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Owen Arthur Hillier
Rank: Private
Owen Arthur Hillier



The Devonshire Regiment

Rhine, Germany

March 24, 1945

Survived the war?
Devonshire Regiment

Devonshire Regiment

A brave 24 year old young man

Before the war he lived in Grays, Essex in the south of the UK. He joined the reservist wartime regiment, the 12th Devonshires who were an airborne regiment. He used to play in a marching band before the war. I still have the now rather battered cornet that he played. My father, his elder brother gave it to me when I was a young boy.

He underwent training with the 12th Devonshires and amongst other things completed a demolitions course. He also was reprimanded for going AWOL..

He went over On D+1 and landed on Sword Beach as part of the D-Day invasion. He spent time in norther Europe up until he was shot and wounded in August 1944 and he was sent back to the UK to recuperate in hospital. He returned to Europe in October 1944.

Operation Varsity

At some point he must have returned to the UK as he then took part in the airborne Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine. He was glider born and would have taken off from I believe RAF Rivenhall in Essex, towed probably by a Halifax aircraft.

What follows was relayed to me by the son of Owens friend Edward Hurrell who was with him on the glider. I made contact with his son during my long research into my Uncles time at war and he related his father’s story and the black and white photograph of my uncle to me. His Glider crash on landing killing some of the soldiers in the front of the glider.

Owens task was to blow the rear of the glider off to extract the equipment that the glider was carrying. Presumably, a vehicle or artillery. I don’t know. It was while he was laying the charges, he was shot in the neck. Owen was just 24 when he was Killed in Action in March 1945. He died in the arms of his friend Edward Hurrell. The original photograph was colourised for me by my eldest son as a birthday gift for me. The original was taken by war photographer Jimmy Christie who just happened to be on my uncles glider. It shows my uncle Owen looking straight at the camera. His friend Edward is to his right. The soldier in the foreground is sadly unknown to me.

German grave

I have visited his grave in the Commonwealth Graves cemetery near Kleve in Germany twice now. Once in 2015 on the 70th anniversary of his death when I went with my eldest son, and once more recently when I was visiting some friends in Holland. I plan to return once more hopefully next year in March on the 80th anniversary of his death.

Story by David Hillier, Owen's nephew

Devonshire Regiment

The Devonshire Regiment raised the 7th, 8th and 9th Territorial Army battalions, in addition to the 4th, 5th and 6th, all of which (except the 5th, which was converted pre-war into 86th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery) were serving in the 45th (Wessex) Infantry Division on the outbreak of war. However, none of these units, save the 4th Battalion, saw active service outside of the United Kingdom and were used mainly for home defence, training or supplying the other battalions of the regiment with infantry replacements and served with many different brigades and divisions such as the 80th Infantry (Reserve) Division. The 4th Battalion was sent, in May 1940, to Gibraltar to join the 2nd Gibraltar Brigade[54] and returned to the United Kingdom on 28 December 1943 and eventually joined the 164th Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division before finally ending the war in the 183rd Infantry Brigade, 61st Infantry Division. The 6th Battalion was transferred to the 141st Brigade, 47th Division.

The 5th and 7th Battalions were converted to anti-tank units, becoming 86th, and 87th Anti-Tank Regiments, Royal Artillery respectively. The 86th Anti-Tank Regiment was a corps-level Anti-tank unit with XII Corps in the North West Europe Campaign, while the 87th Anti-Tank Regiment was active in North Africa with the British 1st Army before being disbanded in 1944.

The 50th (Holding) Battalion was raised in 1940 and renumbered the 12th Battalion the same year and spent most of its time on home defence anticipating a German invasion. In June 1943, due to the huge expansion of the British Army's airborne forces, the battalion was transferred to the 6th Airlanding Brigade, part of the 6th Airborne Division, and were converted into glider infantry, trained to enter battle by glider.

The battalion landed in Normandy in the late afternoon of 6 June 1944 in Operation Mallard. The battalion also fought in the Battle of Breville, and served throughout the Battle of Normandy but as normal infantrymen. The battalion remained in Normandy until August 1944 where it participated in the breakout from the beachhead. The battalion, along the rest of 6th Airborne, was withdrawn to England in early September where they received new replacements, equipment and continued training. In December 1944 they fought briefly in the Battle of the Bulge but the outcome was already decided before the division arrived.

The battalion crossed the River Rhine in Operation Varsity in March 1945 alongside the U.S. 17th Airborne Division. The battalion ended the war by the River Elbe. Throughout its time in 6th Airlanding Brigade, the battalion was allegedly nicknamed the Swedebashers by the men in the other battalions (1st RUR and 2nd OBLI), due to the battalion being commanded by a regular army officer but nearly all the officers and men of the 12th Devons had enlisted for hostilities-only.

Veteran's personal medals
1939 - 1945 Star
1939 - 1945 Star
France - Germany Star
France - Germany Star
Defence Medal
Defence Medal
War medal 1939 - 1945
War medal 1939 - 1945
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