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The Story of a Grenadier Guardsman and Pioneer of The Parachute Regiment Reg Curtis, No. 2 Commando, 11th SAS,
1st Parachute Battalion

Corporal Reg Curtis, No 2 Commando, 11th SAS, 1st Parachute Battalion


Gren Gds


The Parachute Regiment
2 Cdo / 11 SAS / 1 Para
Reg Curtis


Author's Preface

This is a story told through one man’s eyes. There are so many different memories held by others, but these are mine. In my 94th year they remain vivid and clear, often more so than recollections of more recent times. I suppose that’s the way it is when you have lived through war. This is a story that begins before the Second World War and runs through it—a time when everyone did their bit and I just played my part. I was already in the Grenadier Guards when war was declared with Germany in September 1939, and when Winston Churchill’s call to volunteer for commando and parachute training came in 1940 it was an easy one to answer. I was privileged to serve my country and am proud to have done so with other pioneers of the Parachute Regiment, whose memory and friendship I hold dear. I have no regrets. Between 1939 and 1945 we took part in the greatest conflict in human history. We won the war, of course, and back home in Britain have now had almost 70 years of peace, for which we can all be grateful. What a shame it is, though, that even the vast scale of suffering we went through was not enough to finally put an end to war itself. I don’t suppose there will ever be one way of agreeing about everything but I can’t help hoping that things will eventually get better for everyone, not just us.
This is a book made possible by events but more especially by people. I have been blessed over the years to be surrounded by good people and I thank and acknowledge them all. First, my family, and above all my wife Betty Frances, who has been a complete part of my life and without doubt my rock. I hope my numerous other family members will forgive my not listing every name, but you are all embedded in my heart. To those who have contributed, whether directly or indirectly, to the making of this book, I offer unqualified thanks for your patience and encouragement.
After my service with the Guards I was one of the first recruits for No. 2 Commando, which later became the 11th SAS, then the 1st Parachute Battalion, then part of the 1st Parachute Brigade, which in turn formed part of the Parachute Regiment. I trained and fought with many good men, a lot of them becoming close friends, and including far too many who did not survive the war as I did. I thank every one of you for giving me the precious gift of another seventy years of life.
I took part in the Parachute Regiment’s most remembered battle at Arnhem in September 1944 and share deeply in our bond with the good people of that city. This is an unbreakable bond that grows ever stronger and now truly spans generations. I must have returned to Arnhem 30 times since 1944 and I doubt there is any place on earth where friendship is more profound. I’m sure I can speak for every Para when I say thank you to the citizens of Arnhem, especially to the wonderful children. There is no sight more moving than your annual laying of flowers at the Airborne Cemetery. You are our bridge to the future.

When the war ended I found it difficult initially knuckling down to civilian life. The letter from the government saying, ‘you are now a civilian’ seemed so sudden. I couldn’t face the prospect of an office job, so tried manufacturing—making handbags—before joining my brother-in-law John in his landscape gardening business, and then branching out on my own in the same line of work. Having an artificial leg didn’t help but I didn’t let it hinder me, and the limb-fitting centre at Gillingham kindly reinforced my artificial knee for kneeling, several times! I got a BSA motorbike and sidecar and had the gears modified to operate by hand instead of foot. I built my own house. You do the best you can. Many people have helped me along the way and continue to do so. To each of you, thank you for your every kindness and for your friendship. I hope you will enjoy reading this book.

Reg Curtis
Profits from the sale of this book go to The Parachute Regiment Charity.
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Anje van Maanen <<< Anje van Maanen Ann Pelster Caspers <<<Ann Pelster Caspers

Anje van Maanen and Ann Pelster Caspers, whose bravery during the Battle of Arnhem is deserving of the highest recognition

Reg Curtis describes the scene at the Tafelberg Hotel, where he spent six days and nights after being wounded: "There were so many shells landing in, on, and around the building, plus the occasional burst of machine gun fire spattering the inner walls, that I imagined we must be slap bang in the front line or somewhere in no-man’s land. The Dutch doctor Gerrit van Maanen and his 17-year-old daughter Anje and son Paul were doing an extraordinary job in what were now the ruins of this once-quiet hotel. There was a sudden flurry of activity as Anje and Paul, together with Ann Pelster Caspers and two medics, made a dash down the stairs to receive two Jeeps packed with walking wounded from the perimeter area. There were hundreds of wounded, enemy included, as well as Dutch people caught up in the fight—so many that some got moved to the hotel’s annexe across the driveway—and any man with flesh wounds or injuries that did not hinder the use of a firearm was ordered outside to fight."

And after the Battle:

"Outside was a ghastly sight, with the dead of both sides still lying where they had fallen. British and German medical orderlies were putting the wounded into Jeeps and various other vehicles, including two small vans improvised as makeshift ambulances. Three of us stretcher cases were loaded on to a small open German lorry with shallow sides, which would prevent us bouncing off in transit. There was just enough room also for five walking wounded. Anje Maanen, Ann Pelster Caspers and Atie Schultz were still there, working to the end and trying their best to make things more bearable for everyone." With the greatest respect and love for Anje van Maanen and Ann Pelster Caspers and every angel of Arnhem.

Reg Curtis took off from Barkston Heath in a C47 Dakota with 1st Para. He was no. 13 in the 93rd aircraft in the third wave to take off on 17 September.

Corporal Curtis, No. 2 Commando, 11th SAS Battalion, 1941 Corporal Curtis, No. 2 Commando, 11th SAS Battalion, 1941

Corporal Curtis, 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1942

1 Para

Reg Curtis with Mr Rutgers outside his home at 92 Klingelbeekseweg in 1994 Mr Rutgers had taken in many Airborne wounded during the Battle of Arnhem in 1944 and Reg had been brought here. But the house was full so Reg lay outside, later recalling the scene vividly:

Reg Curtis with Mr Rutgers

"...something flashed from an upper window only twenty yards ahead and bullets splattered the wall above us. The medics set me down to wait for an opportune moment to get across the road and I saw four Paras press themselves into the wall of the building opposite as they worked their way towards that flash. When under the window, the leading Para kicked the door and out of the window came a ‘potato masher’, which he immediately picked up and threw back in, accompanied by a Mills bomb thrown by another man. There was quite some explosion, following which the four Paras entered the building, spraying Sten gun fire in the room and up through the floorboards, a trick we had learned in training. A Schmeisser automatic fell from the top window, closely followed by an SS man. The medics grabbed my stretcher and crossed the road"

I was more than relieved to get out of the line of fire and was carried to the relative safety of a garden wall. As I lay helpless behind the wall I had a clear view of the clatter and confusion of battle through the demolished gateway. I saw four of our men in a Jeep, who thought they would run the gauntlet and belted by, accelerating and swerving wildly, guns blazing. They must have been doing 40 miles per hour and the driver was fighting with the wheel as he dodged shell bursts and potholes in the road, veering from one side to the other and bouncing over obstacles. Hurtling around a dead Para spread-eagled in the road, the Jeep came to a halt so vigorously that the four occupants literally flew out. Unscathed, they picked themselves up and disappeared into the brick and concrete jungle, leaving a now hissing Jeep with a broken front wheel pinion. A few moments later a mortar volley descended around the vehicle, instantaneously enveloping it in flames."

A Tribute to the Men

The badge of No 2 Commando, 11th SAS, Ist Para, produced by Reg Curtis. Above the badge, Battalion COs 1940-45.

Battalion COs 1940-45.


Many thanks to Geoffrey Holland and the family of Reg Curtis

Five hundred men in all, almost all of them Guardsmen like Reg. As I understand it only about 80 survived the war and since then their numbers gradually reduced until I believe Reg was the last. For this reason I think Reg's passing must have special significance to 1st Para and the Regiment. Reg and that dwindling number of mates maintained their little fraternity over the years and wore their unique insignia which Reg in fact designed.

From Geoffrey Holland contact via email

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© Reg Curtis 2014 - Pilots Publishing

Reg Curtis Crossing the Arnhem Bridge, September 2004 << Reg Curtis Crossing the Arnhem Bridge, September 2004


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