Watch the video – click IMG 3336 below –
Watching the small platoon of D Company 4PARA, leaving the 10th Battalion Memorial and heading off along the Tenth Battalion Trail, the hair on the back of my neck bristles as I feel the tangible pride of my father and his comrades looking down from that hallowed place of remembrance at Burrough on the Hill that overlooks the wartime DZ.
A lineage, just one year short of eighty, that began in the killing fields of El Alamein now so well represented by that line of young men on their way to the village of Somerby – the spiritual home of The Tenth.
The group was led by the new OC (Officer Commanding) of D Company, 4PARA, Major Sandy Rowell. The 4th Parachute Battalion is the Regiment’s reserve force and all the troopers, whilst fully trained and ready for operations (they have passed P Company and earned their wings and red berets) have full time civilian occupations.
We are delighted to welcome Sandy to FoTT as our Parachute Regiment Liaison Officer.
This is what Sandy had to say –“Many thanks for hosting 4 PARA, D Coy and providing just a very small part of the history of 10 PARA pre Arnhem at the spectacular and very moving memorial. We had a great day on the route and would like to thank those who opened the Church at Somerby and provided childhood memories of what 10 PARA got up to in the 9 months prior to them all deploying to Arnhem. The Pte’s and LCpl’s in D Coy, 4 PARA also had to provide wider regimental history when we arrived at each plaque. What a great trail to keep their memories alive for years and years to come! The trail guide is fantastic and I am sure the initial print will fly off the shelves; thanks to all those who created the book” Maj Sandy Rowell, OC D Coy, 4 PARA.
What a history, what a legacy these men carry on their broad shoulders. But! I hear you ask, El Alamein, how is that relevant to the history of the Regiment?
The brutal mauling and consequential losses of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Sussex, at the second battle of El Alamein during October and November 1942, led to its re-formation as a Volunteer Parachute Battalion, initially to be called ‘S’ Battalion (for Sussex). Army politics very quickly decreed that the ‘S’ was dropped, and the new battalion was to be – The 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.
From the original one hundred and fifty or so men and officers from 2RSR, which included names that would become legendary – Lionel Queripel, Myles Henry, are just two, the 10th was brought up to strength by volunteers raised mainly by the efforts of the Tenth’s first and only commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Ken Smyth. In September 1943, the battalion experienced combat for the first time after being landed by sea at Taranto in Italy. At the end of that year the 10th returned to England and on a snowy night, the 10th December 1943, they arrived in East Leicestershire (‘High’ Leicestershire as it is known, due to its altitude relative to the rest of the county). This is where our story and the Tenth Battalion Trail begins.
Ken Smyth was never happy that his battalion was split amongst several locations, it would have been much preferable and easier to manage if, like the 156 Bn in Melton Mowbray, the 600 or so officers and men could have been accommodated as one unit. It was wartime and beggars are not to be choosers, so the 10th was divided between the villages of Somerby, Burrough on the Hill and Thorpe Satchville. Even then, some men found accommodation in other close villages, the glaring example being Captain Lionel Queripel VC, who rented a tiny, basic cottage in Owston, a couple of miles from Somerby. Intelligence officer, Captain Myles Henry and his new bride, Pamela, thought themselves to be most fortunate to be billeted in a cosy little pub, the Stag and Hounds in Burrough on the Hill.
As any of you who have been soldiers would expect, the nine months that the 10th spent in High Leicestershire was a combination of hard training and high jinks. For long after the war, this time was referred to by many veterans as ‘the best of times during the worst of times’ and it is no coincidence that this is sculptor, Graeme Mitcheson’s title of the 10th Battalion York stone tryptic memorial at Burrough. The good times were to end the moment 582 men of the battalion boarded the 33 lorries that left Somerby for RAF Spanhoe in the early hours of September 18th 1944.
Of those 582 men who left, only 36 returned two weeks later for the welcome home banquet laid on by the Land Army girls and villagers of Somerby. A number of stragglers came back in the following days and weeks, but most of the men of the 10th were either killed, wounded and taken prisoner of war.
After the unveiling and dedication of the impressive, yet poignant, 10th Battalion Memorial we (Friends of The Tenth) felt there was much more we could do to perpetuate the legacy and the idea was born of a trail linking the various locations important to the battalion’s history. Firstly, and with the permission of the owners, we fixed maroon heritage plaques which mark the buildings and sites used by the battalion in 1943 – 44. Because of the preponderance of footpaths and minor roads, it soon became clear that we could link these sites with not only a walk but also a cycle ride or drive. 10th Battalion way-markers point the direction along the walking trail.
It’s a decent walk of about 15 miles which takes me, an older but keen walker, about 5 hours. The countryside is quiet, the views glorious and there are places to refresh, rest and lubricate along the way. You will be walking in the footsteps of heroes. I’m quite certain that when it is adopted by the Regiment as the 10PARA Tab, my time will probably be halved? I hope so!
And now, we have published a guidebook – ‘The Tenth Battalion Trail’. Not only does it do as it says on the tin – guide you including high resolution maps, but within is a concise history of the battalion, descriptions and histories of the various ‘stands’ as we call them, starting at the Memorial and ending at RAF Spanhoe. Particular attention is paid to some of the fascinating stories told by and about the members of the battalion during their time in High Leicestershire.
Alec Wilson, July 2021
This concise full colour volume of 114 pages and nearly 100 photos is a must read for walkers, military and local history buffs and those with a particular interest in the history and legacy of the Parachute Regiment. At £15 – a real bargain, snap one up from –