SAPPER TOM "CHIPPY" CARPENTER
9 th FIELD COMPANY– ROYAL ENGINEERS
1 st AIR LANDING BRIGADE
BORN: 20 th July 1924
SCHOOL: Jenkins Street Senior Boys School
FIRST JOB: Worked in a Paperwork’s Factory in Birmingham aged 14years
At the outbreak of war became an ARP Messenger boy.
In early 1940 Tom joined the Local Defence Volunteers later renamed the Home
Guard at the age of 15. He should have been 17, but lied so he could carryout this duty with his piers.
In 1942, he went down to his local Army recruiting office and enlisted into the General Service Corps.
He commenced his training with the Kings Liverpool Regiment at Formby.
In late 1942 he was posted to Kitchener Barracks at Chatham in Kent, with 7 Training Battalion Royal Engineers. He too, like Bob Jones, volunteered for parachuting whilst at Chatham. He was posted to Bulford and then to Ringway near Manchester to commence his training.
Following his successful parachute course he was sent back to Bulford, joining the 9 th Field Company, Royal Engineers.
This company were always intended to be a Glider Borne unit.
On the 16 th of April 1943 Tom and the 9 th Field Company, Royal Engineers Airborne, sailed on the M.S Bouvaine from Gaurak on the Clyde, landing in North Africa on the 22 nd of April.
The unit spent many weeks training at various locations in early 1944 such as the North Yorkshire Moors and the Derbyshire countryside. Tom remembers being told early on the morning of Tuesday the 6 th of June 1944 about the landings at Normandy whilst in his billet in Lincolnshire. At 10 am he together with his comrades were placed into trucks and driven to Bulford. Again the frustration of planning and training, and the waiting for 16 Operations, on day 3 of the landings. In the end Tom and his unit were never needed in Normandy.
At 1030hrs on Sunday the 17 th of September 1944, Tom and his platoon commanded by Lt Timmins, were loaded onto Horsa Glider number 392/395 Chalk 15, at RAF Keevel, with the with the rest of the brigade. They formed up over the Bristol Channel, then turned east over Weston –Super-Mare. Just south of Weston at a place called Paulton, was where one of the gliders number RJ113 lost its tail and crashed killing all 21 sappers and the 2 pilots.. It was later thought to have been an explosion of ordnance on board.
At exactly 1.15 pm that afternoon, they landed on the Pathfinder prepared LZ at Wolfheze near Arnhem. They met sporadic fire from German ground troops as they landed. Due to the loss of the 21 sappers from 1 Platoon on route, a reinforced section was detached from 2 Platoon 9 Field Company to carryout the tasks set for the fated 1 Platoon lads. "This left us with 38 men to take and hold the Railway Bridge south of Oosterbeek. We formed up with Lt Colonel John Frost’s column, and followed them" said Tom.
It was about 6 pm when Lt Peter Barry was severely wounded when the span of the Railway bridge was blown up as they were about a third of the way across.
At 9pm Captain O’Callaghan withdrew from those early positions around the railway bridge, and took up defensive positions in the town.
"At 11pm that evening I remember a massive explosion, where one of the lads with a flame thrower, was using it to clear a pill box on the town side of the bridge, when he ignited the ammunition hut next to it. We then moved towards the road bridge with John Frost and took up positions on the West side of the ramp to the bridge. There was really heavy street fighting at this stage " remembers Tom.
Early the next morning, Major Wallace was accidentally shot and killed by one of the Bren Gunners. A major fire fight had just been happening when he stumbled through the door of one of the defended houses. After no response to a clear challenge, the gunner opened up. A sad loss to the formation at that particular time.
"On the 20 th and early on the 21 st September, I was wounded in the legs and back with shrapnel, as the ferocity of the attacks became more and more effective by the Germans". Tom spent much of his wounded time now with 2 PARA in Hofstratt, the Battalion and Brigade HQ in a slit trench.
"In the early hours of Thursday morning, we tried desperately to break out." That was the last Tom saw of any of his colleagues. A solitary SS Officer and a soldier shouted out orders to us all as they had clearly overrun the position. Tom was cas-evaced to the St Elizabeth Hospital in Arnhem for initial treatment to his wounds. Later he was moved the German held dressing station at Apeldorn where he received no treatment. He was then together with other wounded comrades loaded onto cattle trucks on the railway line, after a two day journey taken to Kassel in Germany as a POW. They inspected his wounds there, but the journey had not ended for Tom. He was then placed on a narrow gauge railway, on another three day journey to Fallingbostel to STALAG 11B. Tom had to suffer the pain of the injuries he received at the bridge for a further five months with very little medical assistance, until one day he collapsed. He was taken immediately to a German civilian hospital for an Xray. Then he was returned to camp, where a British Medical team held Tom down and performed life saving surgery to remove a large piece of shrapnel from his back without anaesthetic. Tom passed out from the pain and awoke clutching the shrapnel in his fist. He believes he had an out of body experience and swears he watched from the ceiling the doctors perform the operation.
He was finally liberated on the 16 th of April 1945 by the 7 th Armoured Division.
RETURN TO ENGLAND
Tom was flown into Blackbush Airfield and was placed into the 97 Rehabilitation Unit at Great Missenden near Windsor. He was de-kitted and sent home on repatriation leave soon afterwards to recuperate as well.
On return to his unit, he was sent to Hatfield where he was discharged from the Service due to the injuries he had received on the 10 th of September 1945, nearly one year to the day since the Battle for Arnhem.
Work was hard to find on Tom’s return to civvy street, and after four brief jobs found long term employment with LUCAS Fire & Security Company, where he stayed for a further 40 years.
I interviewed both Bob Jones and Tom Carpenter , Arnhem veterans at the 2 PARA REUNION in Blackpool on the 10 th of February 2007. It was an honour to meet two brave and selfless men, who survived the Battle for Arnhem and other battles, and could now find it the right time to speak about their experiences. Bob’s story is to follow, when he is well enough.
After 60 years, they had never related any of their respective stories before, and both found this experience quite daunting, so long after the battle. These stories are only a tip of the iceberg!!
I would like to thank them both for their understanding and the stories surrounding the events that occurred in their own words. It was the emotional stories that these two men relayed to me, which must now be immortalised for all to realise the sacrifice they made, during that ill fated 10 days in September 1944, and the suffering and pain they still feel, that made this Regiment what it is today.
I salute you…………….. UTRINQUE PARATUS.
Compiled and written by Gil Boyd B.E.M Ex 2 PARA
Photos of Tom at Blackpool 2007 2 PARA REUNION and during the war.
Sapper Tom Chippy Carpenter
Tom has attended the 2 Para Reunion Club's annual reunions at Blackpool for many years now. He is highly revered by all who attend, he really enters into the spirit of the week-end, and never misses our Saturday afternoon visits to the legion, where I must say many, a lot younger than he some times do.