Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Seeking Private McGuinness

Letter addressed to Mrs Esther McGuinness, November 1944
(Courtesy of McGuinness family)
At the end of September 1944, after the Battle of Arnhem / Oosterbeek, one of the British Airborne troops posted as 'missing' was Private Hugh McGuinness, D Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment. One of those did manage to escape - although suffering from wounds - was the Commanding Officer of D Company, Major Charles F.O. Breese. After his release from hospital in November 1944 Major Breese wrote to Mrs Esther McGuinness, the mother of Private McGuinness, to tell her what he knew about her son during and after the battle.

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Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) A belief of a happy return

Following the Battle of Arnhem / Oosterbeek (17 - 25 September 1944) the surviving Allied Airborne troops who had been involved in failed attempt to take the bridge over the River Rhine at Arnhem withdrew south of the river. Behind them, they left their dead, their wounded, those who were treating the wounded and those who had covered their withdrawal. This was an anxious time for the families of those who had not returned. Were their loved ones alive or dead? Were they wounded or had they been taken as prisoners of war?

Relatives tried to find out any definite news of what had happened from those who had got away. As referred to above, one of those reported 'missing' after the Battle of Arnhem / Oosterbeek in September was Private Hugh McGuinness who came from Whitehaven, Cumberland. Private McGuinness was serving with 21 Platoon, D Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment. Seeking information about what had happened to Private McGuinness was his mother, Mrs Esther McGuinness (née Vallely) and father Hugh McGuinness (Senior) who had served in the Armed Forces in the First World War.

During the time he was missing Mrs McGuinness always believed her son was alive and would return home one day. At that time, Private McGuinness was also engaged to be married to Miss Irene Holman.

After word was received by the parents of Private McGuinness the parents of Private Hugh McGuinness, Mr Hugh McGuinness (Snr) and Mrs Esther McGuinness (née Vallely) their extended family and many friends visited their home at East Strand near Whitehaven harbour to give them their support, their prayers and offer their sympathy. Never did they give up hope of the safe return of their son. Mrs Esther McGuinness said she could feel it deep inside her that she knew her son was in danger - but she also knew that he was alive.

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(2) Reported missing at Arnhem

The following article about Private McGuinness appeared in the local weekly newspaper, 'The Whitehaven News':

"WHITEHAVEN TRUMPETER MISSING

Joining the Border Regiment (T.A.) Band at the age of 15, Pte Hugh McGuinness, the 23-year old son of Mr and Mrs H. McGuinness, East Strand, Whitehaven, is amongst The Border Regiment men missing at Arnhem. He was one of the Airborne troops who took part in the landing at Sicily and took part in the fighting at Taranto. He was a talented trumpet player and was well known in the district.

Before being called to the Colours on the outbreak of war he was employed on the Whitehaven Docks. His uncle, Sergt. pat McGuinness was recently reported killed in action and another uncle, Cpl. James McGuinness, was recently decorated with the Military Medal by Field Marshal Montgomery."

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Tuesday, 06 October, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(3) Major Charles Breese writes to Mrs Esther McGuinness

Although having been badly wounded during the battle, one of those who had managed to successfully withdraw from the Arnhem / Oosterbeek area on 25 September 1944 was Major Charles F.O. Breese. He was the Commanding Officer of D Company of 1st Border who had been in close proximity with Private McGuinness during much of the battle. In fact Major Breese and his men were involved in the thick of the fighting throughout the battle. Major Breese was mentioned for his conduct and actions during this battle in the 'London Gazette' in November 1947.

Major Breese was wounded on 23 September and upon his return to the UK he had to spend some time in hospital to recover. One of the first things he did after being discharged from hospital in November 1944 was to write a letter - in his own hand - to Mrs Esther McGuinness, the mother and next of kin of Private Hugh McGuinness. Below is a transcript of the letter.

Addressed to:

Mrs McGuinness
3 East Strand
Whitehaven
Cumberland

The letter:

"1st Bn The Border Regiment
A.P.O.
England

Nov 12

Dear Mrs McGuinness,

I am writing to say how very sorry I am that your son, Pte Hugh McGuinness was not able to get away from Arnhem.

I was his company commander and would have written to you earlier only I was wounded and have only just been released from hospital. I'm afraid I cannot find out much of what happened to your son.

He was seen, unhurt, at about 1500 hrs on the day we withdrew from Arnhem. But before D Company started to withdraw they were over run by the enemy and a number of them captured.

I was not there at the time, as I had been taken away to do another job some days earlier and no-one who came back appears to know exactly what occurred. However, there appears every likelihood that your son is a P.O.W., although in the absence of any definite information we have to show him simply as "missing".

Your son did very well during the battle, and I hope very much that you will soon get definite news of him from the War Office. I know that every effort is being made to find out what has happened to our missing men, as there a great many for whom we still cannot satisfactorily account.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Breese
Major"

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Tuesday, 06 October, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(4) Homecoming

Major Breese's calculation that Private McGuinness was a P.O.W. proved to be correct. Prisoners of war during these latter months of the war faced many deprivations and terrible hardships. Some of those taken prisoner did not return. Most of those who did return who rarely, if ever, talk of their experiences apart perhaps at reunions when they would be among friends who had shared the same experiences.

Private Hugh McGuinness did come back home after the war in Europe ended, as his family had believed all along he would. It was a joyous day for all the family. On 29 December 1945 Private Hugh McGuinness married his sweetheart Irene, which I have written about in a separate article.

Hugh McGuinness, a loving father and husband passed away on 3 May 1980 at the relatively early age of 59. Mrs Irene McGuinness passed away on 21 September 1993 aged 71. At the same time in the Netherlands the anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Arnhem / Oosterbeek were taking place. Their headstone has engraved on it a Border Regiment glider, the Airborne Pegasus figure and the Parachute Regiment badge and the following epitaph: "Peace be with you".

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(5) Charles Frederick Osborne Breese

As Major Charles F.O. Breese explains to Mrs McGuinness in the letter he wrote to her on 12 November 1944 at the time of the Battle of Arnhem / Oosterbeek he was the company commander of D Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment. Here is a brief summary of his career, based on information from the Border Regiment & KORBR Museum and Archives:

Name: Charles Frederick Osborne Breese, C.B.E., U.S. D.S.C.

Service No: 66138

Joined Border Regiment: 1935

Sicily campaign (1942): Staff Officer, Combined Operations HQ

Arnhem campaign: OC of D Company; acted as 2/ic of the Battalion; commanded 'Breeseforce' on the lower western perimeter of Oosterbeek; wounded and one of the last to withdraw from the Oosterbeek area.

Remainder of WW2: Commanding Officer (with rank of Lieutenant-Colonel) of 1st Battalion The Border Regiment (November 1944 - April 1946); rebuilt the battalion and took the German surrender in Norway, May 1945.

Post-war: Served as 2/ic of 3 Parachute Regiment, Commanded Border Regimental Depot (rank of Brigadier); C.O. of 17 Parachute Regiment (T.A.); awarded CBE in 1962; Chairman of the Border Regiment & KORBR Museum; died 1982.

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Tuesday, 06 October, 2009  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(6) 'London Gazette' citation for Major Breese (Battle of Arnhem)
U.S. Distinguished Service Cross
(Recommended for D.S.O.)

'London Gazette', 14 November 1947:

"On September 22 an unpleasant situation had developed on the south of the Brigade sector in the Arnhem position. All officers had become casualties and the enemy by persistent attacks had effected a penetration. Major Breese with a scratch force of one platoon Border Regiment, 40 Parachutists and 35 Poles was sent down with orders to stabilise the situation and be prepared to counter-attack the enemy.

As soon as the area was reached heavy mortar and artillery fire was laid on by the enemy and the Poles were reduced to 16 men, other units also suffering heavily. The situation was critical, but Major Breese immediately asserted his authority, and by his own personal bearing soothed the remainder of the force and within an hour was able to report, "All in order".

The area occupied by his force was subjected, until the evacuation, to some of the most intense fire, but the troops held, and offensive patrols were sent out with good results. Major Breese was wounded on September 23, but refused to be evacuated south of the river. It was entirely due to this officer's strong personality, fine example and fearless behaviour that his force was able to hold on to a position that was paramount importance to the Divisional perimeter."

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Acknowledgements:

Border Regiment & KORBR Museum, Queen Mary's Tower, Carlisle Castle, Carlisle, Cumbria

McGuinness family, Whitehaven, Cumbria

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Tuesday, 06 October, 2009  
Anonymous alan mc guinness said...

joe love to read your accounts of our family my son ryan has brought numerous reports home from you much appreciated thanks

Thursday, 06 December, 2012  

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