Just then, the head doctor of the division turned to me and seized my collar saying, “I’m taking you off to the dressing station to have an operation.” Clearly, I was not happy and was quite honestly, very unwilling. However, the doctor assured me that he would personally escort me back to brigade headquarters at the conclusion of my operation.
Guinea Pig for Penicillin
At about 3 pm, I had a bottle strapped to my side with tubes carrying what they called penicillin. It had just been invented and it was like I was the first person to be given the new drug. I watched as it dripped onto my wounds and despite the undignified look on my left back and backside, I smiled thinking that this was quite fitting for a brigade commander.
I was driven to brigade headquarters, constantly balancing myself on my right side during the duration of the trip. Upon our arrival at about 4 pm, I learned that Alistair Pearson, one of the greatest fighting commanders of the war, had taken command of the brigade in my absence. He was “OK” apart from having been shot through the hand.
When Things Don’t Go As Planned
Having dropped my signaller along the way, communication was rather difficult. It was not until I got to headquarters that I could finally signal to the troops. From headquarters, I could keep an eye on the Canadians and be able to keep in contact with Terence Otway, who was just a half mile out, as well as Alistair Pearson of the 8th Battalion, who was stationed two miles down the road.
This was just the nature of the beast known as the parachuting games. We all had designated drop zones, but we knew to expect the unexpected when it came to what would take place on the field. We were all trained to be at a certain place and to perform a certain task, and if there was a wrench thrown in our situation, we were trained to make it right, whatever the means. Some of our troops courageously got themselves out of the most surprising of predicaments, including behind enemy lines. Still, their perseverance and courage lead them to complete the mission they were set out to do.
Beating the Odds
On the ridge, we were fighting with a top-ranking German division called the 346 Panzer Grenadier Division. They had their own tanks, their own AK guns, they literally had everything. We started off with 2,200 men and ended up with about 700 at the end. We took out a fresh German infantry division with limited equipment on our side. We made it through victorious with sheer guts, heart, and determination.
As brigade commander, going into battle starts with a beautiful untarnished map waiting for the impressions of sharp pencils forming the blueprint for victory. But that moment had passed, the reality was I was missing half my backside and my bottoms were blown off. My men were more or less in similar conditions. We knew it wasn’t about X’s and O’s at this point, it was about the pure determination of heart and gumption.
Remembering Now & Onward to France
When D-Day came to a close, I sat at my command post. As I turned my head southwest, I saw hundreds of gliders heading in my direction. It was the second wave of the 6th Airborne Division, landing into battle. It was a beautiful sight knowing that they carried with them supplies and, more importantly, company and camaraderie. As I began to get less lonely from their arrival, I whispered to myself, “Remember all these things, because you’re never going to see a sight like this again.”
It was with such great relief to know that we were heading to France, having captured our objectives and having been exactly where we were supposed to be. I know we still had a fight on our hands, but we landed in France. The battle had just begun. There were no beautifully pressed clothes or clean maps by our side, by now everything was wet, dirty, and smelly, fighting for success.