Remembering wartime

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ALL kinds of memories of the last war return at Armistice time.

I recall a day in 1944 when the skies above March were darkened with literally hundreds of powered aircraft towing Horsa gliders. This spectacular sight brought inhabitants pouring into the streets.

The aircraft circled March and district for a good 20 minutes waiting for stragglers to join them.

March had been chosen for the assembly point for launching the ill-fated assault on Arnhem, Holland, in the attempt to take the bridge, in advance of allied forces and hopefully shorten the war. It was indeed a bridge to far.

Many of the troops looking down upon march and the green Fenland fields that day never returned alive and others became prisoners of war.

A guider lost its towing gear and came down near the town. A jeep and its crew got out safely but as things turned out they were lucky.

Despite bombs falling on Norwood Road killing citizens, March generally lived a charmed life. Inhabitants fully expected an enemy saturation raid to wipe out Whitemoor railway marshalling yards.

Quiet often the approach lines to the giant complex were bombed to disrupt rail traffic and gate house strafed but, apart from a Wellington bomber crashing into a railway pit and setting a coal train alight the yards remained relatively unscathed. Why the yards were not destroyed seemed a mystery.

Some time ago I was reliably informed that some documents had come to light in Berlin.

These indicate Adolf Hitler explicitly commanded the Luftwaffe; “on no account must the Whitemoor railway marshalling yards, at March be destroyed” Why? The bidirectional yards would have been invaluable to invading forces.

As it was Germany had incorporated much railway technology at Whitemoor.

The enemy kept an eye on the north of March, reconnaissance planes dropping flares now and then, making record of what’s going on.

If the yards had been bombed to destruction much of the north of March would have gone as well.

Enemy aircraft regularly flew over March and machine gunned the streets on occasions. Bearing Norwood Road in mind, that was the worst that happened.

Whitemoor marshalling yards with a capacity of storing more than 17,000 trucks and wagons played a major role during the war, marshalling and dispatching war materials to all parts of the country.