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BS: I met a real war hero

skipy 10 Jun 06 - 09:52 AM
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Subject: BS: I met a real war hero
From: skipy
Date: 10 Jun 06 - 09:52 AM

Last weekend accompanied by 2 other male catters (no names, no pack drill) I did a 3 day visit to sword & juno beaches to mark the 62 anni. of D Day, on the boat we met a sprightly gentelmen of 84 years.
It was an honour & a priviledge to spend several hours with him.
He was awarded a medal on June 7th at the Merville battery. After the ceremony he gave us a guided tour, here is his story:-

Walter Johnson Pte
12 Platoon C company
9th Parachute Battalion
3rd Brigade, 6th Airborne Divison

Walter originally enlisted in the Worcester Regiment when he was sixteen and a half. When war was declared in 1939, he was too young to go to France with the BEF so he was posted to the Tyne Electrical Engineers who were stationed in Pegswood, near Morpeth. During the next three years, he was moved from post to post and did spells with a searchlight regiment and an AA regiment. He got so fed up that he applied to go on a Glider Pilot course at Padgate in Lancashire. He failed the course but was selected for Airborne Forces.

Although the standards were very demanding, Walter got his wings by doing he eight jumps from Ringway Airport and dropping at Tatton Park. He passed out with flying colours.

At Kiwi Barracks, Bulford, on Salisbury Plain, he joined the 9th Parachute Battalion, which was then being formed. Being very fit and a bit of an extrovert, he settled in very well, learning how to handle the various weapons: grenades, Gammon Bombs and the fighting knife. He was a popular soldier and got on well with the rest of his comrades.

After Christmas of 1943, they were sent on special training as his battalion, being the youngest, with age ranges of 18-28, was being trained for special operations. Walter recalls that the things they were expected to do were not normal tasks for good people.

After 30th May 1944, the battalion was confined to its transit camp at Broadwell in the Cotswolds. At 11.15 p.m. on the night of the 5th June 1944, the battalion took off from Broadwell in 35 Dakotas of 512 Squadron. They had been preceded by the pathfinders who were to land in advance of the main force, identifying the dropping zones and lay out the Eurekas for the pilots of the troop carrying aircraft to locate. Approaching the Normandy coast, things started to go wrong. Enemy anti-aircraft fire burst around the Dakota in which Walter was riding, but, although they were flying lower than expected, they all got out safely.

As he floated down at about 11.55 p.m., he could see lots of water and plenty of trees, and he landed 'right on the top of the biggest'. After swinging about for what seemed like 20 minutes he eventually managed to reach the ground and in the dark, immediately walked into a ditch of full of water.

Like many paratroopers that night he was lost, and with all his equipment soaking wet from his unwanted bath, he didn't know which way to go. Surrounded by mooing cows, he made his way down a track, eventually coming across other paratroopers and linking up with them. Time was now getting on and they were delayed even further by the need to hide from German patrols. They got to the RV at about 3.30 am 6th June and joined other men who had found their own way. They now numbered about 150 and they spent the next half-hour on tenterhooks wondering if they had been detected but they remained unseen. By this time they had reached their objective, the battery at Merville. There should have been 500 of them in the battalion!

It later transpired that the Drop Zone codenamed V where the battalion was to have dropped was like a bog with interesting ditches making assembly difficult. In addition most of the pathfinder equipment was lost or damaged and thus the gliders carrying the battalion's heavy equipment landed astray.

Machine guns opened up as the attack started and from there on it was 'bloody terrible, bullets and grenades everywhere'. This was no place to stay alive and after 5 minutes Walter had been wounded right outside casement number 2. Germans were everywhere, running and shooting. In some cases there was hand to hand fighting but Walter's hand was pinned to the butt of his weapon. A nearby explosion threw him to the ground and he felt as though he was on fire. Chaos reigned and he remembers the smell of ether everywhere. Men were being killed all around him and to this day, he does not know how he came to be spared. All he knows is that he finished up in a ditch with four or five German prisoners who 'looked terrible'. A NCO came by, stuck a Sten gun in his left hand and ordered him to watch the prisoners.

Eventually, he managed to reach a nearby chateau and took shelter with other wounded men, including Capt. Hudson and Lt. Jefferson. At about 8.00am on 6th June an Allied air-raid dropped bombs all aound the chateau. By now it was dark again, and they were, once again, surrounded by Germans, the battalion having moved on to Le Plein, their next objective. It wasn't until late in the morning that a party, led by the padre, Rev. Gwinter, arrived with a jeep and evacuated Walter and three other casualties. They were driven to the Le Mesnil advanced dressing station to have their wounds seen to. Walter suffered from a hole in his hand where he had lost a knuckle, a smashed elbow and some shrapnel in his forehead. After recuperation he returned to his battalion in September 1944.

Later on in the war, during the advance through Ardennes his company was informed of an atrocity. The retreating Germans had gathered 34 young men in a sawmill, shot them in the back of the head, thrown them into a pit and blown the roof in on them. Walter and his mates had the job of digging them out. It was the middle of winter and the victims had become frozen in the positions in which they had died; they had to be thawed out, and then straightened out before they could be buried in coffins brought by the RASC from Antwerp.

He feels that this country takes no account of what these men did. It took him 50 years to get his war pension. As late as 2000, he had to undergo surgery for the removal of shrapnel in his forehead, shrapnel that had been there almost 60 years!

All paratroopers were volunteers.

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