Military Parachuting History
This is James Hill's Account of his D-Day Experiences - Part 4
A Field Operation
Just then the ADMS, who is the head doctor in the division, turned up and seized me by the collar, saying, "I'm taking you off to the main dressing station to have an operation. "I was very unwilling to go, but he promised that he would personally take me back to the brigade headquarters.
As I lay there waiting for my operation at about 1pm, I heard a dense shelling, and thought to myself, "I hope that the Brits will still be here when I come to, and not a lot of Germans."
When I came to at about 3pm I was told that I was the first person to be given penicillin, which had just been invented. I had a bottle strapped to my side, and attached to it were tubes that carried penicillin dripping into my wounds. It was rather undignified - half my backside and my trousers shot away, and as brigade commander I usually liked to keep up a bit of style.
We got into a jeep to drive to brigade headquarters, with me balancing myself on my right side. We got there at about 4pm. Alistair Pearson, one of the greatest fighting battalion commanders of the war, had taken command of the brigade in my absence. He was OK apart from having been shot through the hand.
Go, Guts and Gumption
Communication was obviously difficult on the day. My signaller had been dropped away from me, so until I got to brigade headquarters, my only means of communication was verbal. From headquarters I could keep an eye on the Canadians, and Terrence Ottway was just half a mile away. It was more difficult to communicate with Alistair Pearson of the 8th Battalion, who was about two miles down the road.
But that was the parachuting game - it was part of our training to expect the unexpected. You knew exactly where you had to be and what you had to do, and if things went wrong you had to put them right personally. Our chaps showed great individuality and got themselves out of the most surprising predicaments, like being dropped behind enemy lines.
On the ridge we were fighting a top-ranking German division, 346 Panzer Grenadier Division. They had their own tanks, their own ak-ak guns - everything. But our chaps were tough. We started off with 2,200 men and ended up with about 700 at the most. We were able to see off a fresh infantry division with limited equipment, and the only reason we could do that was through sheer guts.
As a brigade commander going into battle, you have a beautiful map case and sharp pencils, but there I was, minus half my backside, minus a pair of trousers, and all our chaps were in exactly the same boat. It was go, guts and gumption.
The End of the Beginning
At the end of D-Day I was sitting at what I called my command post, on the steps leading up to a barn where I had my sleeping bag. Then, away to the south west, I suddenly saw hundreds of gliders coming in. It was the second wave of the 6th Airborne Division, gliding into battle.
It was a wonderful sight. I knew they were carrying supplies, and the sight of them coming in to land made me feel less lonely, just as the sounds of the dawn battle had that morning. I said to myself, "Remember all these things, because you're never going to see a sight like this again."
It was a great relief to know that we'd got to France, we had captured our objectives, and we were exactly where we were supposed to be. We knew we still had a fight on our hands, but we had landed. We had a little bit of France and those gliders coming in to land were following us. The battle started from there. Not with beautiful clean clothes and a nice map case, but worn out, wet, dirty and smelly.
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