Lest We Forget Continued (page 29)
5184730 Private William Thomas Edward ALEXANDER. 156th Battalion Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps. Died 3rd July 1945, Age 23.
It was in October 1942 that the 151st Battalion Parachute Regiment was renumbered to 156th Battalion for security reasons.
During the invasion of Italy in 1943 the battalion was involved in some severe fighting. After a successful campaign in Italy the battalion returned to the UK in December to be billeted in the counties of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire; 156 Bn. moved initially into the Uppingham area but on return from Christmas leave the battalion, at the CO’s request, was concentrated in Melton Mowbray mainly Stavely Lodge and its stables, but with ‘A’ Company at Craven Lodge and Support Company at Spinneys Thorp End. Training in earnest started again for the larger task ahead; the liberation of Europe, and the battalion once again became a strong team. During that long summer of 1944 the battalion trained, stood to and stood down, for numerous airborne operations. Then finally on the 18 th September the battalion flew out from Saltby airfield across the North Sea to drop into Holland on the second day of operation “Market Garden”
Flying through thickening flak the battalion lost one aircraft shot down with loss of 19 men and a further 12 men from enemy fire on the Dropping Zone. On that night advancing towards Arnhem the leading company met heavy opposition at Oosterbeek station, and during the next morning in a series of fierce company actions to seize the Lichtenbeek feature, the battalion was badly cut up in the Johanna Hoeve Woods against heavy opposition by German panzer troops.
The battalion numbering no more than 50 men fought on in the houses and gardens in the vital northern sector of the narrow perimeter for a further five days. By the late stages of the battle, Major Powell was in command of the remnants of his battalion. On the night of the 25th September he led the survivors, just fifteen men, across the river to safety.
Just under 500 men went to Arnhem on day two (18th September) and only 68 came back. Other than the fifteen men who crossed the river to safety, sixteen others who had been captured escaped and it is presumed the remainder were liberated after a short period as prisoners of war.
Bill Alexander had seen most of this action with 156 Para Bn. Some of the action at Arnhem had been very severe and at one time he had been captured but had managed to escape amid the confusion of battle. Sometime later he was captured by the Germans again. After awhile in captivity he escaped once again and was within sight of the Swiss border, when he was turned in by some civilians. Eventually, Bill was liberated and came back home to England. It was during a spell of home leave when he was accidentally drowned while canoeing on the River Thames at Oxford. Due to the very strong underwater currents where the River Cherwill enters the Thames his canoe capsized. Only a week before there had been a similar accidental drowning on the same stretch of river. Private William Alexander died on the 3rd July 1945, aged 23, and is buried in Highworth Town cemetery, Highworth, Wiltshire, Grave 1128. He was the son of Edith Alexander of Highworth, and grandson of Mrs E.J. Alexander of Eastrop, Highworth.
lA/1219 Major James William ARKELL, Military Cross and Bar. 3rd Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles. Killed in action 21st August 1946. Age 23.
At the end of June 1946 there was widespread dissatisfaction in Indonesia due to the discontent with the amount of independence so far granted on the main island Java and in Sumatra there was pressure for the island to break away. It was during this unrest when Major J.W.Arkell, was killed in action in the Bekassi area, south-east of Batavia. He was fatally wounded by a grenade while leading a charge of Gurkha against a strong Indonesian position which his patrol located on the night of 21st August, he died on the way back to the field hospital. A Regular soldier, he was commissioned to the Indian Army from Sandhurst in 1939. Major Arkell had been acting second-in-command of the 3/5th Gurkhas since January 1946, when he flew to Java. He had spent the previous nine months on duty and leave in England. Age 26 years old, Major Arkell was educated at Radley, where in 1933 he was one of the rowing eight which won the Ladies Plate at Henley for the school’s first victory after 70 years competition for it. It is a sad reflection that today only one of the winning crew of 1938 is still alive. Major Arkell also represented Radley School at rugby, was a keen fly fisherman, and was an omnivorous reader of books. He was unmarried. He was the son of Sir Thomas Noel Arkell, and Lady Olive Arscott Arkell, of Highworth Wiltshire. Major Arkell is buried in Djakarta War Cemetery, Indonesia. Djakarta (now spelt Jakarta) capital of the Republic of Indonesia lies on the northwest coast of the Island of Java. The War Cemetery is in the suburb of Menteng Poeloe, eleven kilometres from Jakarta.
22281096 Sergeant Douglas W. EDWARDS, Royal Pioneer Corps. Died of wounds 21st November 1951.
After the Second World War, King Farouk of Egypt was overthrown by the nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser, and pressure was exerted for the withdrawal of British troops from Egypt. During October 1951 British troops seized the Suez Canal zone in a swift dawn raid. This led to Anti-British riots flaring up in the canal zone. On Wednesday November 21st Sergeant Doug Edwards of the Royal Pioneer Corps was badly wounded when a British army truck he was travelling in was ambushed on its way back to camp, (Port Said.) He died shortly after being taken to the Casualty Clearing Station at the camp. Sgt. Edwards was in a truck with several other soldiers returning from Port Fuad, where they had been visiting their families who had been evacuated from Port Said a few weeks before to the eastern side of the Suez Canal. The ambushed lorry was being followed by a Staff car and was travelling towards the golf course camp where the bulk of the British garrison were stationed. The staff car turned off the main road near the railway station to enter a dock gate. A few seconds later a burst of automatic gunfire sprayed the lorry. The driver, though wounded in the head, drove on to the camp’s casualty clearing station where Sgt Edwards and another British soldier in the Royal Army Service Corps died shortly after. They were both buried the next day at Al Barral, Egypt. Sergeant Douglas Edwards is buried in Moascar War Cemetery, Egypt, which is situated just off the main Ismailia – Cairo road, 10 kilometres by road from Ismailia. The cemetery is contained within an army camp 3 kilometres along Treaty Road. Access is by security pass only and application for such a pass should be made through the Military Attache at the British Embassy in Cairo.
During the Second World War Ron Lane of Highworth, served with the Medical Branch of the Royal Air Force from 1942 until the end of hostilities in 1945. At one time he was stationed at Aberporth, South Wales, and also at an RAF Hospital at Morcombe near Blackpool. He also saw service in the Bahamas, Canada and the USA. It was while Ron was stationed at RAF Hullavington that he met his wife Joyce, who was born and brought up in Highworth. Like many others at that time Joyce was on war work at Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company, Chippenham, where she was an Inspector on the production line making parts for aircraft. After the war Ron was a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade, (Highworth Branch) where he helped teach young cadets in the art of First Aid. For many years he was also Hon Secretary and Welfare Officer of the Highworth and District Branch of The Royal British Legion.