Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland



Myrtle the Para-chick lands at Arnhem

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 on stage.

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 defended route.

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 French/Belgian border.

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.

Ulster Star