Jim was born in Nottinghamshire on 18 April 1920 and moved to Canada at the age of 5 when his parents resettled in Ontario. After 8 years the family moved to Nanton, Alberta where Jim completed his education.
He enrolled into the Calgary Highlanders on 23 September 1939, serving in No 10 Platoon B Company, and one year later found himself back in the UK as part of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. While in the UK over the next 3 years he participated in a seemingly endless round of garrison moves, exercises and training courses. There were some compensations, he fell in love and married an English girl, Dorothy. Swift progression through the NCO ranks culminated in a pre-OCTU course at Brookwood, Surrey, in preparation for a return to Canada for commissioning. He sailed to North America on the Queen Mary bound for New York with a rather mixed passenger list. As well as Sir Winston Churchill, the King of Norway and other high ranking officials, four hundred and fifty Afrika Korps prisoners of war were in the hold! He received his commission in August 1943, after attending OCTU at Gordon Head in British Columbia. His first posting was a tour of instructional duty at the A16 Cadet Infantry School at Calgary and in January 1944 Jim reported to Vernon Battle Drill School for a further instructional posting.
While at Vernon Jim heard about the CANLOAN scheme which seemed to provide an ideal opportunity for him to return to overseas service and see his English wife.
By the end of 1943 battle casualties had resulted in a shortage of junior officers in the British Army and a scheme was agreed with the Canadian Army to help fill this gap. Under the scheme 673 officers served on a voluntary basis in the British Army (623 in Infantry Regiments) and they acquitted themselves with distinction: 41 Military Crosses (1 with bar), 1 US Silver Star, 1 Distinguished Service Cross, 4 Croix de Guerre, 1 MBE and 1 Dutch Order of the Bronze Lion were awarded to CANLOAN officers. They also paid a high price: 128 were killed or died of their wounds and a further 310 were wounded; of the 10 CANLOAN officers who fought with the 7 King’s Own Scottish Borderers at Arnhem, 2 were killed and the remaining 8 were taken POW.
Along with other volunteers Jim was ordered to report to the A34 Special Officer Training Centre at Camp Sussex in New Brunswick and sailed out of Halifax on the Empress of Scotland as part of the 5th draft on 3 May 1943.
Joining the KOSBs
On arrival in the UK the CANLOAN officers received their postings; Jim had been expecting to be sent to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the affiliated regiment for the Calgary Highlanders. However, they had no vacancies and he was posted to the 7th Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borderers which, as part of the 1st Airborne Division, operated as an Airlanding Battalion with gliders.
Jim assumed command of No 12 Platoon C Coy in mid May 1944. C Coy was slightly unusual in that 3 of the 4 platoons were commanded by Canadians. Jim found his platoon had developed a bit of a 9 to 5 culture and immediately instigated a more rigorous routine including 12 hour days. “This was initially met with some resistance but at the end of the day I was only trying to prepare them for battle and improve their chances of survival”.
D Day came, and passed, followed by 3 months of tension and boredom as fifteen planned operations in a row were cancelled because of swift Allied advances from the Normandy beachheads. Jim felt the briefing for the 16th operation, MARKET GARDEN, was not as detailed as previous ones. The KOSBies were tasked to land on day 1 on LZ-S close to Wolfheze and secure DZ-Y, the dropping zone for the 4th Parachute Brigade on Day 2. Their 2nd task was to secure high ground North of Oosterbeek and protect LZ-L for gliders carrying Polish equipment in the 3rd lift on Day 3.
Jim took off with his platoon from Down Ampney on Sunday 17th September 1944 and once in the air he told his men to write their letters: “I figured that now that we were on our way it wouldn’t matter if we sent letters home and I slipped them under the door of the Horsa.” He did this while the gliders and tugs were over Hertfordshire and incredibly his own note, to his wife, was found by a Mr. Hunt from Welwyn Garden City, who wrote his name on the back and mailed it Dorothy. She received it on her birthday, 19 September 1944!
They had an excellent flight over and landed unopposed on LZ-S. Jim’s platoon along with the rest of C Coy took up positions covering the South West of Ginkel Heath. The night of 17/18 September was relatively quiet and they waited anxiously the following morning for the Brigade to drop at 10.00 hours. Bad weather in England had delayed the Brigade’s departure and in the event C Coy continued to hold these positions all day on the Monday as well; it was 15:00 hours when the drop eventually took place. C Company moved off to its next objective and entered a wooded area close to JohannaHoeve Farm as darkness was falling.
“It took us several hours to dig in and we were under fire all night. The following morning we were mortared, shelled and strafed by enemy fighters but fortunately my platoon didn’t suffer any losses. By the afternoon we received orders to withdraw and rendezvous South of the level crossing at Wolfheze and by the night of the 19th/20th we had moved to the area around the White House [Hotel Dreyeroord] and stayed there for two days.”
Jim now assumed command of a composite group of No 11 and No 12 Platoons. The Battalion positions were constantly harassed by enemy shelling and mortaring during daylight. On the Wednesday morning (20th) the Battalion CO detailed two patrols to go out, to harass enemy movement and reconnoitre their positions; one was allotted to Jim. His patrol confirmed that the main enemy force was still North of the railway line. In the early hours of the 21st Jim took out another reconnaissance patrol to further assess enemy positions and strength. The patrol identified that the enemy were now massing less than a mile away from their positions; they were also able to pass on the approximate positions of the enemy forces to the mortar officers. The mortars did their job well and dispersed the enemy long enough to delay any concentrated massed attack that morning. Nevertheless the situation began to deteriorate as the Germans began closing in, occupying woods close to the White House and unoccupied houses South of the Railway line within 200 yards of the KOSBies positions. On the 21st the Germans launched a furious attack on the KOSBies positions forcing them back. The Battalion’s CO rallied the men to regain their trench positions which they achieved but at huge cost; fifteen men were killed and many more wounded. It was becoming untenable for the Battalion and the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division to hold such a broad perimeter. The remains of the Battalion were ordered to withdraw to new positions which would create a more concentrated defensive pocket. The KOSBs left the White House, now a scene of devastation and death.
After a brief occupation of interim defensive positions, Jim was given new orders to control the road junction of Oranjeweg and Bothaweg and a triangular wooded area. He set the base for his defence in the gardens of a house at the junction. The houses in this area had hardly been touched by the battle, however that was soon to change. On Friday 22 September the German infantry supported by 20mm cannon fire and tanks infiltrated the woods and attacked Jim’s positions.
“An open top French tank came into our positions; we waited for it to move forward and opened fire when it proceeded directly towards our slit trench. Just before it was knocked out a German had rolled off the back. While I was tending a wounded Glider Sgt in my trench the German opened fire with his Schmeisser and I was hit by five bullets one of which lodged very close to my spine. Fire was returned by my men but I was in a bad way and I crawled to the Regimental Aid Post for treatment where they applied shell dressings to my wounds”
Some hours later Jim was taken to the Willem III Barracks at Appeldoorn where a hospital had been established to treat the battle wounded. Miraculously all of the bullets had passed through without causing damage to Jim’s vital organs or spine. The Germans replaced the shell dressings with paper bandages and returned him to a crib of straw for rest. In early October he was transported by train to Oflag IXA at Rotenburg near Fulda, after a brief stay at Fallingbostal.
Food was scarce with the German war machine on the verge of collapse. A typical day could consist of a cup of ersatz coffee for breakfast; a couple of thin pieces of meat and a potato for lunch; and a slice for bread for tea. It is perhaps unsurprising to learn that under this dietary regime Jim lost just over 3 stone during his 6 months of captivity.
With the deteriorating conditions, Red Cross parcels and letters from home were rare. The monotony of camp conditions was relieved in part by self organised activities such as hockey and skating. Christmas proved to be an extremely emotional time for the men living under harsh conditions, deprived of their liberty and separated from their families. Jim recalls being moved to tears at the Christmas assembly in the camp’s auditorium. It was the one and only time when they sung a patriotic song (it was normally forbidden by the Germans).
“On 31 March 1945 our camp was evacuated eastward in front of the American and British Armies. Our march lasted fourteen days and covered a distance on foot of approximately 175 kilometres and another 75 kilometres by night in wood burning transport vehicles. The march terminated on Friday 13 April at a town called Eisleben. Our American liberators evacuated us to Brussels by truck, plane and train where the RAF took over to fly us to England. Our plane was flown by an excitable red haired Canadian who crashed our Stirling bomber into a pillbox on take off. Five passengers were injured mostly by the right undercarriage that came through the passenger compartment. After a dram of Scotch provided by a RCAF Warrant Officer we were off again in a replacement Stirling minus the five injured. Arrival back in England occurred on my 25th birthday, where after three delousings by girls from the WAAF, I quickly absented myself to the arms of my wife, Dorothy, and to meet for the first time our daughter Patricia.”
Jim returned to Canada by troopship in June 1945. After an 18 month spell as a civvy he re-enlisted in 1947 as a corporal in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was later recommissioned as an officer and Jim’s lengthy military career included a posting in 1954 to Vietnam with the International Supervisory Commission. Finally after nearly 30 years service Jim retired from the Canadian Army to a role as a social worker in British Columbia – or so he thought! In 1970 he was approached by the British Columbia Dragoons to command an armoured squadron. Two years later he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assumed command of the regiment, finally retiring in 1974.
Jim returned to Arnhem on numerous occasions, most recently to commemorate the 65th anniversary in 2009 with members of his family at his side. When asked how he felt about returning to Arnhem he said “It’s wonderful and sad at the same time. The Dutch are so kind and friendly. It’s like coming home.”
Sadly, Jim was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma shortly after his pilgrimage to the 65th Arnhem commemorations and passed away on 5 January 2010.
Compiled for ParaData by Harvey Grenville based on an interview with Jim Taylor 20 September 2009 and the work of Robert Sigmond contained in two books: