John William Rayson
(known as "Johnny" or "Titch" in the RAF)

An RAF Pilot Seconded to the Glider Pilot Regiment

March 24th, Operation Varsity - the Rhine Crossing - A Narrative

Return to the Landing Zone in Germany

Further Return to the Landing Zone in Germany

Brief History
Born 6th December 1924 At Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex
1935-1942 At Abingdon School
October 1942-March 1943 Entered the RAF on a short University course: Clare College, Cambridge
March 1943 Entered the RAF at ACRC Regents Park, London
April1943 Returned to Cambridge in the RAF to concentrate on drill etc
May 1943 NO.9 BFTS Anstey Grading School flying Tiger Moths
June 1943 At Heaton Park, Manchester
July 1943 At Monkton, New Brunswick Canada
August 1943-January 1944 At NO.3 BFTS Miami, Oklahoma, USA for primary and advanced flying training and where commissioned with wings as a Pilot Officer
November 1944 Seconded to the Glider Pilot Regiment and sent to Bridgnorth for a 2-week course with the RAF Regiment
November 1944 At NO.5 GTS at, I believe, near Ludlow flying Hotspur glider
December 1944 At 21 HGCU Brize Norton flying Horsas and Hadrian gliders
January 1945-end of March 1945 B squadron Glider Pilot Regiment at Earls Colne flying Horsas Mark I and Mark II and it was from Earls Colne that I took off for Operation Varsity
May 1945 At RAF Booker flying Tiger Moths
October 1945 At RAF School of Administration
January 1946 Adjutant of the Air Booking Centre in Cairo, Egypt
November 1946 Contracted Anterio Poliomyelitus and was taken into No. 5 RAF Hospital, Cairo
January 1947–May 1949 RAF Mongewell Park for treatment

An RAF Pilot Seconded to the Glider Pilot Regiment

As I understand it, the Glider Pilot Regiment suffered severe casualties at Arnhem and it was imperative that the regiment was brought up to strength as soon as possible. Two options were available:-

1. Train army personnel who had been taught to fight on the ground to fly; first on Tiger Moths and then on gliders.
2. Train qualified RAF pilots to fight on the ground and then convert them on to gliders.

It was decided that option No.2 would be the quickest because only the rudiments of ground fighting would be required because once on the ground the glider pilot would be mainly employed in a defensive role.

In the air the pilot was in charge but once on the ground the senior army personnel in the glider would take charge.

During November 1944 I was posted to RAF Bridgnorth which was run by the RAF Regiment. This was a two week course consisting of assault courses, unarmed combat, weapon training and map reading exercises during the day and at night. I remember that we had to crawl through ditches half full of water, under footbridges where instructors were standing throwing thunderflashes at us as we passed; it was all quite tough. I also remember that we were trained to fire revolvers from the hip, rather like cowboys in Western films.

The officer in charge of our course was Sir Michael Bruce, the brother of Nigel Bruce the Hollywood film star known for his part as Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes films. Both were old boys of my school, Abingdon School.

From Bridgnorth the course was posted to No.5 G.T.S. at, I believe, somewhere near Ludlow. Here we had our first taste of flying gliders. We flew the Hotspur glider made by General Aircraft. The instructor sat behind the pupil. We were towed by Miles Master single-engine airplanes. Flying on tow was a little tricky to maintain position in relation to the tug until one learnt to relax and let the glider virtually fly itself. One was also very conscious of the fact that once released from the tug aircraft one was on one's own and every landing was a "forced" landing. No engine to drag you in over the boundary when having misjudged a landing or being able to go round again if you were not happy with the approach as you could do in a powered aircraft. Your judgment when landing a glider had to be accurate as there was no turning back. This course lasted about two weeks and according to my flying logbook I did 4 hours 10 minutes daylight flying with the instructor, 4 hours S minutes daylight solo flying, 40 minutes dual night and 20 minutes solo night flying. A total of 2 hours was spent in the Link trainer. From the flying hours point of view gliding was a very slow business because one had to wait for an available tug aircraft to tow you off, and having landed one had to wait until a tractor arrived to tow you back to the runway. During a whole day on the airfield generally one only spent about an hour in the air.

Having completed our initial glider flying training, the course was then posted to RAF Brize Norton which was No.21 H.G.C.U. Here we flew Horsa and Hadrian gliders as well as continuing on the Link trainer.

The Horsa glider was the mainstay of the Glider Pilot Regiment. It was designed by Airspeed Aviation and built by Harris Lebus in Southern England. It could carry something like 25-28 troops and could also take a jeep. It was large, about the size of the Wellington bomber, being 67 feet in length and with a wingspan of 80 feet. Fully loaded it weighed rather more than 7 tons, half of which was its own weight. It was of timber construction. There was a Mark I and Mark 11. The main difference between these two gliders was that in the Mark I loading and unloading was done by a large door in the side of the fuselage and also the tow rope split near the glider with each end of the split being hitched to a hook on the underside of the port and starboard wings With the Mark II Horsa glider the whole of the nose, which housed the cockpit, was hinged and therefore loading would be a straightforward affair, straight in to the fuselage. The tow rope was not split and was joined to the glider above the nose wheel. At Brize Norton we only flew the Mark I and it was when we got on to our squadron the Mark II was introduced. The Mark II was a much more convenient glider to use.

It was at Brize Norton where I first met Sergeant Priddin who became my second pilot and we remained together until after the Rhine crossing.

According to my flying logbook, we were only at Brize Norton for about a week and during that time I did 2 hours 30 minutes dual daylight flying, 45 minutes solo daylight flying with a second pilot, 30 minutes dual night flying and 20 minutes solo night flying. When one flew a Horsa glider one always was accompanied by a second pilot.

At Brize Norton we also flew the Hadrian glider. This was an American glider and was known to the Americans as the Waco GC-4A glider. Its wings and empennage were made of wood, but the fuselage consisted of welded steel tubing covered with fabric. The pilot's compartment in the front forming the nose section could be swung upward so creating a large aperture leading into its cargo compartment. This facilitated the rapid loading and unloading of the glider. Its wingspan was 83.6 feet and its overall length was 48 feet. It could carry 4,060 Ibs which was 620 more Ibs than the glider's own empty weight. This glider could not carry as much as the British Horsa glider and was not liked very much by the British pilots. Unlike the Horsa , it did not have flaps but relied on spoilers so that when you wished to descend rapidly you activated the spoilers which caused the aircraft to descend in a rapid motion but without lowering the nose which was I found awkward.

One of the main features of the Horsa glider was its large flaps, rather like great barn doors which could be lowered by pressing a lever in the cockpit to help one slow up and descend very rapidly indeed. The flaps were activated by compressed air which was kept in a large bottle situated right in the nose of the glider beyond the pilot's rudder bars.

According to my logbook I did 40 minutes dual day flying on the Hadrian and 15 minutes solo flying.
During the whole of our glider flying we had to keep up our work with the Link trainer and at Brize Norton I did 2 hours in this.

On the 26th January 1945 Sergeant Priddin and I were posted to B Squadron at Earls Colne. We continued with our training and we flew loaded Horsa gliders, known as heavy Horsars. I also flew a Tiger Moth and it was at Earls Colne that I started flying the Horsa Mark 11. On the 25th February I see frpm my logbook that we did a cross-country flight which lasted 1 hour 10 minutes. I do seem to remember this and it was impossible to fly a Horsa glider without help from one's second pilot and I found that a stint of about 15 minutes was all one could do and had to then hand over to the other person. When on a cross-country or when likely to fly into cloud one had to take the glider down into low tow, that means one is flying at a level lower than the tug aircraft. When doing circuits and landings one stayed in high tow, that is above your tug aircraft. The reason for going into low tow was that there was an instrument called the cable angle indicator, or as most people called it - the angle of dangle - and in theory this allowed you to fly the glider on tow when you could not see the tug aircraft because of cloud. A cord was attached to the tow rope and up to the back of the instrument and this would only work when you were in low tow.

On the 7th March we took part in Exercise Rift-Raft II and this lasted for 2 hours. This was a massed landing and I regret that I cannot remember very much about it but I think about 120 gliders took part and we were towed for nearly 2 hours to an aerodrome where one landed as close as one could to another glider so that all would get in on the aerodrome.

The next day we did another cross-country flight lasting 2 hours 45 minutes. This was followed the next day by a remote release which lasted 30 minutes. This was a case of going some way away from the aerodrome and gliding in. The purpose of this, of course, was the necessity maybe of doing a silent approach.

On March 10th we did Exercise lan which lasted for 2 hours 40 minutes and this was another mass landing and on the 12th March with a heavy Horsa Mark II we did Exercise lan II and this also lasted for 2 hours 40 minutes.

March 14th was yet another mass landing using a heavy Horsa Mark II and it was called Exercise Vulture and this lasted for 3 hours 40 minutes. I do vaguely remember this exercise - there were again about 120 gliders taking part and we flew in pairs in line astern A problem occurred in that the tailenders were flying faster than the leaders so that by the time we got to the aerodrome we were all bunched together and it was a terrifying sight as nearly all of us released from the tugs at the same time and gliders were weaving about all over the sky. I remember one diving down just in front of me and I had to do a violent turn to miss a collision. Luckily, we were near the front and so we got down slightly quicker than some of the others and I managed to get the glider to land and stop at the far end of the airfield close to other gliders. I remember getting out of the glider and watching the others come in and literally within about 5 minutes all gliders had landed and the last chap just could not find any room to land and crashed into two gliders and into a hut, and I believe both pilots suffered broken legs. The next day we were taken to the aerodrome to retrieve our glider and the flight back took 1 hour 10 minutes. When doing these exercises we did a circular trip before landing so that we were getting used to a long tow.

Exercise Nosmo, another mass landing which lasted 2 hours 25 minutes, took place on March 17th and this was similar to the other exercises we had done.

While at Earls Colne we were towed by Halifax bombers Mark III or Mark V. The Mark III had radial engines, I believe Bristol Centaurus, and the Mark V had in-line engines and I think they were Rolls Royce Merlins. The Mark III with the radial engines appeared the much more powerful than the Mark Vs and were much nicer than the Mark V and we all hoped that it would be the Mark III that would tow us.


Now we come to March 24th, Operation Varsity - the Rhine Crossing.

For about a month prior to the Rhine crossing we were confined to camp for security reasons. I understand that at Arnhem security had not been very good and the Germans knew what was happening and we did not want this to occur again. About three or four days before Operation Varsity we had extensive briefing and spent a lot of time studying a sandtable model of the landing zone in Germany. Sergeant Priddin and I were told we had to land our glider by a certain farmhouse which was shown on the sandtable. We were going to take 6 troops and a jeep and trailer. The trailer was loaded with radio equipment as this was a forward observation unit for the artillery. During the briefing we were told that the code name for the glider was "Matchbox".

The day before we took off we got all our equipment together and I remember apart from a .303 rifle, ammunition, hand grenades, I was also given a 2-inch mortar with bombs. I did not get much sleep during the night of March 23rd/24th and I think we had to be ready to go down to the runway at about 0600 hours. I clearly remember knocking the cork out of my water bottle when I got to my glider and losing all the water over my trousers! This worried me as I wondered whether I would be able to get decent water in Germany which had not been poisoned or contaminated! The gliders of B Squadron had all been marshalled at the end of the runway close together in two lines, one just in front of the other, and the tug aircraft were lined up on either side of the runway and at the appointed time a tug would taxi out in front of the glider and we would be hitched up and waived away and this went very smoothly with the combinations taking off quite quickly one after the other. We climbed to 2,500 feet and headed south and we went in to low tow. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky. We crossed the coast and I noticed a glider circling down about to ditch in the sea and it was obvious he had broken his tow rope; he would not be crossing the Rhine.

A little later we flew right over the middle of Brussels and at about this time we passed the Americans who were taking part in the Rhine crossing. They were much slower than us and the tug aircraft were DC3's (Dakotas) and each tug towed two Hadrian gliders. I understand that the Americans were going to land about a mile south of us towards Wesel. We headed for Germany.

We crossed the Rhine some 3 hours after take-off and immediately we were in an area of very bad visibility. I found out later that this was due to dust and debris that had been thrown up from the largest artillery barrage of the war which had occurred during the night, and also due to heavy bombing of Wesel.

Although we couldn't see the ground the tug pilot told me to release as he reckoned we were over the correct point and he wished us both luck. We were joined in to the intercom system of the Halifax tug by a wire which was attached to the tow rope. I thanked him for his good wishes and hoped he and his crew would enjoy their breakfast of bacon and eggs when they returned to Earls Colne! How I wished I was with them!

We couldn't see the ground and there were several gliders who had released and were turning aimlessly and we knew full well that we were meant to be landing by a farmhouse and we did not know where we were. I followed the glider in front of me and he did a turn to port of 360 degrees. While he was doing that there was a certain amount of flak coming up. He then started another turn but he appeared to be flying straight into a stream of tracer bullets so I did not follow! I carried on, hoping I was going in the right direction and turning here and there so that I did not go too far into Germany and overshoot the landing zone. I was down to about 250 feet when I first saw the ground and I recognised on my port side the village of Hamminkeln so I continued flying south looking for a field in which to land. The Captain of the troops in my glider was standing between Sergeant Pridden.and myself and he was holding a Bren gun. We crossed a road leading into Hamminkeln where there was a convoy of German open lorries filled with troops driving into Hamminkeln and as we dived down they all raised their hands to surrender; not that we could do much about it although the Captain was very tempted to open fire through the cockpit glass. I spotted a field where I thought we could land which I hoped would be somewhere near the farmhouse where we were meant to be. I operated the lever to bring the flaps down as I did not have much time to lose height. I pushed the nose of the glider down and to my horror found the speed built up to about 120mph and it was obvious the flaps had not come down. I think that gunfire had pierced my compressed air bottle and so this put the flaps out of action. It was impossible to get into the field without crashing so I decided the only thing I could do was to do a shallow dive into the field and aim between two trees at the far end, hoping that the wings would hit these trees and bring us to a standstill. This did not happen - I hit the ground and broke the nose wheel so the cockpit started digging in to the ground. At about this time I think a mortar bomb exploded under my starboard wing which turned the glider upside-down. The nose broke away from the glider and rolled over and over like a ball for some time; eventually it came to rest. I pulled the release of my safety harness but did not realise we were upside-down until I fell on my head! Sergeant .Pridden. and I were not hurt. We crawled out of the cockpit and ran back to what was left of the glider. Amazingly no-one was hurt. One chap did have a graze on his thumb and that was all. We then came under fire from two spandau machine guns which were situated near the trees which I had been aiming for. We kept very still under the wreckage of the glider and amazingly the firing soon stopped and I can only think the Germans thought that no-one could have got out of our glider alive!

The Captain then took charge and said, "Where is the farmhouse?" and I thought I spotted it two fields away in a westerly direction and he agreed with me that it would appear to be the farm we had meant to land by. So he said, "Let's get the jeep and trailer out and drive there." Normally one had to put ramps up to unload a glider but as our fuselage was lying on the ground it was easy to just drive the jeep and trailer out and we all jumped on board; those that could not get into the jeep mounted the trailer hanging on as we sped across two fields. The Germans opened up on us but their shooting wasn't very good and they missed. When entering the next field, a jeep was coming the other way and we stopped and asked the driver about this farmhouse and he said that it was occupied by Germans. The Captain said, "We were told that we had to go to this farmhouse so we are going to it," so we drove across the next field and pulled up by the front door of the farm. It was rather nerve-racking opening the door and going in, not knowing what to expect. In fact, the farmhouse was only occupied by the farmer and his wife who were both scared stiff.

After reconnoitring the farmhouse and farm, several other people joined us and an army officer took charge and said we should form a perimeter defence. To the west of the farmyard was a bank and above the bank was a spinney so we all lined the bank. We came under fire but were saved by the bank but after a short period an army officer appeared smoking a cigarette in a very long thin cigarette holder and he thought it would be a good idea if two people climbed over the bank and made their way through the spinney as a forward observation unit; so another chap and myself were asked to do this. This rather worried us as a lot of bullets were flying over the top of the bank. However, we were told to climb up and over so we did and we ran forward into the spinney so that we could see out to the far side and we then got into a prone position and luckily neither of us was hit. Outside the spinney there was a ploughed field and at the other side of the ploughed field was another farm which was obviously occupied by the Germans as periodically they opened fire in all directions. To the south of us there was also a ploughed field and stretcher bearers were carrying the wounded to our farmhouse. It was a beautiful spring-like morning and in a lull in the firing one could hear the birds singing. I thought, “how stupid this is to try and kill each other on such a morning!”

We had been in this spinney for about half and hour when the Americans started landing in the field between the spinney and the other farm. They should have landed a mile south of us but we were very glad to see them in our area as we were getting concerned about the Germans in the farmhouse. There was a glider quite near to the spinney and the Americans wished to unload but every time they tried to lift the nose the Germans opened fire on them and they had to take cover. Eventually an American came back to where we were in the spinney and asked for our help. We said we could not move from our present position but if he went back to our farmhouse and made contact with the officer there he no doubt would arrange a fighting patrol to try and clear the Germans out of the farmhouse, or at least give covering fire so that they could unload the glider. A little later the American passed us on his way back to the glider and said that arrangements had been made for a fighting patrol to go out and clear the farm. Unfortunately this American got killed trying to get to his glider. Eventually the Germans were driven off from the farm opposite and the Americans were able to commence their unloading. By this time several other American gliders had landed and I think this may have been the deciding factor that caused the Germans to depart.

After about 3 hours we were called back to our farm and we were told we would then have to march to a neighbouring farm. I think this was about half a mile away and we got there without any problems although we did come across quite a lot of dead Germans and dead horses and cows; not a very pleasant sight. I also saw several dead American and I was moved to see an American GI praying over a dead colleague. During the whole operation I did not see a single British casualty.

Having arrived at this new farmhouse, we set about forming a perimeter defence and decided that we ought to dig slit trenches. I suggested that if there were any prisoners around we might get them to dig the trenches for us so my flight commander, Flight Lieutenant Ken Ashurst, asked me to investigate. I went into the farmyard and to my amazement saw that this was nearly full of German prisoners, something like 250 of them and they were being guarded by one soldier sitting in a wheelbarrow with a Bren gun across his knees. I went up to him and asked him if I could have one or two people to dig trenches for us and he said, "Take your pick." I then said wasn't he rather worried as he was the only person guarding all these Germans and he said, "Oh, I think it’s all right" and I said "Well, I'm glad you've got that machine gun." Then he said, "Yes, but what they don't know is that it has not got a firing pin!”

I chose about six Germans and it transpired that they were Luftwaffe ground crew and they were very frightened as they had not been trained to fight. Some of them were only about sixteen years old. They were very anxious to please and dug excellent trenches for us.

It was decided that two people would occupy each trench but after dark I, being deputy flight commander, would do a tour of duty in each slit trench until 2 in the morning when Ken Ashurst would take over and would remain on duty until first light. While we were in the trench one of the other people went into the farmhouse to get some sleep. After about midnight I found it extremely difficult to keep awake because of the firing. Sometimes a heavy ack-ack barrage was put down and this was quite frightening as large pieces of shrapnel were falling all over the ground and I felt particularly vulnerable as I'd lost my tin hat in the crash and was therefore only wearing a beret!

During the second night I thought I could hear tanks which concerned me a great deal so I went back into the farmhouse to report this to Ken Ashurst, but before I found him I came across I think Lt.Col. lain Murray and he was lying on the floor trying to get some sleep, so I woke him up and he came outside to weigh up the situation; but there was nothing to be heard and one can only presume that the tanks had gone or that the whole thing had been a figment of my imagination which obviously I doubt! Later that night it was my turn to go off duty and try and get some sleep in a bed. I fell asleep immediately but was woken up by a loud bang and the ceiling falling down on me. I rushed outside and it transpired that a shell had landed near the farmhouse but apart from this ceiling no damage or casualties occurred. I spent the rest of the night sleeping in a slit trench. It was quite frightening to realise that we were surrounded by Germans and we all fervently hoped that our army had managed to cross the Rhine.

Soon after arriving at this farmhouse I reconnoitred the area and found that about half a dozen cows were tied up in the milking parlour. I thought I ought to try and milk them so had a go but after about half an hour without much success, the cow I was trying to milk got a bit fed up with me and kicked the bucket over. Just after this had happened a soldier arrived obviously looking for loot and I told him there was nothing of interest for him in the farmhouse but I said can you milk cows and he said yes, so I said please milk this lot - which he did so we were able to have fresh milk that night and next morning.

This little episode gave an idea to one of the glider pilots that as there were some hens running about in the yard, he ought to catch one and we could then have chicken for dinner. He had difficulty in carrying out this operation and decided to start shooting at it with his revolver but again he had no success, although the area became rather dangerous with bullets flying everywhere, but we did not have roast chicken!

I can't remember whether we spent 2 or 3 nights in this farmhouse but we were told by some army officer in charge that we had to move to another farmhouse. I had noticed a carthorse in an adjoining field so I caught this horse, saddled it up and with help harnessed it to a wagon; so when we moved to the new farmhouse all the lads put their equipment into this wagon and I drove the horse and wagon down the road to the new farmhouse which was only about a quarter of a mile away. As I approached this new farmhouse I had to go behind a 3-inch mortar battery and just as I had got to them they opened fire and the noise was terrific. I thought that the horse would bolt so I jumped off the wagon, ran round to its head and held it. To my amazement it didn't seem worried by the noise and just continued down the track to the new farmyard.

I can't remember much about this new location but I think it was a move to get us all together ready to take us back to the Rhine and so others were providing the perimeter defence so we had nothing to do. Soon after we were here our army which had crossed the Rhine caught up with us and I remember the feeling of relief as we were no longer surrounded by the enemy. It was obvious that the whole operation had been a success. We wished them luck in their advance into Germany. I gave my 2-inch mortar to a soldier as he would have more use of it than me and it saved me carrying it!

The next day we were ordered to march to the Rhine and I suggested to, I believe, the commanding officer of B Squadron, Major lan Toler, that I could harness up the horse and connect it to the wagon, as I had done the day before, to take all our equipment to the Rhine. I also thought it would save me walking and I would get a lift! The C.O. did not think we could do this and so reluctantly I had to leave the horse behind. We marched in single file to the Rhine and I think it must have been something like 3 miles and I could quite understand why the C.O. had said I could not take the horse and wagon because the road was absolutely chock-a-block with troops and vehicles that had crossed the Rhine and were fighting their way into the heart of Germany.

We got to the Rhine and were loaded on to lorries to be taken across the bailey bridge and to a camp some miles west of the Rhine. It was a bit disconcerting to hear that the day before a lorry was crossing this bailey bridge and it had broken and the lorry had gone to the bottom and all occupants were drowned. However, the bridge held when we crossed and there were no incidents.

After a mile or so on the west side of the Rhine, we came to a little town called Xanten. It distressed us very much to see that this town, except for the church, was nothing but a heap of rubble. There were one or two inhabitants crawling around overturning stones and rubble, presumably trying to find lost possessions.

We arrived at a tented camp but I cannot remember exactly where this was and we were told we would spend one night here and then move up to Helmond the next day. It was an opportunity to inspect our equipment and I noticed my rifle, which I had not fired, was absolutely filthy so I put a round into the breach and fired it to clear out the muck and I then pulled it through and oiled it. Having done this, I went with a friend for a walk and although the area was meant to have been cleared of Germans for about 3 weeks, we were fired at by a sniper but luckily he missed. We were not able to discover where he was but he was obviously in a wood nearby. In the early evening a church service was held in a field and I found it one of the most moving services I have ever attended.

Next morning we were loaded into lorries and travelled to Helmond. This took most of the day and we arrived in the early evening and I think we were put up in a hotel and then we went to the theatre where an ENSA party was entertaining the troops.

We were taken by lorry to Eindhoven in Holland the next day where we were loaded into DC3's (Dakotas) and flown back to England. I cannot remember where we landed - but I think it might have been RAF Lyneham. We had to go through customs and they asked us if we had anything to declare! I think we had, but not anything that would interest them!

We returned to RAF Earls Colne and a few days later Courts of Enquiry were set up to try and discover what had happened to equipment which had not been returned. The most common piece of equipment was the service watch which some of us were issued with and as this was a nice piece of equipment, it was amazing how many went missing. These enquiries lasted several days and I remember sitting on a Court of Enquiry and then having to appear before the same court because I had not brought back my 2-inch mortar. I did spend a month at the School of Infantry, Warminster, which was extremely well organised. We spend a certain amount of time under fire which proved a very valuable experience. I only wish I had been posted to this course before I took part in the Rhine crossing.

The rest of the time in the Glider Pilot Regiment was spent on a rest camp at Watermouth Caves between IIfracombe and Coombe Martin, then a little bit of training because it was possible that we might have to go out to the Far East. My flight went to RAF Booker and flew Tiger Moths for a month and the rest of the time we sat around in various units waiting for something to happen and eventually I was recalled back into the RAF.


Return to the Landing Zone in Germany

In October 1985 I went on the continent with two architect friends of mine. They wanted to see modern architecture in Germany and they asked me what I would like to do and I said I would like to go and see where I landed my glider on the Rhine crossing.

We approached the Rhine from the west and came to the little town of Xanten. This was the town we had driven through when returning from the Rhine crossing; it was then a heap of rubble but now it had been completely rebuilt and was a charming little town with many pedestrian areas. One could not have realised what it was like before if one had not seen it.

We drove across the Rhine and stayed in a hotel just north of Wesel. The next day we drove north on road E36 to Hamminkeln. In the centre we turned left and headed west out of the village. It must be remembered that I did not go into Hamminkeln during the Rhine crossing. We stopped and I got out and looked around and did not recognise anything but I did remember that I had crossed a road at about 250 feet in the glider just before crashing and I thought we were perhaps on that road so we drove on a little further and stopped and I looked to the south and there was a big area and I am sure it was in this area that I crashed the glider.

I was pretty certain this was the correct area so we then drove on some narrow lanes and stopped before we came to a farm. Somebody was working in the field and they wondered what we were up to and I was not very keen to tell them why I was there so we didn't proceed any further; but looking at the farm I recognised the spinney just beyond it and could see the bank which I had to climb over to go into the spinney so I was positive that this was the first farmhouse we went to. It looked just the same.

We turned round and drove back along one or two little lanes looking for the second and third farmhouses that I went to but the whole area is covered by small farms and it was impossible to decide where I had been. I think perhaps a number of the farms had been rebuilt. Of course there was no indication anywhere as to what had taken place in March 1945.


Further Return to the Landing Zone in Germany

February 2004

In 2002 I took my youngest son Will, aged 40, to see where I landed my glider and, while on the site, I told him how we were under fire where we landed. After contemplating this information he said, "I wish I could find a spent cartridge…" I said "Don't be silly; this happened in 1945!"

I started to walk away from this ploughed field but Will called out "Father, I've found a gun!" I went back and with his shoe he lifted a buried piece of projecting metal; and up came a Sten Gun! After all these years it was not in good condition and the stock was missing.

We brought it home and have given it to the 'Museum of Army Flying' at Middle Wallop, Hampshire. They have preserved it and it will go on display in due course.