How romances blossomed for paratroopers in wartime Melton

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Sgt Harry Knott and wife Nancy EMN-180810-161944001
151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Sgt Harry Knott and wife Nancy EMN-180810-161944001
0
Have your say

When a battalion of paratroopers were billeted in Melton during the Second World War many of the men met and married local girls, and the women were to play a crucial counselling role in helping their husbands cope with the traumas they witnessed on the battlefield, and the loss of their comrades.

A number of moving human stories have emerged this week as veterans and their families gather in the town for the annual reunion service and dinner to mark the 77th anniversary of the formation of 151/156 Parachute Regiment.

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Maj Jeffrey Noble wedding EMN-180810-162016001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Maj Jeffrey Noble wedding EMN-180810-162016001

The men had made Melton their home after being moved in February 1944 to a new HQ at Staveley Lodge, which remains today in the grounds of Pera on Nottingham Road.

They loved relaxing in the town’s pubs, going to the cinema, and dating local girls.

But on September 18, they were parachuted into the Netherlands to take part in Operation Market Garden, the iconic Battle of Arnhem.

Sadly, only 26 men were to return to Melton from the dozens who had been dropped on to Ginkel Heath, and the under-strength battalion was disbanded shortly afterwards.

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion Maj Geoffrey Powell EMN-180810-162006001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion Maj Geoffrey Powell EMN-180810-162006001

War historian John O’Reilly, son of 156 Battalion Arnhem veteran John Joseph O’Reilly, has researched some of the relationships which arose from that time, some of which endure today.

One of these couples was his own parents - his father met Margaret Robinson while she ran the NAAFI at Newport Lodge and Stables, billets for B and C companies.

They had cross words on their first meeting when she declined his order to close the blackout blinds, because she insisted the troops needed to know the place was still open when they returned later from manoeuvres. An argument ensued, followed by laughter and, later on, a marriage proposal. They were married for 50 years until her death, and lived latterly in the Vale of Belvoir.

Mr O’Reilly said: “There were lots of Melton women who married men from the batallion, and many children were born, some of them out of wedlock.

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Margaret O'Reilly EMN-180810-162037001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Margaret O'Reilly EMN-180810-162037001

“Because the battalion suffered such heavy losses, these women played an important role in helping the men to cope when they came home.”

One of the moving stories John has unearthed concerns Sgt Harry Knott who met a girl called Nancy in Melton and married her, before flying off to the Arnhem battle from Saltby Airfield.

The couple are pictured left. He was involved in some of the fiercest fighting, was wounded and then reported missing.

His company commander wrote to his family to say he would be recommended for a gallantry medal.

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Sgt John O'Reilly EMN-180810-162131001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Sgt John O'Reilly EMN-180810-162131001

Nancy must have feared the worst, but her husband was in fact, being held as a prisoner of war.

He was released in April 1945 and returned to be with his beloved wife in Melton.

The couple had sons, John and Peter, but, sadly, Harry died just six years after the end of the war, with his battle wounds a contributory factor.

At least four girls who worked at Melton’s Remount Depot - now the Defence Animal Training Regiment - met and married officers from 156 Battalion.

They included John and Ann Waddy, who were introduced at one of the many gatherings organised by residents at private houses in the town.

Another such couple was Col Geoffrey Powell and Felicity, who married in the town just two months before Arnhem, after meeting at an officers’ tea party.

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Private Edward Oliver EMN-180810-162121001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Private Edward Oliver EMN-180810-162121001

Saturday dances in 1944 at the Corn Exchange in Nottingham Street, in Melton, were said to be electric occasions, with paratroopers mixing with young women from the Remount Depot, Land Army girls from local farms, and the Army NAAFI, staffed by girls from the town.

A shared love of movies brought some couples together, including Private Edward Oliver and Dauphne Tomblin, their romance flourishing during the summer with regular trips to The Regal in King Street.

They were parted forever, though, after Edward was dropped into The Netherlands in September and captured by the Germans. Tragically, he was killed in an Allied bombing raid while out on a prisoner-of-war working party in February 1945.

Dauphne was a few weeks pregnant when her husband parachuted into battle and never got to see his daughter, Dinah.

She still has a treasured pillowcase her father had made from parachute silk and embroidered, which he had given to her mother.

Dinah will be one of the people attending this year’s reunion events for the battlion, which take place tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday.

A regular attender has been Maj Jeffrey Noble, who has fond memories of his time in Melton, often playing pranks with his fellow platoon commanders, Michael Cambier and Ronnie Adams.

Jeffrey was taken prisoner at Arnhem but on his release he found love with Rebecca, affectionately known as Bobbie, with the couple marrying just weeks after meeting.

On Friday, veterans and their families of 156 Parachute Regiment, which was originally formed as 151 Battalion in 1941, will attend lunch and a service at Saltby Airfield, where the men flew out to Arnhem from, followed by an evening dinner at Sysonby Knoll Hotel.

There will be a church service at St Mary’s Church in Melton at 11am on Saturday followed by lunch in the town.

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Dauphne Tomblin EMN-180810-161918001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Dauphne Tomblin EMN-180810-161918001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - John Waddy EMN-180810-161955001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - John Waddy EMN-180810-161955001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - 1944 painting showing women exercising horses at Melton's Remount Depot as RAF planes fly overhead EMN-180810-162100001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - 1944 painting showing women exercising horses at Melton's Remount Depot as RAF planes fly overhead EMN-180810-162100001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Maj Jeffrey Noble EMN-180810-162026001

151/156 Parachute Regiment reunion - Maj Jeffrey Noble EMN-180810-162026001

Ann Waddy, who worked at Melton's Remount Centre in 1944 when she met eventual husband John, who was stationed in the town with 156 Parachute Regiment EMN-181010-092958001

Ann Waddy, who worked at Melton's Remount Centre in 1944 when she met eventual husband John, who was stationed in the town with 156 Parachute Regiment EMN-181010-092958001