“This great and noble undertaking.” To Valley End for D Day.

Over 70 years ago, during World War II, Valley End was transformed. To the north of Brick Hill, reaching the base of Fox Hill and the junction of Chobham and Chertsey Roads, was a settlement of Nissen huts, with roads and a parade ground.

This was the Camp, and many local people have memories of the Canadian servicemen stationed there during the War.

Here is the story of one of them, Private Peter Paul Desabrais.

ps_2017_02_09___13_05_11.jpg

Private Peter Paul Desabrais. (Image courtesy of Joan Weymouth.)

Desabrais was a member of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. After having been   recruited in Canada he was trained at Fort Benning in Georgia, USA. On 13th February 1943 he qualified, after completing 5 jumps from an aircraft.

In July 1943, with 31 officers and 547 other men, he sailed for England aboard the Queen Elizabeth, arriving in Scotland on July 28th 1943.

It was then that he was sent to Valley End. The Camp was the No. 1 Canadian Base Staging Camp.

Desabrais wasn’t there long. It may only have been a week or so before the Battalion moved to Carter Barracks, Bulford, near Salisbury. It was enough time for him to get to know the Millard family, and to give them give a photograph of himself outside his mother’s house in Montreal, “as a souvenir.”

Salisbury Plain must have been seething with troops in preparation for D Day, the invasion of Europe.

large_000000

Winston Churchill fires an American .30 carbine during a visit to the US 2nd Armoured Division on Salisbury Plain, 23 March 1944. (Image courtesy Imperial War Museum.)

Although most of the men who fought on D Day were British, American or Canadian, there were in all 2 million troops from over 12 countries involved. One of them was Desabrais.

D Day was the most massive combined sea, land and air operation ever known. There were 2 elements. First, an airborne assault landed 18,000 Allied paratroopers. Second, almost 7,000 vessels landed troops on the Normandy beaches.

large_000000

The Airborne Assault: Major General R N Gale OBE MC, the commander of 6th Airborne Division, talking to troops of 5th Parachute Brigade before they emplane at Royal Air Force Harwell on the evening of 4 or 5 June. (Image courtesy of Imperial War Museum.)

The 1st Canadians, under the command of the 3rd Parachute Battalion, were part of the airborne assault. They were due to land 1 hour in advance of the rest of the Battalion.

This meant that when the Canadians, including Desabrais, assembled by the aircraft on the evening of June 5th 1944, “the start of the first engine signalled the beginning of the invasion of Normandy, and the departure of the armada for Hitler’s fortress, Europe.”[1]

large_000000

“The drop,” by Albert Richards, 1944. (Image courtesy Imperial War Museum.)

The Battalion fought well on D Day, and in the Battle of Normandy afterwards, but this came at a heavy price. When Desabrais returned with the remaining Canadians to Carter Barracks in September 1944, he left many of his comrades behind. Of 27 officers, only 3 survived. Of the 516 men of other ranks, 343 had died.

Because of these losses, the unit had to be reorganised before they returned to the conflict. This was done, and on Christmas Day 1944 Desabrais sailed with the Battalion for Ostend in Belgium.

The Canadians joined the 6th British Airborne Forces to take part in the Battle of the Ardennes. Sergeant Anderson, a veteran of this campaign, remembered it; “My recollection at this point is that the Ardennes was not so much covered with glory, as extreme hardship and misery.”[2]

large_000000.jpg

The Ardennes Offensive. The German Counter Offensive 16-22 December 1944: Stavelot church standing amid the ruins of the town which was briefly recaptured by the Germans on 19 December.(Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.)

They must have been relieved to return to Britain in February 1945. It seems that Desabrais did not return to Europe with the Battalion after this point.

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion continued to fight. With the British 2nd Army they crossed the Rhine and Germany to reach Wismar on the Baltic Sea, 2 hours before the Russians. By this time the War was drawing to a close, and finished 6 days later. In June 1945 the Canadians returned home.

large_000000.jpg

Men of 6th Airborne Division greet the crew of a Russian T-34/85 tank during the link-up of British and Soviet forces near Wismar on the Baltic coast, 3 May 1945. (Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.)

Peter Paul Desabrais had travelled thousands of miles during his war service, and had fought in the invasion of Europe. He would have taken back with him incredible memories of war and conflict. But among those powerful experiences there would have been a peaceful interlude at Valley End, and  friendship with a local family, who kept his photograph as a souvenir.

For a personal view of service with the 1st Parachute Battalion in D Day, the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Ardennes, read this account by Henry Churchill. (Link)

*************************************

We have not been able to contact Peter Paul Desabrais or his family, but if you know anything about him we would be very glad to hear from you.

Sources

“1st Canadian Parachute Battalion; Nominal Roll.” Compiled by Sid Carignan. 2002.

“Out of the clouds; the history of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.” John A. Willes. Published Canada. P. L. Jackson, 1981.

“The first Canadian Parachute battalion; a brief history,” by Captain Todd Strickland. The Army Training and Doctrine Bulletin; Canada’s professional journal on Army issues. Vol. 3, no. 1. Spring 2000. pp. 31 –39. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/D12-9-3-1E.pdf

Imperial War Museum http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-10-things-you-need-to-know-about-d-day

Juno Beach Centre. https://www.junobeach.org/canada-in-wwii/articles/1st-canadian-parachute-battalion/

With many thanks to Joan Weymouth.

Title from “Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” Dwight D. Eisenhower.

[1] From “Out of the clouds; the history of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.” John A. Willes. 1981

[2] From “The first Canadian Parachute battalion; a brief history.” By Captain Todd Strickland.

Advertisements

The Prisoners of War on Chobham Common. By Ron Little.

 

Prisoners of War on Chobham Common. by Ron Little.

Copy of German prisoner of war at Valley End

Henry, a German Prisoner of war at Brick Hill. He worked at Slococks Nursery, and helped Mr.Millard with his bees, as he had his own bees in Germany. (Image courtesy of J. End.)

The German POW camp was built on Chobham Common during the last war. It was situated to the west of Fox Hill and practically opposite Brick Hill.

 

large_000000

A general view of a group of Nissen huts amongst trees at a German Prisoner of War camp, somewhere in Britain.. (Image courtesy of IMW)

During daytime, quite a number of the POW’s were employed under guard working on farms. But they must have spent much of their leisure hours at handicrafts and produced a number of well made articles. Among these were concertina-type sewing boxes. These were sold locally for £1: we still have one of these boxes, still in excellent condition and still in use today.

large_000000

German Prisoners of War in Britain; everyday life at a German POW Camp, UK, 1945. (Image courtesy of IMW.)

On the Brick Hill side of the road, the POW’s had quite a good football pitch. Although it was rather stony, it served its purpose adequately. The POW’s were keen footballers and produced an excellent team which played matches against other POW teams on Sundays. The football played was first class and these matches always attracted many of the local football enthusiasts. Whilst the matches were in progress the rest of the POWs would line the sides of the pitch and in unison would voice their opinions of the referee in the few words of English that they knew. At times this caused considerable embarrassment especially if there happened to be ladies present! They were a first class team and among their players was a pre-war Austrian International player. But the star of their team was the goalkeeper who after the war settled in this country and became a professional footballer – playing as goalkeeper for Manchester City. His name was Bert Trautman.

800px-Sculpture_of_Bert_Trautmann

Sculpture of Bert Trautmann at the Manchester City Museum, Manchester, UK. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

As time went on they were able to play against local football teams but proved far too good for our lads.

It was 2 – 3 years after the end of hostilities before the POW’s were repatriated. I think it was Christmas 1946 that they were allowed to walk freely around the district. It was at this time that I was visiting my parents who then lived in the shop which is now Suttons the Bakers. Somebody happened to say that there were a couple of POW’s outside. My Father said, “Why not invite them in?” After a while they were eventually persuaded to come indoors where they enjoyed mince pies and a glass of wine. Really it proved rather emotional as one of my brothers who had only just returned from Germany came in and of course the POW’s were very keen to gain first hand knowledge of the state of their country.

large_000000

 

German Prisoners of War mend boots and shoes at their PoW camp, somewhere in Britain. They are working in a Nissen hut which is being used as a cobbler’s shop. (Image courtesy IMW)

 

There were a number of people in the village who befriended the POW’s. Among them were my sister and brother-in-law: they were good friends with a couple of these POW’s, who would often call in for a cup of tea and cakes. What I must mention is how this particular pair of POW’s constructed a lovely wooden rabbit hutch, and pushed it, complete with a young rabbit, on a wheelbarrow all the way from Chobham Common to Chertsey Road, and presented it to my young nephew as a gift in return for the kindness shown to them. Eventually repatriation was completed and the POW’s returned home: but not all of them, as some had met local girls whom they married and settled in this country. I know there were one or two in this district who no doubt could tell many tales of their time as POW’s on Chobham Common.

 

**********************************

This article was originally published in the Windlesham Magazine in August, 1991.

Although I have tried to contact Mr. Little or his family, I have not been able to find them. If you know anything about Ron Little, I would be very glad to hear from you.