8th (Midland Counties) Parachute Battalion

History

The 8th (Midlands) Parachute Battalion was an airborne infantry battalion of the Parachute Regiment, raised by the British Army during the Second World War. The battalion was created in late 1942 by the conversion of the 13th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment to parachute duties. The battalion was assigned to the 3rd Parachute Brigade, serving alongside the 7th (later replaced by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion) and 9th Parachute battalions, in the 1st Airborne Division before being reassigned to help form the 6th Airborne Division in May 1943.

The 8th Parachute Battalion fought in Operation Tonga, the British airborne landings in France on D-Day, the Normandy Campaign, and the break out to the River Seine. Withdrawn to England in September 1944, the German winter offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge saw the battalion return to the continent. Their final mission during the war was the River Rhine crossing, followed by the advance to the Baltic.

Commanding Officers:

1943            Lt Col Hildersly

1943-4        Lt Col AS Pearson, DSO, MC

1944-7        Lt Col G Hewetson, DSO

1946-8        Lt Col JHM Hackett, DSO

After the war the battalion was sent to Palestine with the 6th Airborne Division until January 1948, when it was amalgamated with the 9th (Eastern and Home Counties) Parachute Battalion (which had served alongside the 8th in 3rd Para Brigade) to form the 8th/9th Parachute Battalion.

Some Pictures of 8 PARA on the Plain and at Depot 1 between Tilshead and Westdown Camp are below.

The first ever massed airborne drop.  6th Airborne Division Salisbury Plain 1943
The first ever massed airborne drop.  6th Airborne Division Salisbury Plain 1943
The first ever massed airborne drop.  6th Airborne Division Salisbury Plain 1943

8 PARA CO Lt Col AS Pearson, DSO, MC and some of his officers

Members of 8 PARA.  All killed in action with exception Frank and Betty Druce’s friend Ted Eaglen (front left) and soldier to his right

Members of 8 PARA in 1943 between Tilshead and Lavington.  With the exception of Frank and Betty Druce’s friend Ted Eaglen (Back row middle sitting on a post) all were sadly killed or wounded in action

Soldiers of 8 PARA in Tilshead

 

Soldiers of 8 PARA before D Day

Below – Soldiers of 8 PARA prepare for the Rhine crossings

Brigadier Alastair “Jock” Stevenson Pearson, CB, DSO & Three Bars, OBE, MC, TD, DL (1 June 1915 – 29 March 1996) was a baker, farmer and one of the most highly regarded soldiers of the Parachute Regiment and was one of the most decorated soldiers in the British Army who served in the Second World War.  During the summer of 1944, the commander of the new 6th Airborne Division gave ‘Jock’ Pearson command of the division’s 8th Parachute Battalion, which was assigned to the 3rd Parachute Brigade. Pearson immediately began preparing the battalion for the Battle of Normandy. On the night of 5 June 1944, the battalion departed England for France. Upon landing, as part of Operation Tonga (the British airborne drops on D-Day), Pearson was shot in the hand but continued to command. The 8th Parachute Battalion went on to destroy several bridges over the River Dives and then take up defensive positions in the Bavent Wood, east of Pegasus Bridge. Pearson was awarded a fourth DSO in February 1945 for his contributions during the Battle of Normandy.  On his return to England in September 1944, Pearson surrendered command of the 8th Parachute Battalion due to ill health.

There is a memorial to the Parachute Regiment in Tilshead.

Frank Druce and George Clegg

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