Visit to the Double Hills War Graves at Weston-Super-Mare by John Ferry
As the newly elected Chairman of our Association, I am trying to find time in my calendar to visit as many of our Memorials that I can during my tenure. My first port of call was to the Double Hills War Graves at Weston-Super-Mare, Milton Road Cemetery on Saturday 11th February 2012.
I am sure that most of you know from the annual Double Hills memorial service, near Paulton, the tragic event, that resulted in the first casualties of the Arnhem Operation, Market Garden, before they even left UK airspace in 1944. 21 Members of 9th Field Company (Airborne) Royal Engineers and 2 Glider Pilots were being towed in a Horsa Mk 1 glider enroute to Holland having taken off from RAF Keevil airfield, Wiltshire. At 1105 hrs over the village of Farrington Gurney the Glider either exploded or the tail separated from the fuselage in flight (depending on which witness account you accept) crashing into the fields known locally as Double Hills, unfortunately killing all on board. The tug aircraft Rear Gunner, Wally Simpson MM, described the scene, ‘the glider just seemed to part in the middle’, horrified, Simpson shouted to the Captain, ‘My God, the glider’s coming apart’, and the tow rope snapped, with the front of the glider, pointing towards the ground, ‘like a rock falling to earth’. The tug aircraft marked the spot, by circling endlessly, according to the local people watching in horror, who were running towards the crash site to offer assistance. The tug aircraft returned to Keevil, and the crew 'grabbed a jeep’ and drove the 22 miles to the crash site. Fit Sgt Ken Crowther was the 2nd Pilot of the Stirling Bomber tug aircraft, said ‘I saw a scene of carnage, the like of which I hope never to see again’. Ken survived the war, and ended up living locally near the crash site at Midsomer Norton, and in later years said, ‘time passes, I was 21 then, and didn’t ever want to come back to Double Hills’, ever the trooper Ken eventually joined the Double Hills Committee, and became part of the team to ensure our Airborne Warriors would be remembered. The tug aircraft and crew eventually flew to Arnhem the next day to carry out a supply drop; it was hit by flak and crashed near Driel. Wally Simpson dragged Ken from the wreckage, plus other crew members, but Ken lost a foot, an injury he suffered to the end of his life. God Bless you Ken.
I remember as a JNCO in 9 Para Sqn way back in the late 70s’ going to the first memorial service at Double Hills, it was a simple service with members from the Corps and Glider Pilots Association in attendance. We as a Corps and especially our Association owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr Peter Yeates, a local man who started the annual commemoration as a result of reading Rear Gunner Wally Simpson’s recollections in the book “ A Bridge to Far”, thanks to Peter’s efforts this has now grown to an annual memorial service, and also resulted in a memorial being built by The Royal Monmouthshire Regiment RE on site a few years later. Not bad for an Ex Matelot! Sorry Peter. British spirit at its best. I attended a second service many years later as a SSgt back in the Sqn in 1989.
Of the 21 members of the Company who perished, there were 2 SNCOs, 3 JNCOs and 16 Sprs, and 2 SNCO Glider Pilots. As you can imagine their ages ranged from very young to the more experienced soldier. The youngest being Sapper Joseph Charles Beale, from Stanley Park, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, who was only 18 years old. Peter Yeates has done some outstanding research on each of the fallen, and because of his efforts, they were traced to the War Graves plot within the Weston-Super-Mare, public cemetery. This year will be the 33rd memorial service organised by Peter, 68 years after the tragic event on the 17th September 1944. Why not make some time in your calendar and come along on Sunday the 2nd Sep 2012? Muster at 1345 hrs at Grid ST646558, Map sheet 172. For the modern folk amongst you Sat-Nav Postcode BS39 7LU.
The cemetery is registered with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and includes 143 casualties, and 8 war graves of other nationalities, including a German Bomber Crew, shot down enroute to England. There are 46 individual scattered burials, mixed in with the local bereaved, and 97 WWII graves, most of which are in Plot ‘Y’. If you are passing by one day, visiting the seaside at Weston-Super-Mare, why not call in and pay your respects to our fallen. Whilst the council sign states Milton Road cemetery, it is easier to drive to the Bristol Road Lower entrance, as there is a double width gate and small car park by the cemetery church at the top of the hill. The Milton Road entrance gate is usually closed to vehicles, but open to pedestrians. For those of you with Sat-Navs, 94 Bristol Rd Lower, Postcode; BS23 2TN. If you do enter from the Bristol Rd gate, head downhill from the cemetery church, and keep heading right, towards the lower ground, and you will see the War Graves plot.
There is a memorial bench there, where you can pay your respects. For those of you who may be in need of walking assistance, the Milton Rd entrance gate is much closer, but it is an uphill tab towards the plot in the left hand corner.
I had taken my bagpipes along and played the traditional Lament ‘Flowers of the Forest’ followed by the Corps March ‘Wings’ as a reveille. It was very cold, but it attracted a few windows from the nearby houses to open up and other visitors to rally within the cemetery. The least I could do to Remember Our Fallen, no matter what Service, or cap badge they served with.
During his visit, John noticed that the bench located within the plot was in need of some TLC and has volunteered, at his own expense to rectify the matter.