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5350816 L/Cpl Cottrell E.J

Ernest John Cottrell was the son of Mr and Mrs E Cottrell of 54 High Street, Hungerford. He was 21 years old and a former butcher with Mr A E Mills who's shop was at the High Street end of Church Lane, and is now the fruit shop.

For three years he had been serving in the army with the Royal Berkshire Regiment before joining the 4th Somerset Light Infantry arriving in France on 19 July 1944 and taking part in actions through France, Belgium and Holland, from Caen and Hill 112, across the River Seine on 26 August and on to Elst on 26 September in support of the Arnhem landings. They spent October preparing for the crossing of the border into Germany, on 11 November 1944.

It was on the 20 November whilst in Geilenkirchen, a reporter from the Daily Telegraph found L/Cpl Cottrell and three of his men billeted in a small German farmhouse. It was the first time in weeks that they had not slept out in slit trenches and were making themselves at home. Cottrell made use of a stove to cook a sheep killed the previous night, which made a pleasant change from bully beef and sardines.

The rest of November, December and January were spent supporting the Allied build up in Germany and preparing for the crossing of the River Rhine. February was to see them pushing on to Cleve on the 10th before continuing on to Goch between the 12 and 21 of that month.

1 to 7 March saw the 4th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry assembling near Tootenhugel. A major assault was needed to take the fortified town of Xanten before the Rhine crossing could be attempted. The Germans were not going to give up this town easily. They had an anti-tank ditch, minefields and dug-in emplacements. All previous attempts to take the town had failed which was also defended by parachute troops, this told the attackers all they needed to know about the opposition!

The assault commenced at 5.00am on the 8 March 1945. The town had already been heavily bombed, leaving the fine old buildings in piles of rubble, which provided ideal defence for determined opposition troops. With the 4th and 5th Wiltshires in support, the Somersets moved into the area of the anti-tank ditch, which was thought to be about 90 feet wide, meeting heavy Spandau machine gun fire. Without creeping artillery barrage cover, they had to cross the ditch a section at a time, gaining ground before a scissors bridge was brought by 34 Tank Brigade, who then destroyed the remainder of the enemy positions. By 9.30am, they were established in the town under sniper fire but, with the help of tanks and flame-throwers, they were able to crush all opposition by 4.30pm.

Among the thirteen casualties was L/Cpl Ernest J Cottrell who now lies in the Reichswald Forrest Cemetery near Cleve, Germany.

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- Ernest Cottrell