JUST ORDINARY MEN. HQ Troop, 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, 1st British Airborne Division (WW2) - HQ Trp. 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Sqn
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" Leading the way ( into Arnhem ) would be a motorised reconnaissance squadron of jeeps and motorcycles.  General Urquhart was counting on Major ' Freddie ' Goughs highly specialised force of some 275 men in four troops - the only unit of its kind in the British Army - to reach the highway bridge and hold it until the main body of the brigade arrived "                                                           

Extract from ' A Bridge too far '  by Cornelius Ryan

History of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron

Troop Ship Staffordshire

By April 1943 the Squadron had been made up to strength of about 250 men and was stationed at Bulford near Andover when it left for North Africa via Liverpool on the Troop Ship Staffordshire with the rest of the 1st Airborne Division.   After a few days acclimatisation inland from Oran, in Algeria, the unit collected it's jeeps and motorcycles.   The Jeeps and their drivers with Motorcycles and other unit equipment, in the trailers, left on a 1000 mile trip to Msaken near Sousse in Tunisia. The rest of the unit went by train. 

Training continued but was switched to loading gliders and towing them about the airfields to place them at the rear of the tug planes ready for the invasion of Sicily in July.

USS Light Cruiser Boise

HMS Penelope

September saw the Squadron loading its jeeps and motorcycles onto the famous USS light Cruiser Boise because there were no gliders left after the Sicily drop.   Also on board were 5 under strength Squadrons of the Special Air Service and 25 men of Popski's Private Army who were with the 156 Independent Parachute Battalion.  With the British fast Minelaying Cruisers Penelope and Abdiel, carrying the rest of the Division, they entered Taranto Harbour to offload.  Unfortunately; the Abdiel hit a mined barge and sank in the harbour losing much of the divisions artillery and the Squadrons 6 pounder field guns.

HMS Abdiel

The Squadron left straight away for its task of exploring the route to the Bari on the East Coast via Massafra and Motola to Gioia del Colle, running into some German opposition and suffering some casualties.  After a brief stop the Squadron moved on towards Bari where it was the first British Unit to enter the town and again after a brief stay moved on where it took the Airfield at Foggia. From then the Squadron was especially active, being always ahead of the advance.

Amongst the losses were men from ' B '  Troop.  The troop was never reformed.

Troop Ship ' Sick ' Duchess of Bedfordshire

In November the Squadron moved back to North Africa.  The then departed from Philippeville in Algeria, some on the 'sick'  Duchess of  Bedfordshire, so called as she had no stabilisers and rolled alarmingly, and others on the  Monarch of Bermuda.  Arriving back in the U K in time for Christmas.  Whilst returning; the Duchess hit the Monarch in the Med - a Zig Zag went wrong -  and the Monarch had to dock in Gibraltar for temporary repairs but still got back to the U K  for Christmas.

Troop Ship Monarch of Bermuda

After a very brief stay at Spalding; the Squadron moved to Ruskington, just north of Sleaford in Lincolnshire,  where they stayed for the next 9 months until the battle of Arnhem in September.

In February 1944. Major Gough told the Squadron that " it had been decided that whilst its vehicles and drivers would go into their next operation in gliders; the bulk of the Squadron would have to jump and they would have to volunteer to be paratroops. "   He told the parade that " any man who did not wish to volunteer should take a step forward " ..... know one moved!  Training took place at Ringway with jumps into Tatton Park and intensive training continued.  The unit was retitled ' 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron '.

In accordance with ' Recce policy ' ; the fire power of the jeeps was substantially upgraded.  Every jeep had a Vickers "K" .303 machine gun mounted with a round magazine holding 96 rounds.  In addition some had 2 20mm polsten cannons towed behind the jeep.  The Polsten cannons were an Anti Aircraft gun but, due to their high firing rate, they were a very effective ground weapon.  They also carried standard infantry weapons including two 3" mortars and 2" mortars, a Bren Light machine gun, standard rifles but with sniper sights, a Piat gun and many and various hand grenades. Most men had a Sten gun and the Radio Operators a revolver.

There were several false alarms and cancelled operations.   But. At the end of August 1944, a seaborne party of some 40 men with the Squadron transport vehicles left for France.   Then on 17th September 1944. 45 men, who had previously driven the Squadrons jeeps, motorcycles, heavy weapons and ammunition to Tarrant Rushton flew in Gliders to the Dutch Town of Arnhem.  They were joined 30 minutes later by their 160 comrades who had flown from Barkston Heath Airfield, Lincolnshire and landed by parachute.   Two of the 22 gliders ( out of a total of 358 ) allocated to the Squadron did not arriveResulting in the Squadron only having 28 instead of the 31 jeeps they should have had.   Furthermore.  Several of the Gliders, on Landing, crashed on the soft soil and it proved very difficult to get the vehicles and equipment out which meant that the Squadron was quite a bit under strength

' HQ, C and D '  Troops headed for the Bridge as a coup de main but were held up by strong German opposition from the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions and suffered several casualties.

' A '  Troop stayed behind at Divisional HQ as a reserve as planned.  Unfortunately; wireless communications had broken down and when Freddie Gough received a message to say the General wanted to see him, he left for Div HQ taking some of H Q Troop and a few from ' D ' Troop with him.    By the time he found the General; the party he had left behind had returned to the D ZWhen he left Div H Q, after several  skirmishes, he arrived at the bridge where the Squadron was supposed to be.  Only to find remnants of several units.  Chalky White, the Dispatch Rider,  was sent back to Div HQ and was probably the last man to leave the Bridge.


Those at the Bridge held out until the morning of Thursday 21st September when, due to no ammunition, they were forced to surrender.  The remainder of the Squadron, under Captain Alsop, fought on as part of the force at Oosterbeek from which a few of them ( perhaps 2000 of the original  10,000 ) escaped including about 30 of the Squadron on Monday 25th September.  That night the survivors met up with the Seaborne party and received their replacement clothing and equipment.  The next morning they were flown back to the U K  arriving back in Rustington on Friday 29th September at about 9pm.  The sea borne party arrived a few days later.

The following is an account of the evacuation as written down at Nijmegen on Tuesday Sept 26th 1944 and added too following interrogation of personnel in the sections.  Map references quoted are taken from the map of the day :  Holland, Arnhem, Sheet 6.N.W. 1/25000.

" We were last section out and crossed the main Heelsum - Arnhem road, over dead line about 2110 hrs. A fair spraying of bullets came down the road at intervals so we ran across singly or in pairs. Once we hit the road south, bordered by trees on both sides, we came upon the rear of a section led by Lt Lickerish. There was plenty of halting and crouching down - this may have been due to the number of trees which lay across the road and to the M.G. fire which the Hun put down. It was very slow moving. The night was black and wet, making it impossible to see the helmet or body of the man in front. Then about 2130 hrs a clatter of Mortar Bombs came down - lighting the woods and road with a queer blue light. The men scattered like demons in a pantomime. I was lift off my feet with the blast of one bomb and came to lying against the foot of a tree. There was no one about so I pushed on quickly and eventually contacted two of my section at a place where there was a clearing on the right. An M.G. was firing at us so we dashed pretty fast across until we came, more or less, under cover. Everything went alright then until we came to a T. junction. Here we saw some figures standing in the shadow of some houses opposite and slightly to our left. Having our previous experience in our minds we went as quietly as we could to our right, which proved to be the correct way. After much blundering about we hit into the tail of an enormous snake of men. Every unit seemed to be there, but our own. Utmost confusion - no one caring whether he showed over the sky line or not. We went on finally contacting the end of our section near the beach. Again the Hun tossed over mortar bombs and many personnel were wounded. There was plenty of screaming. A boat turned over too - terrible cries. Shortly after I contacted Capt Allsop who was wounded in the left thigh. We got in the same boat together - squatting near the bow. Half way across the water lapped over the bow, and shouting to the others to move down, the night was saved. On the other side Capt Allsop and self walked almost to Dreel, where we were given one bar of chocolate each - which we ate, having lost our ration in the move out. Here Cpl {unreadable}, Dutch N.C.O. attached to us, met us, and all three went to the R.A.P. where Capt Allsop had his wound dressed. From there we headed south and sheltered in a farm house 687723. The people gave us porridge and we slept in straw wrapped in blankets. This was about 0130 hrs on Tuesday. At 0900 hrs an officer of the R.E. took us to Nijmegen in a jeep - racing across the bridge as it was under shell fire - where we left Capt Allsop at the 10 C.C.S.

Most sections experienced similar incidents, as for instance Capt Costeloe and his section. Here, a figure loomed up out of the darkness and challenged them in a guttural voice. S.Q.M.S. Holderness who was with the section went over to investigate, calling out, as he did so, that they were friends. Bursts of M.G. fire came immediately and the section had to scatter.

All sections did make the crossing, all had casualties and their experiences through the woods and on the river bank were on a par with the first account set down. The unit crossed between the hours of 2330 hrs and 0300 hrs Tuesday 26 Sept. Reason being few boats and many moles.

Squadron regroups at Nijmegen. Seaborne party links up. Personnel still reporting in. Squadron parades for address by Lieut Gen. F.A.M. Browning CB DSO who promises our next job in the victory parade.

Move to Louvain. Night spent in monastery about 4 miles from the city on the road to Brussels.

Squadron flies to England - land at Saltby, Lincs. Hot meal on landing - Trucks take unit to Ruskington, Lincolnshire. General sorting out. "

The villagers of Ruskington were as devastated as the men by the terrible loses sustained.  In fact the loses, although high, were not as bad as at first suspected.  Many had been wounded and they and the  others who did not return, totalling some 140,  were taken prisoners of war.


Following a period of debriefing and two weeks disembarkation leave.  The unit was allocated barracks at Newark, Nottinghamshire and they reluctantly left Ruskington for ever.

The full story of the battle of Arnhem is well known and the part the Squadron played is well documented in the book ' Remember Arnhem '  by John Fairley.


During the winter reinforcements made up the strength to 160 and retraining began.  On the 10th May 1945, two days after V E day, the Squadron flew with its vehicles to Stavanger, Norway and quickly moved to Oslo to help organise the withdrawal of German troops.   Their mobility was needed to escort German units from  some of the more rural areas and they also aided the new Norwegian authorities round up some of the Norwegians who had co operated with the Germans.   Whilst they were there they took part in a parade with other Airborne Troops and Russians to welcome Crown Prince Olaf  back to Norway after his exile.   No medal was issued for this operation as the war in Europe had officially ended but Prince Olaf gave the Squadron a Signed Certificate of Thanks for their part in the difficult task they had successfully completed and members of the squadron who were there were issued with a copy.

In September 1945 the Squadron returned to the United Kingdom to Broham in Wiltshire from where it was disbanded about 4 years after it's formation on the 1st August 1946.  The men were dispersed to various other units.  The men who were wounded and who had been taken prisoner of war in Italy and at Arnhem  returned to this country ... but not to the Squadron.

The disbandment was as a result of the dissolution of the Reconnaissance Corps as a whole.  The Squadron Old Comrades Association was later formed but, unlike peacetime regiments, the original members have no successors.   Thus, in time, the Association and Squadron in name, will cease to exist. 

To commemorate the close ties between the Squadron and the Ruskington people a Roll of Honour and an Old Comrades Association Standard are lodged in the Parish Church.  The focal point of the only real home the Squadron ever had.  On the Roll of Honor, an engraved  Memorial Stone, are listed the names of the 43 men who gave their lives and the following words :- 


In the village of  Ruskington  the Squadron will not be forgotten!  And, on the last Sunday of April every year, the Squadron Veterans join with the village church members to remember those who died.

In it's short four year history.  The 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron fought with tenacity and distinction in many theatres of operation's.  It's member's were selected for their skills and adaptability and were a credit to the very essence of the British Army.  Many of them did not make it home.  But as time slips by and memories fade; their battle cry will live on and they will never be forgotten.


Awards & Decorations

British Awards

Maj. C F H Gough
 Military Cross & Mention in Despatches
 Capt. T J Fairbank
 Military Cross
 Lt. D Gailbraith
 Military Cross & Mention in Despatches
 Lt. T V P Mcnabb
 Mention in Despatches
 Lt. J W Marshall
 Mention in Despatches
 Lt. H E Pearson
 Military Cross
 Sjt. S J Haydon
 Mention in Despatches
 Sjt. G E Holderness
 Mention in Despatches
 Sjt. G Kay
 Mention in Despatches
 Sjt. K O Lapper
 British Empire Medal
 Sjt. J Pyper
 Military Medal
 Sjt G Storrie
 Mention in Despatches
 Sjt. H Venes
 British Empire Medal
 Cpl. J G Taylor
 Military Medal
 Tpr. C M Simpson
 Mention in Despatches
 Tpr. J D Wilkes
 Mention in Despatches
 Cft. G York
 Military Medal

Dutch Awards

Capt D Allsop
 Bronze Lion
 Capt. T D V Swinscow
 Bronze Cross
 Tpr. C C Bolton
 Bronze Cross

American Awards

 Lt. J G H Wadsworth
 Bronze Star
 Tpr. F Mann
 Distinguished Service Cross

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