Market Garden - Arnhem - A bridge too farFrom D-Day onwards many Airborne operations were planned, but did not progress any further. However in the six weeks after the sea-borne tail had departed we were briefed for a number of operations and on at least two occasions gliders were loaded only to be unloaded the following day. The Battalion moved to an uncomfortable transit camp at Harwell on August 15th and later left this for billets of various kinds in and around Burford in the Cotswolds. B Company was allocated a Piggery!
These weeks were a time of strain for everybody. We were briefed for operation after operation and prepared for it, only to have it postponed and then cancelled, it was very unsettling for every one . At nights I would dream about the briefings I had been given and imagine myself in a particular situation with my platoon.
At last we were briefed for the operation that did take place, MARKET GARDEN involving three airborne divisions with the British 1st Airborne being allocated the capture and holding of the Bridge at Arnhem, which turned out to be "The Bridge too Far'. We were all fully briefed by the 16th September, the camp was sealed for security reasons that night. B Company gliders had been reloaded at Broadwell Airfield and we were ready to go.
Arnhem The early hours of Sunday 17th September 1944 were full of activity in the 1/Border billets around Burford, in the Piggery I discovered that two members of my platoon had deserted! It just did not seem possible that this could have happened, but it had, two Privates were nowhere to be found, they were the platoon snipers and their rifles and kit were by the beds they had occupied overnight. So it was that we set off into action two men short. The two men were later found, court-martialled, found guilty and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
A full account of the 1 Borders part in the ten days of the Battle of Arnhem is to be found in When Dragons Flew a first class illustrated history of the battalion. Among the illustrations are a number of photographs that I took on a return visit to Arnhem in 1946.
For the purposes of this account of My Life I will try and be as succinct as possible. The Regimental history says that after a good breakfast the Battalion embussed for the airfields at 07.00 hrs; the next meal would be in Holland reading those words now one can but smile somewhat wryly. B Company was to fly with the main body of the Battalion from Broadwell Airfield in Horsa Gliders towed by Dakotas. 12 Platoon flew in a glider on which was chalked The Bishop's Bashers! The men of 14 platoon, normally commanded by my friend Pat Stott bore the inscription Cherub's Chindits. Pat himself was acting as Company 2nd in Command in place of Arthur Springbett who was sick, and was flying in the second lift a day later. We debussed alongside the glider in which we were to fly. Outwardly there was a great deal of light heartedness but deep down most of us wondered what lay ahead of us and whether we would be coming back .The first glider took off at 9.45 am. We were among the first to take off. It was a pleasantly warm Sunday morning with some cloud that cleared after we had crossed the English Coast. We were part of an Air Armada that was 100 miles long, the largest that has ever been assembled and flown.
As far as 12 platoon was concerned we had an uneventful flight, It was a sunny day with a light breeze. We landed on the designated LZ at about 13.00hrs. We were fortunate in being among the first gliders to land there was plenty of space, our pilot managed to land us near the far edge of the LZ and we were able to debus and unload our handcart with out any trouble. Some gliders were unable to avoid others already down and there were collisions. Some gliders ended up in the trees. We took up defensive positions and watched as the men of the 1st Parachute Brigade dropped nearby. B Company were short of a 13 Platoon which had forced landed in England and also of Pat Stott and the Company Jeeps and two trailers. They joined us next day on the Second Lift.
The task of B Company was to advance to the village of Renkum westwards on the Arnhem - Utrecht road our job was to block the road to prevent German reinforcements reaching Arnhem. We were the first Company to move off and Platoon led the way. The local people turned out and gave us a tremendous welcome. Such high hopes were to be sadly disappointed, their liberators were to be defeated and they the civilian population would suffer as a result. We were accompanied by two anti-tank guns, two 3" mortars and Two Vickers Heavy Machine Guns. At Renkum we moved into the area around the Brickworks and on the river bank. My platoon dug in on the river bank. It proved impossible for the Company to get wireless messages through to Battalion HQs, but it was found to be possible to phone the Dutch Police Station in the next village! We dug in for what proved to be a quiet night. Because of the failure of our wireless communication with HQ's a telephone line was laid out to us by Joe Hardy the Signals Officer, when he and his Sergeant set off to return to HQ's they discovered that German troops were between us and the Battalion. Between 0700hrs on Monday morning and 14.00hrs we were really in action and we were under heavy fire from enemy mortars and artillery. After some initial successes it became clear that the company was heavily outnumbered, we were virtually surrounded and we obeyed the message from Bn. HQ to "Fight your way out'. We were able to withdraw along the riverside with the top of the bank providing excellent cover. 12 platoon led the way . The withdrawal was successful, as the last men were leaving the position , the enemy put in a full scale attack and found that we had departed. The Company sustained casualties but it has inflicted more on the enemy. We had no transport left and we had to abandon our handcart along the river bank, already heavily laden we carried whatever extra ammunition we could.
After a variety of encounters our Company made its way to its new position at Westerbouwing. On our way we met up with Pat Stott and the Company transport. He had arrived with the Second Lift as had John Wellbelove and 13 Platoon. We dug in that night around the Westerbouwing Hotel which was on high ground overlooking the river. Next day 12 platoon was redeployed to a position on the crossroads below the Hotel near Company HQ. One section being in the front garden of a lovely white house occupied by the Van Daalen family.
By now we were tired, hungry, short of water and well aware that the 48 hours in which were expected to hold the Arnhem bridgehead was past and there was no news of the progress of troops of 30 Corps who were to relieve us. Supply drops were being flown by the RAF. The aircraft came in low, the flak was heavy and the low flying planes were sitting duck targets. Many panniers of supplies were lost when they fell into enemy held areas, our admiration for the RAF crews was immense. During Wednesday 13 and 14 platoons had to cope with some probing attacks and worryingly the sound of tracked vehicles could be heard in the vicinity. 12 platoon had a relatively quiet time.
On Thursday morning the Germans gave their full attention to B Company , they attacked in strength and with the support of tanks. One of these tanks was knocked out in front of our platoon position by PIAT fire a second was badly damaged by Private Everington and his PIAT . The enemy in amongst the Company positions on the high ground in large numbers. All was confusion at some point I was ordered by my Company Commander, Tom Armstrong to withdraw my platoon and dig in the area of the gasworks. The gas works were untenable because of fumes and we hurriedly dug in on the eastside of a footpath that led to Ooserbeeke Church. At the end of the path was a small farm house which we occupied during daylight. In the confusion of the withdrawal some of my platoon were left behind. It seems that Major Armstrong then organised and led a force of about 50 men in a. counter attack on the positions now occupied by the Germans. This was repulsed with heavy casualties , Tom Armstrong was wounded and captured, the CSM and Sergeant Watson commanding 14 platoon were killed. I knew nothing of the counter attack.
I and the remains of 12 platoon remained in our new position for the remainder of the battle at times my command was increased by the addition of a handful of Poles and a MMG crew. Ammunition was running short, there were no food supplies and we were short of water. From now on we were subject to heavy shell and mortar fire, the latter delivered by the multi barrelled miinwerfer. B Company no longer existed as a unit. 12 platoon were still defending the approach from the west. On Friday I discovered "BreeseForce' on the other side of the road an ad hoc group commanded by Major Charles Breese; with him I found my B Company friend, Pat Stott. From time to time I went across to report and collect what information was available. The RAF continued to fly in supplies but almost all of these dropped out of our reach. By now most of us had little hope that the troops of 30 Corps would relieve us. Our slit trench was our home I occupied mine with Private Ashbridge, we took it in turns to sleep.
The bombardment by the German multi barrelled mortars and the shelling increased. My position on the Westside of what was now the perimeter of an enclave only about half a mile wide, was the one nearest the river; below us was open ground covered by enemy fire from the high ground of Westerbouwing. We were, I cannot think why, spared some of very close quarter hand to hand fighting being experienced further round the perimeter. The RAPs were full of seriously wounded casualties and of course there was no where to which they could be evacuated.
On Monday the decision was taken on high, that the Division, or what was left of it would withdraw across the river that night. . Later in the day Major Charles Breese visited me and gave me my orders. One of the two escape routes would pass along the edge of my position, my platoon was to cover the withdrawal; just before first light I and my men could make our way to the river and join the queue for evacuation! A very quiet and orderly procession of men made its way past our position throughout the hours of darkness. A number of whom I was able to recognise and speak to. It rained!
Just before it got light I passed the word around for my men to make their way down to the river and discovered that the machine gun crew that I had acquired, were in fact just leaving! I followed them down to the riverside and soon discovered that there would be no more boats. Amazingly there had been no real interference with the withdrawal during the night, obviously the enemy had not realised what was going on. It was a noisy night as the artillery of 30 Corps put down a barrage to cover the evacuation and the German artillery returned the fire. There must have been several hundred men left on the wrong side of the river and there was nothing left but to try and find cover or to make an attempt to somehow get through the German lines and hide up. I had met Pat Stott and Barry Ingram and we set off together to find a hiding place having dumped most of our kit before doing so but keeping our sten-guns. We did not get far before a heavy machine gun opened up on us from about 25 yards. Fortunately the gunners aim was not good and we were not hit, Pat and I dropped down behind what appeared to be a large mound of earth, but it was in fact manure ! A another longer burst of machine gun fire persuaded us that we had no alternative but to surrender and so we became prisoners of war.
The fatal casualties of 1 Border were the highest of any battalion fighting at Arnhem. 41 Officers and 775 O.R's went to battle , 9 officers and 241 OR's were evacuated across the river on the early morning of Tuesday 26th September. The B. Company contingent was very small and included no officers.
In early 1939 Arthur Royall joined the TA and on the outbreak of WWII was called up and joined "The Rangers". After Officers Cadet Training in 1942 he became a 2nd Lieutenant in The Border Regiment and was posted to the 1st Battalion a glider borne infantry unit. Having survived a ditching in the sea off Sicily he went on to take part in the Battle of Arnhem where he was captured.
|© Arthur Royall||