The second lift comes in



The second lift comes in

The arrival of the second lift was accomplished with but few casualties. They had left in ” very filthy weather indeed, low cloud and rain,” but after a while it improved and, says Major R. Cain of the South Staffords, who was soon to win a Victoria Cross, ” a little while after mid-Channel I saw the coastline of Holland in front. It was a buff-fawny colour, with white and grey streaks…..The next thing I recognized was the Rhine. Then we got flak puffs all round us and bits of tracer. I got the fellows strapped in, Geary, the glider pilot…..put her into a dive approach. It seemed to be about treetop level when he pulled her out straight…..and shouted ‘ Hold tight ‘ and we landed in a ploughed field…..We got out and took up all-round protective positions…..All the area was divided up into square fields with little tree-lined earth roads dividing them. It was very neat and very square. The trees were elms. I could hear very little firing and what there was was a long way off. There was no other activity.”

The enemy were, however, more active than on the first day. It was under heavy fire that Lance-Sergeant Maddocks of the South Staffords, for example, had to saw off the tail of his glider in order to unload a Vickers gun, and Flight-Sergeant Carter, one of twenty-five instructors from the Parachute Training School who that day flew with some of their erstwhile pupils, found himself dispatching an officer, a sergeant-major and sixteen men of the 10th Parachute Battalion from a burning Dakota twenty miles or more from the dropping zone. This task he accomplished without loss, and himself jumped with the American crew whose pilot, Lieutenant Tucker, remained at the controls to the last possible moment and thus ensured a safe drop. Carter joined the advanced elements of the leading Corps of the Second Army Corps and was back at his task of instructing four days later.

Generally speaking, however, the second lift arrived without undue difficulty. A few gliders did not. One, carrying Lieutenant A. T. Turrell and his men, was shot down between Nijmegen and Arnhem but succeeded in making a good landing. Thirty Dutchmen helped to unload the glider, among them a girl who to do so abandoned her search for a green parachute among those lying about. She wanted it, she said, to make a dress of that colour. Under the guidance of a Dutch priest and a local official the party set off for the Division, who were the other side of the Rhine. On the way they met with six Germans whom they disarmed and locked in the local gaol, after first making them take off their uniforms and put on civilian clothes. All eventually reached the neighbourhood of Arnhem by crossing the Lower Rhine in a ferry.

Once the second lift was down, Brigadier Hicks, still in command of the Division in the continued absence of the Major-General, decided at any cost to reinforce those holding the bridge. He had some knowledge of what was happening from the Dutch inhabitants of Arnhem, who showed the greatest courage and resolution in keeping him informed. The telephone exchange had been taken over by members of the Resistance Movement, who passed messages whenever possible. A tall, cadaverous Dutchman volunteered, provided he could be fitted out with a uniform, to take a jeep to the bridge with ammunition. The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Parachute Brigade were disintegrating in the streets of Arnhem; they must be reinforced. In order to do so Hicks instructed the 2nd South Staffords to move along the road beside the river, while the 11th Parachute Battalion, forming part of the 4th Parachute Brigade which had just landed, was to take the northern route so as to effect the same object. Neither the Parachute Battalion nor the South Staffords could get farther than the St. Elizabeth Hospital and a building called the Monastery, both some distance from the bridge, though they started with comparative ease. We moved off in the proper order of march,” says Major Cain, ” and I remember checking several men as they went past for things like not having their bayonets fixed. It was so like an exercise that I did this automatically.” They passed through the suburb of Wolfhezen, badly smashed by the medium bombers of the 2nd Tactical Air Force two nights before, and then found themselves in an outer suburb of ” extremely attractive houses gaily painted in every sort of colour. They were bright colours, but somehow they looked right. These houses were set back in the woods and were without the railings and fences round the gardens that we have in England. The people…..stood in the road, greeting us. They offered us water and apples, which I think was all they had. The street we went down might have been the outskirts of any English town, but it was cleaner. There were one or two factories. The houses stood in rows but were not detached. I saw our troops talking to an attractive blonde through a window. We were very confident, then.”

The South Staffords ran into heavy fire on the western outskirts of Arnhem and were eventually challenged near the junction of the road with the railway running up from Nijmegen. Night had long since fallen, for they had taken thirteen hours to cover three miles ; but their challenger, who was a glider pilot, cheered them by saying that they were now only two miles from the bridge ; he added, however, that the road was under machine-gun fire. At a conference between the Commanders of the reinforcing Battalions and Lieutenant-Colonel 0. Dobie, D.S.O., commanding the remnants of the 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions still fighting in Arnhem, it was decided to continue the advance at first light, the South Staffords on the left, the parachute troops on the right, nearest the river.

Soon they reached the St. Elizabeth Hospital, marked by ” a statue of a female wearing a crown and flowing robes, set in the wall,” and a large Geneva flag, and the leading platoons of the South Staffords pushed on 400 yards farther east and by 6.30 a.m. had captured the Monastery.

To advance farther was impossible, for the pressure of the enemy was increasing every moment. So close indeed were the Germans that to use mortars was very difficult: ” they were shooting almost straight up in the air.” The attackers, now thrown on the defensive, were without anti-tank guns, which could not be brought up because of the heavy fire on the road behind. There were, however, a number of Piats available.

For three hours the German attacks were beaten off, largely by the efforts of Lieutenant Georges Dupenois, Major Buchanan and Major Cain. ” When a tank appeared we got four Brens firing on it with tracers. That shut its lid up, because the commander couldn’t stand up in the turret. As soon as we’d let off a Piat at it, we’d move back and then the German shells would explode below us.” About 11.30 in the morning the ammunition for the Piats gave out, the position was overrun, and what remained of the heroic South Staffords withdrew to a wooded dell just west of the Monastery. It became a shambles. The German tanks came up and fired right into it, causing heavy casualties. ” We could hear the call ‘ Stretcher bearer ‘ all the time. There was no effective fire going back against these beasts because we had no ammunition.” Despite its heavy losses the 1st Parachute Battalion still had fight in it. It sought to share in the advance, and Major Perrin-Brown led ” T ” Company, the parachute war cry ” Whoa, Mohammed ! ” bursting from their throats, in a bayonet charge which reduced their strength to eight men. A little later Major Timothy led” R ” Company in a similar charge and fought on till only six were left. Their pertinacity had brought them to within a thousand yards of the bridge, and they could do no more. The few left, nearly all wounded, presently fell with their colonel into the enemy’s hands.