by the Rev. Cannon Alex Cheevers
Lieutenant Pat Glover US32-710SP
MYRTLE the Para-chick was a totally unique,
one-off lady. It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to
introduce you to her. But first, I need to give you just the
briefest of background information. Then Myrtle herself can come
In September 1944 the Allies had broken out
from the D Day Landings areas of Normandy and were moving north
through France towards Germany.
For the Allies, General Montgomery came up
with the idea of opening up a 'back door', or a short cut, in to
the heart of Germany, by invading Germany by going through
German-occupied Belgium and Holland - a supposedly less strongly
Thus, on September 17, 1944, the Allies
launched the biggest airborne operation in history, code-named
Operation Market Garden.
It involved landing thousands of British,
American and Polish air-borne troops behind enemy lines in
Holland and Belgium.
Some would land by parachute, some by glider.
These troops were to capture and hold several key bridges
situated on the road which led north in to Germany.
Alongside this airborne operation, the other
part of Operation Market Garden was that the British XXX Corps
of armour and infantry was brought forward to lie in wait at the
Once the key bridges on the road north were
captured and in Allied hands, British XXX Corps with their heavy
armour would drive up that liberated road from Northern France,
through Belgium and Holland.
They would then cross the last of the
captured bridges - at Arnhem - and get right in to the heart of
Germany. If all of this worked, the war would be over by
Christmas. And by this shortening of the war, thousands of lives
would be saved.
The final outcome of that operation is a
story for another day. But that brief introduction sets the
scene for the arrival of Myrtle.
Myrtle was a chicken. A real live chicken.
But she was a very special chicken. From the time she was born,
she had been the pet of an Army man, Lieutenant Pat Glover.
And even though Lieutenant Pat Glover was a
paratrooper, throughout his service he managed to keep Myrtle
with him as his pet. No doubt the fact that he was an officer
helped him in those days to `pull strings' to hold on to her.
Be that as it may, wherever Pat was posted,
Myrtle went with him. Pat had the same affection for Myrtle as
some of us might have for a much-loved dog, cat or other animal.
And then in early September 1944 Pat's
Battalion got its orders that they were going in to battle and
that they would drop by parachute as part of Operation Market
Garden. So what did Lieutenant Pat Glover do? He decided that he
and Myrtle were not going to let a little war separate them. If
he was going to war, Myrtle was going to war.
So on the day of the drop Myrtle was stuffed
inside his parachuting jacket, and the jacket was closed over.
And when Pat jumped, Myrtle jumped too.
Both of them landed safe and well, but
immediately came under heavy German fire. Pat was prepared for
that eventuality, and for her protection Myrtle was put in to a
satchel Pat had brought for her.
Myrtle survived that fire-fight and over the
next days wherever Pat went, Myrtle went. If there was something
Pat had to do for a short time which meant Myrtle couldn't be
with him, Myrtle was left in the care of Pat's bat-man.
So sometimes she was with Pat, sometimes with
his bat-man. However, a few days later they all again came under
heavy fire. The three of them - Myrtle at that moment inside
Pat's jacket - dived in to a slit trench for cover. So that she
would be safe, Pat put Myrtle back in to her satchel until the
fire-fight would be over.
After a time, even though they were still
under fire, Pat noticed that Myrtle was missing. She had got out
of her satchel. He went up the trench looking for her. And found
her. Lying with her heels up. Myrtle had been killed. The
in-coming fire had got her.
Pat was heartbroken - and so was his bat-man.
When that bit of the battle was over, and things had quietened
down a bit, the pair of boys took and dug a grave for Myrtle.
And buried her where she fell, on the battlefield. Myrtle was
buried with her parachute-wings on her breast - as befits a
paratrooper who had died in action.
The story struck me as a poignant one. For
all kinds of reasons, I could not foresee the story being
repeated in today's world. But in the context of the 1944 it
gives a little bit of insight in to the heart of a 'tough'
paratrooper and his love for his pet. Lieutenant Pat Glover was
later wounded in action - but he survived to tell the tale.
Myrtle obviously wasn't the only casualty of
Operation Market Garden. Thousands died in that Operation. And
now as we come near to the Anniversary on September 17 the minds
of the families of the casualties turn towards Arnhem. Even this
year, sixty two years later, there will still be a pilgrimage of
relatives going to the scene of their loss.
As part of my own tribute to those who fell
there, I will be leading a group of people from Northern Ireland
on a tour of the Operation Market Garden area, and 'The Bridge
too far' at Arnhem.
We will visit all the main sites there,
including The Cauldron and the Hartenstein Hotel. On the way we
will take in the battlefields of the First World War at Ypres
and Passchendale, with attendance one evening at the Menin Gate
Remembrance Ceremony. Also included in the trip will be a visit
to the Beaches and Memorials of Dunkirk, where the men of
British Expeditionary Force - including the 2nd Battalion of the
Royal Ulster Rifles - were evacuated in May/June 1940.
And we'll have time to visit the beautiful
city of Bruges, the Venice of the north, and see much more as
well. The tour lasts one week, from September 10 to 16.
If anyone would like more information on the
tour I can be contacted on 9269 0701.