This stone was placed here by the people of Tilshead in memory of the 8th (Midland Counties) Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. The Battalion was formed in 1942 and was stationed here until 1946 before moving to Palestine where it was disbanded in 1948 on amalgamation. The Battalion took part in the following Operations:
D Day 6th June
The Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes) 1944
The Rhine Crossing 1945
“Uttrinque Paratus” [“Ready for anything”]
Frank Druce Memorial Memories
During World War 2 a new elite unit was formed known as ‘The Parachute Regiment’. These men were volunteers from many existing units and the 8th Battalion Parachute Regiment was stationed in Tilshead.
They had their own small camp just north of the village where they lived and trained known locally as ‘Up the Airborne’. Their camp was broadly centred on where the memorials now stand. In the early 1980’s old soldiers of 8 PARA used to come to Tilshead from all over the country to meet in local pubs and talk of old times. My brother-in-law, Pete Waylen, was regular of the Rose and Crown and would come home and recount their local Tilshead stories. They would remember fondly their old camp, not dissimilar to Westdown Camp, and also recount stories of ‘Smokey Joe’s Café’. Was this the ‘Duck’ or ‘Grouse’ café on the corner by the ‘Black Horse’ pub or was it the café where the old Tilshead Pipe Factory now stands? (The latter being correct). One day my wife Betty suggested that the Parish council should do something to mark where their old camp was. I was Chairman of the Parish Council in those days and it was decided to mark the spot with a stone memorial and plaque. I contacted the Airborne Forces HQ in Aldershot via the Headquarters Salisbury Plain Training Area (HQ SPTA) village liaison officer, Major Mike Tulloch A stone was kindly provided by a Somerset Quarry and the brass commemorative plaque was ordered by Mike Tulloch from ‘Warminster Engraving’ with the costs for the plaque split between the village parish council and the Airborne Forces HQ.
The stone was unveiled Saturday 3rd August 1996 by Brigadier Stanley ‘James’ Ledger Hill DSO and Bar and MC who served as the Commander of the 3rd Parachute Brigade within the 6th Airborne Division during WW2.
A copy of the commemorative address made by Brigadier Hill is shown below:
The stone was blessed by Eric Hayden, then vicar of Tilshead. Refreshments were provided by Betty and the ladies of the village in the village hall. Letters of grateful thanks were received subsequently from the unveiling officer and Brigadier George Robert ‘Bob’ Flood MC a former Company Commander of 8th Battalion Parachute Regiment in 1944. After the unveiling ceremony a small contingent also visited the seven 8th Battalion Commonwealth War Graves in Tidworth military Cemetery. They had set out from Tilshead Camp on the night of 21 December 1943 and were sadly killed when their aircraft crashed in a wood near Ludgershall.
Below- Newspaper Article from Amesbury Journal dated 1st August 1996
8 PARA reunions in Tilshead then started to become a regular occurrence and the locals got to know the old soldiers very well. It helped that Betty’s father was the village bobby during the war and no doubt some of them had cause to remember him fondly! When they left the village PC Waylen was presented with a hip flask inscribed ‘From the Commanding Officer and Officers of the 8th (MC) Parachute Regiment – in recognition of co-operation and good service’. Army Cadet Force Captain John Hunter, formerly an 8 PARA soldier, organised the reunions with his great mate and 8 PARA comrade Ted Eaglen (who sadly died in 2015 aged 90) and they always stayed with Betty and me on these occasions. We would also drive up to Peterborough and stay in the ‘Swallow Hotel’ where they had their reunion dinner and dances. John Hunter said on one of these occasions that the 8th Battalion old comrades would like to do things for the village and they presented us with glass engraved vase which Betty, as the then church warden, always put on the alter at remembrance day.
They also paid for a new church carpet that went from the door to the altar, some of which is still in use. In 1997 they also paid for a wooden memorial bench from Hunter Developments in Peterborough that was established by the bus stop near the Tilshead Church gate (photographs below). Sadly, this suffered from the ravages of time and weather and I had to remove it, but the wooden bench has since been replaced by a more robust metal bench.
Every year at the Remembrance Service when the names on the memorial stone are read out by whoever lays the wreath (my job for 24 years) they also added ‘Let us remember the men of the 8th Battalion the parachute regiment who lived and trained in Tilshead and gave their lives in the Battle for Europe.’
The Parish council have established new memorial benches in Tilshead to commemorate the 100 years since the end of WW1, perhaps funds could be raised to replace the 8th Battalion memorial bench with the original plaque put on it? Lest we forget.
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.
Frank Druce (and George Clegg)