Dickie the paratrooper

I asked Dickie Rodgers – winner of our Reminiscence Competition – about his working life.

‘I joined the British Army when I was just fourteen. I had to pretend that I was older; of course they were willing to consort in the deception. There were hundreds of underage boys who joined up then. They were necessary for the war effort.

I fought through the Second World War. I was a paratrooper. I was injured three times; shot twice, once in the shin and once in the groin.’

Dickie indicated the locations of his old war wounds, tiredly rather than proudly.

‘Then I was injured by a bomb.

I was not discharged, even temporarily.

The only break I got was the time I spent in hospital.

That last time was close to the end of the War. It was the Salerno landings in Italy, south of Rome. In fact, south of Naples. It was in 1943. This was the ‘second front’ – to distract the Germans as to where the main Allied Europe Invasion would really happen. Of course the full-scale landing was in Normandy.

The Navy took us in, using those landing craft where the front could be lowered when the beach was reached.

The Germans were waiting for us!

They were dug in.

Two Germans popped up just ahead of us. One reached his arm back and slung a hand grenade in my direction. It exploded in my face.

Luckily it wasn’t very powerful or it would have killed me. But it was powerful enough to do considerable facial damage.

I have the scars yet (and Dickie pointed them out to me!).

I was enraged. They opened up on me with a Schmeiser – a hand gun.

I had just put a new clip in my bren gun – 32 rounds of .303 ammunition. I stood up and approached them. I mowed them down with the contents of the clip. I aimed for their heads.

‘You’ll not be going back to the Fatherland!’ I screamed, in my anger and my pain!

The blood was pouring from my face.’

I knew that Dickie was among the few survivors of the misguided Arnhem campaign. Ten thousand paratroopers were poured in; less than three thousand returned alive. I asked him about it.

Dickie Rodgers has a reputation as a tough character.

His eyes showed a tear arising in the corners.

‘All good fellas ….’ he muttered. ‘Just the same as you (he meant as himself).

We all depended on each other. . .’ His voice, filled with emotion, trailed off.

I was sorry to have asked.

Despite this, Dickie hasn’t a single good word for today’s British Army.

He was interned in ’72 and beaten up – by the Paratroopers, of all people. Though he worked much of the post-Army years in England, he has transferred his bitter feelings to the British generally. He remains a staunch socialist and Irish republican.

‘Did you quit the Army immediately after the War?’ I asked.

‘No! A battalion of us was sent to Baghdad, in Iraq. You have to remember that Britain still held dominion over much of the Middle East – indeed much of the world. They were soon to relinquish the greater part of it.

There was some trouble in Baghdad. We were there for seven and a half months. You know, they were lovely people there, all of them. It’s terrible what’s happening to them now.

Then we were sent to Jerusalem. This was before Britain and America decided to betray the Palestinian people. Then they emptied the camps in Germany and allowed them all to come to Jerusalem and Palestine. It ruined that country and they are suffering for it to this day. We all are.’

Dickie is a man of strong views and does not mind expressing them.

‘I hate the Americans now too. See that Bush ……….’

I could sense that Dickie’s blood pressure was again rising dangerously – not good for a man who has recently suffered a stroke.

I made my excuses and left!

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