Need help with dads WW2 service record 53rd Welsh div

Discussion in 'Service Records' started by anne wolstenholme, Feb 15, 2016.

  1. Please can somebody help me understand my dads service record as I am confuse Dad didn't talk much about his war years he always kept his stories light hearted about his time in the Army when he was stationed in Palestine and was with the cooking corp with RUR in 1946.

    It was only when he was in his 70's that certain things were playing on his mind and we sent for his service record and it didn't really make sense to him and he got poorly and the record got pushed to one side. He did contact Philip Reinders from the Arnhem Battle Research group and sent him two photo's one took in Hertogenbosch and the other of his 17 Anti tank crew which are posted on Philips site. My dad never found out what happened to his commanding sergeant and the rest of the crew after being sent out on a night mission. Also during this operation they had to dump their 17pound anti tank gun because the area they were in was over run with Germans. He told me that he threw the pin away so it could not be used. He asked Philip to see if it was ever found and that I don't know.
    So back to his dad's service record, I can understand the beginning of it.
    He joined and was posted to 17Primary training camp 2nd Nov 43
    Transfered to Royal Artillery and posted to 25 med hy trg Regt 15/12/43
    posted to 56 med Regt. R,A as a Gunner 21/2/44
    posted to 56 RHU 11/5/44
    Now this is were I get confused
    He is now with 71st Anti tank Regt it says posted to this unit & TOS from X(ii) list (31 RHU) 3/7/44
    X(iv) posted from 305 CRE to 31 RHU 3/7/44
    Then there is a crossed out entry which I will get back to ..
    Next posted from 71st A/tk to 81Field Regt RA &Sos 20/11/44
    posted to this unit &TOS from 71A/tk Regt RA 20/11/44
    posted to x(iv) list 46RHU 7 Sos 16 /12/44
    Embarked NWE for UK 18/12/44
    posted to depot RA & Sos 21A GP 19/dec/44
    ???? :- 21A Gp / 3777/31/A (pers) of 5 ? ded 44 unsure what it says
    6th green Howards att this unit 1/jan/45
    Trf to DCLI Pte 24/3/45
    Ctba on proceeding 25/3/45
    drart RPPAK
    embarked 26/3/45
    47 RHU & posted 1 Bn in the rank Rfn sos 21 army gp 11/6/45
    emplaned NWE 9/6/45

    I will hopefully upload a copy of this section and maybe some one can tell me who and were he was from being in the 71st A/tk Regt.
    Thank you all help appreciated ANNE

    Attached Files:

  2. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member


    Thanks for posting the pdf image - so many people don't.

    This my attempt – there are other, more knowledgeable folk on this forum, so expect discussion and doubt and hopefully, useful corrections.

    Don’t look for any logic in military postings – and certainly not in abbreviations or acronyms which were often made up on the spot. it’s so confusing as to be as near random as you can get, although there must of course have been some logic to it. My dad served for 20-odd years in the Royal Engineers and the reserves and he thought it was not just rhyming slang that the army was referred to as the ‘Kate’ – after Kate Carney, a music hall singer and comedienne. While he served most of that in the Engineers, he was a technician (electrician) whereas infantry personnel were far more subject to the whims of the military than most. I’m sure those veterans who contribute to the forum will agree.

    So he joins

    56 Medium Regiment 21/2/44

    Posted to 56 RHU (RHU – Reinforcement Holding Unit)

    X(ii) refers to the ‘X’ army lists for handling reserves/reinforcements (ii) is a posted reinforcement going to fill a vacancy.

    So 3/7/44 he’s SOS (Struck off strength) of 56 Mediums and posted to

    71st Anti Tank Regiment (TOS - taken on strength) via the 31st Reinforcement Holding Unit
    Your CRE is probably CRC – Control Report Centre? and probably administrative.

    Then he goes to 81st Field Regiment 20/11/44

    but then to 46 Reinforcement Holding Unit 16/12/44, which appears to have been in NW Europe – almost certainly France – hence the ‘Field’ reference and on the 18th December he’s definitely in NW Europe but
    Embarked NWE (North West Europe) and sent back to
    Depot RA – Royal Artillery Depot - probably Woolwich
    CTBA – ceased to be attached

    As all of this has a bracket around it, it probably refers to the same orders/authorisation and the numbers are simply record keeping – date is probably 5 December 1944. I have no idea quite why he would have spent so little time in France, but it could have to do with the fact that the army were in desperate need of infantrymen above all else and were converting artillery units – and many others - to infantry a fast as they could at this time.

    He’s then attached to the 6th Green Howards January 1945, quite possibly where he does his infantry training – as they were part of 69th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division – it says UK, but I thought they were in Holland at the time?

    Then he’s transferred to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry on 24th March 1945 – This was almost certainly the 5th Battalion, a territorial battalion, as the 1st had been disbanded after being decimated at Tobruk and was reformed by renaming the 6th Battalion – who were serving in Italy and Greece at this time.
    The 5th Battalion DCLI were part of 214th Brigade, part of 43rd (Wessex) Division, at that time fighting its way through the Reichswald and across the Rhine ending up at Cuxhaven. It looks as if he ended the war with them.

    RPPAK doesn’t ring any bells at the moment?

    He’s struck off the strength of 21 Army Group (the overall army formation for NW Europe) and, via 47 Reinforcement Holding Unit, he goes to the Royal Ulster Rifles as a Rifleman on 11/6/45. The 1st Battalion RUR was a parachute battalion, having been a part of 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6thAirborne Division since late 1943. They returned to the UK in May 1945 and subsequently went to Palestine later that year.

    Good luck,

    stolpi and Swiper like this.
  3. Swiper

    Swiper Resident Sospan

    On what date was your father's 17 Pounder overrun, and ideally where?

    (Cheers for the comprehensive response there Brian... saved others scribbling the same!)
  4. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Hi Anne

    Welcome to the forum.

    I was going to post my own reply until I noticed Brian's post.

    Incidentally, as both 71 Anti-Tank and 81 Field Regiments were part of 53rd (Welsh) Division it would not be unusual for personnel to be cross-posted between units within the same Division (e.g. my own dad was cross-posted between two RE Field Companies within 51st Highland Division).

    Re RPPAK - this is just a code for convoys/embarkation lists and there is usually no rhyme nor reason to these and appear to be just a series of random letters which no-one has really deciphered!


    ETA - clarification and syntax
  5. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    Swiper - would 71 A/T Regiment have had towed 17 pounders or tank destroyers by then?

    Anne - you can find the 71 A/T war diary in the National Archives: WO171/923 - Jan to Dec 44. Several people on here will photograph that for you for much less - and quicker - than the NA will charge for photcopies.
  6. Thanks Brian for that breakdown of dads service record there sure was a lot of movement of troops with what must have been a chaotic time. I will keep reading it to fully understand it.
    Swiper I will get on to the 17pounder shortly.
    Steve these Random abbreviations are confusing to say the least.
    By the way how do you reply individually to each post on here or do you just reply at the end that's why I'm grouping this reply.?
    According to my dads military history sheet this is his service days home and abroad.
    Home Country 2/11/43 - 6/6/44 215days
    NWE 7/6/44 - 18/12/44 195 days
    Home 19/12/44 - 25/3/45 97 days during this period I believe some of this would be like compassionate leave because he had to look after both his parents who were ill around a Christmas time so this would coincide with that.
    NWE 26/3/45 - 8/6/45 75 days
    Home 9/6/45 - 30/9/45 114 days
    MEF 1/10/45 - 5//9/46 340 days.
    Home 6/9/46 - 7/11/47 63 days He was demobbed in Ballymena N. Ireland
    2/Tres 8/11/47 10-2- 54
    Total of 6yrs and 95days

    Now then this is dads account he joined the 71st A/tk in Normandy, he was a gunner on the 17pounder anti tank gun his Sgt. was called Roberts and he had been a peace time Sgt too. He was with 53rd Welsh div . " We fought from Normandy through to Holland and were waiting in Nijmegen( after taking Hertogenbosch off the Germans) I thought Hertogenbosch was taken after bridge at Nijmegen ???/
    " We saw the 1st Airbourne coming down on 17th September ." He said he was with the 53rd until his gun crew were sent over the bridge to link up with the 82nd Airbourne US out side Arnhem. The 8 gun crew led by Sgt. Roberts had been sent out in the middle of the night on Monday 18th September to link up with the 82nd Airbourne with their 17pounder gun it was on a carrier and they had to tow it to a map reference point up the road from Nijmegen.This point was on the left hand side of the road at the rear of a large farmhouse that had a 4 foot high wall around it. "We made slit trenches, two men to each trench. We was positioned with our backs to the stone wall. The US Airbourne had not dug in and about an hour after we arrived RAF fighter planes namely the new Rocket Typhoons came over and tried to get us and the Yanks that had not dug in got killed. " I am presuming that it is because they would have been behind enemy lines and it was thought they were Germans. "They kept firing their Rockets till they had none left and then left us alone. We were on our own fighting for about a week, we couldn't light a fire to keep warm or cook any food or boil water in case the German's might have seen the smoke from the flames. So we had to eat cold tinned food and drink cold water when we could get it. Our food came from Compo packs there should have been food rations and cigarettes in these packs to last 6-7 men for 2 -3 days but by the time we got to these ration packs a lot of stuff had been stolen for the Black market. In this mission we got no food only what we could carry with us.
    During the time we spent at this location there was plenty of action with shell's mortars and hand grenades coming at us from German troops. One afternoon the shelling was particularly heavy and 2 large cocks and hens got blown up into my trench covering me in blood all over my face and body, I was in a right state. It sounds funny now and I can laugh about it but at the time it wasn't so funny, it could quite easily have been me or a colleague, and we couldn't eat the bird's and we were so hungry.
    We saw planes going over to bomb ?( my dad said Dresden but I think that was later feb 45), the sky went black with them. I think it was 25/26th Sept but it could have been later on has we were running out of ammo. Our Sgt told us to go that night at 5min intervals between each man. I took the firing pin out of the gun and the driver with the carrier, so they could not be used by the german's
    When my time came I made for the main road at full speed and dropped down into a dyke at the side of the road and crawled all night like that. I could see German patrols walking up the middle of of this road on Guard duty. At about 10.30am the next morning I met some U S tanks coming up the road, looking for US Airbourne
    troops, the Officer told me to jump on a tank and they would give me a lift back to Nijmegen where I could join the Army RH Unit. This unit is were all the young British lads stayed before joining Regiments that had, had men killed at the front. I was given some food and I fell asleep on a straw mattress ttat was on the floor. I was woke up later that night and told to go on guard duty, I was absolutely worn out and told them to get lost, No way was I doing it , so I was put on a charge to see the Officer in charge the next day and gave him my side of the story, details of were I had been and what had happened. The Officer then immediately made a couple of telephone calls and I was taken to an RAF airfield in Belgium . And a Lancaster bomber flew me home to a place called Virginia waters it is in the south of England, There I was given a 14days leave money new clothes, also a Railway ticket home to the North of England Rochdale were I am from.I was told to report back in 14days time to the 6th Airbourne camp at Bulford to join the 1st Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles, they were going to do a landing over the Rhine.
    When I reported back to the 6th Airbourne unit, I was to do a landing in the Far East against the Japs in Gliders and Paras. This meant a lot of hard Jungle training.
    My dad never got to the Jungle he ended up in Palestine.
    Final comments he made read "During the time I was at Arhnem we had no Officer by our side fighting, only a Sgt. The Officers were all based at Headquarters Company, miles away from any immediate action. I never saw any of the men I was with at the Farm house again and I don't kow what happened to them. The operation was one Big cock up that was carried out by young 18-19 year old lads and a lot of whom got killed or badly wounded, this should never have happened to them. I have never been back to France, Holland or Belgium since the battles ."
    My dad himself was only 18 when he joined up. This my dads story all be it somewhat mixed up he was in his seventies when he wrote this. Till the day he died when he was 80 shrapnel was still popping out of his skin and causing him considerable pain, he managed to squeeze £1500 compensation out of the Gov.
    That night he went out with the gun crew he said to me that he learn't after that missing in action letters were sent out almost immediately they left their unit fully expecting them not to return.
    Swiper I would love to read unit diaries and see if the night they went out was recorded or was It conveniently omitted gone missing as they do!
    Thank you for reading Anne

    Basically this is the story that my dad told me about his time in WW2
  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    The 71st Bde of the 53rd Welsh Division took up positions around Bemmel on 'The Island' (aka the 'Nijmegen Bridgehead'), where they could have met units of the 82nd US Airborne Division (508 US Para Regt). Their stay lasted from 7 - 17 Oct 1944. So the story of your dad being in the Nijmegen area and meeting US Airborne troops might be plausible. However, I have surveyed the 71st Bde log, but could not find any reference to the 'friendly bombing' incident, nor of positions being overrun. The brigade took up a defensive position and spent a relatively quiet period on 'The Island': apart from regular shelling and some patrol activity the frontlines remained static.

    For the Allied positions on 'The Island', see also:

    Marching Table for the 71st Bde Group, giving some information about the composition of this unit; one of the sub-units was the 297 ATk Bty (document courtesy of Horsapassenger).

  8. Thank you Stolpi for your interesting reply and detailed information of 71st Bde with 53rd Welsh Div and link to other forum. I do not pretend to understand a lot of these military terms. Even though there is no record of friendly bombing and being over run with Germans, I did know the sort of man my father was a very honest guy, who was very strong on justice and fought for the rights of others if he thought they were not being treated fairly. So as you say it is plausible that he was in the Nijmegen area, so I do believe that these men had been sent out that night and probably wouldn't be coming back. Would all friendly fire get recorded ( because an ancestor of my husbands in the Lancashire fusiliers was reported killed in action but a soldier who witnessed what happened was not happy about the way it was reported and wrote a letter to the family telling the truth of what did happen. But I have not got permission to make those details public.) If I had someone look at the war diaries would we ever find out? I have a feeling I will never know. It would be great if I could find a reference from the US Officer that picked him up and took him back to RHU.
    The quality of these photo's is not very good because I can't find the originals.

    Attached Files:

  9. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    I'm sorry I could not find any references.

    On the plus-side: Your father probably belonged to the 297 Atk Bty (Anti-tank Battery), a sub-unit of the 71st Atk Regt ... and a troop of 17-pounders was attached to the 1st Highland Light Infantry. (HLI)

    Maybe the War Diary of this Battery or the HLI might shed some light on what happened, provided, as you say, the incidents have been properly recorded.
  10. Thanks for trying Stompi , Can you help me with some other questions or point me in the right direction.
    Do you think I should ask someone to check the 297 Atk Bty war diary out first?
    Also I forgot to mention I found on my dads Military History sheet underneath the medals he was awarded , it says next to the section Special circumstances of gallant conduct
    and mentions in public despatches The Army Medal Office does it mean anything or its just been stamped in the wrong place?
    Where would I find out about places in Europe were he would have spent his free time? He used to talk about a couple that had a café/restaurant with I think a Wurlitzer organ in it he got very friendly with this couple and there daughter . I asked the tourist office at Hertogenbosch but they came up with zilch.
    Thanks Anne
  11. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Anne - I just discovered that the 160 Bde of the 53rd Welsh - during the same period of time - also was in position on 'The Island' (near Elst).

    This offers new options (!). I have asked for the War Diary of this Bde - and of 71st AT Regt - for October 1944 (hopefully the document contains a Message Log).
  12. Oh this is interesting thank you Stolpi you are being so helpful oh it would be amazing if it was them fingers crossed. Thanks Anne
  13. Hello Pieter,
    Elst looks like a lovely town. I have been looking at many sites trying to find some clues. The only possible clue was that there is a S/Sgt. Richard Roberts 2040611 buried in Oosterbeek War Cemetery.
    Sgt. Roberts was an Army physical training officer who was attached to the 11th Parachute Battalion. He was killed on 21st September 1944. I was wondering if there would have been any chance that this could have been my dads crew commander? I couldn't find anymore information on the events leading up to his death, I thought if I found some info
    we might have our answers.
    Regards Anne
  14. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member


    Herewith a couple of pages from the 71st AT Regt War Diary that shed some light on the story of your father. He most probably was involved in the incident reported for the 6th of October, when 2 guns of H Troop of the 283 Battery were cut off by the enemy and the crews went missing for a period of time. Both guns were in position at Opheusden, north of the railway line that runs East - West across The Island. One of the crew leaders is a Sgt. Roberts. Luckily all men returned savely without casualties, according to the entry of Oct 8th. All this nicely fits in with your dad's story

    The AT guns were in support of the 101st US Airborne Division near Opheusden, at the western end of the Allied bridgehead. The 101st at the time was counterattacked by the 363. Volksgrenadier Division, which resulted in a savage battle around Opheusden.

    See (Documents courtesy of Horsapassenger):

    P2290192.JPG P2290193.JPG P2290194.JPG
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Re: Opheusden

    War time map of the area Opheusden - Zetten (taken from


    Some map sketches of the German counterattack 6/7 Oct 44 (courtesy "Rendezvous with Destiny, History of the 101st Airborne Division"):

    001.JPG 002.JPG 003.JPG
  16. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Sketch map of the dispositions of the batteries of the 71st AT Regt during their stay on The Island, 6 - 17 Oct 44, from the War Diary of the AT Regt (courtesy Horsapassenger):


    The capital N stands for Nijmegen; E = Elst; and A = Arnhem. These places are connected by a straight line representing the main road. The horizontal (smooth) lines are the Waal River (to the south) and the Lower Rhine (in the north).
  17. Hi Pieter,
    Sorry for the delay in replying. This could be it Pieter a lot of details appear to fit in with what my dad said, I would imagine that a few days would seem like a week or even longer under these terrifying circumstances for the soldiers, how brave they all were. I never heard dad mention his battery number, certainly Sgt. Roberts certainly does fit in as commander of his battery crew, and the loss of their 17pounder. And also the fact that a lot of Officers did get wounded and were not in command of their company of ground troops. But I don't understand when it said they all returned safely because my father said he never saw any of his battery ever again and wondered if they were alive or dead. Do you know in this particular area was their a farmhouse with a wall going round its perimeter?
    Thank you Pieter for searching and finding all this information I don't think we will ever find out exactly what happened. But I am certainly a lot more informed thanks to you and the talk forum. I found a photo of my dad on google in a group of soldiers titled group C 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles. I noticed in most of the photo's and records that Privates rarely get named only seems to be from sergeants and higher.
    I am hoping to get some more information about the 23rd Hussars by Will Fey his book is unobtainable at the present. Dad is at the end of the second row up, on the right.
    Once again thank you for your kindness and help Pieter.
    Anne x

    Attached Files:

    stolpi likes this.
  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    You're welcome. Happy to have been of assistance .... and a great thank you to Horsapassenger as well, since he is the one that made a copy of the War Diary of the AT Regt available.

    The crew members all turned up (no casualties) according to the War Diary. But it could be that they were dispersed and moved to other outfits afterwards and did not see each other again.

    Unfortunately I did not find any further references to the location of the British AT Guns at Opheusden. Which makes it difficult to find the walled farm house. I did a quick survey on Google Maps, but could not find it. The small war-time village has exploded into a small town since WW2. The village expanded to the south and now borders to the railway line. The area most likely has been overbuild by the modern town.

    I hope someone local and/or more knowledgable re the operations of 101st Airborne 'pops up' to answer your final question about the location of the walled farm building.
    BrianM59 likes this.
  19. GLS

    GLS Member

    Anne, I just noticed this thread. My father Robert (Bob) Langlands May have served with your father. In his gun free were Ken, Hans and Ginger. Amongst his photos is also the id disc of Ken Roberts who I believe may have been killed in action.
    Does this ring any bells!
    Rgds Gordon Langlands.
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  20. GLS

    GLS Member


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