational gear for use when we were not preoccupied with planning and other necessary preparations. There was a N.A.A.F.I. tent with supplies of beer and cigarettes and other essentials, and although we knew that we were confined within the camp until "OVERLORD" was launched, and this might be a matter of days or weeks, there was never any sign of discontent or frustration. Fortunately, the weather was fine, which was a great help.

I’m not exactly sure when our Commanding Officer, Lt.Col. "Hank" Carson received his orders, but shortly after our arrival at the camp all the officers were called to a meeting around the model in the briefing hut and were given a broad outline of the objectives set for the Division and how these fitted in to the overall plan for the invasion. At the same time, maps were issued of the assault area and distributed to Company Commanders, but on these maps all actual place names had been replaced by imaginary English names so that the terrain could be studied without disclosing the actual places involved. All these maps had to be kept in the briefing 1u~it, and times were allocated when Company Commanders and their subordinates could make use of the hut, the model and the maps in order to familiarize themselves with the area in which the Division would be operating without, at that time, knowing precisely what their objectives were going to be. Later, we were provided with aerial photographs which, when viewed through a stereoscope, provided an almost uncanny three dimensional view of the areas in which we would be operating, and in such detail that one had

a sense of being on the ground and looking at the fields and hedges, gateways, trees, farm~ buildings and farm animals grazing in the fields from only a few yards away. The only difficulty that I, and I think that others had, was to realize that in a short time all this peace and tranquility would be rudely interrupted by us and that a knowledge of those fields and hedgerows might well become a matter of life or death for ourselves and many others.

Gradually, over the next few days, the broad outline of the total operation was explained and followed by precise orders given as to the objectives of the battalion and each company, platoon and section, until every man knew what was expected of him and his comrades and how this fitted—in to the task assigned to the Division. However, it was not until the day or so before 5th June,— the date originally set for the Invasion~ that the picture was completed, and we were told where all this was going to take place and that the area we were required. to seize and hold was the high ground to the east of the River 0rm in Normandy. I’m quite sure that until that time, very few, if any of us had ever heard of the River Orne or of a small village called Longueval with which we were going to become very familiar. During our "briefing", it was recognised that plans drawn up at Broadwell Transit Camp, and indeed at every other Transit Camp, might have to be changed or modified if the airborne landings didn’t go according to plan. However, I don’t recollect any reference as to what might happen if the operation "failed" for any reason. We simply accepted that it couldn’t fail, so there was no point in contemplating that possibility. If the possibility did cross anyone’s mind, as I’m sure it did, mine included, it was quickly dismissed with the consoling recognition that we wouldn’t be around to worry about it.

It could be argued that the very strict level of security enforced at the Transit Camps, including the with—holding of such relevant information as the whereabouts of the airborne landings until the last possible day, reflected adversely on the trustworthiness of the occupants of those camps, including ourselves. To some degree, no doubt, this was so, but it has to be borne in mind that hundreds of thousands of troops and other service personnel were being briefed at that time, and that leakages of information due to ignorance or indiscipline or even treachery could have disastrous consequences. The stakes were very high; not only the lives of many thousands of service personnel,

but, of even greater consequence, the future freedom of Europe and the world. Subsequent events showed that, at the time, the German High Command was in no doubt that an Allied Invasion of Europe would shortly take place, but they, like us in our camps, were uncertain as to where the blow would fall. There were a number of possibilities. Brittany, Normandy, the Pas De Calais, the Belgian coast, the Dutch coast, all with advantages and disadvantages which could affect the Allied decision, The availability of harbours and ports; the length of sea crossings, the need for air support; the suitability of beaches and tidal conditions and the distances from the vital capitals of Paris, Brussels and Berlin. Whilst these uncertainties remained, the disposition of German forces had to reflect all these possibilities, but if their intelligence had permitted them to decide that Normandy was to be the place, and to dispose their armies accordingly, the eventual success of the landings would have been very doubtful and would certainly have involved much greater loss of life amongst the Allied forces. Even after the initial landings the German uncertainty continued as to whether these were the real thing or a diversion, and by the time the real thing was recognised, it was, for them, too late.

The Allied counter—intelligence plan mentioned earlier, which was designed to indicate that the invasion would take place in the Pas De Calais area, must have been a major factor in keeping the Germans guessing, but the strict security imposed on all those taking part was a necessary and important contribution.

Our spell at Broadwell was marred by a tragic accident, which caused the death of an officer and a sergeant, and injuries, some serious, to a Company Commander and a number of others. This happened on the 1st June.

At the time, I was sitting in the Briefing Hut attending to some Battalion Headquarter business, when I heard a loud thump somewhere in the vicinity. I got up and walked to the door and looking out saw a large cloud of black smoke rising above one of the tents about 50 yards from where I was standing. Obviously there had been some form of explosion, so I called out to Corporal Hooper who was in the hut with me no~ to leave the hut unattended, and hurried across to the lines of tents from where the smoke was still rising. As I approached I heard the Regimental Sergeant Major, RSL Griffiths, shouting, "keep clear", "keep clear", and then saw a number of bodies lying near a tent which was badly torn and smoking in several places. Two of the recumbent bodies were obviously badly

mutilated, but I could recognise Lieutenant Theo.Seale, a Platoon Commander, and his Platoon Sergeant, Sgt.Dwyer. Almost immediately Captain Rees, the Medical Officer, arrived, and despite the obvious risk to his own safety, walked up to the body of Sgt. Dwyer and kneeling down placed his fingers on Dwyer's neck to check his pulse. After a moment he walked the few paces to Theo. Seale and did the same, then call over two stretcher bearers who were being restrained by the RSM. He then stood up and turning to me said that Dwyer was dead. Theo Seale was still alive but he didn’t give much for his chances. By this time, several others who were wounded were being carried or helped away from the scene, and the RSM was leading a small group combing the area for detonators. A particular problem was the disposal of a number of grenades scattered near the point of the explosion and the uncertainty as to whether they had been primed and in which case made sensitive by the blast. Not without considerable risk to the men involved, these were collected and removed by the Pioneer Platoon for disposal by controlled explosion at a safe place away from the tented area. The body of Sergeant Dwyer and al the injured personnel were taken by Military ambulance to a special security wing established at a hospital, I believe in Oxford. The injured included Major Tom Warner, the Commander of "B" Company. The next day we beard that Theo Seal. had died, and replacements for all our casualties arrived from our Reinforcement Company at Bulford. Although the deaths of’ two popular and capable members of the battalion was deeply regretted by everyone, particularly the circumstances of their deaths, the morale of the troops was in no way diminished; if anything, the opposite. The loss of friends had to be expected in the days ahead, but was something for which the Germans would have to pay a heavy price.

From statements made by witnesses, there was little doubt as to the cause of the accident. Theo Seale together with Sergeant Dwyer and several other men of the platoon had been priming their grenades, including what were known as "75" anti—tank grenades. These were metal box—like weapons about the size of a brick, which were primed by sliding a detonator into an aperture on one side so that when pressure was applied, the detonator fired and exploded the grenade. Sergeant Dwyer had been squatting on his haunches at the time. After priming a grenade, he had pushed it behind himself, and reached for another. As he did so, he overbalanced and sat on the first grenade causing it to explode, with fatal results for himself and his platoon commander.

I felt particularly sad about Theo Seale who I had known since my time in the Regimental Depot at Ballymena in 1940. He had joined the Regiment as a Volunteer and had quickly been identified as a potential officer and placed in the Cadet Platoon. His sister was an officer in the ATS at the Depot, and I could only reflect sadly on the tragic telegram which his parents in Portadown would shortly receive. The incident presented me with a problem. Had the deaths and injuries taken place "On Active Service" or "In Action"~, and on the answer to that question depended the reporting procedure I had to follow, as Adjutant of the battalion. If a fatal accident occurred whilst on training in England, it was treated as "Killed on Active Service". On the other hand, if a man was accidentally killed whilst in contact with and preparing to attack the enemy, in would be treated as "Killed In Action". Fortunately, a visit by the Brigade Major, Major Crookendon, resulted in a decision that there would be no Court of Enquiry, as would have been the case if a man had been killed on training, and that the fatalities had occurred "In Action". In other words, an Airborne soldier, whether parachutist or glider borne, could be construed as in contact with the enemy when preparing to set off on his approach flight which might start a hundred miles or more from the actual point of battle.

On the 4th June we were told that "Operation Overlord" had been put back from 5th June until 6th June because of adverse weather conditions in the Channel. I have no recollection that this caused any undue anxiety, although some of us realised that this would mean an uncomfortable 24 hrs for those unfortunate enough to have put to sea before the deferment had been decided. Letters had been written, collected and censored, to be delivered after the operation was underway, so the time was spent sitting around in the sunshine we were still enjoying, playing games, and with final visits to the Briefing Hut for more fainiliarisation around the model with the hedgerows and ditches we were shortly to occupy.

The morning of the 5th June was bright and sunny, and it was with considerable relief that we heard that the operation was definitely "On" for the following day. Whilst a delay of 24 hours was acceptable, all ranks were undoubtedly anxious to "get going", and any further delay could have had an adverse effect on morale. By this time, all Jeeps, trailers and trolleys had been packed; weapons and ammunition checked and rechecked; "Compo" rations and "Escape" packets issued; maps marked up with the latest information and an extra packet of cigarettes stowed away wherever space could be found. The time passed very quickly, and in the evening a number of us were transported to the nearby Broadwell airfield to give our friends in

the 9th Parachute Battalion a "send off" on their way to destroy the German Gun Battery at I4erville. There was no lack of good cheer as we stood around chatting to the parachutists, looking like hunchbacks with their parachute packs on their backs, and I recollect shaking hands with Mike Dowling, who had left us to join the 9th Battalion only a few months earlier, and who was to be killed a matter of seconds after reporting to his Commanding Officer, Terence Otway, also an Ulster Rifleman, that the. Last gun in the Mervillè battery had been destroyed. Photographs of Mike and many others killed on that operation now hang in the museum established in one of the gun emplacements to commemorate their bravery. And devotion to duty.

It was at Broadwell on that occasion that I first saw that all the aircraft had wide black and white stripes painted around the wings and fuselage. The same applied to the gliders we were to use and to all other Allied aircraft, as an easy means of identifying friend from foe

After we had seen the last ‘plane roar down the runway we returned to the camp in a somewhat subdued mood. This was "it". The operation we had been training for and waiting for was now underway. In a little over an hour, the "coup de main" glider parties would be swooping silently down to seize the vital bridges over the river and the canal, while thousands of parachutists would be dropping into the peaceful Normandy countryside determined to capture and hold the objectives alloted to them. Would the landings be successful — at the right place and at the right time? We were well aware of the hazards of such an enormous night—time operation. Would the all—important element of surprise be achieved, or would the Germans be waiting? What was in store for us the following afternoon?. Our thoughts were also with the thousands of assault troops who would be storming up the Normandy beaches before sunrise the following morning and of the American Airborne landings at the Western end of the front.

I remember going to bed that night and thinking that I would have difficulty sleeping, but, to my surprise, when I woke up the following morning, I realized that I had had a very good nights sleep, which was just as well because the opportunity for anything more than a couple of hours "kip" over the following weeks would be few and far between.

The morning of the 6th June was, again, bright and sunny. And began with a voluntary non—denominational service conducted by our Padre, The Rev. NcM.Taylor and attended by every officer and man in the battalion. There was no doubt that the hymn singing and the responses to the prayers he said were much more fervent than on a normal Sunday service. During the morning the few radios available

were set up so that the troops could listen to the brief announcement that Allied forces had landed on the Normandy coast, and that everything was going according to plan, news that was treated with some skepticism and the added comment that "they could hardly say anything else". However, greater credulity was given to a message from our Brigade Headquarters that the Airborne landings had been successful.

After an early midday meal, the glider loading parties left for the airfield with our Jeeps, trailers and trolleys. These were the people specially trained in the technique for loading and securing vehicles and heavy equipment in the gliders. Flights and landings could be "bumpy" and every precaution had to be taken against the risk of vehicles breaking loose. The rest of the battalion sat around in their shirt sleeves, smoking, chatting, playing cards and drinking the ample supplies of tea made available from the cook—house; jackets,’ smocks, steel helmet$ — the peculiar inverted "pot" shape designed for airborne troops and covered with strips of hessian camouflage — equipment and personal weapons laid out ready to be "struggled into" as soon as the time came to move. Each man also had a small camouflage net which was worn as a cravat or scarf. Our maroon airborne berets were tucked away in our haversacks for use when circumstances permitted. In the early evening, I think about 5 pm; a column of Troop Carrying Vehicles arrived to convey the rest of the battalion from the Transit Camp to the airfield on the second stage of our journey to Normandy.

All the gliders, about 50 Horsas, each with its distinguishing black and white stripes around wings and fuselage, were drawn up in two tightly packed lines at the extremity of the main runway, looking to, me like a gigantic fishbone from which all the flesh had been removed. The tow ropes attached to the nose of each glider were laid out in perfect line in the centre of the runway. The procedure was for the tug aircraft to approach the gliders along the approach runways on either side of the main runway, then, in turn from left and right, to swing in onto the main runway, the next tow rope would be quickly attached to the tail of the tug aircraft, a signal given and away it would go, with the next tug swinging into position before its predecessor was 50 yards down the runway. It was important for the build-up and maintenance of tight formations in the air that the "combinations" of tug aircraft and glider be got away in the shortest possible time, and the RA-F were to be congratulated on the skill with which this was achieved.

In a short time, all the gliders were reported fully loaded and ready for take—off, after which we stood around drinking more tea kindly provided by the ladies of the local Women’s Volunteer Service and other similar organisations who always seemed to be present when cups of tea were most welcome. Much use was made of the temporary latrines thoughtfully provided by the RAF until the order was given to emplane, and everyone climbed aboard his allotted glider. Each man wore a sort of make—shift "Mae—West", always provided when a flight was to take place over the sea. This looked like the rubber inner tube of a motor cycle tyre with a few straps attached and was worn around the chest with instructions to blow hard into the valve to inflate the tube if a forced landing in water appeared imminent. To what extent these would have helped a fully laden man to stay afloat, I don’t know.

In my glider we carried a jeep and trolley loaded in the~ centre of the fuselage. I was in the front immediately behind the partition between the main fuselage and the Pilots’ flightdeck, together with my batman, Rifleman Gillanders, a signaller, Rifleman Martin, and two Riflemen of the Intelligence Section. At the rear, behind the vehicles, were another five members of Battalion H.Q. I was able to watch the take-off procedure through the doorway into the flight deck. As soon as the preceeding glider began to move away down the runway, I saw our tug aircraft swing into position in front of us; the free end of our tow—rope was quickly fixed to the attachment on its tail, the slack was gradually taken up until with a slight jerk we were on our way. Quickly, we gathered speed, the characteristic rumble of the undercarriage on the tarmac increasing in intensity, and then a sudden hush, the only sound being the whistle of air past the fuselage as the pilot lifted the glider off the runway and we were airborne above our tug aircraft.

I saw the tug then lift off slightly, then drop back, then begin to climb away in the wake of the long line of aircraft and gliders ahead

It was a bright and sunny afternoon, but with a fair amount of scattered cloud. I don’t knew the route we took from Broadwell, but after about 10 or 13 minutes flying we linked up with other formations which had left from Blakehill Farm and Down Ampney until there were tugs and gliders ahead of us, to the right and left of us and, presumably, behind us, which must have been a most impressive sight from the ground. I have no personal recollections of fear or apprehension, but rather of excitement and exhiLaration, and from time to time had to convince myself that within the hour we would be landing in enemy—held country. My fellow passengers seemed equally unconcerned with the momentous events taking place

at the time, as we sat smoking and chatting on the hard wooden seats provided for our comfort. I have a very clear recollection of my batman, a regular soldier of many years service, fast asleep with his chin on his. Chest and his arms folded for the entire journey. From time to time I stood in the doorway to the flight deck talking to the two pilots and admiring the skill with which they kept station behind the tug aircraft. Occasionally we passed through cloud which resulted in slight turbulence, particularly when the tug aircraft would disappear for a few seconds and then the glider would appear to be enveloped in cotton wool, and after emerging the pilot would have to adjust his position behind the tug, but this presented little or no problem. Soon, I could see below the coast as the great armada of aircraft headed south over the Channel, on the same lines as we had a few weeks earlier during "Exercise Mush", but this time there was to be no turning back.

The time passed quickly. I saw the leading aircraft change direction to the West, down the Channel, and looking up saw and was much impressed by the sight of a large group of fighter aircraft obviously shepherding us on our way and keeping a sharp lookout for any enemy ‘planes that might attempt to interfere with our progress. I saw no sign of enemy aircraft throughout the flight. I could see She French coast to our left, but as we were flying into the sun visibility was hazy, and it was quite startling when an incredible sight suddenly came in to view; literally hundreds of ships spread out on the sea below. We had reached the main seaborne landing force, and what a sight it was. Large ships &and small ships, stretching as far as the eye could see; some moving at high speed and others apparently anchored with the small shapes of landing craft leaving a white wash behind them as they carried troops and supplies in to the beaches. A series of dull "thumps" drew my gaze back to the pilot and then to the direction he was pointing and I realized that I had heard the guns of a large battleship almost immediately below.

It was then that we turned in towards the coast and in a few minutes I had no difficulty in recognising the mouth of the River Orne and the nearby Canal, a sight with which I had become familiar through the model back in Broadwell. We crossed the coast and flew along the line of the River, clearly visible to our left, and I recall being surprised and relieved that there was no sign of enemy anti—aircraft fire or other opposition to our progress. As I turned to remove my "Mae—West", the Pilot called out "five minute to go". I relayed the message to the others in the rear ~f the glider, and we prepared ourselves for landing, opening the sliding door of

the glider to facilitate quick exit, buckling up our equipment and helmets and doing up our seat belts. "Casting off" called the Pilot, and I heard the "clonk" as he pulled the tow rope release lever, and felt the nose go down as we began our glide into the Landing Zone. Leaning forward, I suddenly saw streaks of light flashing past the nose of the glider and I realized that this was ack—ack fire from the ground. We took up our landing positions, with arms around one another’s necks to help cushion any impact, and waited — with a prayer for a safe landing. Suddenly, the familiar crunch and rumble as the landing gear touched the ground. On and on we seemed to go as the pilot fought to steer the glider away from the line required for following gliders and then we were still. "Under fire" shouted the pilot, and we all released our seatbelts and dived for the door, jumping the four or five feet to the ground and then taking up the defensive positions previously rehearsed so often. Looking around I was relieved to see groups of men around nearby gliders unloading their equipment, and realised that we were not under any immediate threat, so shouted to my men to start unloading. We had arrived, and it was interesting later to hear that of the 145 gliders which took off from England that 6th June evening, all landed safely on the correct landing zones. One glider was hit by mortar fire after landing and was burned out.

Before we left our glider to make our way to the battalion rendez-vous, I was able to shake hands with our pilots and to thank them for a "happy landing" before they left for their RV to return to England to prepare for their next operation. I always regretted not remembering their names.

R.E .H . Sheridan.
6th Dec.’85 formerly Capt. & AdJ. 1st R.U.R.


These sites cover the ox18 area of Oxfordshire England, including  the following villages, OX18, Alvescot, Bampton, Black Bourton, Burford, Broadwell, Carterton, Clanfield, Kelmscott, Kencot, Langford, Lechlade, RAF Broadwell, Shilton, Parish Pump, Oxfordshire Events,