Spending the day with Somerby and Ab Kettleby Schools

On a very wet Monday members of Friends of the Tenth were delighted to meet 50 excited and enthusiastic children at the 10th Parachute Battalion Memorial, Burrough on the Hill. Serving Paratrooper, Corporal Danny Mawson, with ‘Myrtle the Parachuting Chicken’ and Paul Turner, dressed in WW2 Para uniform with his Jeep and equipment, also greeted the children.

Our aim throughout the day was to actively engage the children, get them to imagine and think what life would have been like for the young Paras, billeted locally. The children were split into ten teams, each with a name relevant to the history; we emphasised the importance of teamwork in the Army and in all walks of life. The children were asked to find the stories portrayed on the Memorial sculpture which were discussed later in the day.

We were deliberately focusing on the positives of life in wartime, rather than the horrors to follow in the Battle of Arnhem. The children enjoyed learning about some of the antics which the ‘naughty’ Paras got up to, like ‘borrowing’ bicycles to get home and ‘ditching’ them in Somerby Horse Pond, but especially the infamous tale of the Paras burning down Burrough Court after blowing off the doors of the wine cellar whilst trying to get to the ‘booze’!

The star of the day was ‘Myrtle, the parachuting chicken’ and her full story was dramatically recounted by 4Para’s Corporal Danny Mawson who has recently parachuted into the Arnhem and Normandy Commemorations with his own ‘stuffed toy’ version of Myrtle.

Davina Bates who attended Somerby School during the War and lived at the Village Bakery, gave a fascinating account of wartime school life. It was probably difficult for the children to believe that until after the War she had never eaten, or even seen a banana!

During our Activity Day, Paul Turner not only showed the children the concours WW2 Willys Jeep, but also deactivated original Bren and Sten guns, rifles, pistols, and grenades. Jane and Neil Thorley from the Vines in Thorpe Satchville displayed photographs and artefacts, which 80 years ago, had been left behind in the house before the Paras parachuted into ‘The Battle of Arnhem’.

We visited All Saints Church, seeing the various memorials to the 10th Battalion. The children especially liked the ‘Somerby Golden Cockerel’ which inspired ‘Myrtle the Parachick’ asking; ‘Is it real gold?’; ‘How many bullet holes are there?’; and ’How did they get it off of the roof?’

Wet and cold weather didn’t dampen their enthusiasm of exploring Somerby, spotting the maroon 10thBattalion plaques which mark places where the paras worked, stayed, and played. Again, pupils were encouraged to think about and imagine what life may have been like for the Paras, the Land Army Girls housed close by, as well as the villagers, who so generously, welcomed the Paras into their lives during the nine months they spent in the area.

Somerby Memorial Hall was the base for our Activity Day.  Drinks and delicious home-made cakes proved to be a great success.

We would like to thank Somerby & Ab Kettleby Schools for inviting us to take part. Working closely with them has been a pleasure, and we hope that our relationship will be developed in the future. This project has been a natural progression to the involvement of Somerby School Council in our various commemorations at the Memorial, when children lay flowers and crosses to the memory of the fallen of the 10th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment.

The charity aims of Friends of The Tenth include ‘educating and informing’ and we would be pleased to hear from any other local schools or colleges who would be prepared to join us on our mission.