Title INTERVIEW WITH NORMAN SKEATES NOVEMBER 2008 Description
The photograph shows Norman Skeates at the Ranville War Cemetery on June 6th 2006.
Mr Skeates volunteered to join the Parachute Regiment.
When you volunteer for the Paras ? I volunteered in December ?44. So we did the December fitness test which was at Hardwick Hall in Lincolnshire. When you finished with it you was A1+. That means you finished with and different tests and route marches and everything to see whether you are fit enough for the route marches and everything so when you passed you go to Ringway which is an airport outside Manchester.
You had to do eight jumps to qualify. That was three from a balloon ? that was a captive balloon ? that was two jumps and one night jump. That was war time so you had bonfires in different fields so you knew when you came down. As you came down with the chute you couldn?t see the ground because it comes up so dark.
Anyway that was three from the captive balloon. Then you had five from a Dakota which was jumping through the door. When you jump out with the chute these lines break and the chute opens and then closes and then opens again and that?s the signal to pull your webbing down and you?ve got control of the silk canopy then and you put your legs together and as you hit the ground you twist together onto your side and that breaks and that?s equivalent to a fifteen foot jump ? fifteen foot from a wall. There?s quite a few people break their ankles doing it!
After that I was stationed at Larkhill, a big military camp and I joined the 13th Battalion as an infantryman. I was there for about three weeks. Then the chaps went because they were going to drop over the Rhine on the last offensive up to the Ruhr and up to the Baltic. Being as I could drive a motor car or a lorry I was ordered on to the MT ? Motor Transport line ? so they took me out of the infantry and put me onto motor transport. So with the infantry dropping on the Rhine, transport had to be ready to re-supply them because when they dropped they only had limited ammunition. Having crossed the Channel we went by land to the DZ*. The six-tonners went to the other side of the Rhine and then we pushed ourselves up through the German lines with the Americans one side and us the other.
After D-Day, Mr Skeates was part of the late 1944 operations in North West Germany.
I was with the operation code named Varsity. That was the task of the Battalion ? to clear and hold ground. After we crossed the Rhine, I went up to Osnabruck. We went up to the Elbe. The instructions for the Brigade were to get up to the Baltic as fast as we could so we were in the fore there. Our orders were to push up to the Baltic because the Russians were pushing from the east; they were pushing towards Berlin which they reached. We thought they wanted occupation of Germany because they wanted the machinery of Germany in the Ruhr and everything ? the factories which, I believe after the war they stripped and shipped back to Russia. And our orders were to get up to the Baltic and occupy the land and we did it but myself, I got dysentery ? I must have had some dirty water or something.
The Russians wanted to go further west and occupy Denmark so they could have an outlet to the Atlantic. So our Brigade Commander said they would send in the Typhoons which was our answer to tanks. The Typhoon was our most successful RAF anti-tank destroying aircraft. They swallowed and they stopped advancing. So that?s why the Russians didn?t take Denmark.
We were mechanised then. There were several clashes. We were with the Armoured Brigade and on one side were the Americans. There was an engagement going on when I was there ? I was on the front line there. The 6th Airborne were going up and they were meeting young kids (the Germans were recruiting very young soldiers at this point). The Doctor and the Padre encountered German opposition ? an anti-tank gun ? it was manned by these youngsters. But luckily the Doctor and the Padre went forth and they talked them into surrender. The war ended as we met the Russians. As we went up three German generals surrendered to our Headquarters. They were retreating from the Russians.
Mr Skeates was then transferred to the Far East.
When the 6th Airborne came back they were going to drop on and invade Malaya and Singapore which was the Japanese High Command. We were then 5th Independent Brigade and we were going to drop on the Causeway (the road link between Singapore Island and the mainland) while the seaborne landing was going at sea just up the coast. The Causeway had to be taken and held because Singapore itself had a large number of Japanese units. What we had to do was to stop the Japanese coming out so we set sail from Bombay. They put us on a troop ship and changed our equipment from khaki to green for the jungle.
I was doing a guard duty at the Raffles Hotel which was the Headquarters of the Japanese South-East Command and I had a few hours in hand and I went to see if I could find some watches and some pistols. I did find something. I saw a roughly made box. I opened it with my bayonet and there were shavings inside and soda things and they were uncut diamonds and I never realised it! As a young chap of only 19 I thought diamonds were things that glittered, polished! More than likely they were being packed up to go back with some general to Japan.
We were in charge of Japanese prisoners. They were all in a camp but we took about 20 of them and had them doing different jobs, doing guard duty around houses and on the docks ? there was a lot of stuff that got looted. There was a black market.
Then orders came to go to Batavia, Java. In Djakarta, the Dutch internees ? women and children - were trying to get to Batavia to get out of the country. The Indonesian nationalists were taking the Japanese arms and causing us trouble and they were killing the Dutch and the Japanese. So we had to go in there, making a strongpoint in a monastery and then we would go into the jungle and bring them out and ship them out so they could go back to civilisation. We had to leave there to come back to Singapore because the Dutch were coming back. The natives were literally crying to see us go. They didn?t want a return to Dutch colonialism. The 13th were the last out and as we went we heard a battle going on behind us.
Then they told us we had to go to fight the communists in Siam (Thailand) but we never did. I got Malaria and when I went back to the East Yorks in June 1948 I was sent to the Millbank military hospital; then I was put in Richmond Park for rehabilitation.
Then the camp was being prepared for the 1948 London Olympics and I volunteered for a PE display and that kept me going until I was demobbed.
(Mr Skeates was awarded many medals including the Defence, France and Germany, and South East Asia medals)
Mr Skeates took part in the following operations:
'Varsity' - Over the Rhine; Germany to the Baltic.
'Zipper'- Far east seaboard landing in Malaya and Singapore.
'Pounce' - Singapore to Java, Batavia and Semarang.
* Drop zone
Interview by Sophie Horwood
Keywords Parachute Regiment, Dakota, Rhine, Baltic, Americans, Russians, Typhoon, Denmark, Japanese, Singapore, Indonesian Collection Overseas Battle Fronts Place Germany, Singapore, Indonesia Year 1944 Conflict World War Two File type image Record ID number 111
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