53 (Welch) Division
SHORT HISTORY OF 53 (WELCH) DIVISION PROVOST COMPANY CMP
It is a little over two years ago since the first members of the 53rd (Welch) Division Provost Company stepped onto the enemy held territory to play their part in proving that the British Army had kept their word – They had “come back” just as they promised at that memorable place “Dunkirk”. Yes, only two years have lapsed, yet so much has happened has been made and will never be forgotten.
The first of the Coy., arrived on the night of 17/18 June 1944, the first task was to open an information Post at Subles, plus a little traffic control thrown in. It was just a case of patience, waiting for the Division and Coy., to arrive, no one wanted to miss the “Show”, they were keen and determined to play their part.
At last the Division arrived and work for Provost began in earnest, the first move being to St. Amator where it took barely two days to get ready to meet our foe, then a quick move was made to the North of the Bridgehead arriving at Cloumbs, and so on to the line where Bronay became Division HQ.
It was here the Division relieved the famous 15 (Scottish) Division when Cheux and the Mondrainville road were the front line. Orders came from 8 Corps then, and so it began, Here the Coy., got its baptism of real action, it was here they realised that man really killed man, and played havoc with everything god and man had worked so hard to create. The bitter lesson of losing a friend was experienced when the Coy., got their first three casualties, the very first night. It was a tragedy such as this that taught them all to dig a slit-trench first, with that long forgotten silent prayer. The brewing of tea became of minor importance.
The days passed slowly in the Bridgehead, it was not monotonous, but tiring, tedious, and exhausting, all the training they had had in the UK did not prepare them for the sweltering head, the blinding dust, and nature's greatest enemy – mud. But how well they stuck it, the assurance and confidence of all made the effort worth any sacrifice demanded, looking back it now seems fun to have been hiding from the things that would tear you apart, there were the Spandau, the wicked whine of the mortar, the bombs, when Jerry could sneak a few minutes in “our sky”. Yes this was the place where they suffered their greatest losses, the PW cage being manned by the Coy., received a direct his from a bomb, it cost the Coy. 9 good men, and as if this was not sufficient Lt. Browning of this Coy., was crushed by a tank, this was war and these men were learning the hard way, not from books but from bitter experience.
At last the Division. began to edge forward – slowly but surely they were gaining ground, and as time went on so the speed increased. First to La Mont and then on to the river Orne, it was here the Coy., realised that the enemy were on the run. Prisoners by the thousand, lightened the work of the infantry, and increased it for Provost to such an extent that it was only the superhuman efforts of all that prevented these ex-war machines from becoming a real embarrassment.
They weren't to know thaw was happening on their flanks, yet it became apparent that the gap was closed – yes there was only one gap – Falaise. It was then a few of the Coy., had the exciting experience of being right forward with the Recce Regt., the whole view of the slaughter house was open to them, they will not forget that, neither will the drivers of all vehicles forget the marvellous way in which the Provost guided them through the heaps of rubble which were once streets
The whole front was burst wide open, and the Division were signed on and on, right into Belgium. Was ever any Army welcomed with such enthusiasm before? Did Provost at any time find it more difficult to refuse the drinks, flowers and kisses that were showered on the? But the rush was on, the Division had to be signed and so on they went in their wild dash to Gheluvelt and thence to Antwerp. It must have been the night of August the 8th when they arrived; what a wonderful change that big city made, did anyone mind doing town patrols? Of course not! How sad it was to leave after only a stay of ten-days, but then they must on on.
How well they must remember their next move into Holland, a land of windmills, dykes, ditches and canals. Their next big task was to cross one of these canals, it was Escaut canal, preparations were made from Lommel. It was from here that the forward sector control section crept forward with the infantry to the bridge site, and again a good task was completed, they marked the route right to the banks of that canal. Needless to say the operation was completed successfully, but it was not funny controlling traffic over that canal, with our enemy having the range within a few yards.
Shortly after this crossing they reached the position West of Nijmegen, where a corridor existed, and had to be widened, to get through men and material to relieve those famous “Red Devils” at Arnhem. That episode has been told time and time again, it was with chagrin in their hearts that Provost found they could not sign the road straight through to Arnhem, how close they got. And then the “Island” North of Nijmegen which was continually under enemy fire had to be policed. It was a case of running the gauntlet as they spaced each vehicle, and permitted it to cross, and , work became more difficult for Provost when the Div., had actually crossed. The roads were so narrow it necessitated “one way” traffic circuits, on roads that hardly existed, and those that did could not stand the strain and collapsed at the edges. It was sufficient to whiten the hair of any APM.
There was no regret when the Coy. Signed the Division back to Oss on the 17th Oct. It was from here that the RA pumped thousands of shells into S'hertogen-Bosch. It wasn't easy to take, but take it they did, and so it was signed and policed in the manner which had become accepted by all. The civilians suffered badly in this town, but their spirits were high as they watched and helped the Provost at work.
The 30th Oct. arrived. That day the Division was signed back to Belgium and the back to Weert, where the faced the Wessum canal, and crossed over on the 14th Nov.
Childish thought occupied the minds of everyone. It was Christmas or nearly Christmas. Plans were made to celebrate, but it was not to be, the Division was suddenly ordered back to Herenhals, where rest and training was ordered for the forthcoming “Veritable” scheme, but, it never materialised and the division moved and took up the defence of Diall. Then it came – Christmas Day. The cooks were busy and many had started to celebrate this day of Christ as only the Britisher can. Who was to know that everything would return to normal and the Division would move immediately? Perhaps the cooks were annoyed, but so were those policemen that went ahead to sign the Division to the Ardennes. 'Jerry' had broken through, and the Americans needed assistance quickly. They got it too, thanks to the signing and policing of the route.
No sleighs and skis were not issued, but they would have been better than the vehicles Provost had. Deep, hard and frozen snow made things unbearable. Never in the history were Provost called upon to work so hard under such trying conditions, it must have made them all realise the futility of the German efforts on the Eastern front.
Liege was the next large town the Division visited on Jan 10th, perhaps it would be better to say the vicinity of Liege. It was here they got an idea of what the people at home suffered. For it was here they found it difficult to sleep because they were always listening for the “cutting out” of the Buzz bombs. But the Division was not here for ever, and so they moved again under police supervision to Holland via Eindhoven and Helmond, to pick up where they had left off in their training for operation “Veritable”.
How appropriately this operation had been named. It started at Holenhock on the 7th Feb and went on continuously for a month until the Division met the Guards Armoured Division, and our gallant Allies the Americans at Issum. There was much work for Provost and no rest, but who wanted rest when the end was so plainly in sight?
Names of towns, villages, canals and rivers are famous yet, but will that great wood be forgotten, the Reichswald? There were no fairies or nymphs in this wood, just death, derelict vehicles and mud tracks that policemen called ' the way through'. Then there was that corduroy road from Groesbeck to Frasselt, which was about five miles long, and turned out to be the only decent forward route on the Corps front. Will those policemen ever forget how they controlled the traffic that floundered in the mud, a job to be done under shell fire. Are they likely to forget how, after the bitter fighting they made slow progress to Weeze – Kevelar – Celdern and beyond, what carnage existed; mines, craters, blown bridges and tell-tale story of the RAF, at work in earnest.
Was it not time the Division rested? Provost set out and signed the Division right back to Asch near Brussels. Ten-days respite, true it wasn't long but how well it was appreciated, normal patrols took place in a civilised world, vehicles and men were overhauled ready for the next fray.
It was March 23rd when the Division was signed back into Germany, the Rhine had to be crossed, its power of defence had to be proved a myth. Kevelar was the place from where the advance party of Provost left to cross the Rhine in Buffaloes (tracked amphibious troop carriers) on the 25th March.
The rot had set in, the Division was over the last formidable obstacle, and so that long trek started, Verden – Ochtrop – Elte – Kappeln to Hoya, and across the Weser, then a switch over from the Bremen front to the Elbe, East of Hamburg. The switch-over took place on the 28th April, crossing at Bergedorf, on May 3rd Hamburg was reached at first light the next day.
Then it came “The End”, no there was no undue rejoicing just that muttered “Thank God”, and so to work. Hamburg had to be signed and policed, streets had to be re-named, it there any wonder that the old familiar names were used? - Picadilly Circus, Tiger bay – Regent and Oxford Street, - Princess Circus – Newport – Cardiff – Watling Street. Etc., there cannot be any record of more men being used to paint – stencil, and turn out signs, at one time for one place.
A busy but very happy month was spent in Hamburg before the Division finally moved to its present occupation area, which is so close to its previous battle area.
One could not relate the history of the 53rd (W) Division Provost Company, without a word of thanks to those who worked with them, - there was REME – ACC – RAMC – and Royal Corps of Signals, they, like Provost, were small cogs in a big wheel, important ones, it's true, which worked well with perfect harmony and so to these men provost say “Thanks a lot”.
Finally as for all great events, the day of reckoning comes, there are many sad hearts for those who gave their all, and did not return, there were those that suffered untold pain, and then there are those who can proudly say “I got it with the 53rd Div. Provost Company”, and so we sum up with a fervent prayer let their names go down in history “Lest we forget”.
Honours & Awards
No.190214 Major N Pascall, APM. MBE & MID.
No. 121827 Captain C D G Pearson, DAPM. MC & MID.
No. 293507 Lieutenant H G Southgate, MID.
No. 6458297 Sgt Watts, MM.
Sgt. Howard, MID.
Sgt. Morton MID.
No.1859206 Sgt Martin, MID.
Also several Commander in Chief Certificates.
No. 7689261 L/Cpl Benjafield, buried Brouay War Cemetery grave III.D.4.
No. 5117184 L/Cpl Hazzard Buried Brouay War Cemetery grave III.D.1
No. 14523953 L/Cpl Penson buried Brouay War Cemetery grave III.D.3.
No. 6406363 L/Cpl Hawkins buried Brouay War Cemetery grave III.D. 6.
No. 4459843 L/Cpl Harris buried Brouay War Cemetery grave III.D.2.
No. 14245460 L/Cpl Greenstreet buried Brouay War Cemetery grave III.D.7.
No. 5566259 L/Cpl Church buried Brouay War Cemetery grave III.D.5.
No. 265401 Lt G E Browning, General List
No. 271699 Lt F E Williamson, Pioneer Corps
No. 6780862 Cpl W Cornwall
No. 6096995 L/Cpl R H Spooner
No. 6853807 L/Cpl T W Voss
No. 6406365 L/Cpl G T Holland
No 5575095 L/Cpl A J Broad
No. 3525468 Pte Hall, ACC attached
No. 6857156 L/Cpl H Hall
No. 3325442 L/Cpl R Thomson
No. 1859206 Sgt Martin
No. 3058935 L/Cpl Howarth
No. 4034489 L/Cpl Roberts
No.6978684 L/Cpl Hamilton
Unit War Diaries
WO 166/671 Jan 40 to Dec 1941
WO 166/6378 Jan to July 1942
WO 166/10647 Jan to Dec 1943
WO 161/ 551 Jan to Dec 1944
WO 171/4293 Jan to Dec 1944
Original document held by the RMP Museum, author unknown.