Letter to widow of Colonel H N Barlow from Col John Waddy returning cigarette case, 4 Nov 1954.

Fir Cottage,

Thibet Road,

Sandhurst Berks.

November 4th

Dear Mrs Barlow,

My mother wrote to you last month to tell you that I had Col. Hilaro’s cigarette case. And I am enclosing it in this parcel with this letter.

I only wish I was able to return it in happier circumstances and also to tell you of it personally.

The case was given to me by the Mayor of Arnhem when we were all over there for the 10th anniversary ceremonies of the battle, I was at first mystified as to whom it belonged because some of the lettering was unreadable. I thought it may have been mine as my father gave me a case of his shortly before the operation and I had lost everything when I was wounded.

The day after I was given the case I saw the young man who had found it – J.G.A. Faber, Allexanderstraat, 154 Arnhem (w). He told me the story of how he found it and how he kept it during those years. He was a youth (19?) during the battle in ’44 and on the 3rd or 4th day of the action he was standing in a street (Oranjestraat) on the western outskirts of the town. There were 18 German Tiger tanks in the street and they moved off in pairs in the direction of our perimeter at Oosterbeck. Under the track of the last was this cigarette case and as soon as the tanks finally left he picked it up. There was no other equipment or kit to be seen in the area.

Shortly after this the boy was evacuated, with the rest of the Dutch population, as a reprisal for helping the British so much. They lived in the villages and farms north of the town and he himself did not return for some years. He is very shy indeed and it wasn’t until two years ago when he joined the Dutch Red Cross that he told one of his friends that still had the case. Between them and the War Graves Commission they could not trace the owner. So this year they told the Dutch Airborne Committee of it and they were quickly able to say that a Major Waddy was with the Airborne party this year and were thus able to hand it over to me.

The newspaper article contains a garbled account of my talk with the mayor, and at that time as my father’s name was the only one visible, I though that it was my case. I suspected it wasn’t mine when I heard where it had been found, the next day; unless some German soldier had taken it and dropped it in Oranjestraat, it couldn’t have been mine. And when I returned my mother confirmed that it was the case which my father gave to Hilaro.

I am afraid that is all my story and I hope it hasn’t stirred any memories which you would have preferred not to think of now.

I knew Col. Hilaro well, or as well as a very much younger officer can; for I first knew him when I was at school and my father commanded the 1st Bn, at Colchester; then later at Sandhurst he was an instructor when I was a cadet; and finally we didn’t meet again until I had returned with 1st Airborne Division in ’44 and Col. Hilaro joined that division from the 6th Airborne Div.

I have been back to Arnhem twice since ’44, with the Airborne Forces Party, and though the visits have sometimes brought back bitter memories, it has always been a pleasure to meet the charming Dutch people who take such an interest in the ‘Airbornes’ as the call us. Being a west countryman I seldom feel at home outside Somerset, but whenever I go to that part of Holland one feels immediately at home, and with friends.

The Dutch who did so much for us then and suffered so much seldom talk of their misfortunes but are keen to meet and talk with the airborne soldiers or their families. If you ever wish to see true friendship between foreign peoples, then Arnhem and Oosterbeck are the places to find it.

I am sorry to have taken such a long time telling this story; but I hope I can stress some of the great respect and friendship which we had for Colonel Hilaro both in the Somersets and the Parachute Regt., even though mine was from a far lower level.

Yours sincerely

John Waddy

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