Syd Cringle fought in the Battle of Arnhem, was taken prisoner of war when he was hit by shrapnel, and suffered frost bite in both feet while forced to do hard labour in an ore mine.
These experiences could blight a person, but in an account of his life, he wrote that everyone is born with a gift, ‘I was born lucky. I was lucky in my parents and my family, also to have been born a Manxman. This luck has followed me all my life and has helped me to achieve standards well above my natural ability.’
It is a characteristically modest and upbeat statement by a man whose death earlier this month means he will be very missed by all who knew him.
Born in Queen Street, Castletown, in July 1924, Syd went to Douglas High School for Boys and was intent on studying physics or chemistry at university.
However, war intervened, with his father out of work and his two brothers in the armed forces he had to start work and in 1940 began as office boy at Castletown Brewery.
At 17, he joined the Home Guard, which had one platoon in Castletown. There were similarities to the TV show Dad’s Army, not least the commanding officer was a bank manager. On one occasion an older member, nearer 80 than 70, ‘had to relieve his bowels. When he tried to straighten up after squatting down, he found that he couldn’t move’.
Syd was called up in 1943 and trained with the 1st battalion of the Border Regiment at Formby then 4th East Lancashire Regiment in Norfolk.
He soon saw action and in 1944 was involved in ‘Operation Market Garden’ – the Battle of Arnhem, involving the transportation of 30,000 troops by air to secure Dutch bridges and towns.
Syd’s glider (made of plywood) was hit by three or four rounds which passed ‘harmlessly through the floor and out through the top of the glider’.
Their job was to secure a ferry landing zone for the arrival of Polish paratroopers; but there was unexpected resistance. They came under heavy mortar attack; he was amused by the fact ‘we all dashed for cover under and around the carts which were full of mortar bombs’.
Under fire from advancing German tanks and infantry, they were so close their mortars had to be held perpendicular to the ground. At one stage they were ordered to fix bayonets.
When climbing out of a trench, Syd was caught in the blast of a bomb and struck by a small piece of shrapnel. He was sent to a first aid post, which was taken over by the Germans and he became a prisoner of war and was transferred to a hospital in Arnhem, where they were fed stewed apples and mashed potato ‘for which I still have a liking’, he noted!
They were transported by train to Germany where he had ‘the most hair raising experience I had during the war’ when they were locked in a train truck overnight when the RAF bombed nearby Hanover marshalling yards.
At Stalag XI, food was the main issue. They survived on watery soup with vegetables and made porridge from grains to be fed to dogs.
One day a list of 100 names was read out, including Syd’s, and they were marched through the woods to a building with a large chimney and ordered to strip. The first news of the Nazi extermination camps was seeping into Britain with photographs of crematoriums and large chimneys; the prisoners of war feared the worst, but were being de-loused.
He worked in an ore mine and on the railway until he suffered frost bite in both feet. They were liberated by the American army and sent home.
Discharged in 1947, he rejoined the brewery where he rose through the ranks to become managing director.
He raised the standards of the tied hotels and the managed hotel estate increased to 16 hotels; as a result, the profitability increased substantially. In 1984, Syd retired.
For fear of this account of his management of the brewery sounding like an ego trip, he said it was only possible because he had ‘good and loyal staff’ and ‘great guidance’ from two chairmen.
Throughout his life sport ‘has been the driving passion’.
He played to a high standard cricket, tennis, badminton, golf and football and was particularly involved in Castletown football club.
Not a good traveller, he had not revisited Arnhem but decided on the 50th anniversary of the battle it was time to return. His account of this experience lacks emotion except for a silent march of over 1,000 veterans from Arnhem town hall to airborne square, eight abreast, which he described as ‘a moving experience’.
He felt it had been a privilege to have served with the 1st Battalion of the Border Regiment at Arnhem.
Would he do it (be in the war) again from choice? He noted: ‘Honestly, no.
‘There were many things and occasions which were enjoyable and I am sure that the experience gained has stood me in good stead in my working life, but it also had its downside.’
As a reflection of how Syd felt about Arnhem, he quoted Alan Wood, war correspondent, who said: ‘If in the years to come, any man says to you “I fought at Arnhem”, take off your hat to him and buy him a drink. For his is the stuff of which England’s greatness is made.’
Syd died at the age of 89 and his funeral service was held at Malew parish church.