S.A.S. Soldier from County Armagh Killed during "Operation Gain"
At 23.34 on the night of 4th July 1944 Captain Garstin and eleven other S.A.S. Soldiers took off from Keevil Airfield in a Short Stirling aircraft to be dropped by parachute behind enemy lines at near La Ferte-Alais to the south of Paris as part of “Operation Gain”
The Unit had been divided into two groups with all of the Northern Ireland soldiers being with Captain Garstin and Lance Corporal Vaculik who was Free French.
French Resistance Fighters had been informed of the parachute drop however two of them believed that a third, who used to take used parachutes and sell them in Paris, was missing for some time and may have been captured by the Gestapo.
On the previous night of 3rd / 4th July a coded BBC radio message had been received by the Resistance Fighters telling them of a Parachute Drop however on that occasion the flight was cancelled with insufficient time to inform the French.
Ominously while they waited at the Drop-Zone some automatic gunfire was heard in the area.
The following night the Resistance again went to the same location having received another coded message via BBC Radio however on this occasion the first two Frenchmen to arrive were fired on and killed by Germans and all of the others, except one, returned home not knowing that the Germans knew the recognition letter for the drop which was “B for Bertie”
At 01.53 the S.A.S. parachuted from the aircraft with most landing on the Drop Zone, which was a field of wheat, whilst the final five to jump had landed in a Wood. At the edge of the D.Z. was a group of men wearing civilian clothes who greeted Captain Garstin with the words “Vive la France” immediately after which the soldiers came under fire from automatic weapons.
There was a brief exchange of fire however it soon became obvious that the S.A.S. were surrounded and subsequently Vaculik was captured at 06.00 and Corporal Jones an hour later. - They soon learned that Captain Garstin, Lieutenant Wiehe, Trooper Thomas James “Tot” Barker (Previously of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and from Cookstown, County Tyrone) and Lance Corporal Howard Lutton (Who had been Army Air Corps and from County Armagh) had also been captured after being wounded.
Lance Corporal Lutton subsequently died of his wounds and is buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery.
Captain Garstin and Trooper Barker received hospital treatment for their wounds whilst the other men were initially taken to a converted Hotel near Champ de Mars in central Paris and then a Gestapo Headquarters where they were kept and interrogated for three days before being returned to the converted hotel.
A day or two later Captain Garstin and Trooper Barker were reunited with the other soldiers however Captain Garstin was very weak.
On 8th August all of the soldiers were given civilian clothing and told that they were to be exchanged for German Agents who were held by the British in London and that they were required to wear civilian clothing to ensure that they could pass through civilian areas.
At 01.00 the following morning all of the men were told to board a lorry and were driven north of Paris.
About five hours later they reached a Wood which was East of Noailles and here they were ordered out of the lorry and told to walk along a narrow path to a clearing in the Wood.
Corporal Vaculik asked if they were to be shot and received a reply to that effect.
The S.A.S. men were lined up from left to right Jones, Captain Garstin, Corporal Vaculik, Varey, “Tot” Barker, Joseph Walker (From Moira, County Down) and William Pearson “Billy” Young (Previously Royal Ulster Rifles and from Randalstown, County Antrim), although it is not certain if the order was Barker, Walker or Walker, Barker.
Facing the men were a number of Gestapo. Two Officers who were armed with Sten guns at the ready whilst another read out the Sentence. A Sergeant of the Gestapo who translated and a Gestapo Agent in civilian clothes.
The Sentence was as follows :- “For having wished to work in collaboration with the French Terrorists and thus to endanger the German Army, you are condemned to the Penalty of Death and will be Shot”
On hearing the word “Shot” all of the men tried to escape into the woods.
Corporal Vaculik managed to get away while Corporal Jones tripped and fell. The Gestapo men ran past him thinking he was dead and when he got up again he saw four bodies lying where they had been shot but could not identify them before he tried to escape.
This Incident was investigated by Captain Sadler and Major Poat of the S.A.S. who visited Noailles around 20th September and on speaking with the local Resistance Leader he showed them where he believed the murders had taken place and also where the bodies of the S.A.S. soldiers were buried.
A grave had been dug in a wooded area about two miles from where the shooting had taken place and near a large chateau that is approximately one mile to the east of Noailles.
The Resistance fighter said that the Germans had a two day Curfew in place following the shooting and were searching for the bodies of Soldiers Jones and Vaculik.
The bodies of 5 murdered S.A.S. men lay at the scene for three days before finally being buried by a German Army Unit consisting of one Officer and approximately nine men who had been in the Chateau.
During the Investigation it was necessary to open the grave and on doing so a total of five bodies were found. All of them were dressed in civilian clothing and showed signs of having been handcuffed.
One of the bodies was identified as that of Captain Garstin.
All of the bodies were subsequently buried in Marrissel Cemetery at Beauvais with Captain Garstin being grave number 325 and the others 326 - 329.
The Gestapo had tried to conceal their actions so the Investigation looked into the Germans who had occupied the Chateau who had buried the bodies.
A woman Collaborator, who had worked for the Germans in the Chateau and believed that they had been a Luftwaffe Signal Section, identified a number of the soldiers including Captain Hans Garling, Officer Hans Zool and Oberfeldwebel Gall.
(My Sincere thanks to Janice Surgenor and Sheldon Murray for their assistance)
Camp Drumilly, Loughgall
Camp Drumilly in Loughgall was used by 202 Field Artillery Battalion U.S. Army Headquarters along with Headquarters Battery, Battery A, B and C as well as a Medical Detachment and Service Battery.
These Troops were joined by 961 Field Artillery Battalion Headquarters with their HQ Battery, Batteries A, B and C, Medical Detachment and Service Battery.
The pictures here show a Firing Range which remains as well as two bullets which were sitting on the sand.
Camp Drumilly was used by both American and British Soldiers during the Second World War.
Dartry Lodge, Blackwatertown
This was a Billet for 3 Field Artillery Observation Battalion, Battery B of the United States Army.
Summer Island, Charlemont
Summer Island was used by both American and Belgian Troops.
The U.S. Army 3 Field Artillery Observation Battalion Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, Battery A and Medical Platoon were based at Summer Island.
Here we can see the remains of an American Constructed Quonset Hut however the sign on the inner wall shows that this building was probably occupied by Belgian Troops after the departure of the Americans.
"Defence De Fumer" meaning "No Smoking"
Brownlow House, Lurgan
A Company (Lurgan) County Armagh Battalion of the Ulster Home Guard at the front of Brownlow House - You can make a comparrison with my picture of how the building looks today.
Brownlow House became Headquarters for United States Army on December 21st 1942 when Major General Wade H Haislip established his HQ in Brownlow House.
American Servicemen Zach and Wilbert of 5th Corps, U.S. Army are pictured at the rear of Brownlow House.
This is the same Wilbert who is shown with Sarah Jane at Lurgan Park in the County Armagh Part 2 section of this website.
(Thanks very much to the Old Lurgan Photos Facebook Page)
Original WW2 graffiti which can be seen on the wall of the Basement in Brownlow House. Interestingly the wording appears to have been written by both English and Belgian Soldiers. You may be able to see that one of the swear woods used has been spelt incorrectly!
General Russell P. Hartle, centre standing, Commander 36th Infantry Division and Commander of all United States Army Forces in Northern Ireland surrounded by Officers of his General Headquarters Staff in Lurgan. (More at Rangers Museum, Carrickfergus)
"KEEP OUT by orders of Headquarters Commandant" - These pictures show what can be seen in the basement of Brownlow House which has now been converted into a Top Quality Museum.
Here we see the side of Brownlow House with American Servicemen during WW2 and the same location looks today whilst above left is the Stars and Stripes on parade in Lurgan. (Black and white photographs from Belfast Telegraph)
Johnston & Allen Factory, Woodville Street, Lurgan
Here we see what was the Johnston and Allen Factory in Woodville Street, Lurgan.
During the War the factory was used to manufacture Wings for Aircraft. (Google)
Although the building has now been developed into housing the "Johnston,Allen&Co" can still be seen above the front door.
(My thanks to the excellent Old Lurgan Facebook Page and in particular the Old Lurgan Military Album.)
Navy, Army and Air Force Institute (N.A.A.F.I.) in Armagh
There were a few N.A.A.F.I. locations in the City of Armagh
One of them was at 57 Scotch Street which is shown here with another at Sleater's Garage in College Street and a Hostel at Drumsill.
There was also an American Red Cross at the City Café.
(This information comes from a WW2 Telephone Directory and the picture above is from Google)
Crossmaglen Chain Home Radar
A Chain Home Radar was operated by the Royal Air Force at Urcher Hill, Crossmaglen during WW2.
This was a Mobile Radar System rather than a permanent fixture.
Soldiers of the U.S. Army were based in what they referred to as "Camp Keady"
They were 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion was in Keady.
The Rifle Companies, Heavy Weapons Company and Battalion Headquarters were all based in the Mill which is shown below.
The 120 men of the Cannon Company were next to the stone building which was used as the Officers Quarters.
(Thanks very much to Liam O'Manachain for the Information and Photographs)
One of the local Pubs which became a favourite with the American Soldiers was "The Anchor Bar" which was owned by Hugh O'Neill.
The Bar has now gone however a Sign on the wall gives some information as to the history of the premises.
With regard to the Sign which is shown here.
I have researched 9th Infantry Regiment, 2ns Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion and believe that they landed at Omaha Beach not on D-Day but D-Day +1.