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British Army

"He" Returned to the Ardennes

"He" Returned to the Ardennes

From 15th to 18th March 2002, for the third consecutive year, “He” was back in the Ardennes leading a delegation of British Paratroops Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge who wish to remember and honour their comrades who made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom. 
 
“He” …is Major Jack Watson, 85years of age, a former Company commander in the 13th Lancashire Battalion of the 6th Airborne Division, who fought in the bitter battle of Bure in early January 1945.  “For meritorious action under direct enemy fire” he earned the Military Cross. 
 
 Major Jack Watson at Hotton (Belgium)
 
Born on the 14th of January 1917 in Yorkshire, the future Major Watson went to officer candidate school in Barmouth, North Wales. Upon qualifying, he was assigned to a light infantry unit, the Duke of Cornwall’s Regiment. 
 
An action man fascinated by new combat methods, he then went to Ringway, near Manchester for airborne training, whereupon he was assigned to the 13th Lancashire Battalion of 6th Airborne Division.  It was with his red beret, Pegasus Winged Horse and jump wings that on the night of 5th-6th June 44, he jumped into Normandy.  At 02:30 am he and his comrades liberated Ranville inland from the landing beaches. 
 
In the following weeks he saw action in Putot en Auge, Pont L’Eveque, and Pont Audemer. 
 
On 1st September 44, the 6th Airborne returned to Great Britain to fill the gaps in its ranks and train for the important allied assault across the Rhine River. 
 
On 16th December, 44 at 05:30 am, in the fog and cold, between Monschau and Echternach, the German army launched a massive counterattack. This was the start of the Battle of the Bulge. Bastogne was quickly surrounded and Von Manteuffel’s tanks headed for Dinant and the bridges over the Meuse River. 
 
On 20th December, the British Paratroops were put on alert.  Weather conditions wouldn’t permit an airborne operation so they sailed across the Channel then travelled by road to a position between Dinant and Ciney, at the high point of the German attack.  They later moved to new positions between Tellin and Marche en Famenne. 
 
At dawn on 3rd January 45, in the cold and snow, Major Watson and the soldiers of 13th Battalion marched from Resteigne to liberate Bure after three days of fighting and heavy losses.  The men of 6th Airborne liberated Grupont, Wavreille, Jemelle, On, Hargimont, Nassogne, Forrieres, Masbourg, Lesterny, Amberloup, Marloie, Waha and Roy.  At Bande on 11th January, 45, a patrol of the 1st Canadian Battalion, accompanied by Belgian SAS, discovered with horror the bodies of 34 civilians, who’d been murdered by the Germans on Christmas Eve.  Men of the 9th Battalion acted as honour guard during the burial ceremony. 
 
Having captured their objectives, on 15th January, Major Watson and the airborne troops left the combat zone.  The 6th Airborne Division left 124 men killed in action, of whom 64 died at Bure.
 
Following rest and further training, on 24th March, 45 a massive airborne drop “Operation Varsity” was launched.  Major Watson and his division jumped over the Rhine then advanced towards the Baltic via Osnabruck and Luneburg.  On 2nd May 45, British paratroops established contact with Russian troops under Marshal Rokossovsky .  No sooner had operations in Germany finished on 8th May 45 with the allied victory, than the British High Command turned its attention to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.  Following a well-earned rest, Major Watson was sent to Palestine and the Suez Canal Zone to carry out operations on behalf of the British government and the international community.  He later served in Austria and the Middle East as a military attaché and retired from her Majesty’s army in 1958 to return to civilian life. 
 
Since 1982, Major Watson has served as an administrator and President of veterans’ associations and museums, in Great Britain and on the continent.  He has kept alive the memory of his fallen comrades and passed on this memory to the following generations.  It is therefore along with his wife Laura, his daughters Claire and Sally, his sister Sybil and his comrades of the 6th Airborne that on Saturday 16th March at 09:30 am that he was at the 1st Canadian Battalion memorial at Rochefort.  On Sunday 17th March at 10:00am he was at the British Military Cemetery at Hotton, at 14:00 at the monument in Bure at 16:00 at the monument in Bande and at 17:00 at the Battle of the Bulge museum in La Roche. 
 
He was there to remember his fallen comrades and so that no on will forget the memory of those young men from overseas who gave us back our liberty. 
Bure
 
 
 
The Airborne Forces Prayer
 
May the defence of the Most High be above and beneath, around and within us, in our going out and in our coming in, in our rising up and in our going down all our days and all our nights, until the dawn when the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings for the people of the world. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 
Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this earthly life, till the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of live is over, and our work done. Then in Your mercy grant us safe lodging, a welcome rest, and peace at least. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 
 
 
Guy BLOCKMANS