156 BATTALION REUNION 2016
The Veterans and families of The 156 Battalion The Parachute Regiment met up to remember the Battalion on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th October 2016. On Friday a get together and wreath laying was held at Saltby Airfield (from where the Battalion flew to Arnhem in September 1944) followed by afternoon tea at John and Michelle O'Reilly's home, Thoroton Hall. In the evening a dinner was held at the British Legion in Melton Mowbray. On Saturday morning a remembrance service was held at St Mary's Parish Church, Melton Mowbray, followed by a wreath being laid at Sysonby Lodge.
SALTBY AIRFIELD FRIDAY 14th OCTOBER 2016
Arnhem veteran Ted Short (centre of picture) flanked by other veterans of the Parachute Regiment. On far left is Piper, John Hoffman, former member of the Seaforth Highlanders, one of the 23 regiments that made up the original 151 Battalion in India, established in October 1941.
Arnhem veteran, Ted Short (aged 96), laying a wreath at the Saltby Airfield Memorial from where approximately 2500 members of 1st Airborne Division flew to Arnhem in September 1944.
Veterans and families of the Parachute Regiment at Saltby Airfield on Friday 14th October 2016
Battalions Linking Hands; Alec Wilson (son of Alec Wilson 10th Bn) shakes hands with John O'Reilly, (son of John Joseph O'Reilly 156Bn). In the centre are Sandy and Maggie Saunders. WW2 veteran Sandy (AAC) was badly injured and burned during an RAF training flight in 1945 and became one of, surgeon, Dr. Archibald McIndoe's 'guinea pigs'.
THOROTON FRIDAY 14th OCTOBER 2016
Outside Thoroton Hall, Nottinghamshire to mark the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Parachute Regiment in India. Ted Short (centre of picture) fought at Arnhem. Thoroton Hall is the home of Michelle and John O'Reilly, son of 156 veteran, John Joseph O'Reilly.
Dinner menu, The Royal British Legion, Melton Mowbray, Friday October 14th 2016
MELTON MOWBRAY SATURDAY 15th OCTOBER 2016
Following the service of remembrance at the Melton Mowbray Parish Church of St. Mary’s, the last of the officers who joined 151 Parachute Battalion (as it was originally called), formed in Delhi in October 1941, stopped for a few moments for this photograph.
Picture left to right: Michael Wenner; Dr Sandy Saunders; John Waddy; Chaplain Brian McAvoy; Standard Bearer John G.
Captain Michael Wenner is an original veteran of India. Michael, with his language skills, was destined for the Diplomatic Service, working in many capitals around the world and ending his diplomatic career as British Ambassador to El Salvador. As he moved around the world, he pursued his hobby of looking after various stray animals, such as a mongoose in India and a wild boar in South America.
WWII veteran glider pilot Dr Sandy Saunders is from the village of Burton Lazaars in Leicestershire.
Colonel John Waddy OBE led B Company into action at Arnhem, but on 19th September 1944 he was seriously wounded. He went on to serve in Palestine, where he was again shot, this time in the back, the bullet chipping his spine. He later became Colonel of the SAS Regiment. In Vietnam he was Military Attaché, spending time with the American Forces. Seeing the value of helicopters used for rapid transport of airborne troops, Colonel Waddy proposed their integration into the British Army on his return to the UK. His vision took a further 20 years to be implemented. Colonel Waddy was the military adviser on the film A Bridge Too Far, has written several books and given battlefield tours in Arnhem to present-day serving soldiers from the Army Staff College. He contributed greatly on the book From Delhi to Arnhem by John O’Reilly*, which covers the history of 151/156 Parachute Battalion.
* From Delhi to Arnhem is available from firstname.lastname@example.org
Military Chaplain Brian McAvoy served in the RAF and for the last three years has presided over the two days of events that mark the annual commemorations of 151/156 Battalion. He is the thread that knits all of the stories and emotions together in a sensitive and relevant manner, sprinkled with just the right amount of humour. The RAF trained 151 Battalion in the early days of parachute jumping in India and carried out many re-supply missions at Arnhem.
Standard Bearer John Gibbard is Chairman of the Leicester Branch of the PRA and attends the annual reunion of both 156 and 10th Parachute Battalions.
Procession of veterans and families of 156 Battalion, led by Brian McAvoy en route from St Mary’s Church to Sysonby Lodge in the grounds of PERA. The Piper, John Hoffman, surprised morning shoppers as he piped his way through the centre of Melton Mowbray.
Colonel John Waddy OBE, flanked by Mrs Pockney and her son James, at Sysonby Lodge, Melton Mowbray, where James laid a wreath at the plaque of remembrance commemorating members of 156 Battalion who were billeted there in September 1944. Jane and James are the daughter and grandson of Sir Richard des Voeux, Colonel of 156 Battalion that fought at Arnhem. Colonel des Voeux was killed in action in the battle and was later awarded an MiD (Mention in Dispatches) for his bravery.
Barbara Lorne meeting John Waddy for the first time. John remembered her father - Thomas Lorne - as he, like John, was from the Somerset Light Infantry.
We have become used to glorious late summer days for our annual commemoration at Somerby and Sunday 11th September was no exception. After 72 years, another successful and well attended parade and service. The Regimental mascot and Pony Major lead the parade, the salute being taken by Major S.P. As usual there was great support from the village with tea and cakes in the Memorial Hall as well as further refreshments and a small exhibition across the road at the Methodist Church.
It was gratifying to welcome Rosie Anderson and John O'Reilly, stalwarts of the 156 Battalion Association.
During the church service we remembered Tony Constable and Gerry Dimmock, the tribute read by Alec Wilson is copied below.
It is 72 years since the brave young men of the Tenth Battalion dropped 70 miles behind enemy lines into Nazi occupied Europe. And it is 70 years since the first commemoration of that momentous battle was held in Somerby.
Inevitably but very sadly, it is likely that no longer will we see veterans of the fight for the ‘Bridge too Far’ marching through the village.
During the last year, to my certain knowledge, we have lost pretty much the remnants of the battalion including local man, Tony Constable. Tony returned in 1945 from being a prisoner of war and settled in Melton Mowbray. By one of those strange coincidences, he was the gardener at Staveley Lodge in Melton, this is where the Tenth’s sister, 156 Battalion were billeted in 1944.
It was only a couple of years ago when Tony was reacquainted with his old comrade, Gerry Dimmock, it was remarkable and poignant to see the intervening 70 years drop way as they chatted about happy times in the village, especially the location of the cook house, pubs and the Land Army girls hostel!
Extraordinary times produce extraordinary men and today we remember one such; Gerry Dimmock.
Gerry’s war started in Dunkirk then North Africa, the Middle East, Italy and ultimately Arnhem. After 8 days of a living hell, ferrying the living and the dead under a white flag on his trusty jeep to dressing stations and St Elizabeth’s hospital in Arnhem, Gerry found himself on the bank of the fast flowing and very wide River Rhine, downstream of the famous bridge. This was his means of escape, he swam the river and nearly got away unscathed but was hit by an exploding mortar round as he climbed out of the water on the opposite side. By the skin of his teeth and not for the first time, he had survived and escaped but so many of his comrades did not.
For a number of years we have become used to Gerry leading our commemoration here, indeed last year he was his usual inimitable self and it seemed he would go on for ever.
To me Gerry was the embodiment of all of those extraordinary qualities typified by men (past and present) of the Parachute Regiment. Courageous, self-effacing with a quiet dignity but wicked sense of humour. I’m sure those of you who knew Gerry well will agree that he was one of the funniest men we have ever known. Frequently our time together was punctuated by fits of laughter so great that it brought us to tears! But there was the other side, the horror and trauma of those nine days in Arnhem were in his eyes and his quite moments of reflection were deep with melancholy, the tears of joy could easily turn to tears of great sadness. I think there was hardly a moment, especially in his later years, when he did not remember his fallen comrades.
Here, in and around Somerby, during 1944, Gerry as a member of the Motor Transport section was given the role of driver to Lt Lionel Queripel who was to die in Holland and received a posthumous Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery. Sixty odd years later, returning to Somerby (and also to Arnhem), Gerry was always aided and accompanied by his great friend Major Chris Goddard, who at times as well as being Gerry’s ‘straight man’ would fulfil the role of as helper and driver.
How Lionel Queripel would have laughed at the irony of lowly Private Dimmock with an officer (especially one decorated with an MBE and Queens Gallantry Medal) as his driver and batman!
As I say, Gerry’s humour is legendary and most of his many hilarious stories are not really suitable for these hallowed surroundings, however one non risqué comes to mind.
Just after the war, the country was still rationed and chicken not the ubiquitous dish it is today but a rare and wonderful thing. Gerry lived close to the Ovaltine farm in Kings Langley, unbelievably employing 1400 people and housing 50,000 chickens that produced eggs for the famous drink. The laying chickens were housed in long wooden sheds. Gerry, the resourceful ex Para and accomplished countryman, figured out that during a dark moonless night he could prise off one of the timber boards and release his pet ferret (on the end of a long leash) into the shed and retrieve a plump hen. All went according to plan until the ferret made it into the pitch black shed; all hell broke loose, chickens squawking and flying about, hitting the sides and roof with great thumps and artless flapping of wings, feathers everywhere. Gerry rapidly pulled the ferret back to him with no bird and scarpered very quickly back home. It suddenly occurred to him, the reason for the pandemonium, in the pitch darkness of the shed, the ferret was pure white! Arriving back home, he and wife, Joan hatched a cunning plan; she would knit the animal a little jet-black woollen suit. A few nights later Gerry returned and the SAS black camouflaged ferret was fed through the crack in the board. Within seconds the little assassin had secured it prey and Gerry returned home with Sunday dinner. Gerry told that it was his duty as a husband and father to place a decent Sunday meal on the table and for a long time afterwards he never failed in his duty.
As well as the pleasure of talking about an absent and sorely missed good friend, I am also very pleased to be able to present to the Church this small volume. This is a temporary and interim copy as we are in the process of having a handsome hard bound memorial book made. As well as giving a brief outline of the history of the Tenth battalion it is more importantly a comprehensive list of all of the men who served and especially those who fell. Kept here in All Saints, it will be a point of reference for families; children, grandchildren and great grandchildren wanting to know more about dad, granddad, great granddad……...
Should you have the opportunity later to have a look at this small volume, you will probably, like me, be saddened and shocked by the ‘Roll of Honour’ listing 94 men, out of the 582 who left the village on that late summer morning, who were killed. You will see that some were really only ‘boys’, 18 or 19, the oldest being their commanding officer, Ken Smyth, at 38, still a young man. Is it any wonder that still, after all these years, we return to this ‘little golden stoned church’ to remember and honour them and thank them for their ultimate sacrifice
10th BATTALION ARCHIVE and MEMORIAL
Thanks to many years research by Grahame Warner, we now have a comprehensive and definitive list of the nearly nine hundred men who served in the 10th Battalion the Parachute Regiment from its formation in the desert in 1942 until its destruction in Arnhem in September 1944. This will be published in a memorial book that will be donated to and kept at All Saints Church, Somerby. If you have an enquiry regarding any of these men please use the contact page on this website.
I also have available a limited number of nicely printed cards, the story of 'Myrtle the Parachick'. to order please use the contact page, they are £2 each including postage.