Lest We Forget


Private Albert BREAKSPEAR, 5th Battalion Dorset Regiment.
When Albert Breakspear of Highworth was seventeen and a half years old he joined the local Home Guard and was in Phineas Archer's platoon along with several other young lads of that age. During that time it was thought that the German forces would invade Britain. Part of the job of the Home Guard was look out duties which included a platoon of men on St Michaels church tower which was a good vantage point for looking over the Thames Valley. This area was a prime target for airborne landings.
Some evenings when it was quiet, 70 year old Platoon Commander Phineas Archer, would say to the lads keep a good look out I am just going down to see Mrs Baydon at the King & Queen Inn on some business. Of course they all knew it was for a pint of beer or a whisky to warm himself up. After a few months in the Home Guard Albert Breakspear was sent to Gloucester for war work at Rotal Airscrews which was situated on the outskirts of Gloucester. He was found lodgings but was only there for a few weeks. He then had a phone call from his parents informing him that his call up papers had arrived and he was to report for active service. He was then 18 years old, and had to report to Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire, travelling by rail with all expenses paid.
On arrival at Swindon railway station he found there was about one hundred others waiting to make the same journey. On arrival at Woodhall Park they were picked up by army lorries and taken to camp which was mostly Nissen Huts and very cold. This was in January 1940 with snowdrifts up to four feet or more. At that time they were issued with one blanket each and were still wearing their civies. Thankfully this was only a temporary stop and they were eventually sent out to different Regiments. Albert had applied for the Royal Navy, but was drafted to the Somerset Light Infantry. He was then sent to Grimsby for basic training and was billeted in a long row of houses by the railway lines. This was just after Dunkirk and there was only one rifle to 25 men, the others were issued with broomsticks but had to take it in turns to use the rifle. They were then issued with a pair of boots, and after about another six weeks each man was issued with a uniform. (all different sizes). After training with route marches etc. each man was then issued with a rifle.

Albert Breakspear was then sent to an army camp under canvas about two miles outside of Hastings in Kent. He was then transferred to the 5th Battalion Dorset Regiment and moved to a camp consisting of Bell tents near Dover. During this time the Germans were shelling the British mainland at regular intervals. Explosions sent shrapnel through tents cutting the canvas and making it very hazardous for the men. His first experience of someone being killed was when a group of about thirty ATS women who were waiting at a bus stop was killed instantly by a German shell. Albert was then stationed in the Queens Hotel at Margate.
Eventually, the men were then taken to the docks and put on board a large boat crammed solid with men and equipment. They then set sail to the Isle of Wight, dropped anchor and waited for about three or four days. They then set sail for the French coast and Normandy. Part way over they transferred to Landing Craft for landing on the Normandy beaches at Courseulles-Sur-Mer. When they went down the ramp they found themselves up to their necks in water, but eventually they got ashore and made progress inland. They moved on through the French village of Mont Fleury where destruction was everywhere. After a week going forward all the time, they arrived about two miles from Caen. Enemy action had been severe with the battalion suffering casualties all the time. Just after the first week of July the 5th Dorsets were involved in the battle of Hill 112 which was around the villages of Evrecy, Esquay and Maltot. The British came up against the resistance of the German 10th Panzer Division, with the men under intense shell and mortar fire, with supporting tanks suffering from 88mm guns. There was particularly heavy fighting around Maltot which was their objective. During this time Pte. Albert Breakspear sustained severe wounds to his right leg with bullets passing right through one side and out the other. He lapsed into a state of semi-consciousness, and is convinced that if it had been the Germans advancing instead of the British he would have been shot dead, because that is what happened to many of the badly wounded men on either side. Eventually he was picked up by British medics and brought back to Carpiquet Aerodrome near Caen where he was put into a Dakota transport aircraft and brought back to Blakehill airfield near Cricklade in Wiltshire. He was then transported by Field Ambulance to Stratton St Margaret Hospital near Swindon. After an operation and recuperation he was then taken by ambulance to Swindon railway station and then by train to Morriston Hospital in Swansea. After getting fit again he was then sent to Stoke-on-Trent, and in September 1944, was sent to Harwich to board a ship for the Hook of Holland where he joined his unit the 5th Dorsets. Along with the 7th Hampshires they were sent to help clear up Nijmegen and to guard the great Nijmegen bridges.

At the end of September l944 the Dorsets were near Driel with the village of Oosterbeek just over the other side of the Neder Rijn. The plan was to get across the river to help reinforce the battered airborne troops around Arnhem. All this time German 88mm guns and mortars were firing at the British troops and were able to repel the attacks, eventually on the 5th October the Dorsets handed over to the Americans. During December 1944 the Germans hurled their 5th & 6th Panzer Armies against the Americans in the Ardennes, and the 5th Dorsets was one of the British battalions sent to help out if needed. The 5th Dorsets did not go into action during the Ardennes offensive. It was during this time that Albert Breakspear had is twenty-first birthday spending most of the time in a slit-trench keeping watch on the enemy. He said they could see the German soldiers playing a piano-accordian and singing songs only about one hundred yards away. But they had orders not to shoot at them because this would have given their positions away. After about three weeks of this they then moved on.
The British Army then moved fast and the Dorsets eventually found themselves in Hamburg in Germany. With the end of the war in May 1945, Albert was stationed in Spandau Barracks in Berlin, mostly doing patrols. After a while he was sent back to England and demobed. He then worked for over twenty years as a blacksmith in the Great Western Railway factory in Swindon, later for Percy Chick & Sons, Building Contractors, Highworth.

5577302 Private Reginald EDWARDS, 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment.
Reg Edwards was called up for Military service in March 1942 and proceeded to Reservoir Camp, "C" Wiltshire Regiment Infantry Training Centre. After three months of training he then did a three month signals course. He was then sent to the Isle of Wight for about six weeks to Golden Hill Fort and was stationed there with Stanley Smith, and Percy Jefferies from Highworth, who were also in the Wilts Regiment at that time. Much of the time was spent in an Observation Post on the Needles while in the 7th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment.

Reg was then transferred to the 5th Battalion, B Company and went to Eythorne in Kent. After a short while they were moved to Dover and Deal along the coast, which at that time was virtually a front line posting.
At Christmas 1942, Reg was home on leave, returning to camp at Deal on Boxing Day. While at Deal he went on a refresher course on signals. Much of the training was on the local golf course which had been turned into the battalions assault course. Eventually the battalion made several moves, firstly to Wootton, and then Maidstone both in Kent, and then for a short time out of the county to Crowbourgh in Sussex.
Reg was then transferred back to a Signal Platoon at Hawkhurst and then to Hassocks, in Sussex, and finally to Newhaven, Sussex for the assault on Normandy.

Highworth Historical Society

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Our Next Monthly Guest Speaker

26th March 2018
The The Archaeology and Early History of Highworth.
by Mike Stone.
With the new building work in the town finds of the early settlers are being made all the time. Areas include
the Cricklade Road area, The Willows and Priory Green.

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