156 Battalion The Parachute Regiment

156 Bn at Staveley Lodge, Melton Mowbray in 1944

 

Staveley Lodge in Melton Mowbray is now the headquarters of Pera. Martin Welbourn, of Pera, has sent me the following interesting history

"I have been having a bit of trouble trying to send you photo's of the stable block that were situated approximately 40 yards from Staveley lodge, when I was trying to gather information about Staveley Lodge I was put in touch with Lew Kemp who told me that he was locked up in the stables as it was the Company Jail, he was placed there as he had lost his rifle whilst on manoeuvres, I had a really nice chat with Lew, he told me that he would be very happy to come to the unveiling unfortunately he died about 3 months later,  John Waddy confirmed also that it was the Jail, I think he said among other things it was the Company Armoury, and for a while 2 captured Italian field guns were also stored there.  Anyway back to the pictures of the Stables, If you go to Google, type in Staveley Lodge stables you will find 4 good photo's, you will notice the weather vain on the bell tower, this was removed some years ago and taken to a farm about 15 miles from Melton, as this also had bullet holes in it. I tried the locate it with intentions of bringing it back home, unfortunately the farm is no longer there.  In its day the Stable block would stable 30 horses, it fell into a poor state of repair and was demolished about 8 or 9 years ago."

Coincidentally, 10th Battalion Veteran, Tony Constable, lived in Melton and for many years was the gardener at Staveley Lodge. Martin has kindly sent the following photos of the gardens as they are now.

The older pictures in the gallery below show the stables before the war. The weathervane suffered the same fate as the cockerel atop Somerby Church, being used as target practise by the rather bored paras!

156 Parachute Battalion in Melton Mowbray 1944 (By John O'Reilly)

On 17 October 2015 General Jonathan (Jacko) Page, former Colonel Commandant of the Parachute Regiment, unveiled a plaque at Staveley Lodge in Melton Mowbray to commemorate the men of 156 Parachute Battalion who had been billeted there during 1944.

156 had originally been formed in India as 151 Parachute Battalion in October 1941, one of the newly created parachute battalions.  Their first real action came when they were involved with the rest of the 1st Airborne Division in a seaborne landing in Italy in September 1943.  Pushing inland from Taranto on the south coast they fought elements of the German 1st Paratroop Army with 10th Para on their left flank, a situation mirrored two years later in the Battle of Arnhem.

In November 1943, with operations now complete for the 1st Airborne Division, 156 were shipped back to the UK.  At first HQ and five companies were billeted in large country houses around Uppingham, Rutland.  This spread of the battalion was not considered suitable by 156 CO Colonel Sir Richard des Voeux.  At his request, therefore, the battalion was moved to Melton Mowbray in February 1944 with each company billeted in a large house and its stables.

The Colonel chose Staveley Lodge for his HQ and the propensity of inns and females in the town made up for the cold and deprivation that many men had felt over the previous two months.  The Colonel’s decision had pleased his men and morale was given a boost.

Colonel John Waddy, who fought with 156 Battalion in Arnhem as Officer Commanding B Company, was to give a talk after the unveiling of the new plaque at Staveley Lodge but was unable to attend.  The following are the words he had written for the basis of his talk:

Staveley Lodge began life as a large 4- or 5-storey ugly Victorian red-brick house, built in the second half of the nineteenth century as a ‘hunting box’.  There were many of these in the area for the wealthy men to stay in for the hunting season, together with their horses, grooms and butlers.  They hunted most days with The Quorn and other well-known packs and caroused in the evening.  They brought much wealth to the town and, perhaps, some young ladies?!  Of course, in 1939, after the start of the war all this stopped and the empty houses were taken over by the Government for use by the Army.

Staveley became the hub of life in the battalion and was the place for the Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes.  The men of Battalion HQ lived in the house and the other ranks of HQ Company (about 100 men strong) were billeted in the ample stables which had been used for the grooms and servants pre-war.

Although Staveley Lodge was the hub of activity for the battalion, it was a rather ugly and depressing building, with dark walls and few electric bulbs.  The Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes were also dull, as was the food.  Most Officers went down to Melton to eat and drink as did all the solders.  The Bell was the favourite and The Harboro was also popular but each company had its own pub.  There were some marriages with Melton girls, not to mention other attachments.

All training and briefings were held at Staveley using large-scale maps, air photographs and ground models in what was believed to have previously been the billiard room.

From June 1944 onwards the battalion stood ready for no less than 15 airborne operations, all of which were cancelled and sometimes at the last minute.  By early September all ranks were frustrated and then, finally, on 13th September the battalion – with the rest of the 1st Airborne Division – was warned about Operation Market Garden (to be famous as the ‘Bridge Too Far’).

Final briefings took place, ammunition was issued and special escape kit issued.  All ranks had to bring in all their belongings in kit bags, suitcases and trunks, to be stored for safekeeping in the stables.  There was a rear party of some 30 men left in charge of Staveley and other houses.

As is well known, only some 26 men returned to Melton in late September and a further 10 escaped across the Rhine through the German lines in October.  These men were all that remained of the 603 of 156 Battalion that parachuted onto the Ginkel Heath on 18 September.  156 suffered the highest losses of the six parachute battalions that fought in Arnhem with the 10th a close second. Those survivors of 4th Brigade which was made up of three battalions – 156, 10th and 11th – all returned much depleted to their billets in Leicestershire and Rutland.

After a few weeks 156 were ordered to join 1st Parachute Battalion at Grimsthorpe.  Staveley was empty.  Then (exactly when is not known) a squad of men – possibly the Ordnance Corps – came in and took over all the remaining kit of the battalion, including all the kit bags and trunks.  The idea was to retrieve items of military equipment for future use but they also looted many of the personal belongings.  On my return in 1945 I had to go to Liverpool to retrieve my trunk and suitcases, all of which were practically empty.  I had lost all my Army uniforms and civilian clothing.  There was no compensation.  Others were also in the same situation and for many it was the second time they had lost their kit, as in 1942 kit had been left in Delhi only to be eaten by ants!

I wondered who had cleared the stack of 37mm Italian anti-tank ammunition which was on the lawn.  Together with three guns it had been captured by the battalion in Italy.  In the UK in 1944 the RAOC said that it was too dangerous to use or to move.  It was still there in September 1944 when we left.

John Waddy met his future wife, Ann, in Melton Mowbray as she was based at the Remount Depot.  John was severely wounded in Arnhem and some, like B Company’s CSM Twist, thought that he had died and it was not until 1960 that he learned the truth.  For some time Ann too was under the misconception that he had been killed.  He did, however, recover and was reunited with Ann in 1945, when they got married.

John had a varied military career, including time in Palestine (when he was wounded again in 1948), two years with Canadian Joint Air Training Centre in Manitoba, 2ic of 2 Para Battalion in Jordan and then Cyprus, and Colonel of the Special Air Service Regiment.  His two years in the USA proved useful experience for one of his last postings to Vietnam in 1970 – a two-year tour of duty as an observer – where John saw that the future lay with the use of helicopters to move airborne troops and their equipment quickly on operations.

Back in the UK John tried to convince the top brass of the value of helicopters but they did not share his view and it took 20 years for the military to adopt these techniques.  In 1973 John left the army and joined Westland Helicopters as military advisor where he was determined to improve their performance and safety for military use.  Also in the 1970s, he was asked by Richard Attenborough to be military advisor in the making of the film A Bridge Too Far after being recommended by Colonel John Frost.

John’s advice and great military knowledge much enhanced the content of From Delhi to Arnhem which covers the history of the 151/156 Parachute Battalion.  Each October 156 Battalion has a Reunion in Melton Mowbray and Colonel John, as he is affectionately known by the families of 156 veterans, hopes to lead the commemorations again this year.

 

Lew Kemp's (156 Bn) Story

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A COUNTRY BOY

Born in a Leicestershire Village September 1924, left school at 14 years of age, no qualifications, started work on a poultry farm 10s, i.e. 50p a week. On the first Sunday in September 1939 coming home from church we heard war had been declared, (most people went to church in those days to keep the Squire happy). Father as a Sgt in the home guard, lad you better join us, to young for a uniform they gave me an arm band, and I was the messenger boy. An aerodrome was being built on the edge of the village, I went to work there driving a tractor (good wage) man from employment called I had to go back to work on a farm. I could not take that, volunteered for the RAF, told I was too young, went back at 17 plus, after medical found to be colour blind. Then called into the army, Leicestershire Reg. at Budbrooke Barracks. During training a Sgt of the Para’s came looking for volunteers, 3 mates and I volunteered when they told us it was 2 shillings a day extra when we had done 8 jumps, he did not say about the training before we say an aircraft, transported to Chesterfield station met by a NCO, put your kit on the transport yes we did then ourselves, get down, think lucky your kit is riding we are going to Hardwick Hall and you are marching, after 4 weeks intensive training we were fit to let the RAF take over parachute training.

Met at Manchester station with RAF bus room for kit and men taken to Ringway aerodrome (now Manchester airport), beds with sheets, food on plates, just like home. Two weeks training how to exit plane, (Whitleys hole in floor) then how to land, just like 2 weeks at the fairground, day came to get a parachute from the WRAF packers then on the bus to Tatton Park. The first two jumps were taken from a tethered balloon at 500 feet, on the way down a Sgt shouts orders, pick up chutes back to ringway day off repeat next day, after bad weather time from drops from the Whitley after 5 drops we need 1 night drop from the balloon that goes OK, next day the CO presents us with our wings and Maroon beret, that was a proud day. They gave us 2 weeks embarkation leave as we were ready to drop anywhere without notice. Home for Xmas 1943. Reported back to Hardwick, soon on the way as replacements to a unit just back from the invasion of Italy. Got off train at Oakham on a truck to Alexton Hall, just the job borrowed a bike home next day with the greeting where have you dropped from.

After a few weeks we were billeted in hunting lodges and stables in Melton Mowbray, training with the Battalion was intensive, forces marches over Yorkshire moors, absailing down wool mills in Homefrith, then river crossing the Trent in Notts. One morning volunteers were asked for a special drop, first time from a Dakota just the job walk out the door, just a minute we get to Cottesmore airfield there are RAF instructors from Ringway OK lads we have been trying this ourselves now your turn, strap this kit bag on your leg when about 100 ft to go play it out on a rope, by the way it has about 50 pounds of ammo or mortar bombs in it, take off after about one hour green light on then red out we go, landed at Nether Avon lined up, along came Churchill and Monty, well done boys first time that has been done, back in Melton given 7 days leave. First week in June things start to buss draw ammo confined to billets next thing on the 6th stand down invasion has started with the 6th airborne we remain at Melton.

After many stand bys for opps where we are not used, along came September, after 48 hrs leave, we are drawing ammo and parachutes again this time to drop in Holland (they don’t tell us Holland but give us Dutch money).

After briefing about the drop the Padre takes us to Melton Church then we know its going to be tough, early next morning transport takes us to Saltby airfield, there we sit while they patch up the aircraft that have been used for the 1st lift, this time America air base they give us a good breakfast, (lost over the North Sea!) landed on Ginkel Heath Sept 17th, 1944 that the start of the Battle of Arnhem. Enough has been written about this, I don’t wish to ad more, I was wounded and captured on the fourth day.

Picked up Waffen SS troops taken to SS officer sent to first aid post after he had relieved me of my cigs, wounded foot dressed then to railway shed locked in for 2 cattle trucks into Germany, after 4 days stop start with the RAF bombing the lines we arrived at Frankfort Stalag 11a, integrated by the Gestapo they know more about the regiment than I, confined under canvass for a month rained every day, then moved on to Stalag 11b at Fallingbostil, there we came under RSM Lord he demanded we came under Red Cross rules, rations very small as my foot was still weeping I was not sent out to work, they said (nix harbite nix essen) no work or food. Xmas came 1944 tried to cheer up A Red Cross parcel between 2 (usual 4). In March after a heavy bombing raid we were sent to sort out a railway station and sideing no tools just bare hands, I still had only one boot lost the other when wounded used a piece of wood bound on with a piece of blanket, the snow was deep temperature — 20s. The guards had us in open cattle pens with straw to cover us at night, food was scarce to be fair they didn’t have much for them self (I turned round and said nix essen nix harbite) guard took me to the officer he pulled out his revolver turned it round and pistol whipped me then said take him on a civvy train back to 11 b, the German women spat at me all the way back, (he knew they would). We were liberated by the same unit (30 corps) as should have got to us 8 months before at Arnheim. Arrived home after months with out a bath or change of clothes and only 1 shoe crawling with lice where we met at Wing aerodrome with sprays of lice powder. Granted 12 weeks leave and double rations as weight was down to 7 stone. Demobbed in 1947 after 6 months keeping Tito out of Italy.

A COUNTRY BOY POST-WAR

Married with 2 children, for 39 years I could not forget my pals left in Holland or the havoc and destruction we did to the Dutch people.

One day I met an ex Para I had served with, he asked if I every returned to visit the area, he had been on the Nimagen Arnhem March. He said a party had been going every Sept and I would be welcome. I was apprehensive as I still felt guilty, the next Sept my wife and I went over and stayed with a Dutch couple, a very moving experience, the Dutch organisation is Lest we Forget Foundation, their Chairman asked why I had not been before I said I felt guilty of the death and destruction we caused in vain, he said when your house is on fire you don’t blame the firemen for trampling on your garden, I will not forget that. After a visit to the Airbourne Cemetry many ghosts were put to rest. Now I go over as often as I can. Every year in Sept a reserve battalion of the paras drop on the heath where we dropped, one year a group of us watching said we would like to do that again about 50 of us got together under the guidance of JSPS after much training we dropped many times, not me I stopped 5 years ago. The Arnhem vetran parachute team have raised hundreds of thousand pounds for various charities. This year I am looking forward to the 60th and say goodbye to many friends.

Arnhem September 2011 022

Lew, our Branch President until 2014, with Freda at Arnhem