Twenty one men from 223 Coy RASC, six from 800 Company RASC, 27 from 253Airborne Division Composite Company RASC, nineteen from 63 Airborne Division Composite Company, and eight from 799 Air Despatch Company RASC died during Operation ‘Market Garden’ in September 1944.
The Annual Church Service, Down Ampney
The annual church service was initiated by the Down Ampney Association many years ago but this year coincided with the unveiling of the Air Despatch Association plaque to honour the Air Despatchers lost in supporting OPERATION ‘MARKET GARDEN’ and witnessed the interning of Alan Hartley’s ashes, who had been such a driver to events in Down Ampney and the Church.
Unsurprisingly the church was full and we were honoured to have some of Alan’s family present and original members of the Armed Forces who served at Down Ampney. Vice Admiral Sir Tomothy Laurence in his capacity of Vice Chairman Commonwealth War Graves Commission was on hand to unveil the plaque. It was a very fitting tribute to see Alan Hartley’s ashes cask bearing the stained glass window he had worked so hard to secure for Down Ampney. After a service inside the church, those present went round to the Garden of Remembrance at the rear of the church for the two ceremonies, both Memorials were fitting of the men they recognised and well done to all those involved.
RIGHT: Memorial to Dakota FZ626. Photo: George Dick
Dakota FZ626 had developed a trimming fault so it was not used for the first two glider drops on the first two days of Market Garden (Sept. 17/18, 1944) but on the 19th, the first resupply operation, it was necessary to get as many Dakotas into the air as possible, so Pilot Officer Len Wilson agreed to take FZ262. His crew were Flt. Sgt. Bert Osborne, Second Pilot; Flt. Sgt. Les Graydon, Navigator; Flt. Sgt. Reg French, Wireless Operator. The four Despatchers were L/Cpl. Grace and drivers Jenkinson, Newth and Dilworth.
They took off from Down Ampney at 12.35 hrs. Their brief was to fly into the dropping zone at 500 ft. at 120 mph in a straight line for two minutes.
Unfortunately, because radio contact was non-existent, they were not advised that the dropping zone had been captured by the Germans and the whole area was ringed by anti-aircraft guns. So when our unarmed planes came in without a fighter escort they were met with a wall of bursting shrapnel and a hail of small arms fire.
Len Wilson fortunately flew through this without being hit, but as he pulled away an anti-aircraft gun at the edge of a wood shot him down.
An eye witness reported that three parachutes came out of the Dakota and the pilot tried to crash his craft on the gun site which had shot him down in an effort to protect those behind him. But he must have died at the last minute, slumping over the controls, for he veered off to the left and struck a tree, and crashed into a garden, partly demolishing a house.
Four bodies were taken out of the wreckage and buried in the garden; these were Wilson, Osborne, French and Grace. Driver Newth was seriously injured and taken to hospital where he died.
When the war ended the bodies were re-interred at the Airborne Cemetery at Oosterbeek, where it was noted that in the middle of these graves was a gravestone to “An Unknown Airman”. Because the bodies from the garden had all been buried together and because the aircrew and despatchers were all known, it could not possibly be an unknown airman. A letter from HQ of the Air Despatch Regiment assured that all the despatchers were killed in action.
This information conflicted with that of the eye witness who said three people had baled out. After some research, it was proved that Drivers Dilworth and Jenkinson were taken prisoners of war, as was Graydon. It was known that Wilson, Osborne and French had been buried in the garden and Newth had died in hospital. So that left only L/Cpl James Grace, positively identifying the “Unknown Airman”. The stone was replaced with one giving the correct inscription.