It was November 1943. Nineteen-year old Private Lewis Kemp left Chesterfield railway station and was pleased to see a lorry waiting to take him to Hardwick Hall to start his parachute-training course. Lew threw his heavy kit bag onto the lorry and was about to jump on. ‘Just the kit, not you, lad! You can find your way by foot, see it as an initiative test’ barked the Para sergeant.
Lew was born 21st September 1924 and lived in Peatling Parva. In 1943 he was called up into The Leicestershire Regiment. Lew heard that volunteers for the newly formed parachute regiments received two shillings extra pay per day, this was why he found himself marching to Hardwick.
Nearly a year later, now a fully-fledged ‘Red Beret’, Lew was part of 156 Battalion, based in Melton Mowbray. The Battalion had not been used for The D Day assaults and the men were becoming increasingly restless and frustrated by the lack of real action during the long hot summer of 1944. From June to September the battalion had been subjected to no less than fifteen postponed operations, some were even cancelled after the paratroops had boarded the aircraft.
However on the morning of Monday 18th September Lew found himself aboard a Dakota at Saltby Airfield. This was the real thing - ‘Operation Market Garden’.
A couple of hours later the aircraft was at 500 feet over Ginkel Heath drop zone, eight miles from their target, Arnhem Bridge. Flak and explosions all around, red light, green light and Lew did what he was trained to do, floating through the air whilst every enemy weapon on the ground was firing at him and his comrades. Thankfully he landed un-injured on the burning heath, a scene from hell. This was not the reception of ‘Hitler Youth and old men’ that the airborne forces had been promised!
The Battalion reformed from the chaos of the DZ and slowly but surely they fought tooth and nail for every inch of the ground until on Wednesday they found their way utterly blocked by German SS Panzer troops and tanks.
The battalion of around 600 men was now down to around 100. Commander of Lew’s ‘C’ Company, Major Powell, spotted a small hollow in the woods occupied by a large number of the enemy. Powell ordered ‘fix bayonets and charge!’ the sight and sound of savage, screaming parachutists was too much for the Germans who quickly fled. The hollow became a terrible place. (Years later when Lew returned to remember his comrades who fell there, he would find it almost impossible to bear). Lew was wounded by shrapnel and subsequently captured, the day before his 20th birthday!
Lew was interned at Frankfurt Stalag 11A as a POW until the end of the war some nine months later.
In 1950, Lew and Freda married and soon they had two children, Linda and Stephen. Lew settled down in Lutterworth, driving lorries for BRS and then as a heating engineer.
It was to be 40 years after the battle before Lew was able to return to Holland and start to exorcise the ghosts of 1944. For many years until he was 71 years old Lew took part in the annual Arnhem Commemorations by dropping again by parachute onto Ginkel Heath. Lew was President of The Leicestershire Parachute Association.
Alec Wilson 2014