Strange episodes of the battle



Strange episodes of the battle

The accounts which have come to hand of the fierce fighting of those first days, though confused and incomplete, for many who took part in them are dead and many were captured, show the indomitable spirit of these airborne troops, their skill and high heart, and their strange cheerfulness in conditions oi the most adverse kind. At one point the Germans brought up a loudspeaker which first played jazz music and then urged the “Gentlemen of the 1st Airborne Division to remember your wives and sweethearts at home.” It ended by enumerating a list of the more important officers alleged to be already prisoners, and by promising a heavy attack by an entire Panzer Division. “This monologue,” says Captain H. F. Brown. M.C., R.E., “was not allowed to be heard for long, for it was greeted by abuse, catcalls, whistles and occasional bursts from a Bren gun. We all thought it was a great joke.” A Piat being fired in the direction of the loudspeaker, “there was a big bang and it stopped.”

Major Gordon Sherriff of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, going round the posts with his Colonel, ran into someone who spoke German. The first to recover from his surprise was the Major who, though suffering from a wound, tackled the man with his bare hands and killed him. The Colonel whom he accompanied on that occasion was Payton-Reid, whose stout exploits and those of his battalion have already been mentioned.

An officer of the South Staffords left Arnhem for the slightly less unhealthy neighbourhood of Oosterbeek by rolling away from a tank which had stopped within fifty yards of him. Its commander was “standing up as bold as anything in the turret, wearing black gloves and with field-glasses in his hand ” ; but he failed to see the British officer, who rolled over and over slowly away from the trench in which he had been sitting till he reached a wall. This he climbed, and then fell twenty feet into the courtyard of the hospital beyond and ” quietly passed out for ten minutes. Then I got up and moved through the back of the hospital and so out of Arnhem.”

For the first few days, and until reinforcements reached the area, the confusion in the enemy’s ranks caused by the arrival of the parachutists was very great. Individual Germans did not know what was happening, or even that any airborne attack had been made. Having set off that morning on his rounds to pay the troops, a German field cashier, for example, drove in a sidecar into the position of the Independent Parachute Company with a bag full of Reichsmark notes, while a German lorry driver, wearing a Dutch farmer’s smock, took his vehicle past another of our posts. As he had forgotten to take off his steel helmet he did not get by; the truck was fired on and, since it contained ammunition, exploded.

Then there was the episode of the Piat, the company cook and the German tank. A hospital had been established in a large house in a street where fighting .was fierce and continuous, the enemy being in some of the houses and our men in others including one next door to the hospital. The German commander sent its garrison a message by the regimental doctor to the effect that, if they did not evacuate the house, he would blow them to pieces with his tanks, of which he had three. The British officer in command replied that he was prepared to move if the German promised not to enter the hospital. At the same time he told his company cook to slip out by the back door and fire on the leading German tank with a Piat. The cook, Dixon by name, knew more of pots and pans than of Piats, but his first shot hit the back of the tank and exploded the ammunition it carried. The Germans at once retreated and ceased to menace the hospital. Episodes such as these stand out from the dull background of unceasing danger, utter lack of sleep and slow torment from hunger and thirst. All these and more were steadfastly endured. Already the 2nd Army was two days overdue and no relief was in sight; yet the Division held on.