Now and again, matters arise that are a joy to hear, and make the involvement with the 6th Airborne Division’s history truly worthwhile. One of these happened this week.
Sylvia Chaplin has been researching the names on the Knutsford War Memorial, Cheshire. This commemorates the casualties of both World Wars, but there is one name on the memorial that is of special significance for the 9th Parachute Battalion. This is the Mortar Platoon Officer, former Grenadier Guardsman, Lieutenant George Peters.
Shortly after dawn on D-Day, Brigadier James Hill, the Officer Commanding 3rd Parachute Brigade was leading a party of around 50 men towards the Merville Battery to find out how the 9th Parachute Battalion’s assault on it had fared. In open country, just east of the village of Gonneville, they saw Allied bombers approaching. Suddenly, bombs began to fall, but there was nowhere to take cover, not even a ubiquitous Norman ditch. Hill threw himself down, landing on top of another Para. Eventually, the horrendous noise abated, and the dust and debris began to settle. He knew that he had been hit due to a terrible pain in his backside. James Hill glanced to the track on his left and saw a leg, immediately thinking it was his own. However, he then noticed that it had a brown boot. The only person wearing brown boots (strictly against his orders) was Lieutenant George Peters. Peters was the man beneath him. He was dead. Somehow, Hill had survived. Only around half a dozen men had survived the bombing. The survivors did what they could for the wounded, but then had to move on. They were cheered as they left. Hill, despite losing most of his left backside, moved off with them, and incredibly, remained in command of his Brigade for the rest of the campaign.
Shortly after, the dead were buried by a Frenchman, and in September 1944, at the end of the Normandy Campaign, members of the battalion. led by the new CO, Lieutenant Colonel Napier Crookenden, removed the bodies and transferred them to the Ranville Cemetery.
Regarding the history of the memorial, Sylvia Chaplin explains, “When the Baronian family first donated the memorial to the town it was placed in front of Knutsford’s War Memorial Hospital (built in 1920). Inside the front entrance of the Hospital were placed wooden Remembrance Scrolls. The hospital was transferred to the NHS in 1946 and then sold to the Red Cross in the 1990s. Despite local opposition over a number of years in 2018 it was sold for development, and planning permission was granted last year. The intention of the Town Council is that the scrolls will be removed and placed in the Council Offices overlooking the Memorial. Schoolchildren and researchers will be able to access information of the individuals on files to be kept in the Library and Council Offices. A memorial garden is also to be developed by the developers on the WM site. Also, information will be available on line through the IWM’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ when it is relaunched later on this month (May 19).”