(known as "Johnny" or "Titch"
in the RAF)
RAF Pilot Seconded to the Glider Pilot Regiment
24th, Operation Varsity - the Rhine Crossing - A Narrative
to the Landing Zone in Germany
Return to the Landing Zone in Germany
6th December 1924
the RAF on a short University course: Clare College, Cambridge
the RAF at ACRC Regents Park, London
to Cambridge in the RAF to concentrate on drill etc
BFTS Anstey Grading School flying Tiger Moths
Heaton Park, Manchester
Monkton, New Brunswick Canada
NO.3 BFTS Miami, Oklahoma, USA for primary and advanced flying
training and where commissioned with wings as a Pilot Officer
to the Glider Pilot Regiment and sent to Bridgnorth for a 2-week
course with the RAF Regiment
NO.5 GTS at, I believe, near Ludlow flying Hotspur glider
21 HGCU Brize Norton flying Horsas and Hadrian gliders
of March 1945
squadron Glider Pilot Regiment at Earls Colne flying Horsas Mark
I and Mark II and it was from Earls Colne that I took off for
RAF Booker flying Tiger Moths
RAF School of Administration
of the Air Booking Centre in Cairo, Egypt
Anterio Poliomyelitus and was taken into No. 5 RAF Hospital, Cairo
Mongewell Park for treatment
An RAF Pilot Seconded to the Glider
As I understand it, the Glider Pilot Regiment suffered severe casualties
at Arnhem and it was imperative that the regiment was brought up to
strength as soon as possible. Two options were available:-
1. Train army personnel who had been taught to fight on the ground
to fly; first on Tiger Moths and then on gliders.
2. Train qualified RAF pilots to fight on the ground and then convert
them on to gliders.
It was decided that option No.2 would be the quickest because only
the rudiments of ground fighting would be required because once on
the ground the glider pilot would be mainly employed in a defensive
In the air the pilot was in charge but once on the ground the senior
army personnel in the glider would take charge.
During November 1944 I was posted to RAF Bridgnorth which was run
by the RAF Regiment. This was a two week course consisting of assault
courses, unarmed combat, weapon training and map reading exercises
during the day and at night. I remember that we had to crawl through
ditches half full of water, under footbridges where instructors were
standing throwing thunderflashes at us as we passed; it was all quite
tough. I also remember that we were trained to fire revolvers from
the hip, rather like cowboys in Western films.
The officer in charge of our course was Sir Michael Bruce, the brother
of Nigel Bruce the Hollywood film star known for his part as Dr Watson
in the Sherlock Holmes films. Both were old boys of my school, Abingdon
From Bridgnorth the course was posted to No.5 G.T.S. at, I believe,
somewhere near Ludlow. Here we had our first taste of flying gliders.
We flew the Hotspur glider made by General Aircraft. The instructor
sat behind the pupil. We were towed by Miles Master single-engine
airplanes. Flying on tow was a little tricky to maintain position
in relation to the tug until one learnt to relax and let the glider
virtually fly itself. One was also very conscious of the fact that
once released from the tug aircraft one was on one's own and every
landing was a "forced" landing. No engine to drag you in
over the boundary when having misjudged a landing or being able to
go round again if you were not happy with the approach as you could
do in a powered aircraft. Your judgment when landing a glider had
to be accurate as there was no turning back. This course lasted about
two weeks and according to my flying logbook I did 4 hours 10 minutes
daylight flying with the instructor, 4 hours S minutes daylight solo
flying, 40 minutes dual night and 20 minutes solo night flying. A
total of 2 hours was spent in the Link trainer. From the flying hours
point of view gliding was a very slow business because one had to
wait for an available tug aircraft to tow you off, and having landed
one had to wait until a tractor arrived to tow you back to the runway.
During a whole day on the airfield generally one only spent about
an hour in the air.
Having completed our initial glider flying training, the course was
then posted to RAF Brize Norton which was No.21 H.G.C.U. Here we flew
Horsa and Hadrian gliders as well as continuing on the Link trainer.
The Horsa glider was the mainstay of the Glider Pilot Regiment. It
was designed by Airspeed Aviation and built by Harris Lebus in Southern
England. It could carry something like 25-28 troops and could also
take a jeep. It was large, about the size of the Wellington bomber,
being 67 feet in length and with a wingspan of 80 feet. Fully loaded
it weighed rather more than 7 tons, half of which was its own weight.
It was of timber construction. There was a Mark I and Mark 11. The
main difference between these two gliders was that in the Mark I loading
and unloading was done by a large door in the side of the fuselage
and also the tow rope split near the glider with each end of the split
being hitched to a hook on the underside of the port and starboard
wings With the Mark II Horsa glider the whole of the nose, which housed
the cockpit, was hinged and therefore loading would be a straightforward
affair, straight in to the fuselage. The tow rope was not split and
was joined to the glider above the nose wheel. At Brize Norton we
only flew the Mark I and it was when we got on to our squadron the
Mark II was introduced. The Mark II was a much more convenient glider
It was at Brize Norton where I first met Sergeant Priddin who became
my second pilot and we remained together until after the Rhine crossing.
According to my flying logbook, we were only at Brize Norton for about
a week and during that time I did 2 hours 30 minutes dual daylight
flying, 45 minutes solo daylight flying with a second pilot, 30 minutes
dual night flying and 20 minutes solo night flying. When one flew
a Horsa glider one always was accompanied by a second pilot.
At Brize Norton we also flew the Hadrian glider. This was an American
glider and was known to the Americans as the Waco GC-4A glider. Its
wings and empennage were made of wood, but the fuselage consisted
of welded steel tubing covered with fabric. The pilot's compartment
in the front forming the nose section could be swung upward so creating
a large aperture leading into its cargo compartment. This facilitated
the rapid loading and unloading of the glider. Its wingspan was 83.6
feet and its overall length was 48 feet. It could carry 4,060 Ibs
which was 620 more Ibs than the glider's own empty weight. This glider
could not carry as much as the British Horsa glider and was not liked
very much by the British pilots. Unlike the Horsa , it did not have
flaps but relied on spoilers so that when you wished to descend rapidly
you activated the spoilers which caused the aircraft to descend in
a rapid motion but without lowering the nose which was I found awkward.
One of the main features of the Horsa glider was its large flaps,
rather like great barn doors which could be lowered by pressing a
lever in the cockpit to help one slow up and descend very rapidly
indeed. The flaps were activated by compressed air which was kept
in a large bottle situated right in the nose of the glider beyond
the pilot's rudder bars.
According to my logbook I did 40 minutes dual day flying on the Hadrian
and 15 minutes solo flying.
During the whole of our glider flying we had to keep up our work with
the Link trainer and at Brize Norton I did 2 hours in this.
On the 26th January 1945 Sergeant Priddin and I were posted to B Squadron
at Earls Colne. We continued with our training and we flew loaded
Horsa gliders, known as heavy Horsars. I also flew a Tiger Moth and
it was at Earls Colne that I started flying the Horsa Mark 11. On
the 25th February I see frpm my logbook that we did a cross-country
flight which lasted 1 hour 10 minutes. I do seem to remember this
and it was impossible to fly a Horsa glider without help from one's
second pilot and I found that a stint of about 15 minutes was all
one could do and had to then hand over to the other person. When on
a cross-country or when likely to fly into cloud one had to take the
glider down into low tow, that means one is flying at a level lower
than the tug aircraft. When doing circuits and landings one stayed
in high tow, that is above your tug aircraft. The reason for going
into low tow was that there was an instrument called the cable angle
indicator, or as most people called it - the angle of dangle - and
in theory this allowed you to fly the glider on tow when you could
not see the tug aircraft because of cloud. A cord was attached to
the tow rope and up to the back of the instrument and this would only
work when you were in low tow.
On the 7th March we took part in Exercise Rift-Raft II and this lasted
for 2 hours. This was a massed landing and I regret that I cannot
remember very much about it but I think about 120 gliders took part
and we were towed for nearly 2 hours to an aerodrome where one landed
as close as one could to another glider so that all would get in on
The next day we did another cross-country flight lasting 2 hours 45
minutes. This was followed the next day by a remote release which
lasted 30 minutes. This was a case of going some way away from the
aerodrome and gliding in. The purpose of this, of course, was the
necessity maybe of doing a silent approach.
On March 10th we did Exercise lan which lasted for 2 hours 40 minutes
and this was another mass landing and on the 12th March with a heavy
Horsa Mark II we did Exercise lan II and this also lasted for 2 hours
March 14th was yet another mass landing using a heavy Horsa Mark II
and it was called Exercise Vulture and this lasted for 3 hours 40
minutes. I do vaguely remember this exercise - there were again about
120 gliders taking part and we flew in pairs in line astern A problem
occurred in that the tailenders were flying faster than the leaders
so that by the time we got to the aerodrome we were all bunched together
and it was a terrifying sight as nearly all of us released from the
tugs at the same time and gliders were weaving about all over the
sky. I remember one diving down just in front of me and I had to do
a violent turn to miss a collision. Luckily, we were near the front
and so we got down slightly quicker than some of the others and I
managed to get the glider to land and stop at the far end of the airfield
close to other gliders. I remember getting out of the glider and watching
the others come in and literally within about 5 minutes all gliders
had landed and the last chap just could not find any room to land
and crashed into two gliders and into a hut, and I believe both pilots
suffered broken legs. The next day we were taken to the aerodrome
to retrieve our glider and the flight back took 1 hour 10 minutes.
When doing these exercises we did a circular trip before landing so
that we were getting used to a long tow.
Exercise Nosmo, another mass landing which lasted 2 hours 25 minutes,
took place on March 17th and this was similar to the other exercises
we had done.
While at Earls Colne we were towed by Halifax bombers Mark III or
Mark V. The Mark III had radial engines, I believe Bristol Centaurus,
and the Mark V had in-line engines and I think they were Rolls Royce
Merlins. The Mark III with the radial engines appeared the much more
powerful than the Mark Vs and were much nicer than the Mark V and
we all hoped that it would be the Mark III that would tow us.
Now we come to March 24th, Operation
Varsity - the Rhine Crossing.
For about a month prior to the Rhine crossing we were confined to
camp for security reasons. I understand that at Arnhem security had
not been very good and the Germans knew what was happening and we
did not want this to occur again. About three or four days before
Operation Varsity we had extensive briefing and spent a lot of time
studying a sandtable model of the landing zone in Germany. Sergeant
Priddin and I were told we had to land our glider by a certain farmhouse
which was shown on the sandtable. We were going to take 6 troops and
a jeep and trailer. The trailer was loaded with radio equipment as
this was a forward observation unit for the artillery. During the
briefing we were told that the code name for the glider was "Matchbox".
The day before we took off we got all our equipment together and I
remember apart from a .303 rifle, ammunition, hand grenades, I was
also given a 2-inch mortar with bombs. I did not get much sleep during
the night of March 23rd/24th and I think we had to be ready to go
down to the runway at about 0600 hours. I clearly remember knocking
the cork out of my water bottle when I got to my glider and losing
all the water over my trousers! This worried me as I wondered whether
I would be able to get decent water in Germany which had not been
poisoned or contaminated! The gliders of B Squadron had all been marshalled
at the end of the runway close together in two lines, one just in
front of the other, and the tug aircraft were lined up on either side
of the runway and at the appointed time a tug would taxi out in front
of the glider and we would be hitched up and waived away and this
went very smoothly with the combinations taking off quite quickly
one after the other. We climbed to 2,500 feet and headed south and
we went in to low tow. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in
the sky. We crossed the coast and I noticed a glider circling down
about to ditch in the sea and it was obvious he had broken his tow
rope; he would not be crossing the Rhine.
A little later we flew right over the middle of Brussels and at about
this time we passed the Americans who were taking part in the Rhine
crossing. They were much slower than us and the tug aircraft were
DC3's (Dakotas) and each tug towed two Hadrian gliders. I understand
that the Americans were going to land about a mile south of us towards
Wesel. We headed for Germany.
We crossed the Rhine some 3 hours after take-off and immediately we
were in an area of very bad visibility. I found out later that this
was due to dust and debris that had been thrown up from the largest
artillery barrage of the war which had occurred during the night,
and also due to heavy bombing of Wesel.
Although we couldn't see the ground the tug pilot told me to release
as he reckoned we were over the correct point and he wished us both
luck. We were joined in to the intercom system of the Halifax tug
by a wire which was attached to the tow rope. I thanked him for his
good wishes and hoped he and his crew would enjoy their breakfast
of bacon and eggs when they returned to Earls Colne! How I wished
I was with them!
We couldn't see the ground and there were several gliders who had
released and were turning aimlessly and we knew full well that we
were meant to be landing by a farmhouse and we did not know where
we were. I followed the glider in front of me and he did a turn to
port of 360 degrees. While he was doing that there was a certain amount
of flak coming up. He then started another turn but he appeared to
be flying straight into a stream of tracer bullets so I did not follow!
I carried on, hoping I was going in the right direction and turning
here and there so that I did not go too far into Germany and overshoot
the landing zone. I was down to about 250 feet when I first saw the
ground and I recognised on my port side the village of Hamminkeln
so I continued flying south looking for a field in which to land.
The Captain of the troops in my glider was standing between Sergeant
Pridden.and myself and he was holding a Bren gun. We crossed a road
leading into Hamminkeln where there was a convoy of German open lorries
filled with troops driving into Hamminkeln and as we dived down they
all raised their hands to surrender; not that we could do much about
it although the Captain was very tempted to open fire through the
cockpit glass. I spotted a field where I thought we could land which
I hoped would be somewhere near the farmhouse where we were meant
to be. I operated the lever to bring the flaps down as I did not have
much time to lose height. I pushed the nose of the glider down and
to my horror found the speed built up to about 120mph and it was obvious
the flaps had not come down. I think that gunfire had pierced my compressed
air bottle and so this put the flaps out of action. It was impossible
to get into the field without crashing so I decided the only thing
I could do was to do a shallow dive into the field and aim between
two trees at the far end, hoping that the wings would hit these trees
and bring us to a standstill. This did not happen - I hit the ground
and broke the nose wheel so the cockpit started digging in to the
ground. At about this time I think a mortar bomb exploded under my
starboard wing which turned the glider upside-down. The nose broke
away from the glider and rolled over and over like a ball for some
time; eventually it came to rest. I pulled the release of my safety
harness but did not realise we were upside-down until I fell on my
head! Sergeant .Pridden. and I were not hurt. We crawled out of the
cockpit and ran back to what was left of the glider. Amazingly no-one
was hurt. One chap did have a graze on his thumb and that was all.
We then came under fire from two spandau machine guns which were situated
near the trees which I had been aiming for. We kept very still under
the wreckage of the glider and amazingly the firing soon stopped and
I can only think the Germans thought that no-one could have got out
of our glider alive!
The Captain then took charge and said, "Where is the farmhouse?"
and I thought I spotted it two fields away in a westerly direction
and he agreed with me that it would appear to be the farm we had meant
to land by. So he said, "Let's get the jeep and trailer out and
drive there." Normally one had to put ramps up to unload a glider
but as our fuselage was lying on the ground it was easy to just drive
the jeep and trailer out and we all jumped on board; those that could
not get into the jeep mounted the trailer hanging on as we sped across
two fields. The Germans opened up on us but their shooting wasn't
very good and they missed. When entering the next field, a jeep was
coming the other way and we stopped and asked the driver about this
farmhouse and he said that it was occupied by Germans. The Captain
said, "We were told that we had to go to this farmhouse so we
are going to it," so we drove across the next field and pulled
up by the front door of the farm. It was rather nerve-racking opening
the door and going in, not knowing what to expect. In fact, the farmhouse
was only occupied by the farmer and his wife who were both scared
After reconnoitring the farmhouse and farm, several other people joined
us and an army officer took charge and said we should form a perimeter
defence. To the west of the farmyard was a bank and above the bank
was a spinney so we all lined the bank. We came under fire but were
saved by the bank but after a short period an army officer appeared
smoking a cigarette in a very long thin cigarette holder and he thought
it would be a good idea if two people climbed over the bank and made
their way through the spinney as a forward observation unit; so another
chap and myself were asked to do this. This rather worried us as a
lot of bullets were flying over the top of the bank. However, we were
told to climb up and over so we did and we ran forward into the spinney
so that we could see out to the far side and we then got into a prone
position and luckily neither of us was hit. Outside the spinney there
was a ploughed field and at the other side of the ploughed field was
another farm which was obviously occupied by the Germans as periodically
they opened fire in all directions. To the south of us there was also
a ploughed field and stretcher bearers were carrying the wounded to
our farmhouse. It was a beautiful spring-like morning and in a lull
in the firing one could hear the birds singing. I thought, “how
stupid this is to try and kill each other on such a morning!”
We had been in this spinney for about half and hour when the Americans
started landing in the field between the spinney and the other farm.
They should have landed a mile south of us but we were very glad to
see them in our area as we were getting concerned about the Germans
in the farmhouse. There was a glider quite near to the spinney and
the Americans wished to unload but every time they tried to lift the
nose the Germans opened fire on them and they had to take cover. Eventually
an American came back to where we were in the spinney and asked for
our help. We said we could not move from our present position but
if he went back to our farmhouse and made contact with the officer
there he no doubt would arrange a fighting patrol to try and clear
the Germans out of the farmhouse, or at least give covering fire so
that they could unload the glider. A little later the American passed
us on his way back to the glider and said that arrangements had been
made for a fighting patrol to go out and clear the farm. Unfortunately
this American got killed trying to get to his glider. Eventually the
Germans were driven off from the farm opposite and the Americans were
able to commence their unloading. By this time several other American
gliders had landed and I think this may have been the deciding factor
that caused the Germans to depart.
After about 3 hours we were called back to our farm and we were told
we would then have to march to a neighbouring farm. I think this was
about half a mile away and we got there without any problems although
we did come across quite a lot of dead Germans and dead horses and
cows; not a very pleasant sight. I also saw several dead American
and I was moved to see an American GI praying over a dead colleague.
During the whole operation I did not see a single British casualty.
Having arrived at this new farmhouse, we set about forming a perimeter
defence and decided that we ought to dig slit trenches. I suggested
that if there were any prisoners around we might get them to dig the
trenches for us so my flight commander, Flight Lieutenant Ken Ashurst,
asked me to investigate. I went into the farmyard and to my amazement
saw that this was nearly full of German prisoners, something like
250 of them and they were being guarded by one soldier sitting in
a wheelbarrow with a Bren gun across his knees. I went up to him and
asked him if I could have one or two people to dig trenches for us
and he said, "Take your pick." I then said wasn't he rather
worried as he was the only person guarding all these Germans and he
said, "Oh, I think it’s all right" and I said "Well,
I'm glad you've got that machine gun." Then he said, "Yes,
but what they don't know is that it has not got a firing pin!”
I chose about six Germans and it transpired that they were Luftwaffe
ground crew and they were very frightened as they had not been trained
to fight. Some of them were only about sixteen years old. They were
very anxious to please and dug excellent trenches for us.
It was decided that two people would occupy each trench but after
dark I, being deputy flight commander, would do a tour of duty in
each slit trench until 2 in the morning when Ken Ashurst would take
over and would remain on duty until first light. While we were in
the trench one of the other people went into the farmhouse to get
some sleep. After about midnight I found it extremely difficult to
keep awake because of the firing. Sometimes a heavy ack-ack barrage
was put down and this was quite frightening as large pieces of shrapnel
were falling all over the ground and I felt particularly vulnerable
as I'd lost my tin hat in the crash and was therefore only wearing
During the second night I thought I could hear tanks which concerned
me a great deal so I went back into the farmhouse to report this to
Ken Ashurst, but before I found him I came across I think Lt.Col.
lain Murray and he was lying on the floor trying to get some sleep,
so I woke him up and he came outside to weigh up the situation; but
there was nothing to be heard and one can only presume that the tanks
had gone or that the whole thing had been a figment of my imagination
which obviously I doubt! Later that night it was my turn to go off
duty and try and get some sleep in a bed. I fell asleep immediately
but was woken up by a loud bang and the ceiling falling down on me.
I rushed outside and it transpired that a shell had landed near the
farmhouse but apart from this ceiling no damage or casualties occurred.
I spent the rest of the night sleeping in a slit trench. It was quite
frightening to realise that we were surrounded by Germans and we all
fervently hoped that our army had managed to cross the Rhine.
Soon after arriving at this farmhouse I reconnoitred the area and
found that about half a dozen cows were tied up in the milking parlour.
I thought I ought to try and milk them so had a go but after about
half an hour without much success, the cow I was trying to milk got
a bit fed up with me and kicked the bucket over. Just after this had
happened a soldier arrived obviously looking for loot and I told him
there was nothing of interest for him in the farmhouse but I said
can you milk cows and he said yes, so I said please milk this lot
- which he did so we were able to have fresh milk that night and next
This little episode gave an idea to one of the glider pilots that
as there were some hens running about in the yard, he ought to catch
one and we could then have chicken for dinner. He had difficulty in
carrying out this operation and decided to start shooting at it with
his revolver but again he had no success, although the area became
rather dangerous with bullets flying everywhere, but we did not have
I can't remember whether we spent 2 or 3 nights in this farmhouse
but we were told by some army officer in charge that we had to move
to another farmhouse. I had noticed a carthorse in an adjoining field
so I caught this horse, saddled it up and with help harnessed it to
a wagon; so when we moved to the new farmhouse all the lads put their
equipment into this wagon and I drove the horse and wagon down the
road to the new farmhouse which was only about a quarter of a mile
away. As I approached this new farmhouse I had to go behind a 3-inch
mortar battery and just as I had got to them they opened fire and
the noise was terrific. I thought that the horse would bolt so I jumped
off the wagon, ran round to its head and held it. To my amazement
it didn't seem worried by the noise and just continued down the track
to the new farmyard.
I can't remember much about this new location but I think it was a
move to get us all together ready to take us back to the Rhine and
so others were providing the perimeter defence so we had nothing to
do. Soon after we were here our army which had crossed the Rhine caught
up with us and I remember the feeling of relief as we were no longer
surrounded by the enemy. It was obvious that the whole operation had
been a success. We wished them luck in their advance into Germany.
I gave my 2-inch mortar to a soldier as he would have more use of
it than me and it saved me carrying it!
The next day we were ordered to march to the Rhine and I suggested
to, I believe, the commanding officer of B Squadron, Major lan Toler,
that I could harness up the horse and connect it to the wagon, as
I had done the day before, to take all our equipment to the Rhine.
I also thought it would save me walking and I would get a lift! The
C.O. did not think we could do this and so reluctantly I had to leave
the horse behind. We marched in single file to the Rhine and I think
it must have been something like 3 miles and I could quite understand
why the C.O. had said I could not take the horse and wagon because
the road was absolutely chock-a-block with troops and vehicles that
had crossed the Rhine and were fighting their way into the heart of
We got to the Rhine and were loaded on to lorries to be taken across
the bailey bridge and to a camp some miles west of the Rhine. It was
a bit disconcerting to hear that the day before a lorry was crossing
this bailey bridge and it had broken and the lorry had gone to the
bottom and all occupants were drowned. However, the bridge held when
we crossed and there were no incidents.
After a mile or so on the west side of the Rhine, we came to a little
town called Xanten. It distressed us very much to see that this town,
except for the church, was nothing but a heap of rubble. There were
one or two inhabitants crawling around overturning stones and rubble,
presumably trying to find lost possessions.
We arrived at a tented camp but I cannot remember exactly where this
was and we were told we would spend one night here and then move up
to Helmond the next day. It was an opportunity to inspect our equipment
and I noticed my rifle, which I had not fired, was absolutely filthy
so I put a round into the breach and fired it to clear out the muck
and I then pulled it through and oiled it. Having done this, I went
with a friend for a walk and although the area was meant to have been
cleared of Germans for about 3 weeks, we were fired at by a sniper
but luckily he missed. We were not able to discover where he was but
he was obviously in a wood nearby. In the early evening a church service
was held in a field and I found it one of the most moving services
I have ever attended.
Next morning we were loaded into lorries and travelled to Helmond.
This took most of the day and we arrived in the early evening and
I think we were put up in a hotel and then we went to the theatre
where an ENSA party was entertaining the troops.
We were taken by lorry to Eindhoven in Holland the next day where
we were loaded into DC3's (Dakotas) and flown back to England. I cannot
remember where we landed - but I think it might have been RAF Lyneham.
We had to go through customs and they asked us if we had anything
to declare! I think we had, but not anything that would interest them!
We returned to RAF Earls Colne and a few days later Courts of Enquiry
were set up to try and discover what had happened to equipment which
had not been returned. The most common piece of equipment was the
service watch which some of us were issued with and as this was a
nice piece of equipment, it was amazing how many went missing. These
enquiries lasted several days and I remember sitting on a Court of
Enquiry and then having to appear before the same court because I
had not brought back my 2-inch mortar. I did spend a month at the
School of Infantry, Warminster, which was extremely well organised.
We spend a certain amount of time under fire which proved a very valuable
experience. I only wish I had been posted to this course before I
took part in the Rhine crossing.
The rest of the time in the Glider Pilot Regiment was spent on a rest
camp at Watermouth Caves between IIfracombe and Coombe Martin, then
a little bit of training because it was possible that we might have
to go out to the Far East. My flight went to RAF Booker and flew Tiger
Moths for a month and the rest of the time we sat around in various
units waiting for something to happen and eventually I was recalled
back into the RAF.
Return to the Landing Zone in Germany
In October 1985 I went on the continent with two architect friends
of mine. They wanted to see modern architecture in Germany and they
asked me what I would like to do and I said I would like to go and
see where I landed my glider on the Rhine crossing.
We approached the Rhine from the west and came to the little town
of Xanten. This was the town we had driven through when returning
from the Rhine crossing; it was then a heap of rubble but now it had
been completely rebuilt and was a charming little town with many pedestrian
areas. One could not have realised what it was like before if one
had not seen it.
We drove across the Rhine and stayed in a hotel just north of Wesel.
The next day we drove north on road E36 to Hamminkeln. In the centre
we turned left and headed west out of the village. It must be remembered
that I did not go into Hamminkeln during the Rhine crossing. We stopped
and I got out and looked around and did not recognise anything but
I did remember that I had crossed a road at about 250 feet in the
glider just before crashing and I thought we were perhaps on that
road so we drove on a little further and stopped and I looked to the
south and there was a big area and I am sure it was in this area that
I crashed the glider.
I was pretty certain this was the correct area so we then drove on
some narrow lanes and stopped before we came to a farm. Somebody was
working in the field and they wondered what we were up to and I was
not very keen to tell them why I was there so we didn't proceed any
further; but looking at the farm I recognised the spinney just beyond
it and could see the bank which I had to climb over to go into the
spinney so I was positive that this was the first farmhouse we went
to. It looked just the same.
We turned round and drove back along one or two little lanes looking
for the second and third farmhouses that I went to but the whole area
is covered by small farms and it was impossible to decide where I
had been. I think perhaps a number of the farms had been rebuilt.
Of course there was no indication anywhere as to what had taken place
in March 1945.
Return to the Landing Zone in Germany
In 2002 I took
my youngest son Will, aged 40, to see where I landed my glider and,
while on the site, I told him how we were under fire where we landed.
After contemplating this information he said, "I wish I could
find a spent cartridge…" I said "Don't be silly; this
happened in 1945!"
I started to walk
away from this ploughed field but Will called out "Father, I've
found a gun!" I went back and with his shoe he lifted a buried
piece of projecting metal; and up came a Sten Gun! After all these
years it was not in good condition and the stock was missing.
We brought it
home and have given it to the 'Museum of Army Flying' at Middle Wallop,
Hampshire. They have preserved it and it will go on display in due