DAILY MAIL, CONTINENTAL EDITION, THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 28, 1944
‘Break-out’ Order to Survivors
From ALAN WOOD.
Representing the Combined Press
With Arnhem Airborne Force, Tuesday.
This is the end. The most tragic and glorious battle of the war is over, and the survivors of this British airborne force can sleep soundly for the first time in eight days and nights.
Orders came to us yesterday to break out from our forest citadel west of Arnhem, cross the Rhine, and join up with the Second Army on the south bank.
Our commander decided against a concerted assault on the Germans round us. Instead, the plan was to split up into little groups, 10 to 20 strong, and set out along different routes at two-minute intervals, which would simply walk through the German lines in the dark.
Cheeky patrols went out earlier tying bits of white parachute tape to trees to mark the way. To hinder the Germans waking up to what was happening. Second Army guns laid down a battering box barrage all afternoon.
The first party was to set off at 10 p.m.; our group was to leave at 10.4 p.m. They went round distributing little packets of sulphanilamide and morphia. We tore up blankets and wrapped them round our boots to muffle the sound of our feet in the trees.
Waited for Boats
We were told the password – “John Bull.” If we became separated, each man was to make his way by compass due south until he reached the river.
Our major is an old hand. He led the way, and linked our party together by getting everyone to hold the tail of the parachutist’s smock of the man in front of him, so our infiltrating column had an absurd resemblance to some children’s game.
It was half-light, with the glow of fires from burning houses around, when we set out. We were lucky; we went through a reputed enemy pocket without hearing a shot except, for a stray sniper’s bullet.
Another group met a machine-gun with a fixed line of fire across their path. Another had to silence a bunch of Germans with a burst of Sten fire and hand grenades
Another had to pause while a German finished his evening stroll across the pathway. But we all got through without the enemy realising that we were doing anything more than normal night patrolling.
The worst part was waiting two hours by the riverside till our turn came for assault boats to ferry us across. The Germans, if not yet definitely suspicious, were inquisitive; they kept on sending up flares and it was vital to lie flat, and motionless.
In our boat queue we lay flat and shivering on a soaking field with cold rain drizzling down. Occasionally machine-guns spattered out and bullets tweaked through the grass.
We were lucky again; our actual crossing was quiet. But soon after it seemed that the Germans had guessed what was going on, because they mortared and shelled heavily along the shallow river banks.
One soldier in the next field was hit and called out for help. Men whose turn for a place in the boats had come after hours of waiting insisted on staying under fire a little longer so that the wounded could go first.
Any wounded left behind, of course, became automatically prisoners of war, so many sick and limping left their beds to take a chance with the escape parties making their way to the river.
And so this epic stand of the British airborne soldiers ended as it had been fought – with honour, with high courage, with selfless sacrifice.
What of the spirits of these men as they trudged back through the wet night to the billets where they are now sunk in sodden sleep?
You can best judge it by the name they chose for last night’s break-out. It had the same objective as they have always had and they still mean to get in there. They called it “Operation Berlin.”