Lest We Forget

 

Dear Mr Archer,
In a recent telephone conversation with Colonel David Wood, he told me of the letter you had written to him and sent me a photocopy of same, which I received on the 6th February. I knew Jesse Cheesley fairly well, we served in the same seven man section in two operations, Pegasus Bridge on D Day and in the Ardennes during the winter of 1944/45. I moved to another platoon in D Company for the Rhine Crossing operation. I was perhaps some 60 to 100 yards from his position on the day/night that he died.
We were taking part in a night advance (31-3-45) attack to secure a position in a fortified wooded area some three miles north east of the town of Greven which in turn is close to Munster. Sometime about mid-morning (1-4-45) I was told that he had been found, along with a close friend, Lt Cpl. Ginger Thomas, dead in their slit trench.
We had suffered a fair bit of shelling during the night of 31-3-45 and early hours of 1-3-45. I have enclosed a copy of a letter I received several years ago which indicates that he was perhaps killed by the blast from a shell. On the evening of 5th April my number came up. I received four bullet wounds in an encounter with a machine gun.
Out of the original seven man section only one now remained, three were killed in action, two were POW's, I was a casualty, that left Private "Taffy" Malpas to carry on the war.
Today Jesse and Ginger lie close together in the Reichswald War Graves cemetery which is close to Kleve in the heart of the Reichswald Forest.
I have visited their graves on several nostalgic journeys into the past. These men were closer to me than brothers, I can never forget their comradeship under the most trying conditions a human being had to endure. Jesse was a good soldier, a quiet very polite lad who to my knowledge never fell out with anybody. Together in 24 Platoon, in the same seven- man section we were a close team. Each in turn depended on his comrades, whatever the situation. We shared the same Horsa glider in our journey to capture Pegasus Bridge. We fought together for the next tweny-four hours to hold it.
He landed in the third glider to crash-land, this Horsa landed the farthest from the bridge in third in line. That's why 24 Platoon were given the No 2 task of taking on the German inner defence system, led by David Wood we speedily captured the fortified position within ten minutes at a cost to us of three casualties, Lt Wood received three wounds to his leg, Jesse Cheesley helped to render first aid to the casualties in this his first action. I am enclosing several items and photographs for your retention. If I can be of further help to you please do not hesitate to ask.

Yours Sincerely

Harry Clark.

The following is an extract from the letter sent to Harry Clark, from Jack Bailey, ex 25 Platoon, D Company, 2nd Bn OBLI. Letter dated 3rd February 1991.

Denis White, a friend of Jesse Cheesley died at the Rhine. Cheesley died during the night before we crossed the broken bridge at Greven on the Dortmand- Ems canal. P----- Brooks and yours truly found Jesse Cheesley's body in a slit trench when taking tea around the area. He probably died from blast. He appeared to be unmarked. At first glance we thought he was asleep.

Lance Corporal Jesse Cheesley died of wounds on Easter Sunday 1st April 1945. He is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Cleves, Germany. The cemetery lies within the Reichswald Forest on the road between Kleve (Cleves) in Germany and Gennep in the Netherlands, on the German side of the border and about five kilometres south-west of Kleve. Jesse Cheesley was twenty years old when he lost his life. He had joined the army in 1941, first being in the Dorset Regiment, and later voluntering for the Airborne Division. He was born at Inglesham near Highworth, and was the third son of Harry and Elizabeth Cheesley. Before the war he lived with his sister Mrs Mary Woolford in Swindon, and was educated at Even Swindon school.

11264660 Private Dennis Harold SMITH. 1st Battalion The Buffs, (Royal East Kent Regiment) Killed in action 13th April 1945. The year opened much as 1944 had finished, in mud and filthy weather. But there had to be some offensive action. The Canadians advanced on the coastal plain, now frost hardened, to the coastal lake of Comacchio. They were joined by 56 Division and continued their advance to the River Senio, capturing the jumping off area for the assault on the river and Granarolo in the face of stiff opposition and of the weather there was, however, no hope of crossing the river until the spring. The final offensive opened on 1st April, Easter Sunday, along the spit of land separating Lake Comacchio from the sea, and was entirely successful. The next attack to cross the Senio and then the River Santerno was supported by massive air and artillery bombardment and flame-throwing tanks. This was carried out with great success. But the 8th Army was still attacking at Argenta with 56th and 78th Divisions. On the morning of the 12th April 1945, along with others, the 1st Battalion of The Buffs (East Kents) were chosen to take the Fossa Marina. The main objectives of the 1st Battalion were a bridge over the Fossa Marina on the shores of the flooded expansion of Lake Comacchio, six miles north-west of Menate, and a second important bridge to the south of it and about a thousand yards inland. Their strength was 34 officers and 785 men. They were to go in at the appointed hour of 4.30am on the 13th April with the help of thirty-eight Buffaloes of the 715th US Tank Battalion. Finally the men, equipment, and vehicles were loaded on to the Buffaloes which was to be a fateful action of a character unique in their story. After five hours progress across the floods the convoy reached its dispersal area about 10.30am. The Germans anticipating the attack had moved the 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of 29 Division to meet it. No opposition was met by 'C' Company until they were within a hundred yards from the shore when all hell was let loose. The company inevitably suffered severely. All the Buffaloes were hit and set ablaze, and in only one case could a ramp be let down. Men leapt over the sides to make their way as best they might through five feet of water under enfilade fire from machineguns on right and left, but an officer and thirty-seven men had been killed before the company could gain the shelter of the bank. 'A' Company, like 'C' on the right, also came in for a hot reception. Eventually the bridge over the Fossa Marina was finally taken and was now firmly held. 'B' and 'D' Companies who had been in reserve were then brought into action, with the result they both suffered casualties. 'C' Company who had been in some severe fighting and suffered many casualties, both dead and wounded were determined to stay where they were, but at about 6pm an enemy party approached their position under cover of a Red Cross flag, offering to dress the wounded and evacuate the more serious cases. There being no stretcher-bearers or medical kit left, this offer was accepted. The Fossa Marina was taken at last, although not without further significant casualties, and Argenta was occupied. The battle of Argenta Gap was from the 13th to the 31st April 1945.

It was during the first day of this battle, which had seen some very severe fighting, that Private Dennis Smith was killed in action at the age of 24 years. He was the son of Henry George and Leah Smith of High Street, Highworth, Wiltshire.

Argenta Gap war cemetery is one of those which mark the last stages of the campaign in Italy in the spring of 1945. The "Gap", a narrow corridor carrying Highway 16 between areas flooded from Lake Comacchio on the east and impassable marshes on the west was the approach to the valley of the Po north-east Italy, and as such was fiercely defended by the Germans. Many who died in the hard fighting here lie in the war cemetery, it was later enlarged to take graves from the surrounding district. It is little more than a mile north of Argenta town. The graves, lying in four plots, are planted with many flowers, including orange Triumph roses, which flourish in the good soil of this part of ltaly.

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