Lest We Forget Continued (page 27)
The following information has very kindly been supplied by Denis Edwards of Lancing, West Sussex, who on D Day was a nineteen year old Private in No 25 Platoon D Company, 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was in the first of the three Horsa gliders to crash-land adjacent to the vital Caen canal bridge (now Pegasus Bridge) a few minutes after midnight on 5th/6th June 1944. It had been in mid May 1944 that D & B Companies had spent three days and nights training for the bridges job at the Countess Wear bridges over the River Exe and Exeter canal on the outskirts of Exeter. Because each glider could only hold a maximum of thirty (including two glider pilots) and it was considered necessary to carry five Royal Engineers in each, it meant that from the normal platoon of twenty eight men, five had to be left behind and travel with the remainder of the battalion which had arrived in other gliders on the evening of D Day. The platoon officers had to decide who should be left behind and generally they chose the married men with young children but this was not always the case.
Private Dennis Edwards‘s platoon officer (Lt Brotheridge) who was hit as they charged across the canal bridge and died soon afterwards from his wounds, had a baby daughter, and several of the others were in fact married men with young children. Another young soldier who had been selected for this special mission was Private David Jesse Cheesley of No 24 Platoon D Company 2nd Battalion, who was from Inglesham near Highworth, and was under the command of Lt David Wood (now Col Wood MBE) He was in glider No 2 which was the third Horsa glider to land at Pegasus Bridge, which had been brought in safely by Staff Sergeant Oliver Boland and his second pilot Sergeant Bruce Hobbs of the Glider Pilot Regiment. After take off from Tarrant Rushton, in Dorset they had been towed across the channel by Halifax bomber number LL335 of 298 squadron piloted by W.O. Berry. It was a few minutes after midnight on the 6th June that the lead glider skidded to a halt, only yards from the canal bridge. A few seconds later, the two other gliders landed within yards of one another. As the bridge was heavily defended and was a small target, and there was a strong cross wind, it was an astonishing feat to crash land the gliders near them, capture the bridge and defend it against counter attack. Complete surprise had been effective. After the initial shock of the landing, Denis Edwards and the OBLI glider soldiers of the Coup de Main force quickly secured the bridge after some fierce fighting.
The following information has kindly been given by Colonel David Wood, MBE, who on D Day 6th June was a young Lieutenant in command of No 24 Platoon and knew Jesse Cheesley very well. Private Cheesley, apart from being a trained rifleman in my platoon, was also one of the two soldiers who were specially trained as medical orderlies. He was chosen for this role because he was a sensible, caring man with an aptitude for helping others by applying the skills he had learnt in first aid.
Lt Wood, his platoon sergeant, Sgt Leather, and his runner, Pt Chatfield were all wounded by a burst of fire from a Schmeisser machine pistol as they were making their way in the dark, to report to Major Howard, after clearing the enemy from the defensive position between the two bridges.
Lt Wood goes on to say; “I was hit in the left leg by three rounds of 9mm ammunition and fell to the ground, literally hors de combat.”
My 1944 Diary reads as follows:
“I went down and was in some pain and bleeding. Soon afterwards, Cheesley came up, followed by Radford, (the other medical orderly) and gave me morphia and put a rifle splint on my leg”. “So you can see that I owe a great deal to Cheesley (and Radford) for the immediate help and care which they gave me when I needed it most”. Lt Wood‘s part in the capture of Pegasus Bridge ceased abruptly at around 00.25 hours on the morning of D Day 1944. Nevertheless his platoon had achieved their objective and the bridge was held until reinforcements arrived. At 0300 hours some officers and men of the 7th Parachute Battalion arrived at the bridge and the coup de main party came under their command.
On the afternoon of D Day the main body of the Ox & Bucks was airlifted in Horsa gliders from England to occupy the southern flank of 6th Airborne Divisions perimeter. The gliders landed successfully and the regiment moved out to its positions east of the Orne River. After taking the bridges D & B Companies, 2nd Battalion OBLI were involved in holding the bridgehead where they were involved in some severe fighting with the Germans. During August the battalion was involved in the breakout and they marched forty-five miles in nine days chasing and fighting the Germans all the way.
During this time there were several casualties due to some fierce encounters with the enemy rearguard actions. Sadly among many of the friends that Denis Edwards and Jesse Cheesley had left behind in France was thirty year old Lance Corporal Jack (Smacker) Drew from Uffington, Berkshire, (now Oxon) who had been in 24 Platoon and in the third Horsa glider to land at Pegasus Bridge on D Day. He had been killed by a German machine-gun on August 17th near Varaville and is buried in Ranville War cemetery, France. Plot 1A, Row C, Grave 4.
Eventually the battalion left Normandy for England on Saturday 2nd September 1944, arriving at Bulford Camp, Wiltshire on Monday 4th September.
At Christmas 1944 the regiment was rushed to France to help stem the German offensive through the Ardennes. On Christmas day they were in position at Givet alongside the US 507th Parachute troops. On the 21st February the regiment was relieved and arrived back at Bulford on 28th February 1945. Early in March the regiment took part in large scale divisional exercises in Suffolk which were rehersals for the next air landing operation “Varsity”, the crossing of the River Rhine. It had been in September 1944 that an attempt was made to cross the Rhine at Arnhem and bring the war to a speedy end, it failed dramatically. Several months were to go by before another attempt was made to cross Germany’s last remaining natural barrier.
It was at 0630 hours on the 24th March 1945 that the regiment carried in Horsa gliders was towed off from RAF Birch and Gosfield and headed for Germany. Their mission was to take and hold by coup de main assault the road bridge over the River Issel, a railway bridge two hundred yards north from it, Hamminken railway station and a road junction to the west of it. At 1000 hours they were approaching the battlefield which was shrouded in smoke. Amid heavy German flak the gliders cast off and began to land, many tug and gliders were hit and the regiment lost about half its strength. Despite heavy casualties the regiment secured its objectives by l l00 hours.
The following information has kindly been given by Harry (Nobby) Clark who was a young airborne soldier in No 24 Platoon, 2nd Battalion OBLI, and was in the third glider to land at Pegasus Bridge on D Day and also in the Rhine Crossing in March 1945.
Early on the 31st March the regiment continued the advance towards the River Ems which was uneventful. On arrival at the river they crossed over a hastily improvised sapper bridge, consisting of large diameter galvanised tubes, to take the flow of the river, with earth bulldozed over them. Here they learnt that a German counter-attack was to be launched by two divisions against a bulge in the line caused by the swift advance of the 6th Airborne Division and the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade. The regiment was therefore ordered to move up into a wooded area, some three miles north-east of Greven, to protect the division’s north flank. No sooner had the regiment moved off the main Greven to Ladbergen road than it ran into the middle of a German anti-aircraft regiment’s gun positions . Companies therefore had to fight their way forward over un-reconnoitred ground to small and in the darkness, indistinguishable objectives, whilst subjected to small-arms, 20mm and 88mm gunfire from unlocated enemy positions. At daylight the ground firing died down and quiet descended on the wood, broken only by the occasional bursts of 20mm fire which the enemy directed haphazardly in the regiments direction.
The following is a copy of a letter sent to the author by Harry Clark who lives in Brentwood, Essex, dated 8th February 1995.