Over the centuries the British Army has produced a huge number of great characters and this book is, in my opinion, about one of them. Reg Curtis joined the regular army in 1937, opting for the Grenadier Guards partly due to his height, over 6’ 2” but mainly because in those days the Metropolitan Police in London readily recruited from Guards regiments. His plan was to get a few years in then leave to join the police. Plans often don’t pan out as expected and WW2 came along to spoil that. Reg found himself with the Grenadiers in the BEF in France being beaten back, but not beaten, by the Germans. Evacuated from Dunkirk his battalion then went into a defence mode and what could be described as normal soldiering returned. Reg spotted a notice for troops for a new venture which was described as dangerous. On parade one day a letter was read out by the RSM asking for “volunteers for a new type of fighting soldier; soldiers to be trained as commandos and parachutists”. The RSM, in the way of RSMs, said “Now I know that none of you want to desert your Regiment but volunteers one pace step forward!” Reg stepped forward and so the tale continues.
- Reg Curtis
The first part of the book deals with Reg’s time during the withdrawal to Dunkirk, the confusion of the fighting, the noise, danger and actually firing a weapon at another human for the first time. Reg covers this well and how, through the confusion his Battalion moved back until eventually evacuated from the beaches. This bit alone makes for a good book, but there is more, much more, to come.
Reg has now volunteered for this new type of soldiering and goes off to training and joins what later becomes 1st Bn The Parachute Regiment, along with many others from the Household Division. It is all new, new equipment, new techniques, new tactics and a new esprit de corps. The description of his ‘first drop’ is just perfect. The discipline of a Guards Regiment did not transfer over fully to the Parachute Regiment, although Reg always considered himself a Grenadier, but a new self discipline was being installed. The training that the new guys went through and trialled is covered well and it is a joy to read the soldier’s story of this time.
Once again the lack of soldiering is starting to frustrate the young keen men recently trained to a very high pitch, especially after hearing of the Bruneval Raid by 2nd Bn. The new men however soon started to imbibe the ethos of the Paras and seeing themselves as an ‘elite’, but with nothing to do except train. Then they are embarked on a troopship and sent to North Africa to join the forces that landed on the Torch operation. Soon after landing in Africa they are kitted up and their first combat drop into the area around Bone. Along with the 2nd and 3rd Bns this became their area of operations for the next few months. Again Reg is very good at explaining how, as a mere soldier, the battle rages around him and he is carried along with the flow. Carrying a severely wounded comrade out of the line to an aid station a couple of miles behind their positions, then having to go back up to the Bn area again, all very tense and compelling reading.
Withdrawn from the area after some months, the Bn rests and retrains. Their next objective is Primasole Bridge in Sicily, Reg is starting to learn his European geography. Once again we get the story of a confused drop, inexperienced pilots dropping the paras alles uber der platz meaning men often found themselves fighting with other Bns; gathering together and defending their area until relieved or withdrawn. The honesty and effort that Reg brings to other parts of the book continues here and his story of enemy counter attacks being broken up by naval guns dropping huge shells on them is very graphic. After some time the Paras are withdrawn and returned to UK to prepare for fighting in Northern Europe.
Missing out on D Day, Reg and his comrades train and become bored in England, yet again. Until suddenly they are primed for a drop into Holland, cancelled several times and then Operation Market Garden starts and the drop into Arnhem, Reg is becoming quite experienced in operational drops by now. This is probably the most intense fighting that Reg has been involved in to date, and he has seen quite a bit. Confusion, stubbornness, grit and sheer determination are the watchwords of the day. It is here that Reg is wounded, taken to a Field Hospital and eventually captured by the Germans.
Reg had been in a fire fight and his leg was hit by an exploding bullet which took off most of his foot, the remainder being amputated by the medics while under fire. Lying in the makeshift hospital as it is shelled is not a particularly nice experience where he can do absolutely nothing about it. The battle is waging around the building and is taken by the Germans only for them to be pushed back again before finally taking the hospital and all the patients and staff prisoner. However, the one thing that runs throughout the book is regardless of the circumstances there is always a bit of humour. Reg relates the tale of a visit by SS General Harmer who comes in to the ward with his staff to be greeted by a very loud ‘raspberry’ – whether that is from the lips or other is not stated!
Reg then spends some time in various camps but obviously is in no position to escape or anything else having a recently amputated leg leaving him somewhat immobile. After some months, and several pounds lighter from the poor prison diet, an American armoured division surrounds the village that the prison camp is in and Reg and his co-PoWs are freed.
The book ends with Reg being evacuated to the UK by Dakota, but as he points out, lying down this time instead of sitting in a seat waiting to jump! While this ends the book, there is an prologue and epilogue plus some background info sent by Reg’s nephew on his post war experiences. The book itself ends with a visit some years later to the War Rooms in London where Churchill fought his war, and Reg spots a photograph of Churchill inspecting some of the new paratroopers – yes, Reg is in that photo and he remembers the others, many of whom did not make it through the war. Typical of Reg his thoughts are with his comrades.
His life after the war could be just as exciting as his war efforts. As I said at the start Reg is a character and the preface to the book gives a little of his post war life. He found it difficult to settle into civvy life after serving in the army since 1937 and having only one leg – did that stop him? Did it hell! He couldn’t face the idea of an office job so started manufacturing handbags which was not a great success so he joined his brother-in-law in a garden maintenance business before branching out (his words) on his own in the same business. He said ‘having an artificial leg did not help, but I did not let it hinder me’. He bought a motor bike and had the controls altered so he could use it manually. He built his own house(!) and he got married living a very full life. Reg is no longer with us but to the end he was a Para and a Grenadier, and a great character. I am proud to have read his book and I recommend this to any soldier, regardless of Regiment for a tale of courage, fortitude, humour and general good soldiering. Reg would never have made Field Marshal, but he was the quintessential soldier.
5 Mr MRHs – if not lots more.
The book is listed on Amazon but they don't have copies, copies are available from Reg's nephew firstname.lastname@example.org details at www.pilotspublishing.co.uk
Hardback limited first edition (500 copies) gold embossed on Para maroon cover at £20 plus £4 p&p (UK).
Paperback at £9.95 plus £2 p&p (UK). Additional postage costs for elsewhere upon request.
We shall endeavour to respond promptly to enquiries and fulfil orders within a week.
Another way to buy the book is through Baverstock and Pasley who do an automated ordering service and are linked in to Parachute Regiment charities.