A Reluctant Despatcher
A. (Ted) Denham
I was a reluctant forced ‘volunteer’ for Air Despatch and tried to get excused, but to no avail. So, early in September 1944, I joined 749 Coy at Broadwell, and after a weeks crash course was put on standby for the Arnhem drops. We were on alert four or five times, each time being stood down for a variety of reasons; no DZ, mist etc. We never got to fly over Arnhem and were disappointed that we had been unable to do anything as we were all set to go with the adrenaline flowing. By that time, my reluctance to be a Despatcher had vanished.
Later, whilst doing a training drop at night, one of our Dakota’s engines stopped somewhere over Swindon. The pilot ordered a load jettison, so out went the panniers. The next morning we had to go around Swindon in a three-tonner to collect them. We were told that one pannier was on the roof of a cinema, and sure enough it was. On the flat roof was a pannier, but without a parachute. When asked, the cinema manager said that he had no knowledge of any parachute, but could we remove the ‘basket’ as soon as possible. I think that all the panniers were recovered, but only half of the parachutes.
In January 1945 I was posted to 729 Coy and went to Belgium in March. We were stationed in Brussels and prepared for the Rhine Crossing. Once again, we were disappointed at not being called upon. We returned to England and went to an American Air Base in Norfolk. I managed to get a trip to Stavanger in Norway, where I was made very welcome by the Norwegian Partisans who were holding a few hundred German POW in a camp just outside the town. Whilst we were having a little drink inside the guard room, a German officer who had been drinking came in shouting and brandishing a Luger. As I was unarmed and the only person in uniform, it looked a bit nasty, but the Norwegians quickly disarmed him and the situation passed safely.
Later in 1945 I was posted to a G.T. Company in India and reluctantly had to remove my Dakota arm flash which I was very proud to wear, and replace it with the famous Crossed Keys. I still look back with pride at the time I spend with Air Despatch. I have the Dakota arm flash in a frame on the wall with my service medals.