GAD battlefield tour & pilgrimage trip, 1956

Discussion in 'The Brigade of Guards' started by dbf, Apr 24, 2013.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Thought this might be of interest to some: an account by a veteran of 2nd Armoured Battalion Irish Guards of battlefield tour/pilgrimage trip in 1956.


    From Irish Guards Association Journal, 1957:

    By Bill CORR

    The fire glowed cheerily in Charlie Donohue’s back lounge, as we settled comfortably in our seats and took long satisfying draughts from our pints of creamy porter.

    It was a cold November day and the Micks were gathered for the usual Saturday “session”. Present were: Tom McGLYNN, Jimmy McCREERY, Poky FLYNN, Jim ROWE, Jimmy PEARSON and myself [Bill CORR]. Various “bars” were spun, and conversation drifted to holidays. I suggested a Continental trip by car, to follow up the old Division centre line, or part of it. The boys were all for it, and we discussed it on many another Saturday session. We fixed on the August holiday fortnight and the Brussels to Nijmegen part of the Guards Armoured Division centre line. Then, one by one, the boys dropped out for varying reasons. August is a busy time for Tom McGLYNN as wedding photographer; he wanted to go in March, his off season. However, with visions of snow ploughs and sou’-westers, we put the hammer on him. Soon only Jimmy PEARSON and myself were left, so we roped in two non-Micks - Kit LYNCH and Tom OAK - to share expenses. We joined the A..A and for a fee of £3 they provided us with the necessary documents, and book our passages and that of the car. We begged and borrowed a couple of Primus stoves, a bivvy and two sleeping bags; from our own household stores we drew blankets, plates, mug, knife, fork, spoon, etc., and we each brought a case containing personal clothing and small kit. At last, the great day arrived, and the boys came down to the North Wall to see us off. After a pleasant crossing, we drove to LONDON, where we spent the weekend with some friends. We took the opportunity of dropping into Wellington, and were warmly greeted by all we met.

    We camped the night in DOVER before boarding the car ferry on August Bank Holiday. We reached OSTEND about 6 p.m. and found a little camping site (entrance fee 40 francs) within easy reach of a magnificent beach, at BREDEN, only five kilometres from OSTEND. We erected our tent and were “out town sharp”. Next day we drove on a fine autobahn to BRUSSELS, with a short stop at BRUGES, to have a look around this fine old city.

    It was a grand holiday. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and now, having pasted the 100-odd snapshots into my album, it is time to think of next year’s tour.

    It is the same old BRUSSELS, and our memories of September 3rd, 1944, when these streets were crammed with a deliriously happy population as they welcomed their liberators, the GUARDS ARMOURED DIVISION, came singing back. Every Mick of the 2nd and 3rd Battalion has a soft spot for this city, and weir and wonderful are the bars spun of the three days the Irish Group “rested” there. Except, of course, No. 1 Squadron, of which I was one; we spent those days exchanging shells with the Jerries on the aerodrom outside the city.

    There are 11 Micks buried in BRUSSELS TOWN CEMETERY and we visited their graves in the British plot, before leading on to LOUVAIN and DIEST, where we spent our third night. Next day found us in BEERINGEN, a small town on the ALBERT CANAL, which cost us a day’s fighting and a good many casualties. It was here I saw an S.P. brew up Sgt. DALTON’s tank, and before we could get a shot at it, Joe PEARMAN brewed it up with his 17-pounder. Some civvies took a photograph of our tank and crew, by the church, that day, and I spent an afternoon trying to trace them to get a copy, but to no avail.

    At LEOPOLDSBURG we paid a visit to the War Cemetery in which 26 Micks found their last resting-place. It is pleasantly situated, and is quite near the woods where we put in the night attack on the 8th September, 1944. It was towards the end of this night that Sgt. O’MEARA, looking for a spot to bed down until dawn, came across a Jerry section sleeping in a ditch, with the sentry snoring over his Spandau. Needless to say, an ammunition book soon interrupted his siesta, and the section went “into the bag”.

    We found HECHTEL almost completely rebuilt. It had been destroyed in the heavy fighting there when the Germans had made a strong point of the village. The Irish Group had by-passed HECHTEL and advanced across boggy ground EXEL, though not without losing some tanks. Here we had expected to pass the night but an urgent order sent us racing forward. I was “co-pilot” in the tank named McGILLICUDDY’S REEKS, and as the 30-cylinder engine sent us charging down the road I cold hear a jumble of excited messages coming over the air. Then we reached a T-junction on the road and swung left with tanks screaming. Across the fields we could see our objective - the bridge over the ESCAUT CANAL. Sudden spurts of flame in the failing light told us that the enemy had seen us too, and opened up on us with 88’s. We raced for the protection of the houses at the crossroads ahead. The buildings hid us for a short time, then we were dashing across the wide, naked street with turret spinning and McGURRAN bellowing fire orders down the inter-com. Jimmy MENDES rammed the Sherman into the wall of the cafe opposite and the motor stalled. Tommy MOUNTAIN and Jim SHOTTIN had the gun in action now, and shell after shell went screaming through the torrent of Browning tracer to the bridge. A heavy German tractor, hauling an 88, was brewed up on the approach to the bridge, and the flames lit our target excellently. Our engine failed to start, and I was behind the tank working at it, when “Rocky” STEER’s Sherman, with “Kettelboro” behind the sticks, swept past, closely followed by the Troop Leader, Lieutenant LAMPARD, stormed up the road. Our motor fired, and we were after them. As we rumbled over the bridge in the weird light of the blazing tractor and a burning house, we saw a Sapper and some 3rd Battalion Micks were already at work, cutting the cables of the charges underneath the bridge. Resistance had ceased and “Joe’s Bridge” was ours.

    We refreshed ourselves at the cafe into which Jimmy MENDES had driven the tank. A young man from LOMMEL had recently taken it over, and we spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting with him. We led on over the fine modern structure that replaces “Joe’s Bridge”, and soon reached the Dutch border. About a mile further up the road, we parked at the ruins of a couple of cottages, and got the Primus going. It was here, just at the start of “Operation Market Garden”, on September 17th, 1944, that we lost nine tanks in a row, all “brewed up” in a couple of minutes. Rocket-firing Typhoons were called up to blast the German positions, the 3rd Battalion putting in an attack and taking many prisoners before the advance could continue. We purchased some potatoes from an old farmer, who was delighted to meet us when he heard who we were. He gave us his excited version of the happenings on that day, and was very grateful to the “Tiffies” for not shooting-up his farm. A small cemetery lies just beside the road, and in it are the graves of 16 Micks who died that day.

    After our scoff by the roadside, we drove through VALKENSWAARD to EINDHOVEN, where we spent the night. Next day, we explored the city, and as everything is very cheap in HOLLAND, we made many purchase. We had a magnificent dinner in a large restaurant, and still puffing our cigars, climbed into the car and lead on to NIJMEGEN, where we spent the evening sampling the local brew.

    NIJMEGEN hasn’t changed at all in the last twelve years, the famous bridge still spans the WAAL, and brought memories of shell fire and Stuka attacks crowding back. Jimmy PEARSON found the place on the river bank where his Squadron had given covering fire to the American Paratroopers crossing the river in assault boats, under heavy enemy fire. I found the spot in the main road to ARNHEM, where Tommy MOSS and I baled out of Sgt MIDDLETON’s blazing “Firefly”.

    We visited the graves of 19 of our comrades in JONKERBOS WAR CEMETERY in NIJMEGEN and those of 40 more in ARNHEM, before leaving HOLLAND for GERMANY. CLEVE, GOGH and WESEL are familiar names, but the towns are now almost completely rebuilt. We spent some time looking around KREFELD, DUSSELDORF, and COLOGNE, before pushing on to GUMMERSBACH, where the Battalion was stationed from June 1945 to March 1946. We called on some old friends and were royally entertained for a few days. We parted with many handshakes and promises to return next year, and it was necessary to drive fast through JULICH, MAASTRICHT, BRUSSELS, COURTRAI and YPRES to reach the car ferry at BOULOGNE on time.

    The cost of our Continental holiday was very reasonable. We shared expenses, and £10 per man covered all A.A. fees, the return fare of the car via DUBLIN-LIVERPOOL, also that of the DOVER-OSTEND and BOULOGNE-DOVER journey. Personal fares on the care ferry were £3 12s. 0d. return. On landing at OSTEND, we made a “kitty” of £40, to pay for petrol and food, entrance fees to camps, etc. On our return to DOVER we had £10 left in this “kitty” to share out. Our personal spending money we carried in travellers’ cheques, which we changed as required.
  2. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Early examples of WW2 Battlefield tourism.
    Now there's a thread...

    Wonder how many others returned so soon.

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