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1st Airborne Division - A Royal Engineers Presentation Box, 1944
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1st Airborne Division - A Royal Engineers Presentation Box, 1944

Measurements: Length: 25.5cm (10in)

£2400

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Provenance: Brigadier Sir Mark Henniker, Bt. (1906–1991)

Silver. Double lidded presentation cigarette box of rectangular form raised on a four ball feet; mounted with a wick lighter fuelled from a reservoir below complete with flambeau style extractable match; the first of the hinged twin compartment lids engraved with the Bellerophon and Pegasus badge and inscribed ‘1st Airborne Division / November 1941- August 1944, the other with engraved with the badge of the Royal Engineers and inscribed with the 1st Airborne’s engineer units - ‘Headquarters R.E. / 9th Field Company R.E. / 261st Field Park Company R.E. / 1st Parachute Squadron R.E. / 4th Parachute Squadron R.E.’  The front with inscribed 'Presented to / Lt. Col. M.C.A. Henniker O.B.E., M.C., R.E. / By / R.E. Officer's of the 1st Airborne Division’. Maker’s mark of S.D. Ltd., London, 1913. Gross weight 28.25oz.  

The present cigarette box was presented to Colonel ‘Honkers’ Henniker shortly before the  1st Airborne Division’s epic battle for the Arnhem bridge in September 1944. A veteran of the airborne invasions of Sicily and Italy, Henniker was posted Commander Royal Engineers 43rd (Wessex) Division shortly before Operation Market-Garden and was thus in a position to play a crucial role in the immediate aftermath of the Arnhem disaster. Subsequently he fought through the remainder of the north-west Europe campaign, including the Rhine crossing, the Ardennes, and the capture of Bremen and Cuxhaven. At Nijmegen he drove over a bridge five minutes before it was blown up by German frogmen. Post war Henniker commanded the 63rd Gurkha Brigade in Malaya in successful operations against communist terrorists. In 1955 he returned to Europe to be CRE I Corps, and was involved in the Suez operation, for which he was mentioned in dispatches.

Brigadier Sir Mark Chandos Auberon ‘Honkers’ Henniker, 8th Baronet, C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., D.L., R.E.  (1906–1991) was educated at Marlborough College, the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and King's College, Cambridge, and was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1926. He served in India from 1928 to 1934 with the Bengal Sappers & Miners. Here, he was amused to find himself saluted by his transport elephants with raised trunks. If in uniform he returned the salute; if in civilian dress he raised his hat. He was awarded the Military Cross in the 1933 Mohmand campaign for building a road up the Karappa Pass from the Vale of Peshawar under perilous conditions. In 1939 he went to France with the British Expeditionary Force as adjutant of the 2nd Divisional Engineers. In the retreat to Dunkirk he commanded an R.E. Field Company in Major-General Bernard Montgomery’s 3rd Division and defended a sector of the port’s perimeter. With the evacuation of the B.E.F. virtually completed, Henniker led the survivors of his company to the beaches and set out for England in two rowing boats. On the way they encountered an abandoned and damaged naval pinnace which they boarded and from which they were picked up by a Coastal Forces M.G.B. which landed them at Dover.

In 1941 Henniker was appointed Commander Royal Engineers in Major-General ‘Boy’ Browning’s 1st Airborne Division, which was in the process of formation. In this capacity he trained the Sappers that took part in the Bruneval Raid of February 1942 by which top secret German radar equipment that was causing heavy losses to Bomber Command was captured allowing the R.A.F. to adopt counter-measures. Henniker subsequently served in North Africa and then took part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. He crash-landed by glider near Syracuse, but was unhurt. Later he was wounded in seven places and also sustained a broken arm, but he managed to take part in the capture of the important bridges at Ponte Grande and Primasole, though swathed in bandages. He was with 1st Airborne in their landing and occupation of Taranto, which he subsequently organized into a base for the future campaign in Italy.

As CRE 43rd Division Henniker participated in Garden, the ground element of Market-Garden, as part of XXX Corps which was to link the river crossings up to the Nederrijn at Arnhem via the 'carpet' of airborne troops. The advance up the only road (‘Club Route’ ) was slow with the leading Guards Armoured Division meeting determined opposition as the plight of 1st Airborne worsened. On 22 September 43rd (Wessex) Division was ordered to pass through the Guards and make an all-out effort to reach the Nederrijn by a side road, but when the south bank was reached it was too late. Henniker decided that the evacuation of embattled 1st Airborne would take place on the night of 25/26 September using two ferry sites manned by 43rd Division and Canadian engineers. The night was dark and stormy and supporting of fire from the guns of XXX Corps was laid on German units around the airborne lodgement. The enemy responded with mortars, machine-gun and shellfire as they tried to prevent all movement on the river. Very lights probed the darkness hoping to silhouette exposed stormboats chugging noisily across the lower Rhine. Throughout the night until first light the engineers continued to travel back and forth across the wide waterway extracting the exhausted survivors from their shrinking perimeter. Casualties on the river were considerable. By the end of the operation 2,163 airborne troops, 160 Poles and 75 men of the 4th Dorsets had been carried back across the river to safety. Henniker was awarded an immediate D.S.O.

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