“I shall probably never know why 7 Platoon became split up on the second day in Arnhem, as its Platoon Commander, the responsibility must rest with me. Most of D Day seemed too good to be true, the sunny calm misty weather as we drove out in 3-tonners to Saltby airfield, cheese and bacon sandwiches as we stood around waiting to emplane, the smooth flight, the backchat of Sgt. Fleming and Pte. Cockburn, Pte. McKernon the irrepressible Bren-gunner managed to be airsick. No fire on the ground, a beautiful still afternoon, a soft landing on the right DZ – fantastic!
Soon I had 32 out of 33 in 7 Platoon at our R.V., Pte. Goozee alone being left as a D.Z. casualty. Moving off with the Battalion column, we first had a check outside Heveadorp, where ‘A’ Coy at the head of the long file of heavily laden men on the 8-mile march into Arnhem had been fired on. I recall passing Battalion H.Q., seeing for the last time until after the battle the C.O. talking to a wounded ‘A’ Coy man.
Through Heveadorp we came in sight of the railway bridge over the Rhine. It was the task of 9 Platoon under Lt ‘Peter’ Barry to capture this, covered by Lt Ian Russell’s 8 Platoon, with 7 Platoon in reserve. We were by this time surrounded by happy Dutch people, applauding our arrival, plying us with fruit and drinks, jeering at German POW’s, not conducive to conduct of warfare! After some firing we saw smoke go down and 9 Platoon’s attack begin. Shortly after there was a vivid flash and heavy detonation as the bridge was blown. ‘Peter’ Barry had been wounded in the arm and Pte. Saddler killed. Sgt. Knowles took over command of the Platoon. ‘O’ Group; we were now to move to our secondary objective, the German H.Q., a building just south of the railway station. Order of march, 8 Pl, Coy H.Q., 7 Pl, 9 Pl.
Shortly after our move off, a large party of Germans, who we at first thought to be POW’s were seen debussing on the north side of the road; 8 Pl opened up on them with PIAT and Bren, with great effect; some surrendered and came over to us. I knew some German and found out from them that things were not going well for us, and that they were but the advance party of a strong armoured force in the town.
As we entered the town proper along a completely built-up road, 8 Pl were fired on by M.G’s from ahead, sustaining some killed and wounded. We were ordered into a large house on the left, 7 Pl on the first floor, 8 and 9 Pl’s on the ground floor, Coy H.Q. and the casualties in the cellar. Pte. Anthony, formerly 7 Pl, now a rear link signaller, was one of the wounded, L/Cpl. Loney and Pte. Shipley, 8 Pl, had been killed. We moved in, barricaded the windows with whatever was to hand, posted a sentry at each window, remainder to get their heads down. The three POW’s still with the Company were to be kept in my Pl H.Q. room. I remember we kept them in the frame of a double bed, two were quite badly wounded. We did what we could for them, which wasn’t much.
Sgt. Campbell and I kept awake in turns, going the rounds all night. We were all uneasy with the lack of action and felt like sitting ducks; the night was pitch black, the sentries could see nothing, and we were kept under sporadic sniper fire. I have a memory of someone shot through the forehead.
At dawn we stood to and the POW’s were taken down to the cellar. ‘O’ Group; Company was to withdraw through the gardens of the houses until we could cross the road, go down to the riverside road and continue the advance into town to take over from ‘B’ Coy, who were joining ‘A’ Coy at the bridge, 7 Pl leading. At about 07.00 hrs we moved off, Sgt. Fleming and 1 Section leading, then Pl H.Q., 2 and 3 Sections. The gardens were very tricky with high walls and many little yards; progress was desperately slow with enemy fire all round us; a woman signalled from a top window, I thought to us, but now I think to the enemy.
We eventually had to crawl along through rose-beds, our equipment catching in everything until we reached the point where I decided to cross the road. Cannon fire had set the house we had just left ablaze and the road was covered by M.G. on fixed lines. 1 Section rose as one man and made a dash for it. I crawled on for a few more yards, gave the signal to go to Sgt. Campbell, and got across the road, luckily unscathed. I soon found Sgt. Fleming, L/Cpl. Vernon and Pte’s. Vale, McKernon, Spicer and Cockburn; neither Sgt. Campbell nor anyone else followed. I tried to contact him, but saw no way of doing so. Forming the opinion (correctly, as it transpired) that the rest of the Company was pinned down, I decided that we would press on to the bridge.
Descending the wooden slope to the river, we met up with a platoon [5 Platoon] of 3rd Bn under Lt ‘Jimmy’ Cleminson trying to get to the Bridge and joined forces with them. The leading Company of 3rd Bn hit heavy enemy opposition and we took up a defensive position under persistent small arms, cannon and mortar fire. Their Company H.Q. [‘B’ Company] in a warehouse 300 yards back on the riverside was mortared and Major John? [A.P.H. ‘Peter’] Waddy was killed. The Bn then decided to withdraw to the woods at Den Brink until dusk. We went with Cleminson’s platoon, back up the road, made a successful dash back across it, though it was still under fire, slipped through the St. Elizabeth Hospital and into a residential area to the west of it. Here we had a cat-and-mouse game with a half-track, during which we unfortunately lost touch with McKernon and Cockburn, two of the best, who were acting as scouts.
Eventually we got into the Den Brink woods which were subject to considerable enemy searching fire and had a rest until evening. At about 22.00 hrs we moved out, heading for the glow in the sky which marked the action round the bridge. High fences, rabbit wire topped with barbed, tiny gardens and vegetable plots made progress very slow, but eventually, having lost touch with 3rd Bn, we fell in with ‘A’ Coy, 2 South Staffs, who were going to make another drive for the bridge at 04.00 hrs Tuesday morning. So we got our heads down for an hour or two until then.
At 03.45 hrs we moved off with ‘A’ Coy H.Q., 2 South Staffs, heading East along the road ‘C’ Coy [2nd Para Bn] had taken on Sunday evening. At about 06.00 hrs the leading Company hit heavy opposition in the area of ‘C’ Coy’s overnight position, and ‘A’ Coy and our detachment of 7 Platoon took up defensive positions in the Museum building on the south side of the main road. We were ordered to occupy the upstairs rooms and observe, but as no-one seemed interested in our reports we carried on our own battle with any enemy movement we saw.We passed a target to the South Staffs Mortar Officer, who was in action close to the Museum, and at a minimum range, after a couple of sighting rounds, he engaged a M.G. post with great success – certainly it never came into action. However, enemy tanks and assault guns were now in action on all sides, plus an 88mm [A.A. gun] firing into the gardens around the Museum from across the river. The basement was filling with wounded and all the buildings around us were on fire. A tank came up and opened fire on our building, the first two rounds bursting up in the room we had just vacated. With little prospect of a successful break-out, I agreed with the South Staffs Company Commander that further resistance was pointless.
After capture we were eventually taken to a large warehouse in Zutphen, where we met up with Sgt. Campbell and most of the rest of the Platoon, who were put in the bag after some fierce fighting on the Monday morning.
Missing still were Shuckburgh and Watts, the PIAT team. Pte’s McKernon, Cockburn, Butler and Gowenlock [Gladwin] of 1 Section. Cpl. Neilly and Pte’s McKee, Marsden and Morris of Sgt. Frew’s 2 Section and Pte Flitcroft of Sgt. Craig’s 3 Section. Goozee had been left on the D.Z. and Ives, 3 Section’s Bren gunner had been wounded. Apart from the one or two I met briefly when 2nd Bn reformed at Oakham, I have never seen any of my Platoon again until I met David McLaughlin at the last, my first, reunion. What a lot we could have achieved given the chance.”
Courtesy of the Parachute 2 ClubRead More