Coincidences are funny old things; a few are amazing, some are funny or not so funny and most are really insignificant and barely flutter a synapse in passing. There are some, however, that open up dusty, cobwebby passageways to memories long locked away for one reason or another or simply lost in the mists of time.
Anyway, back to the present and my little string of coincidences. A few weeks back I was reading the psychedelic ramblings of a certain blogger whose story weaving skills I thoroughly enjoy. She was writing about soldiers tales and mentioned the title of a book about her grandfather who had emigrated to New England but returned to Scotland and enlisted at the outbreak of WW1. The book was titled ‘A Tale of Two Captains’ and had been co-written by her uncle. Curious, I searched out the book on my favorite independent second-hand booksellers site, learned a little about the leading characters and their connection with The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). I can’t tell you exactly what it was but something ‘Cameronians’ clicked in the archive department way down in the basement of what passes for my brain these days. I saw that one copy was signed by the author and, although a tad more expensive, on impulse bought it. Meanwhile, I emailed my blogger friend and was made privy to some family history and political matters that have no place here – they did, however, help to pad out the picture.
Today my book arrived.
On the cover are old photos of the two captains in question – one of them clearly displays a belt and cross-belt with the distinctive badge of the The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). That name again! I couldn’t pin it down. Then I opened the book and inside, signed by the author was written ‘For General John and Jean Frost, with every good wish’, and the penny dropped.
I’d joined the Paras less than 20 years after the end of WW2; John Frost was a living legend to everyone associated with the regiment. The Commanding Officer of 2 Para (2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment), Frost and his 747 men were the only unit to succeed in reaching the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem during Montgomery’s ill-conceived Operation Market Garden. Their task was to hold the bridge for 48 hours until relieved by the British armoured column led by XXX Corps. That relief never arrived!
Frost and his men were surrounded by the German 2nd SS Panzer Corps, all veterans of the Eastern Front, and what followed was described to me by a survivor (still serving when I joined) as an ‘abattoir’. Eventually the survivors ran out of ammunition – there were less than 100, including a wounded John Frost. The 9000 strong British 1st Airborne Division, of which 2 Para had been a part, existed in name only, some units were wiped out. Five Victoria Crosses were awarded for actions during what became known as the Battle of Arnhem. In 1978 the Dutch re-named the bridge ‘John Frost Bridge’ (he was not amused but eventually was persuaded to go along with it) to commemorate the stand by 2 Para.
As a young parachute soldier I was required to learn the history and personalities of this time inside-out and backwards, and here’s the murky memory, the coincidental link – John Frost’s parent regiment was The Cameronians!
So, there you have it – The Cameronians – two captains – a book – John Frost – the Paras – Arnhem – New England – blogging – a blogger (with more going on in her head than most of us can imagine). A little row of little coincidences that led to the bubbling up of loads of dusty memories - ‘old soldiers never die, we just get boring!
Alan Fenn, Okcular Koyu