Norman Hammersley was born in Cuerden on 18 December 1912. His father was Joseph Hammersley (b. 1878 in Preston), a builder’s labourer. His mother was Catherine (Kate) Bramley (b. 1878 in Preston). Joe and Kate were married in Preston in 1899 and they had 7 children. Normanwas the youngest. His older siblings were: Ernest (b. 1901), Henry (b. 1903), Ellen (b. 1905), Sydney (b. 1906), Beatrice (b. 1909) and Fred (1911-1912). By 1939, the family had moved to 1 Cedar Avenue, Lostock Hall, and Norman was working as a railway labourer.
Norman enlisted in the Army. He served with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 2nd Battalion. 2nd Bn Ox & Bucks were stationed in India on the North West Frontier at the start of the Second World War, before being recalled to the UK. In the early years of the war, they formed part of the 31st Independent Infantry Brigade, undertaking Home and Coastal Defence roles in Wales, East Anglia, London and Kent. At this stage in the war, the British Airborne Forces consisted of just the 1st Parachute Brigade. In September 1941 however, the War Office decided that a Brigade of glider infantry should be raised to compliment them. 2nd Bn Ox & Bucks was among the infantry battalions assigned to the new 1st Airlanding Brigade.
Gliders were seen as a necessary method of supporting airborne operations, as they were able to carry additional infantry to reinforce the parachute brigades, and also heavy equipment, such as jeeps and Anti-Tank Guns. It was this factor, and the subsequent formation of the 1st Airborne Division, that made it possible for the role of the British Airborne Forces to advance beyond the small-scale and infrequent commando raids that had been previously envisaged.
The transformation to an Airborne Battalion saw the 2nd Ox and Bucks remain in England and start training for the planned invasion of North West Europe the following year as part of the re-designated 6th Airlanding Brigade of 6th Airborne Division. Elements of the Battalion (D Coy and parts of B Coy) formed a Coup de Main force, tasked with an attack on the bridges over the River Orne and adjacent Canal in Normandy (subsequently known as the attack on Pegasus Bridge).
The Battalion's involvement in the successful Coup de Main action at Pegasus Bridge, under Major John Howard proved one of the most remarkable British Airborne actions during the Second World War. The 2nd Battalion itself would continue to see Airborne action however, serving as part of the 6th Airborne deployment to the Ardennes and the Rhine Crossing in early spring 1945.
Parachute drop for Operation Varsity
On 23 March 1945, the Allies launched Operation Varsity and Operation Plunder, to cross the Rhine at Wesel. Whereas all other Allied airborne landings had been a surprise for the Germans, the Rhinecrossing was expected, and their defences were reinforced in anticipation. The airborne operation was preceded by a two-day round-the-clock bombing mission by the Allied air forces. Then on 23 March, 3,500 artillery guns targeted the German positions. On 24 March, 6th Airborne was engaged in Operation Varsity. Involving more than 16,000 paratroopers and several thousand aircraft, it was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day and in one location. 6th Airborne Division was ordered to capture the villages of Schnappenberg and Hamminkeln, clear part of the Diersfordt Forest of German forces, and secure three bridges over the River Issel. I don’t know the exact circumstances of his death but Norman Hammersley was killed during this operation, on 24 March 1945. He was 32 years old.
Service Number: 3972372
Unit/Regiment: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, 2nd (Airborne) Bn.
Date of death: 24/03/1945
Buried at: REICHSWALD FOREST WAR CEMETERY
Grave Reference: 35. F. 8.
Additional Information: Son of Joseph and Catherine Hammersley, of Lostock Hall, Lancashire.