Dennis Collier

156th Parachute Battalion

Can you tell me your full name, your service number and who you served with?

Dennis, 5734402, my service number. It was the Dorset Regiment number.When I was in the Dorsets that was. Then I joined the Paras in 1941, very early. Well I was one of the first thousand to be in the Paras.

Can you tell me a little about where you were born?

I was born at 237 Stanton Road Burton-on-Trent. And, thats where I was born then we moved to, my Dad was a farmer and we moved to Dessford. Lindesfield Farm, I can always remember that and thats where I was and then I came from there, well came back, my Dad died in the day before Coronation Day. He died with cancer and it was my turn to sit up with him that night, he sat in the front room, he lay in a bed in the front room. I said to him just before night me and my brother had worked out our time and scrounged the money to get a little, it had just come out, a little 9 inch television.. I dont know if you remember them. Little 9 inch television, we bought him that between us and I said to him about five to twelve, “Well, it will soon be Coronation, you may as well sit and watch it while we are out at the graft”, and he says “No, I wont be watching it”. I lay on this basket chair at the side of him, side of the bed and something just woke me up. I woke up and just looked at him like that and honest, he just went and died at a minute to bloody twelve… he said he wouldn’t see it and he didnt.

Can you remember the build up to war?

The buildup to war, yeah I can… I was in the Home Guard. Walking round the fields with a shotgun.

And what was it like being in the Home Guard?

It was alright we had good fun. Yeah we had good fun. It was a lot of older men than me I mean I was only young but a lot of old soldiers from the First World War in it and some were walking about with sticks and all sorts of things but I had got my own shotgun.

Did you volunteer or were you conscripted?

I volunteered.

Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Well, me Dad was in the First World War and I gave him them the wrong age to tell you the truth and my Dad tried to get me back because… he was in the Battle of the Somme and he knew what he went through and he didnt want me to go through it and he tried to get me to stop and I said “No I’m stopping in now Dad”. And I stopped in.

Why did you choose the Army or did the Army choose you?

No I chose the Army because to be quite honest I’m frightened to bloody death of water and I would get seasick, if I went on a rowing boat I was seasick so I wouldn’t have gone in the Navy because I would have deserted if they forced me into the Navy. I cant stand water. So I went in the Army instead and soon as Paras came up I joined the Paras. I was in when you used to wear just a rubber band round your head and a bit of canvas on the top and that was your helmet.

Can you tell me a little about the training, what sort of training.

Training was tough really tough, there was… well there was only about 50% of you qualified to get in in them days it was very very tough.

And what was the initial training like when you joined the Paras.

That was all it.

That was all quite new so what sort of…

Oh it was really tough I was saying, really tough I mean you only had 8 weeks training in the Army to pass for the Army, you had 8 weeks training and that was it you were a soldier.

And was there any point where you thought “What on earth have I done?”.

No I really enjoyed it to be quite honest with you Ive always been a loner and myself and I enjoyed it.

Do you think your training was sufficient, do you think you were prepared for what you went into?

I didnt think… I wasnt prepared for the training, the actual training and getting up and changing every half hour for different jobs and different teams I wasnt prepared for all that.

Were you excited or scared about what was coming?

No I was looking forward to it to be quite honest, well 90% was looking forward to it.

Where were you first posted?

Where was I first posted… oh dear… I can see it now but I cant remember it. Oh God… it was right down south. It’ll come to me in a bit.

Had you ever been abroad before?

Never, tell you the truth when eventually I went to Eastbourne, I was still in the Dorset Regiment then and we were posted in a big house on the seaside, thats a shell of one of the guns, a pom pom gun as they called them and a searchlight and I looked out and the sea was right up to the seawall. And I was like oh its the sea, as I had never seen the sea… next morning when I got up it were gone and I couldnt understand where all the water had gone! Shows how much I knew back then! First time I had ever seen the sea.

Can you tell us a little about the people you served with? What were your superiors like, your officers.

Well most officers were good but it was the young officers that were cocky and knew it all and knew nothing but most of the officers were very good there was one Major Page who was an old farmer, he got killed at Arnhem, and Major Page1, he was a gentleman he was.

What were the day to day living conditions like for you?

Some of the living conditions were good and some were bad.

Did you ever have enough food?

You never had enough food [laughs]. You were always hungry, and go to the NAAFI for a cup of tea and a bun, and a rock cake [laughs].

What was it like when you first saw action?

Well, I’m the same as everybody else to be quite honest… I shit myself. I’ll be honest with you. I was terrified. And anybody who said they weren’t… are liars.

What did you think about the places where you ended up, where you were stationed?

Some of the places were alright. Well, most of the places were alright, where we were billeted. But, the grub was always…if you were in a little company of your own, were they served, the cook cooked for about 10 or 15 in a unit, you were alright, your food was alright.

How did you cope with the fear on a daily basis, or was it not something you ever thought about?

What, fear? Never thought about it to be quite honest with you. Only when you went in action, that was the only time.

What sort of equipment did you have? Do you think it was sufficient for you?

Well the equipment was sufficient, yes. When we were at Arnhem, we got nothing, only rifles…against Tiger tanks… and they were a lot of good [laughs].

And what about your uniform? What did you think about it?

They were coarse. Always rough to your skin. And the blankets, thick Army blankets, rough things. You used to get three in summer and four in winter.

What battles were you involved in?

I was at D Day, Battle of Arnhem, and Palestine.

And were you ever wounded?

Yeah, I got shrapnel there [indicates right hand], you can see that there, and all little pitted all up my arms… you can’t see them at the moment but when my skins light you can see the little scars from little bits of shrapnel. That’s all.

What was it like being treated medically in the field?

That were quite good actually. We got some good medics. We got nothing in the prisoner of war camps. If you took ill you died. That was all there was to it. We got not medicines, nothing.

Can you tell me a little bit about DDay?

Well, we dropped at Caen on DDay. Because we were 156 Independent, they could pick us out and take us anywhere. We shouldn’t have been at Arnhem, emm, Caen, because we were 156 Independent, but I think they were a bit short and took our battalion.

And can you tell me about Arnhem?

Oh, that. Well it were tough, we were outnumbered 10 to 1 to start with. And it were really tough, nearly all hand to hand fighting there. And it was really bad. There was one incident, I’d rather not talk about. Cos, eh, well, I might as well tell you. It was the last, fourth day, I think it was. We were walking through the woods at Oosterbeek, two of us, another lad who [indistinct] Infantry, and we came across two old soldiers, supposed to be young Hitler Youth there, but they weren’t – they were all these battalions, recuperating there, all these Divisions. That’s why we were outnumbered 10 to 1. And the last, fourth day, we were walking through the woods in Oosterbeek, and come across these two old soldiers. They must’ve been getting on for sixty, cause that’s what they were supposed to be there. And they’d got two rifles, and my mate who were with me, I didn’t know him, only as Eric, and he’d got a rifle, and he’d only got one bullet. I’d got a rifle, no bullets. And these two soldiers come up to us, we both met in the thick wood, and they pulled their rifles up at us. My mate fired, and shot one of them and the other one come towards me, and I’d got nothing, only my fighting knife. And I just drawed that out, and as he come, I knocked his rifle on side and knifed him. And I’ve regretted it ever since because when we picked the rifles up they’d got no blooming bullets in their rifles at all. So, I’ll be quite honest, I still say it was murder really, cause they were unarmed, and I still say it was murder. It’s never gone out of my mind. If I ever see anybody on telly, kids, somebody being knifed, that’s the first thing that comes to me mind, and I’ve never forgotten it. In fact many a night I wake up dreaming about it, cause to me it was murder. And I’ve never forgotten it.

What happened towards the end of Arnhem?

We got took prisoner. We got took prisoner two or three hours after that. It were all over.

And which prisoner of war camp did you go to?

Oh, I went to three or four camps. 12A, 11B, I forget the number from [indistinct]. We went from there when we travelled five days in truck down to Sudetenland, on forced labour.

You got a tin of sauerkraut a day and that was all you got. I came home 7 stone 3

And what was your treatment like in your prison or camp by the guards

Well some of the guards were alright and some were brutal. The one we had at, when we were on forced labour… one guy, very good guy he was educated at Cambridge he used to come and tell us all the news, where our troops were and how far they had got and where they were going because we got told nothing like that. He used to come and sit and talk to us and tell us ‘We have lost the war’, which is no doubt about it he said, ‘We have lost the war, that’s it’.

And where were you when the war ended?

I was in Palestine.

And what was the general reaction?

Well Palestine were like being in Ireland. You didnt know who the enemy was at all. In Palestine I got brought home early because I don’t know if you remember a little terrorist named Shermain, he ended up as Prime… no what do you call them, they don’t call them Prime Ministers there. Oh God what do you call them… same as Saddam, what do they call him, they didnt call him Prime Minister there?


President that’s it!! He finished up as President and we used to raid 2 or 3 little villages in the afternoon but we never did catch him, you’d surround a village but you never did catch him and we went into one little village and we were searching the house and there was a woman in bed and we went in, 2 of us and she, as we went in drew a pistol from under the pillow but I got mine out first and shot her and after that I was confined to camp because I was Number One on the terrorist list and everywhere I went round the camp I had to have a guard with a rifle or pistol with me because we had got Palestinians working in the camp, washing dishes and sweeping roads and things like that and anyone of them could have got me, then after a fortnight I was in bed and I thought ‘What the hell is a (?) wagon doing up at this time, 2 o’clock in the morning and it had woke me up. So I get dressed and they took me out in an ambulance and escorted me back to the nearest aerodrome and they flew me home because I was on the terrorist hit list…

What did you do upon your return from war?

I did nothing actually because when I came out of the army I did nothing for quite a while because you had to have a green card to start work either down the mines or farming and I said I’m not going on none of them, so Im not going on none of them, I’ve been ordered about enough in the army and I just for about 2 months went from farm to farm helping and doing casual labour and then I got a job on the railway for a bit and then where did I go after the railway? Cant remember to tell you the truth? I was at the railway for a bit. Oh… I went lorry driving, cattle truck driving and all that right until I retired.

Have you ever returned to any of the places you fought?

Only Arnhem and France, I went to France a time or two.

And what was that experience like going back all those years later?

Well it reminded you of everything thats happened and same at Arnhem funnily enough I went back to Arnhem, we went to the tulip fields, thats where I got that little boat from, it were before, you know any troops were going to Arnhem and I went to the tulip fields on a private bus trip from when I lived at Kirkside Court at Harrogate, went on a bus trip to there and thats where I got that little boat from.

Do you often think back to the war?

Many a time. Sometimes I will lie in bed for hours thinking of what I had done and what I hadn’t done, all little things, you might be sitting here and something will just jump back to you. What Id done in the army or something I should have done and…

Did you stay in touch with anyone after the war that you served with?

Yes I stayed in touch with quite a few but they’ve all died now. Last one died about, well about 6 or 7 weeks ago he was in the 2nd Battalion, I didnt know him but my daughter, his daughter was a big friend of hers and she was going to see him they lived at York, she was going to see him and asked if I wanted a ride over with them. SO I said yeah I’ll go over with you because, and I went over and I talking for a while and I said Oh can I go to the toilet and he says Yeah and when I went to his toilet I said what’s the rope, or chain for over your bath. He says I can’t use the shower without getting pulled up getting me legs over. I said Oh same as me then and said try that so I took my boots off and then he says have a shower see how you fit and I did do and it was wonderful and you know I can’t get a bugger done here. All he did was get a chain on a beam and he can hang on it and get his legs over I can’t here, they put some fancy rails on but they are no use to me because I cant get me legs over you see, they brought me a blooming chair to stand in the bath with like a table across and I said to him what goods that to me and he says I don’t know mate I’m only paid to deliver them and they never came near me to fix it up for me. It was no good as I cant get my legs over so all I have to do is stand at the sink and have a wash down with a flannel is all I can do.

Can you remember any particularly funny incidents happening?

Oh I dont know, that one where we pee’d and chucked it on the troops. I told you that didnt I?

Dont know?

When we were on forced labour from Dusseldorf on the train, in the cattle truck there was one lad in the infantry and he had powdered milk out of an American Red Cross parcel and he was the only one who had got a tin and they only fed us twice while we were there. It was a dustbin and they let five us off the train at a time, of the truck at a time and just ladled it into your hand, this was full of sauerkraut so you’d just sup the juice quick before it would all run away then ate the sauerkraut from your hand. But he got this tin and we all had a little pee in it until we got a tin full and there were lads standing at, a big tall lad standing at, you seen the squares they used to keep the Jews in barbed wire and all… well he is stood there and the other lad stood with this tin of pee and when we came through a station he said now and slung it out the window to all the Jerry troops on the station.

And is there anything else you want to go through or have you covered it all?

No Im quite happy with that.


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