EDWIN DENNIS CRAMP
Born : Slough on the 17 th of March 1926
Educated at: Bisley Boarding School
JOINED THE ARMY
Dennis joined the Army as soon as he could after leaving school, as his brother Robert was in the Kings Own Royal Regiment of Lancaster as a bandsman.
On his 17 th birthday, 10 months earlier than he should, he joined the same unit and trained as a wireless operator.
After the completion of his course he was posted at the end of August 1943 to the South Lancashire Regiment.
TRAINING AND WAR GAMES
The Regiment spent most of the latter part of 1943 in the Shoreham area playing war games to bring them up to strength and effectiveness.
On the 23 rd of December 1943 he remembers vividly, being aboard a troop ship crossing to Northern Ireland with the whole Regiment in what he describes as "mountainous waves, every man was thoroughly sick, and the high winds covered everybody on deck with vomit, and there was nowhere and nothing you could do to be able to get out of the way". On arrival in Northern Ireland they were based at Carrickfergus Camp.
It was there after much deliberation that Dennis volunteered for the Glider Pilot Regiment.
GLIDER PILOT REGIMENT
It was now early 1944, when he was posted to Euston in London to take his Pilots Qualification Examination. This exam he passed with flying colours. He was then sent to Larkhill and then to RAF Booker, at High Wycombe in April 1944 to actually do his flying training. (You had to be able to fly engined aircraft in the first place before you were allowed to be a Glider Pilot.)
Dennis found the Tiger Moth a real challenge to fly. He could take off without a hitch but, no matter how hard he tried he could not land it safely. He later remarked, seeing Glider Pilots land at Arnhem " I always wondered why you needed to be a pilot first to fly gliders, because they just crash landed them at Arnhem, and I could have done that"
It was whilst he was there that Major "Boy" WILSON of the 21 st Independent Parachute Company came to interview the failed pilots as he knew that they were made of tougher stuff than the average soldier, and Dennis was passed for Parachute training.
It was June 1944 when Dennis completed his parachute training at Ringway, near Manchester. On completion, and on receipt of his wings, he was posted to the 21 st Independent Parachute Company at Swinderby in Lincolnshire. At that time there were no billets for the troops, so they were housed in private homes. It was much later that accommodation became available for troops, and eventually moved into barracks at Newark in Lincs. Their unit carried out many training exercises and drops around the Swinderby area.
21 ST INDEPENDENT PARACHUTE (PATHFINDER) COMPANY
The OC of the Company was Major "Boy" WILSON whose name was famous as one of the older and bolder officers within the Parachute Regiment and was once Boy Brownings senior officer in the First World War. It was amazing to think that now at the Dawn of Operation Market Garden Lt Gen Boy BROWNING was to be the formations commander for the drop on Arnhem and WILSON's boss.
The 21 st Independent Parachute Company consisted of 186 officers and men. 1 Platoon was commanded by Lt David Eastwood, 2 Platoon by Lt Speller and finally 3 Platoon by Lt Hugh Ashmore.
Dennis found himself as a Private soldier within 2 Platoon for the duration.
OPERATION MARKET GARDEN from the memories of Dennis Cramp
THE FIRST DAY
It was mid morning on the 17 th of September 1944 that the 21 st Independent Parachute Company took off in a number of Stirling bombers from Fairford in Gloucestershire. The Company jumped 'en masse' and at exactly 1240hrs Dennis was one of the first "Pathfinders" to touch the Dutch soil of Ginkel Heath by parachute. It was there, that he and his comrades marked out the DZ's and LZ's with smoke and tape for the larger formation that was to follow.
Each Platoon had a DZ or LZ as their respective responsibility which is listed at the end of this article.
Major WILSON parachuted into a German position, with a sentry immediately surrendering to him, he then took the OC to a slit trench where even more German soldiers surrendered believing that the war was truly over for them. How wrong they were.
That first day was very quiet, with no exchanges of fire on either side.
THE SECOND DAY
It was the second day, that Dennis remembers, gliders crash landing on the DZ, and German Flame throwers engulfing the wooden gliders from which he still hears the screams from the troops inside even today.
It was also this second day that the Germans realised what was happening and set about repulsing the Airborne throng with anti aircraft fire and masses of small arms fire as Paratroopers fell to the ground. In many respects, they were slaughtered before they landed.
Throughout all of this, the Pathfinders had to remain on the perimeter of the DZ to ensure all formations following in the next days had the Drop zone clearly marked by day or night for their drop.
CONSTANT MORTAR FIRE
The Pathfinders centralised their operations in Oosterbeek woods. Dennis remembers vividly being mortared relentlessly by what they soon named "Moaning Minnies" because of the sound of the German mortars made as they fell on their positions. Whilst they were in the woods the Germans would firstly use extrememely loud music to stop any firing, and then in a their best English say " Men of the 1 st Airborne Division, you are in a hopeless position, surrender now to the soldiers of the Third Reich"
In Dennis’s words " We waited until he had finished and everytime he came and repeated his loudspeaker message, we opened up with everything we had"
It was many days later that his formation learnt that the 2 nd Army had not made it to the Bridge, and the order was given to retreat. The 21 st took up positions in Oosterbeek village, and Dennis remembers being in a Veterinary Surgeons house. To this date, he hasn’t returned to try and find the house he left in tatters after the battle.
Some days later on Monday the 25th, they were all withdrawn to the river at nightfall, following mine tape laid during the day. Their feet were bound in blankets and any material they could find to ensure there was no noise to attract fire or giveaway the fact that they were all withdrawing.
One fact Dennis recalled to me which has never been published in any books of the battle to my knowledge, was that during the night two machine guns positioned on the far bank where the crossing was taking place, would lay a path of non stop tracer rounds. This gap between the two guns then ensured that the withdrawing formation kept within its boundaries as they crossed in boats or swam.
After his return to England………Boy Wilson was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and awarded a DSO.
His citation reads:
At ARNHEM on the 17th September and 18th September the Company commanded by this officer was responsible for marking the Drop Zones and Landing Zones for the landing of the Division. This landing was extremely successful.
On the 20th September, Major Wilson and his company occupied the sector of the divisional perimeter and from that date until the evacuation were subject to intense mortar and shell fire. The defence of their sector was most aggressively carried out by Major Wilson. A very large number of Germans were killed and some self-propelled guns silenced.
During the house to house fighting which followed, the vigorous leadership shown by Major Wilson and the offensiveness of his company were quite outstanding and this particular sector of the perimeter remained firmly held until the end.
Wilson continued to command the Company in Norway and Palestine until October 1945, when he left to take command of the Airborne Holding Battalion. In 1953, he was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal. He died in 1963.
Of the 186 men that made up the formation of the 21 st Independent "Pathfinders" Parachute Company, 20 were killed over the period, 46 were missing in action, and 120 were safely evacuated, of which Dennis was one.
It was a very moving experience interviewing Dennis Cramp and to have met him personally. I was very proud to have shaken his hand. The circumstances at which I did this, were regrettable, as it was on the day that he was fighting another battle, to recover his sick 88 year old wife Maria from the hands of the Social Services in Blackburn.
Sadly, had it not been for the publicity of this incident, we would never have been aware of such a brave AIRBORNE WARRIOR in our midst. Due to his wifes long term illness, he has nursed her fulltime at their home in Accrington, and had no spare time available to join his local PRA. When she had a stroke and was placed in the local hospital, he was asked to look after her at home to free up her bedspace.
The irony now is that, the Social Services have gone to court to have Maria taken into their care at a Nursing Home at Dennis’s cost, when all they both want is to spend their twilight and last days together as husband and wife.
This truly is a remarkable man, who deserves our full support, and I for one, will continue to provide that support to a fellow Parachute Regiment member.
ACTUAL INCIDENTS IN DATE ORDER OF THE BATTLE FOR ARNHEM by Major "Boy" WILSON
17 th September 1944
Abbreviations: ( C.C.S Casualty Clearing Station)
1345 - The 1st Parachute Brigade were dropped on D.Z. "X". The drop was accurate and Battalions were well together. So far the enemy had made no serious attempt to interfere with the landings. During the course of the afternoon some enemy opposition was encountered, but the D.Z. and L.Z's were kept clear. The night was quiet, all the Company being concentrated round H.Q. at a farm called REIJERS CAMP.
18th September 1944
Platoons moved out during the morning to mark D.Z. and L.Z's for the second lift. No.1 Platoon to L.Z. "L", No.2 Platoon to L.Z."X" and No.3 Platoon to D.Z."Y". H.Q. remained on "S" to supply aids. Enemy opposition was encountered in all landing areas and Platoons had stiff fighting to drive the enemy back and to hold them whilst the second lift landed, also having to put out ground aids under fire. The difficulties were aggravated by the lift being delayed some three hours. The enemy were however kept in check and the lift landed with comparatively few casualties. Company H.Q. was heavily attacked by M.E.109s. The Company rendezvoused at 1800 hrs at the Farm and moved at 1900 hrs to take up new positions in the area of HALT OOSTERBEEK HOIG, up to this time we had had only one casualty, Cpl Jones who had been killed. The move was carried out without opposition in the dark and the new position was established by 2300 hrs. The night was uneventful. A horse and dray was commandeered to move heavy equipment.
19th September 1944
No.1 Platoon moved out again to L.Z. "L" to supply navigational aids for the third lift i.e. the Polish Glider element. They had to beat off a heavy enemy attack when the gliders were landing. No.2 Platoon supplied aids for the supply drop. During the afternoon the enemy started a movement on the Company position and I decided to take up a new position on some high ground overlooking the previous one, which gave us a field of fire of approximately 150 yards and forced the enemy to attack up hill across a road with wire fencing. The Company dug in to the ground of a house called "OMMERSHOL". We were reinforced by 2 Officers and 30 men of the 4th Para Field Squadron R.E. and some 60 Glider Pilots under Major Jackson. The enemy did not make any serious attempt to attack during the night but patrols were active. No.1 Platoon who had been cut off rejoined soon after darkness and occupied the line as shown in sketch map.
20th September 1944
1000 - The enemy tried to cross the road to the right of our position and also moved up on the left flank through the wood evacuated by the Borders on the previous night. Our positions were heavily mortared and some casualties were sustained. The enemy were repulsed with heavy loss. Later in the day they attacked approx. one company strong supported by mortars and an S.P. gun, which was knocked out by us with a P.I.A.T.. The night was comparatively quiet. During the evening the enemy called on us to surrender.
21st September 1944
0700 - The enemy attacked early and a fairly large force was seen to be moving up the wood on our left flank. Mortaring was heavy. An S.P. gun brought up on our left flank caused some casualties until knocked out by No.1 Platoon and the Sappers. The enemy continued to try and break in during the most of the day, suffering very heavy casualties. During the afternoon the K.O.S.B's on our right flank were heavily attacked and forced from their position. This was later reestablished. As a result of the aforementioned attack we were joined by the two 6 pounder A/Tk guns and a section of mortars from the K.O.S.B's which were of great assistance. We could have held on now indefinitely. Orders were received to withdraw to a position in the 4th Para Bde area under whose command we were to be. Area is called "HARTESTEIN".
22nd September 1944
0230 - The Company were successfully withdrawn without opposition and rested by 4th Para Bde H.Q. for the night.
0500 - The Company took up their new positions in houses in the Eastern perimeter. Apart from mortar fire the enemy appeared to be unaware of our position and no attack developed.
1600 - Two patrols were sent out, one from No.3 Platoon and one from No.2 Platoon. The object being (a) to try and contact 10th Para Btn East of our position on the main road and (b) to try and push our line further out. Both patrols came under heavy M.G. fire and contact could not be made with the 10th Btn.. Casualties were 1 killed and 2 wounded. It appears that the enemy were well dug into strong points about 400 yards to our front.
23rd September 1944
0300 - No.3 Platoon moved up and took over the positions occupied by the 10th Btn who were withdrawn into reserve. This position is very isolated .
0715 - No.3 Platoon's position was heavily attacked with 1 Mark IV Tank and 2 S.P. guns supporting Infantry. Fire at, at close range, the houses which they occupied were quickly destroyed and their automatic weapons made useless. It was therefore decided to withdraw them back to the main position. This was accomplished, but the Platoon had 15 casualties. One S.P. gun was destroyed.
The enemy continued to feel forward towards our front during the day and No.1 Platoon were subjected to heavy fire. They on the other hand took heavy toll of the enemy trying to occupy the C.C.S. and destroyed a truck full of ammo, also a motor cycle and side car.
24th September 1944
By first light it was seen that the enemy had occupied the C.C.S. at the cross roads between No.3 Platoon and No.1 Platoon and a considerable amount of sniping came from this area. The enemy further infiltrated behind No.1 Platoon position from their left flank and snipers were active. A number of snipers were killed during the day. The enemy continued to blast the area with 15cm. mortars, 88mm's. and S.P. guns. They also started to set fire to the houses with Phosphorous mortar-bombs. A heavy attack was launched to the right of our front which was partly successful and some enemy endeavoured to infiltrate into our positions but were destroyed. By this time no rations were available and water was very scarce. However most of the houses occupied by the Company or nearby had some tinned food stored in the cellars. Also most houses had tame rabbits. H.Q. were fortunate to find a bath half full of water. Raids for food and water were made by night, on one occasion the enemy were encountered and driven out of a house. It was therefore possible to have two meals of a sort each day and sufficient water was found for one brew of tea. Wine was the only other liquid and a fair supply was discovered. In spite of the continuous shelling and mortar fire to which the Company had been subjected for 5 days and night making rest almost impossible, their spirits were at a very high level and there was no thought of submission. At about 1100 hours No.1 Platoon reported some Polish Paratroops in their area, and at 1200 hours they relieved No.1 Platoon who stood down for a rest.
1500 - No.2 Platoon reported considerable enemy movement on their right flank and it was clear that the enemy were bent on seizing the other C.C.S. situated on the right of No.2 Platoon. This area had previously been held by some Glider Pilots who had been removed at the request of the Germans so as not to endanger the wounded in the C.C.S. It appeared at one time as if the enemy attack would swing round the back of our position. 1 Pln who were resting were moved to the H.Q. area in close support. However having gained possession of the C.C.S. the enemy made no further move. No.1 Platoon took over part of No.3 Platoon's line, both platoons being down to a rather low level in numbers. This considerably helped to consolidate our position which was further strengthened by 8 Glider Pilots with a Bren Gun. During the afternoon two Mark IV Tanks were reported in front of No.3 Platoon. Later a message was received from the German Commander via one of our Medical Officers in the C.C.S. situated at the cross roads. The message was to the effect that unless I agreed to vacate a house some 30 yards from the C.C.S. at once he would send two tanks against my position and blast me out. In view of the fact that this house was of great importance to my position and if in enemy hands would have made my position extremely insecure, I sent back a message to the effect that I would only agree if the German Commander would withdraw his men from the vicinity of the C.C.S. and his tanks for a distance of 1 mile. Further that he would make no further advance in the area of the C.C.S. until all casualties were cleared. If however he would not agree to this I should remain in the house in question and if his tanks attempted to advance I would blow them up. To add colour to my threat Pte Dixon No.3 Platoon ACC Cook sneaked out with his P.I.A.T. and destroyed one of the tanks. The P.I.A.T. bomb striking the back of the tank where presumably ammunition was stored, as after several sharp reports the tank blew up burning for some hours. The remaining tank was moved back and enemy troops in the vicinity of the C.C.S. withdrew.
25th September 1944
The left flank remained quiet during the morning but the whole Company front was submitted to very heavy bombardment and an increasing number of light phosphorous mortar bombs were fired. More houses caught fire as the result. The enemy made an unsuccessful attempt to infiltrate into the right of our position which cost him casualties and an attack on our left was driven off in the afternoon.
1600 - A conference was held at Div H.Q. at which orders to withdraw over the river that night were given. The Independent Company were to form the rear-guard at the river at 2230 hrs.
1800 - An O Group was called and orders issued to form up the Company along the wood, later vacated by 4th Bde., with No.1 Platoon as head of the column. The Company to be in position ready to move at 2145 hrs. At approximately 2100 hrs 30 Corps Artillery supporting the Div. opened up a terrific bombardment on a wood which was occupied by the enemy just South of our position and through which we had to pass. This bombardment was at 2115 hrs answered by the enemy who put down everything he had into our area, making the forming up of the Company very difficult and hazardous. To add to the difficulties the enemy set fire to almost all the houses we were occupying.
1925 - The Company started to move out.
2200 - The Company moved up from F.U.P.. It was now raining hard and the enemy guns and mortars were a little quieter. Two halts had been made so as to keep the Company closed up, when at approximately 2220 hrs whilst proceeding through the wood recently shelled by our artillery the head of the column was halted by a German M.G. post which immediately opened fire with at least two L.M.G's. The Commanding Officer and one Officer at the head of the column became casualties and part of the leading section. Little confusion was caused however and the enemy shooting became wild when '36' Grenades were thrown back at them. The 2nd i/c reformed the Company and taking a right hand sweep reached the river with the majority of the Company and crossed to the South bank, where the C.O. later rejoined being only slightly injured by a bullet grazing his nose and right eye. After passing through the 43rd Div. the Company were embussed and taken to barracks at NIJMEGEN.
26th September 1944
On calling the roll it ascertained that 5 Officers and 115 O.R's had been brought safely back across the river. Of these 6 were removed to hospital as their wounds were too severe to stand further travel. Thus out of 6 Officers and 180 O.R's 5 Officers and 115 O.R's were known to be safe. A very high percentage considering the sustained fighting in which the Company had been constantly involved. A further party of six men (unwounded) were known to have reached the river but unfortunately lost touch and failed to cross.
27th September 1944
After one night and one and a half days in NIJMEGEN the Company were embussed and taken to LOUVAIN, where they spent the night.
28th September 1944
1500 - The Company were taken to BRUSSELS airstrip and flown to SALTBY Airdrome near GRANTHAM in American C.47's. Thence back to barracks at NEWARK.
During the operation the Company destroyed 1 Tank MK.IV, 3 S.P. Guns, 1 Truck of ammunition with driver, 1 Motor Cycle Combination, 28 prisoners were captured and the number killed must have been well over 300.
Lt. General Boy Browning said of Dennis Cramps unit the 21st Independent Parachute Company at Arnhem on the 27th of September 1944 to the OC Major Wilson..................... " I have heard on every side how outstanding your company has done. To have earned this special praise from such a gallant body can only mean one thing- that your unit is unsurpassed by any other in the world. Please tell your chaps what a terrific reputation they have earned.
"She's still the same gorgeous girl I met 56 years ago".
Written and compiled by:
Gil Boyd B.E.M
8 th June 2006 COPYRIGHT