Personal Account of Capt. Christopher CM James

279329. Captain. Christopher Compton Michael James.

181st Airlanding Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.

Christopher Compton Michael James was born on the 27th August 1910 in Marylebone, London. His father was William Warwick James, FRCS (1874-1965), and Mother Ada Louisa Mary Froud (1873-1948).

He was granted an emergency commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps, as a Second Lieutenant on the 29th May 1943, and promoted to war Substantive Captain on the 29th May 1944.

This is his personal account:

“Under instructions from D.D.M.S, N.1. Lieut. C.C.M. James, R.A.M.C. (279329) will proceed from Military Hospital, Banger, County down, N.1. to 1S1 (A/L) Field Ambulance R.A.M.C on 20th March 44.”

In the War Office Movements Order giving these instructions to D.D.M.S. N.1. there followed this note:-“Issue of additional pay under Article 336  (C) Royal Warrant for Pay, 1940, is authorised to Lieut. James whilst actually employed as Graded Surgeon within the authorised W.E. of 181 (A/L) Field Ambulance, and subject to the provisions of War Office Letter 24/Scot/758 (F.2.6) dated 18.1.41.”

On 20th March 44, I duly proceeded to join to 181 (A/L) field Ambulance at its vague address Home Forces, England.

There was considerable ambiguity about this posting, because apart from the location of the Unit, there was also doubt as to the meaning of (A/L). We all thought in Ireland it might mean something to do with Airborne, but since I had not volunteered, was over the volunteering age of 32, and wore spectacles, it was a little difficult to believe that (A/L) referred to Airborne troops.

However, on reporting to the Field Ambulance, I found out that (A/L) meant Air Landing and was the term applied to the Glider borne element of an Airborne Division. The standards for Glider borne troops were not so severe as those for parachutists and it was only the latter who had to be volunteers.

It was a bit of a shock to find myself Airborne, but the spirit pervading the Officers was infectious and I took no steps to obtain my posting into a non-Airborne Unit, and presumably I was not incompatible because the C.O did not get me transferred. What a different atmosphere there was compared to the frictions and grumblings in General Hospitals!

The unit was in training and before the Normandy Invasion D Day, we did two exercises, one a small Brigade exercise (Popeye) and the other a big Airborne Corps exercise, principally for 1st Division. (Mush) “Popeye” was a beast; the day before we had all had T.A.B. inoculations and in the evening entertained some high Officers in the Mess; fortunately I was not feeling well and went to bed early at about 11pm. I was woken as Orderly Officer at about 4.30 am to receive a message which initiated Exercise “Popeye” at 5.30 am. We marched for hours and finished off (without breakfast) at about 6pm. Exercise “Mush” was my first experience in a glider and I quite enjoyed it. It had followed an occasion when I had sat on an aerodrome watching another flying exercise in which there had not been a glider available for me.

For these exercises, we had moved down to Bulford and there my surgical team gathered to me. Owen was the oldest of them and became Plaster-King; Webb, and Operating Room assistant was responsible for the instruments and their sterilisation; Greenough did the preparing of the patients for operation, fetched them and did their dressings. Bannister, my batman, was responsible for maintaining the lighting and heating lamps, boiling the water and making tea as required. (when we had any tea to make). The last arrival was Swiney (pronounced Sweeney) not an operating room assistant but a Nursing Orderly, first class, who had been trained in a Facio-Maxillery Unit operating theatre and he assisted me at all operations.

From Bulford, we returned to our home base until just after D Day (June 6th 44) when we went back to Bulford and were briefed for an operation. We loaded up our gliders and were locked up in camp, but we were not destined to fly this time and after being thoroughly worked up, the operation was postponed 24 hours and so continued the next two or three days until the 24 hour postponement became a cancellation and we were personally was concerned but it seemed many more times  when we were ultimately given some leave. This was our first taste of briefing, followed by postponements and finally cancellation. The strain never grew less and when we finally did go, it was a relief!

In July, I took my team into Lincoln Military Hospital for a week so that we could learn together. We would have been at a great disadvantage before this, because we none of us knew how we would get on together. From my point of view, the Surgery was not interesting, being mainly minor stuff but it served its purpose very well and united us, while at the same time, giving me a chance to assess our capacity as a team.

Captain Barry Scott was my Anaesthetist, and came from the same medical school as myself! He therefore, knew something of Pentothal Anaesthesia, but little of Chloroform which was our alternative, and he took this opportunity to make himself better acquainted with his materials. We were limited to these two modes of Anaesthesia because we had to use paraffin lamps and burners for lighting and heating. Ether was far too inflammable under our conditions of working and similarly there was something against every other anaesthetic. He and I much enjoyed this soft living after our toughening filed work with march runs, P.T. [Physical Training] and route marches.

In July, also we marched across the Derbyshire Moors and in August, we joined an exercise which gave us a very good holiday in Scarborough.

In the middle of August, we suddenly returned to our home base, packed our kit, and sent it to France by sea. Ourselves, we went into transit camp at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Now started the really unpleasant period of being briefed for operations, and waiting for H hour which was postponed repeatedly until the operation was cancelled. This occurred on 3 occasions as far as I was personally concerned, but it seemed many more times! When we ultimately did go, it was on exercise “Sixteen” which turned into Operation “Market”.

When an operation was sufficiently “on”, the lower levels of seniority were briefed and this briefing was handed on to us who then briefed our men. Many planned operations never arrived at my level, and this was just as well because whenever my equals knew officially about a projected operation, the whole camp was shut and entry and departure without special passes was not allowed. This was a tented camp and the weather was not altogether kind. There was a N.A.A.F.I. for the men, who were too many for its size, and the officers had their messes. There was very little beer, and in any case, a mess secretary was in a difficult position because he never knew how long we should be there. The food was adequate and sometimes, we had extra special meals of superb quality and quantity when it was expected to be our last meal in England for some time to come. Between cancellations and fresh briefings, we consoled ourselves with what little beer there was in this country neighbourhood, or took the recreational transport into Witney, or Oxford, or other neighbouring towns, and drank them dry in about half an hour, filling in the remainder of the evening after the premature closing of the pubs as best we could. The RAF Mess at Brize had a very good line in draught Guinness I remember and a good squash court which we used frequently. Usually, during these interim periods, we were given 24 hours leave passes.

As everything always comes to an end, so did this period of waiting and on Sunday 17th September 194, we found ourselves sitting in our gliders waiting to go. As one of our Officers remarked to me at this moment, we’d “had” our previous cancelled operations and this time we’d 2got” it! He had been waiting to see the first plane fly before he made that remark!

My glider contained nine men, namely two glider pilots, both sergeants, myself, my lance corporal Own, and my team of four others, together with the driver of the jeep which was securely chained inside. And along with its trailer, contained almost half of the equipment and other stores of the field ambulance. We carried our own surgical team equipment in packs, weighing slightly less than 25 lbs per man.

During our period of waiting, about five weeks, the glider had been loaded and unloaded every four or five days, so that they should not be unduly strained by the contained weight. The responsibility for the loading and fixation was mine in the first place and the senior pilots ultimately. As it happened, I had been on leave at the time of the last loading, which had been done by my Lance Corporal, overseen by my surgical colleague Major Rigby Jones. Owen did his job well, as we all had reason to be thankful for later on.

We had spent many hours loading and unloading dummy gliders for practice, it was a strenuous job and we looked forward to the last time we should unload! On landing, our plan was to drop off the glider’s tail, using the quick release bolts, get our jeep and trailer out, and join the main body of the field Ambulance at the rendezvous. From there, we should proceed along a known route to a suitable building where the M.D.S would set up. M.D.S. was our own name (I think) for this organisation. The Main Dressing Station had a special significance for the R.A.M.C. in other situations.

The M.D.S, was organised as a Hospital with a reception department containing a first aid room, a Nursing wing and a wing for resuscitation, operation theatre, and post-operative wards. There were two surgical teams, No 1 under Major Rigby Jones M.C. with our Dental Officer Captain P. Griffin as his Anaesthetist, mine was No 2. We planned to operate alternately, being on duty for this for 12 hours, allowing 8 hours for relaxation and sleep, and the remaining 4 hours for looking after our ward patients. On Friday September 15th, I went on 24 hours leave, and stayed the night in the YMCA in Oxford and returned to duty at At, I was briefed together with the other officers of the unit and we then proceeded to brief our men, showing them the maps and aerial photographs of the landing zone. We handed in all our spare kit which was to follow us by sea and looked over our personal loads to make sure everything was still in order. Everything was still in order of course, we’d done this kind of thing several times before, and were getting bored with it. Saturday/Sunday night – 16th/17th September was the night for change from double to single Summer time, and we had not to be on our flying grounds until 9.30am so we went to bed for a good long sleep, discussing what chance there was of this operation actually being on! It had once before happened that postponement had been announced at midnight!


We woke after a good night’s sleep to find that operation ‘Market’ was still on and as the morning progressed, it still failed to be cancelled. We had an enormous breakfast, but I cannot remember whether it was mutton chops (large, succulent and almost non fatty) or several eggs and bacon, or something else. We had these “positively-the-last-meal-in-England” several times, and it is a little difficult after the event to be absolutely certain on which occasion one ate what.

We loaded up into large open trucks, dressed in battle array, though carrying our tin hats and wearing our berets. I found a comfortable seat on a container, which held tea to cheer us as we waited to fly. The long procession wound through that lovely part of Oxfordshire that borders Gloucestershire, until we arrived at Down Ampney. The country folk stood and watched us on this lovely Sunday morning which promised a pleasant, steady glider flight for us. We wondered what they thought about it! We couldn’t quite make up our minds either.

Grouped down one end of the runway was a column of aircraft drawn up in fours, a pair of gliders in the centre. Each flanked on its outer side by its tow-plane.

Our glider was number 287 and there were three others behind ours. I do not know how many more gliders there were flying from other aerodromes. After anti-air sickness pills, (Hyoscine gr 1/100) had been handed round, we checked our loading to make sure that none of the chains had loosened and stowed loose gear safely. We met our tow-plane pilots, Canadians, who told us they had safely taken some gunners on the Normandy invasion. Our glider pilots, two sergeants, appeared shortly afterwards and joined us in drinking tea from the container we had brought with us. One of our Officers coming on the lift next day, took photographs of each glider crew grouped around the steps into the glider, and farewells were shouted and waved, our door was shut and fastened, and we sat strapped into our seats with our tin hats on, awaiting our departure. We could not very clearly see what was going on, owing to our positions and the small size of the windows. The Gliders Pilots sit in their Perspex house, with a good view of everything. I was sitting in the front seat behind the pilots partition on the starboard side, with three of my crew sitting along the same side on my left, facing the other side of the glider. The remaining three sat facing forward at the tail end, separated from us by our load, and unable to see us and only able to communicate by shouts.

Our other Surgical team (No 1) was in the Glider due to go before us, and we could see it standing alongside on the other side of the runway. “It’s off”  our pilot called and we craned our necks to watch our fellows depart, but they did not get far because their tow rope broke about fifty yards along the runway and the glider came to a standstill. A moment or two later, we ourselves started with a gentle jerk and with increased speed, the noise increased to a roar and then suddenly dropped to a loud hum as we left the ground, we knew now the ‘Operation Market’ had started for us.

Flying in a glider is not altogether unpleasant. The noise which I have already described as a loud hum, is a mixture of the sounds of the tow plane’s engines and the rush of air on the wings and body of the glider. The movements which go on through the flight are a combination of rapid vibration of the whole machine with sudden larger dropping, rising and side slipping. This was by second flight in a glider and proved as pleasant as the first; on the whole it was a fairly smooth passage except when we had to fly through cloud and the tow-plane was out of the sight of the glider pilot. Usually, the glider flies above the tow-plane’s slipstream, but in cloud, it drops below so that the tow-plane indicator will function and we had to do this on one occasion, at other times the clouds were not very thick and the glider pilot managed to carry on alright although frequently, unable to see the tow-plane. The risk of course in this is that the rope may become slack and wrap itself around the glider, or it may get broken by a sudden jerk.

We cruised around England for some time and then crossed the East coast at Aldeburgh. The face of the countryside appeared like a series of aerodromes with a few fields separating them. This sounds fantastic but is was in this way they appeared to me. Most aerodromes had planes grouped around them on the ground.

Our tow-pane pilot was very kind and kept us just above the main stream of planes and gliders so that we had the minimum of vibration. I saw two gliders go down into the sea and make good landings in the vicinity of Air Sea Rescue Craft. One tow-plane and glider turned back across the English coast and I saw another glider make a landing in Holland just after we crossed the Dutch coast. A friend of mine in another glider saw similar incidents but the most vivid and unpleasant was that of a glider which blew up on making a forced landing in England. In the middle of the North Seas, some parachutists carried by plane, passed by going a little faster than us. It was a lovely day now and we thought of the Dutch people below preparing their Sunday dinner – if their rations were sufficient to enable them to have one, we didn’t know.

We had taken off at 10am and at 1.30pm our tow-plane was cast loose. I had been following our route on a map and was taken completely by surprised because I thought we had another five minutes to go. To get a good view I had spent most of the journey sitting on the inside part of the centre wheel which juts through the floor of the glider just behind and between the pilots; the members of my team came and stood behind me every now and again to see what they could see. We immediately put on our tin hats again and fixed our straps in position in case we had a bad landing, warning the three men in the tail that we were about to land.

Once the glider is free of the tow –plane, noise almost ceases and the movement of gliding is very smooth and pleasant until one hits the ground when the glider emits horrible noises from its wheels and all the body work groans and creaks. We glided nicely through the air and flattened out from our initial dive. I’d pulled my feet off the floor (as a precaution) against getting my legs caught up if the wheel happened to come through as it might if we bounced violently, when suddenly, the pilot shouted “Prepare to crash” which we echoed to the men in the tail and then there followed a frightful noise and we bounced and crashed about until we found ourselves lying on our backs and still proceeding to our right. We were all strapped firmly in of course, so none of us were individually thrown about.

As soon as we came to a stop, we undid our harnesses and grapping our revolvers, got out of the front door which was now in the ceiling. I got out first and everything seemed nice and quiet so I informed the others inside and dashed to the tail to find out if the three in the back were all alright. Their door was now on the floor! I raised my fist to band on the side of the glider and suddenly an axe-head appeared through the woodwork from inside, just at the spot I was going to rap on!! The men inside were alright and had started to cut off the tail. No one in front was injured. The glider was lying on its right side and we had to cut the tail off because it could not be dropped off. Unfortunately, what had previously been floor was now wall and our jeep and trailer hung by their chains which had been effectively fixed.

Having removed the tail which took about 10 minutes, we paused to consider our next job – that of freeing our jeep and trailer and getting them out without their overturning. This was an immense task which took a long time.

There was no enemy interference where we were and I decided we could remove our jeep and trailer but if we did get interfered with by the enemy, we should have to set the glider on fire. I sent a messenger on a collapsible bicycle which was part of our equipment and he reported at our rendezvous and came back to us. Later, I sent him off again to borrow a jeep to give ours a tow as it was awkwardly wedged. Once our jeep was out, I returned the borrowed one and ultimately freed the trailer. My watch had stopped at 3.30pm so I do not know exactly how long the whole affair took, I estimate about 2 ½ hours. Throughout this time, there was no enemy interferences in my immediate locality, though there were frequent noises off and when we left the glider, we left nothing of our equipment in it. My senior pilot presented me with a compass as a memento and was most apologetic about the crash. What had happened was apparently as follows ;-

We had cast off the tow rope and glided down to the landing ground which was a relatively smooth field with a loose earth surface but just as he was going in, another glider came in underneath and there was no room for us. He tried to rise over the avenue of silver birch trees which lined the track and so go into the next field but we were not travelling fast enough and crashed through the birches, leaving our wings in the trees. We shot through the trees like a flying cigar, landed on our port wheel, (our starboard one stayed in the trees) and turning on our starboard side we had slid noisily across the loose soft earth. Our Glider Pilot Sergeant Carter of F Squadron, acquitted himself nobly throughout the flight and we owe our thanks to him for a pleasant journey. He had chosen a very suitable tree to hit head on because it snapped off about ten feet from the ground and our momentum was sufficient to carry us through the trees on the other side of the avenue. It is also a tribute to the construction of the Horsa Glider, that having been subjected to such treatment, no one of its crew was hurt and our equipment was undamaged.

I am a very unwarlike Surgeon. Although I had been trained, I had no idea what things really were like in war, and that antique adage about ignorance being bliss was proved to be absolutely true for me in the days to come. As a first example of my ignorance, I instructed everyone to eat part of their haversack ration while we waited for the jeep to come and tow us. We settled ourselves comfortably around the mess of the glider, in the afternoon sun, just as though it were a picnic, and it was only after a couple of rather louder bangs than usual, that I realised we ought to have been taking cover. I asked the men if they thought this was a good idea and they seemed to think it was, because they proceeded to move themselves and their equipment into some bushes.

We had one diversion during this period, the arrival of dropping of one of the Parachute Units. It was a wonderful sight and very cheering to see, without any apparent enemy opposition. Having gathered all our equipment together we proceeded to the rendezvous and were directed to where we could join up with the Field Ambulance. We proceeded along a road for a short distance and arrived at the correct place, the last members of the unit to join up.

Team 1 had already set up shop; the breaking of their tow-rope had delayed them only a short time, they had been pulled back to the starting line, a new tow-rope provided and then flown off as tail end Charlie of our particular formation. We ate and then took over from them, three operations being performed before we changed duties at next morning. The theatre was in the back part of a house in a room which could have been used as a garage, but what its real purpose was I do not know. The houses were charming and modern in a style we later learnt to recognise as Dutch. The inhabitants gave us every help they could and I was led off to inspect their houses in case they could be used later as ‘Aid’ stations. To begin with, we did not have many casualties. The more severe were brought into our house for resuscitation and possibly operation, the less severe went into the house next door. The M.D.S. was functioning for the moment as planned, and a Press Photographer who had come in one of the Gliders, came along and took some photographs of us.

At this point, it is amusing to consider that because we were now receiving wounded, I was entitled to draw Specialists pay for the first time since leaving Ireland. Under the Royal Warrant quoted at the very beginning of this diary, I was only paid Specialists pay under certain conditions and although having served for the last six months as a Specialist, these conditions were only now being fulfilled. This is the usual way in which graded Specialists receive their extra salary in the army.

When I took over I went into the room where the severely wounded were, to see who needed an operation and which I should do first. The orderlies there were warming the patients with bricks heated on a primus and generally making them as comfortable as possible. We had a nasty moment once, when the stove was upset and the paraffin ran out and started a small fire. This naturally, frightened the patients, who moved themselves with considerably rapidity, the fire was quickly controlled and the patients made comfortable once aOwing to the extremely effective Allied bombing the day before, there was very little “Flack” opposition to our flight, but the water supply had been cut and we were very short of this essential commodity. I do not know where our supply came from.


At 3.00 am, I came off duty after a difficult operation on a man who would inevitably die. I had known this fact soon after I had started work on him, but he was the first patient I had come across where I should have decided not to waste time operating. I had not the courage of my convictions to say “this man must surely die from this injury, we will waste no further time on him” I ought to have said it, and not fatigued my team uselessly, but I called my colleague Surgeon Major Rigby Jones and he agreed with me, but as there were no other patients awaiting our attention he thought we ought to do what we could. The patient died 12 hours later. I retired to spend the night in a slit trench, and I slept like a log until about 7:15 am.

After a good breakfast, I went off with another officer to reconnoitre a large building into which we were going to move. I think this place had previously been a Sanatorium of some sort. It was a modern building which incorporated all modern conveniences for nursing chronic sick. As no one in the world, I believe, has ever regarded the aged and chronic sick as worthy of a decent modern hospital, (they always seem to get pushed into badly lighted old stone building where nursing has the maximum handicap) I assume that this place had been built as a tuberculosis hospital. It lay a little to the south of us, still in the suburb of Wolfheze and we crossed the railway to reach it. A detachment of Glider Pilots had passed through this area and there was little left of value here, but in going through the building to discover its lay out, one of our men found some bottles of wine, others found cigarettes and half burnt French and Dutch money and two radios. I collected a rucksack of German type with zip fasteners and all very nice and clean and brand new. We decided that to recce a building of this type was the best part of war, but unfortunately we could not waste time doing it.

This was an L-shaped building, the ground floor was principally living rooms, and administrative offices. The former surgery we took over and with rooms next door, we found a very satisfactory operating room set up, in fact, two theatres, two sterilising rooms and accommodation for our own team to live in. the rest of the ground floor was provided with beds and mattresses and patients were brought in a short time after we arrived. Water again, was in short supply but the tanks were fairly full and we had the central heating reservoir as a last store.

The Germans had obviously left in a hurry but we heard that the Luftwaffe girls who had occupied it had been evacuated on the preceding Wednesday. These girls, the equivalent of our W.A.A.F., rather rudely nicknamed “Lustwaffe” by our Dutch interpreter, had removed almost everything of their belongings except for some food, but they had left their mark in the acrid smell of stale scent which clung to all the cupboards and rooms which they had used.

In the grounds there were a number of trucks and cars effectively immobilised and an anti-tank gun still loaded; whether this was useable or not we could not say, not knowing anything of modern offensive weapons. There were no signs that war had passed across here except the body of a German officer lying out in the garden. Maybe I was lucky but this was the first sign I had yet seen close to apart of course from my patients.

My team had arrived soon after we set up shop. We did one operation here. In the meantime, as surgery was not indicated because we expected to move once again, we assisted in receiving and making comfortable the stream of casualties which were now coming in. There did not seem to be enough room for them all, or perhaps they arrived too quickly for us to prevent bottlenecks temporarily. I was fully occupied with this when I received an order to prepare to move in half an hour to go to another place. My team started packing up and I tackled the cook-house staff to provide us with some food in a hurry and we had time to eat this before we actually went. The move from Wolfheze to Oosterbeek was a triumphal procession. I was sitting beside the driver of a captured enemy truck and had a first rate view. The whole Dutch population seemed to have turned out to greet us. The houses were decked with British and Dutch flags and with great lengths of orange streamers. People had brought out boxes of apples and jugs of water and as we halted frequently, we benefited accordingly. The weather was warm and sunny and my thirst was accordingly large, so I was grateful for the fluid. Our previous shortage was not extreme but it made one pause to consider before one drank or washed.

The Dutch enthusiasm gave one the feeling almost of a crusader. Here were these people being held down by the abominable 'Boche' and here we had arrived in a tremendously propagandised battle to free them. The second lift which had come in by this time had brought some newspapers with them and the headlines gave us a jolt. Fancy us being involved in such a tremendous effort, the largest airborne action yet to have been attempted. Our moral was very high and the way the Dutch came out openly to welcome us only confirmed our feelings that the outcome of the operation could only result in complete success and over running the Germans. Some of the people were in tears.

Our part in the procession ended when we drove into the treed forecourt of the Schoonoord Hotel, hereafter called the M.D.S. This building stood on the corner of a minor crossroad on the road to Wageningen and as events turned out, this very minor crossroads became a major objective in the battle which developed, but I do not think that at the time we occupied it, anyone could have foreseen how important it would become. It was a large building with big downstairs rooms suited to the general purpose of holding casualties but there was no satisfactory room for use as an operating setup. We were contemplating using a hospital nearby. Capt. Griffin, our dental officer and anaesthetist, to No 1 Team, went off with him to reconnoitre while I and my Commanding Officer re-examined the hotel.

Griffin returned and said he thought the new place good, so he and I drove off to look and see. We drove down the side turning to the south in a jeep with no lights; it was getting dark by now and arrived at the Hotel Tafelberg which the Dutch had taken over as an emergency Aid Station. There were a set of rooms in the Western side suitable for operating rooms, with large rooms suitable for nursing on the north and south sides, which had been partly furnished with beds and already had some patients – German, British and Dutch, men and women regardless of sex. The first floor was sited on all sided of the square house. The second floors were unoccupied, but furnished similarly and above again were some attic rooms. We arranged with the Dutch doctors which rooms we should take over – they are numbered 1 and 2 on the plan. (Team 1 and Team 2) for the operating theatres. The “Main Room” was formerly the hotel dining room and had large plate glass windows. I have called it thus for the sake of simplicity.

After preliminary discussion Peter Griffin and I adjourned with the Dutch doctors and nurses for a celebrationary drink of Schnapps. They were most interest in our “invasion” money and in reply to my question whether the Dutch people would accept it, insisted on exchanging money on the spot so I had some occupation money issued by the Germans. We found English was the best language for conversation, I could speak a little German but they preferred to air their English in preparation for freedom. What a welcome we had! Peter and I had great difficulty in extracting ourselves but we had work to do and I am quite sure we should shortly have been very drunk if we had not torn ourselves away.

We drove back to the M.D.S. and reported. By this time, it was completely dark and collecting my team, Peter and I drove back with our surgical equipment to Tafelberg. The M.D.S was filling with casualties and it looked as though they would need the next door houses rather earlier than had been anticipated.

Back at Tafelberg

We arranged for mattresses to be brought from the Annex next to the hotel which was across the grass plot outside the front door and these were laid on the floor in the Main Room, which was completely blacked out and of a very good size. It had a counter separating the room from the service doorway and we found this very useful at mealtimes and for laying out dressing materials, syringes and odd instruments.

We started straight in at 10pm on operating on the British already present in the hotel and slow work we made of it. The Dutch were most intrigued by our filed methods and came and watched me for a time. They had some blood which they made available for us and I gave a little of it to a man who’s leg I had to amputate. I am not used to an audience and they were so interested in everything and asking questions which made my normal speed of working cut down considerably. It was two months since I had operated at Lincoln and I felt rather stiff from lack of practice and manhandling a broken up glider.

The continental transfusion methods were very antiquated, Germany having retarded (unintentionally I should think) all advances in medicine and surgery. The blood arrived in a peculiar shaped glass container which had to be held throughout although, with a little ingenuity, it could be hung up from a hook or a nail. The method used on the Continent seemed to be only fast transfusion and the Dutch were interested when we gave it by the drip method.

In theory, Capt. Bruce Jeffrey was our transfusion Officer and he had done resuscitation at our previous M.D.S. but now, we were separated from him as he remained at the M.D.S.

Surgical Team 1 arrived about the time we were starting operating and having set up, went to bed. We went on working, patients arriving meantime, until No 1Team took over from us and we went to bed at 6:00am. Barry Scott had arrived and gave anaesthetics for Rigby Jones for a time and the next day, he and Peter Griffin changed over.

At this time, water and electricity were in normal supply, a very remarkable thing to contemplate! The invading enemy enjoying the amenities of the invaded’s municipality without paying rates! The pleasure of using a proper functioning water closet after only 36 hours deprivation, is a thing to be wondered at.

The operations I performed this night, were for wound fractures of the arms and legs, one of the later requiring amputation.


I slept in a bed in the downstairs ward and got up at 7:30 am, woken by noise and daylight. The noise was the start of what continued from now until the end of the battle, with short intervals of peace, the sound of mortar bombs exploding in the proximity.

From now onwards, one day was much like another and for the most part, it is difficult to associate incidents as having occurred on any definite day.

No. 1 Team were operating when I go up so I did a round of all patients. It was not possible to change dressings since we had to economise and in any case, this agreed with my own ideas that dressings should be touched as rarely as possible, but I was able to go round and say something to each individual if only to ask him if he was alright. New patients arrived at intervals. Tafelberg was a surgical centre and we only received patients from the M.D.S. unless they came straight to us obviously requiring surgery. The first floor had a small Dutch nursing staff and their patients were actually in bed between sheets. I arranged to send up post-operatively those patients who particularly required nursing care and they received first class attention and on the whole were fairly comfortable.

Two nursing orderlies were sent to us to help do the nursing so our personnel now consisted of four officers and twelve men. Our patients numbered about 50.

We ate our breakfast at about 9:30am. It was not a very large one but although I did not feel hungry and had little appetite, I felt very much better for having something inside me.

In the early afternoon, some aeroplanes flew over and investigations showed that they were Messerschmitts and when they started flying in our direction, we were very careful to stand where we had a good solid stone wall between us and them. They did some machine gunning in our neighbourhood and shortly after a runner arrived asking for the attentions of a Medical Officer for some men of a Glider Pilot Unit who had been shot up. We had first aid equipment and I took with me an orderly and some shell dressings having left a message as to where I had gone. Major Rigby Jones was still operating and Barry and Peter were there to carry on in my absence.

We had to go down the road towards the river and I felt vaguely anxious, it was a quiet period as far as mortaring was concerned but although some bombs had come near me, I still had not learnt to be really frightened of them. The German fighters were still in the neighbourhood but somehow I felt they were not concerned with us as I and my Orderly walked brazenly down the middle of the road hoping that the snipers in the vicinity (and there were several) would perceive our Red Cross armbands (how small and insignificant they were and how totally insufficient for their purpose of identification. We were not wearing anything on our heads, and had no equipment of any sort, not even airborne smocks, so that we thought we would be sufficiently non-combatant in appearance to any bloodthirst sniper. We hurried to the spot we had been told about and found several men just beginning to suffer from shock and pain; superficially those who were still alive had small wounds, but I knew what might be underneath such seemingly innocent little wounds. 4 were killed and 7 wounded. They were all in the bushes when the planes fired on them. The target which ironically was not touched was probably a truck standing in the drive to the house whose garden they were in and these men were unfortunately in a direct line when the plane fired short of its objective. They were on a patrol and consequently had no foxholes.

Having finished doing the dressings and morphia injections, I provided them with field medical cards and instructed the major in command how to dispose of them. It may seem morbid but I wanted to examine the dead to see where they had been hit and why they had died but my job was not to stay out in the open attending to those who did not need my ministrations. On quick examination of three of the dead I could find no hole in the clothes to show where a bullet had entered, it is usually so small that one would easily miss it.

I did not go straight back but turned down the hill towards the river for about ten yards and through a gap in the hedge. I could see the railway bridge with its southernmost span collapsed; someone told me later, it had been blown by the Dutch on Sunday morning just before we arrived. I did not stop more than a moment because I did not wish to cast doubts in anyone’s mind that perhaps I was gathering information instead of being a non-combatant acting in the performance of my proper duties.

We had just arrived back in Tafelberg when every gun in creation seemed to burst into action. The third lift was coming in and also a supply drop.

On Sunday and Monday, the lifts and the supply drops had had little interference owing to previous bombing by our Airforce, so the Dutch said, but today, the Germans were fully organised and we witnessed for the first time, a performance repeated almost every afternoon hereafter.

It was an awful sight that is the only word that fits the occasion. How often in a lifetime does one experience awe? In the woods close to us, to our west, smoke flares were going up to indicate the dropping zone, but obviously something was going wrong because little if any supplies, were being dropped in our neighbourhood. The sky was full of planes flying low and so very slowly, with containers falling out of them, some with and some without, parachutes. Those planes seemed painfully slow to us as we watched, they were surrounded with little smoke blotches of exploding flak. Several planes although burning, continued their low, slow steady flight whilst their load was delivered the pilots knowing they had little chance of survival. They were too low for the occupants to have any chance of a parachute jump. Such and exhibition of courage I never wish to see again, nor do I wish to be so awe-inspired.

The Dutch produced a wireless and we turned it on, it was a mains set and listened in for a bit but at about 6 o’clock the current failed. The water also stopped during the day so life was complicated in many ways. However, all the baths had been filled and the hot water and central heating plants were full.

Very shortly after 6pm, I started operating again and with an interval for food, work continued until Surgical Team 1 came on again at 5:00am. We did not require electricity for our work as we had paraffin lamps, but shortage of water would be a serious deficiency. We relied principally on boiling for sterilisation and with mortar bombs exploding around the place, there was constantly a lot of dirt and dust flying about so we required a lot of scrubbing to get clean.

During my operating session I was consulted about a Dutch boy aged about 12 who had a very unpleasant wound of the ankle region. The Dutch doctor wanted to know what I advised and I could only suggest amputation. I was asked to operate, so I returned the compliment by asking the doctor to give the anaesthetic and a Dutch nurse to stand by to console the boy while being anaesthetised. The operation was quickly performed and the boy became an object for spoiling by our orderlies during the following days. He was nursed upstairs by the Dutch staff and in spite of a very unpleasant atmosphere in which to get well, he survived all the trials of battle and a week his wound was very satisfactory.

This night, I slept on a mattress on the first floor in a recess leading to a corner room. I did not feel very safe but it was the safest place I could find at present. The mortaring had stopped for a short time.



I slept very soundly again, and on waking, made my morning visit around the whole hospital. Rigby was still operating, so the care of the patients and examination of new ones fell to the lot of my team and myself. The number of patients had increased and feeding became a serious difficulty. The Dutch so far had fed our patients very generously, but now they were short themselves owing to the continual mortaring and snipers it had been impossible for them to go and forage.  We collected up all available rations our patients had brought with them and together with those we carried, continued to cater for all.

During the afternoon which was warm, we had a visit from Captain Paddy Doyle, the officer who had photographed us on the aerodrome. He had come in the second lift on Monday and had rather warmer reception from the enemy than we had but the whole of his medical organisation had arrived safely and now he was with us again. He had taken over a schoolhouse and was using it for lightly wounded patients, mostly ambulant, as an annexe to the M.D.S. which apparently had expanded considerably.

Curing Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, we had had visits from our R.C. Padre, Father Benson, who had courageously walked from dressing station to dressing station, with a large Red Cross flag in his hands. This afternoon the M.D.S. suffered a direct shell hit and Benson and our chief clerk Sergeant Tiltman were wounded. I think they were very lucky, and only had one or two others hurt.

Up till now, I had no idea where the battle was being fought, or where the first lines were. Our aid posts were within our own defence perimeter and that was as much as I knew. From now onwards, I was in no doubt. During the early part of the day, some of our glider pilots dug themselves in on the other side of the wood to our west and that made us front line troops. A little later in the day, they disappeared. We had become no-man’s land. They may have disappeared on our account, because there had been a P.I.A.T. at this road junction on which we stood and we had remonstrated because if the Huns discovered this fact, we feared we would be involved in any action they took to neutralise this antitank weapon.

Up to now, we had assumed the mortar bombs exploding in our vicinity were German, but after this, they might be anyone’s.

I operated as usual during the evening hours and finished rather earlier. The mortaring was getting much closer and heavier and during the evening, the ceiling came down in Team 1’s operating theatre. Most of the bombs had been exploding on that side of the house and there had been one which fell almost in the window of the room on the N.W. corner of the building. The door out of the recess I slept in last night had a hole in it where a metal fragment had passed through and the ceiling in the room (corner on first floor) had come down making a shambles inside the room which fortunately was empty.

In spite of the crashes and bangs of mortar bombs around us, we had none of us thought of doing anything about the plate glass windows in the Main room. Upbringing and environment have a very powerful influence on one, I knew these windows were a danger, but it never occurred to me to break them and so remove a potential danger to our patients and ourselves. The inevitable happened at last and two windows cracked across and we were able to overcome our instincts and finish them properly. The uncracked ones of course we left intact.

Perhaps I had better point out here that I was not the Senior Officer in this place, although I think the Dutch regarded me as such, probably because they knew me from the beginning when I came to reconnoitre and my Superior Officer arrived later.

Before we went to bed this evening, we had a mild celebration. Peter Griffin and I and Major Harlow, the Senior divisional chaplain who had joined us this afternoon, sat up and drank Schnapps with a Red Cross sister and two Dutch helpers. We had a most amusing conversation and were offered pancakes, obviously an international dish, the Dutch word for them being something like pancooks. Unfortunately, the Red Cross Sister (Sister Hermione Puisman) spoke in English and by her literal translation from the Dutch, caused much amusement by addressing us individually and saying to each of us in tern “You will become a pancook”. Having said this, she disappeared and returned with these luscious things. What she really meant to say was “You will receive a pancook”

The strain of this battle was beginning to tell on these people and she was having difficulty sleeping, but refused to accept anything in the way of treatment that we offered her. To her and the other sisters we ow a debt we can never repay. Whenever I endeavoured to thank the Senior Dutch Doctor, he would put his arm around my shoulders and say “It is for us to thank you”. In the days that followed, to many of us the tragedy was not in the losses that we suffered so much as the horror that we brought with us. This Dutch doctor said quite simply, “It is the price we must pay to regain our freedom – it is for us to thank you”. I have often wondered since what terrors the Germans may have visited on these courageous people for the assistance they gave to us. I should like to return to Arnhem to find out but the street where I was given an address was badly damaged and I should imagine that no one would be residing there now.



I slept very well in a bed in a ward upstairs, being woken by the morning mortar as usual and did my rounds.

Shortly after breakfast, we had an influx of patients from various places and there was a complete reorganisation. I do not know how this all arose, but I presume that it became possible to evacuate various aid posts which had been grossly overcrowded; also, there had been a direct hit by a shell on a school nearby us where Paddy Doyle had been working and he was killed, the place was now unusable and his patients had to go elsewhere.

The A.D.M.S came along and told me about the reorganisation, and that Tefelberg must take more patients. We were very full already and obviously we could not take enough, so I suggested taking over the annexe to the hotel across the way. I went over there and started getting things straightened out, removing beds and finding mattresses to lay upon the floor. Every time I had had to take initiating action, I had been compensated. In going to the sanatorium I had collected the German rucksack. In coming to Tafelberg, I had been given some Schnapps and now I had a different compensation. I have already mentioned the shortage of water when we had gone so far, and in this Annexe, the storage and central heating plants were full; of far greater importance for me at that moment was that the sanitary arrangements were functioning. In Tafelberg the lavatories had been out of use for two days, and I had gone round thanking Heaven for the constipating effect of morphia so that the patients were not in need of attention in this respect. Tafelberg and the annexe had been used by German troops of some kind and their doors were marked with their names. The best room in the annexe was marked “Der Chef”. The Dutch seemed to think that Der Chef had been General Model but I think he is the modern counterpart of our own Good Queen Bess and lived in several different houses in Arnhem at the same moment.

Surgical Team No.1 took over the Annexe and stopped operating. Major Rigby Jones now seemed to have a variety of duties unconnected with his men, driving a jeep, collecting and distributing wounded, food and medical equipment. Every time he came to Tafelberg, his jeep showed a new bullet hole. He was in his element and obviously enjoying himself. If he had not been such a good surgeon I would have said he had found his vocation. I only saw him occasionally after this, so he may have been doing medical duties elsewhere as well. The A.D.M.S. and his D.A.D.M.S. took over medical charge of the annexe.

Barry Scott ceased to be my anaesthetist and took charge of another building close by in the weed. It was called the “Dependance” and as such, I shall refer to it later.

Peter Griffin and I were now in charge of Tafelberg and we had to help us my surgical team of five, the two nursing orderlies (Eagles and Phillips) who joined us on Tuesday, and Corporal Hollingsworth of the Army Dental Corps. My patients reorganised, some leaving me to go to the annexe or M.D.S. and others coming to me. I made more use of the beds upstairs which I had avoided as much as possible because I felt the Dutch bed a priority. Peter organised a ward for patients with jaw wounds. This was an excellent move because not only did they have a first class nurse to look after them and they were in comfortable beds, but also each man saw that he was not the only one with a facial wound and was in consequence made to realise that he was not unique and that other people did understand his suffering. To cater for all this number a cookhouse was started in Tafelberg under Ptes Maltby, Heath and Cuthill who were assisted by ambulant patients. Two meals were provided each day at and made from Compo rations arriving in the day’s drop. Previously, we had eaten one good meal a day and kept going on tea brewed when occasion arose. I had found that we worked far better immediately after food or tea, and also that one’s morale was much better. On an empty stomach, it occasionally flashed across one’s mind “How much longer can this battle go on?”

The supply drops continued to go astray, and the food question was very uncertain, but two sheep strayed near us and they were killed by Sten gun fire from our window. The marksman responsible had to be careful not to expose himself or his gun because being under the Red Cross we should not have weapons of such calibre, and snipers might change their attitude to us and start taking pot shots at our medical personnel. Two of our orderlies and a Dutchman braved snipers and fetched in the carcasses which the Dutchman butchered and they were hung for future reference.

Medical Supplies came in the supply drops but we could never be sure when we would receive any. Occasionally, we were very short of dressings, and at one time our Morphia position caused me much anxiety. Part of our reserve supply was smashed when I was wounded by a fragment of shell passing through the hip pocket in which I was keeping a bottle. We had started out with some Penicillin which lasted us very well. WE gave it to a few men only, as we wished to be certain that is should not be wasted by giving too little. My priority case was a man with severe burns who also was number one priority for my supply of blood plasma and Glucose Saline transfusions. We received more of these valuable fluids by the supply drops, so we did not have to bleed ourselves or our orderlies for which I was thankful. I do not agree with those who use their own personnel or fighting troops as sources of blood except in absolute necessity. The only legitimate source in my opinion is the lightly wounded who are not going to be fit to return to their own unit at once.

One of our Dutchmen had the day before done a bicycle tour covering about fifteen miles. He brought information about guns which had moved to different sites and was able to pinpoint their positions on a map.

The Dutch moved about regardless of the firing going on. They conducted water parties and carried messages for their own people.

During the early part of the morning three of our fighting men came to Tafelberg with very depressing news. They said their line had been completely broken, they had had to run for their lives from tanks and flame throwers and had to jettison their weapons and equipment. They were in a mild state of panic and wanted to join up with Brigade Headquarters as their Battalion H.Q. no longer existed. I satisfied myself that their identities were as they described themselves and put them on the right road – vaguely because I did not know myself exactly. They took what weapons and ammunition we had with them.

We always made a dump of arms and ammunition which patients brought in with them. So that they could be collected and redistributed.

When we had settled down I started operating again, and continued into the early hours. I slept the night in a bed next to one of the patients I had just operated on; doing so saved my orderlies from keeping watch with him, they had each to do an hours night duty while the others slept. The other patients had had shorter anaesthetics and had already sufficiently recovered to be left, but this one had had an abdominal wound and his anaesthetic was therefore much deeper.

During the evenings and the middle of the night the Germans did not seem to indulge in much mortaring, and I found this quieter period much better for operating, and fewer patients seemed to come in to distract my team from their work in the operating theatre. If we were lucky, this quiet period lasted until after we had gone to bed, so we fell asleep very quickly and our state of fatigue was such that only close explosions disturbed us. In spite of this heavy sleep we were all very quick in responding to anything abnormal in our vicinity, and it was rare for any of us to get unbroken sleep. On several occasions I was forced to get up because I thought my night orderly might have been injured by a near bomb and be unable to draw our attention as he was alone on duty, but always I was worrying unnecessarily.



My patients numbered about seventy at 6:am this morning. I was up early so as to cunt numbers and inform the A.D.M.S. From now onwards, we were part of the battle, mortaring being much closer and during the day, we received at least one direct hit, several others being so close as to cause casualties among our own patients.

The bomb that hit us ruined our water supply finally. All the tanks emptying themselves into one end of the Main Room. It had hit between the ground and first floors, two patients downstairs were killed and several wounded again.

We shifted the patients to clear them from the water coming through the roof and our sense of proportion at last arriving; we finished off the remaining windows, knocked down the plaster from the damaged ceiling and removed the electric light pendants. The lust of destruction developed very rapidly in us and we might have continued to look for more things to break up had not more casualties arrived.

As can be imagined, this direct hit frightened our patients considerably and the explosion was followed by a panic, some patients getting up in spite of splints etc., and an attempt to run away. The most controlled man in the room was a badly burnt officer who could not open his eyes because his lids were so swollen; he shouted out at the top of his voice telling everyone to lie down and be quiet as they were quite alright.

The ceiling in my operating theatre had fallen and all our equipment was covered in debris. It was out of the question now to operate, mortar bombs were continually falling all around, and one just kept moving from patient to patient, hoping to miss any splinters flying in that area. One Dutch nurse was wounded by a splinter during the day and our dental corporal also while out fetching water. I thought it too great a risk to have five orderlies, a surgeon and an anaesthetist all grouped together in one place, when our total Medical personnel totalled ten, one of whom was wounded.

One patient of mine replying to my remark – that I was thankful I was not a fighting soldier sitting in a foxhole with all this explosive matter being thrown at me, said he wished he WAS in his foxhole which he thought far safer than his present predicament. Unfortunately, there was nothing one could do. The patients were safer lying on the floor, they obtained some protection from the low walls, but the windows were so large they could not be barricaded and there was nowhere else to move them to, even if it had not been so dangerous while being moved.

The number of my patients being wounded a second time while under my care increased daily, so that in the end, it must have been almost 50% after the final catastrophe just before we evacuated.

This first direct hit caused a panic not only among our patients but also among the Dutch, one of whom proceeded with a white flag to a local German H.Q. to give him information as to the loation of aid posts to prevent our being hit again. This S.S. battalion H.Q. said they had no means of communication with the headquarters of the troops mortaring us two or three miles away, but offered to convey an officer G.H.Q. in Arnhem. I believe the A.D.M.S. went off on the hazardous trip and made arrangements for the evacuation of our wounded to the German lines, but as far as my surgical centre was concerned, my patients were not evacuated for a day or two, although more room was found for them in the annexe.



2 Amputation of leg

1 Amputation of thigh

1 Disarticulation at elbow joint

3 Simple Potts fractures

2 Abdominal wounds (1 died after 5 days) (1 died after 12 hours)

3 Compound Femurs

4 or 5 Compound Tibias

1 or 2 Compound Humerus

1 G.S.W. of hand with haemorrhage

1 Ankle wound with haemorrhage from Post. Tib. Art.

1 Cystotomy for wound of penis

3 or 4 Wounds round buttocks and hips

1 Suspected abdo.  With multiple wounds

1 Penetrating wound of chest.


25   27 There were about 36 altogether



Nothing outstanding happened today except that I paid a short visit to the Dependance.

Two more hits were registered on the building, but no one was seriously hurt. The Dutch were very worried, poor things, they were not getting any more patients, but they were not able to go to a quieter spot. We were beginning to feel like Bruce Bairnsfather’s  famous “Better ‘Ole” of the last war. There was a small cellar and the Dutch occupied this.

I noted in my diary that the most trying thing about the business of this continued mortaring, was the noise. The blast had stopped affecting us, we had grown used to it.

The nights were now the worst part because one was unoccupied, and although very fatigued, it was difficult to sleep; one had one ear open all the time, and the Germans mortared occasionally during the darkest hours. It is difficult to explain the feeling experienced when one hears the faint bang of a mortar being fired and waits for the bomb to arrive. One only heard this at night because everything was so much quieter.

There was one type of projectile which was rather frightening; it whistled through the air getting louder and then the noise suddenly stopped, one waited for the explosion but nothing happened except that the whistle started again on the other side of the house, gradually getting quieter, the explosion being heard in the distance. I believe now that they were our own shells being fired from South of the river.



After about Tuesday, on going to bed, I had wondered to myself how much longer this battle could continue. I would think to myself “This has gone on four days already, I suppose it can go on a fifth” etc. We knew the M.D.S. was already in German hands, because Rigby had nearly been captured there one day when he had left one of our sheep there for them to eat. He had apparently walked in with the carcass through the back door, and our R.S.M. had warned him to beat it with the jeep in double quick time. When Rigby had had more food to deliver at a later date, he had been able to only push it in a back window of the kitchen and bolt.

An amusing story was told us later of the Germans occupying the M.D.S. Our R.S.M. wanting to attend the calls of nature explained to the backdoor sentry in sign language and was allowed to go outside. While outside, a German officer saw him, and the sentry was harangued in no uncertain terms. The Officer was carrying a hand grenade (the German type has a wooden-stick handle and explode after pulling a cord) and snatched the sentry’s helmet off his head delivered two smart cracks on his skull with the grenade, replaced the helmet equally smartly, and marched off in high dudgeon.

We were taken prisoner ourselves today. I was doing my rounds when at about 10:am , I heard German being spoken in rather harsh tones near the back door. I knew the German method when going into a house was to throw a grenade in the door first, and I could visualise the possibilities in our overcrowded residence. (I met later a medical officer injured in this way) Without thinking of further possibilities, I rashly pushed my head through the window facing that way, round the blackout curtain (which we kept permanently in place) and shouted “hospital” Immediately a rifle was levelled at me by one of the two soldiers outside and I was motioned outside. I was wearing my Red Cross armband and explained the position to the German Sergeant. He ordered all medical personnel out of the annexe and the Tafelberg and was surprised to see so few after we had told him we had about 300 patients.

It was drizzling with rain, and mortaring occasionally came near us, but it certainly was quieter than yesterday. An officious private turned all the Dutch our as well for inspection.

After a short while, we were permitted to return to our duties, as a result of the arrival of the A.D.M.S who had been into Arnhem again to visit the German General to confer again about the evacuation of our wounded. We could not move any of our wounded because the Germans removed all our jeeps.

Later on an S.S. Officer arrived, was extremely officious and unpleasant, shouting at everyone (a habit of German officers I concluded later after I’d seen a bit more of Germans) and in a tremendous hurry. He turned all the Medical personnel out of the building and marched off the walking wounded. We were then permitted to return to our work. Unfortunately, he also took Major Harlow, the Senior Chaplain who had been a great standby; the German said we did not need a chaplain.

German sentries were posted at our doors, they were all very young, but their N.C.O.s and officers were older men of the S.S.; various other Germans took up strategic points around and we stopped being in “no man’s land”. We were now a bastion of the German front line. Every now and then, screams which rent the air let us know that one of them had been wounded. Their  casualties were brought in to us, and we treated them like our own. One boy died shortly after admission, and one of the bearers bringing another man burst into uncontrollable tears when he heard.

I speak a little German but understand rather less. One Dutch SS man who came in to speak to me in a loud voice and shook me by the hand when he found me attending to a German casualty. His speech was in the best Hitler declamatory style but all I could understand was something about comradeship.

The Dependance was hit by a quick firing gun and some of Barry’s patients came across to us; most of his had been marched away by the Germans.

Following Padre Benson’s wounding, his duties had been taken over by a Dutch priest who spoke English fairly well, and he told us a little of what was going on at the M.D.S. He was hoping to be able to stay with us when we were relieved and go on as British Army chaplain. This evening, he delivered a most stirring talk to the patients and everyone sang hymns, - A Dutch one, and English one, (god our help in ages past) and a German one, (I’ve forgotten which they were – I knew them all.) this religious service had a great effect on morale, which as can be imagined was beginning to decline, although I was unaware of this until after I had become aware of the sudden improvement!

I can imagine nothing more terrible than to be wounded and be taken helpless to a place where one was in continual danger of being wounded again.  There were no cases of hysteria in spite of the inevitable strain of lying down with only one’s thoughts to occupy one. I had used Morphia freely, but that does not account for the magnificent self-control of our patients.

As for myself, I developed a kind of mental stupor which shut out everything except the particular job in hand. I was not consciously frightened and the result of the battle had become to me personally, a matter of indifference.

As a doctor, one early learns to supress the emotions associated with the death of a patient, and by this stage of Operation Market, the death of a patient left me unmoved, but my equilibrium was completely upset by the arrival of two unconscious officers who died almost immediately. I had messed with these two for weeks before the battle and knew them well. This was the severest shock I had received so far, and it still stands out vividly in my memory.


I arose early after a disturbed night. The S.S. had got hold of some Schnapps from somewhere, and had arrived with a casualty; all of them were very drunk. I took exception to the Dutch S.S. man who had come in and slept in safety on a mattress on a small landing on the stairs, but there was nothing I could do as he was too drunk. I thought it was wiser to let sleeping dogs lie. He was armed and might have proved dangerous to us all with his machine pistol.

Early in the day, the Dependance burst into flames, whether because it was hit again, or whether it had been smouldering since yesterday, I do not know. It had to be completely evacuated, Barry took up work in Tafelberg and in the annexe according to how much work there was to do, and his patients were divided between the two places. I had very little spare room, but evacuation of the M.D.S. to the Germans was going on and our patients were slowly being moved to the M.D.S.

While these transfers were going on, the mortaring was severe and close by; many of our patients were wounded again and many in the annexe also.

My newly arrived ambulant patients were grouped for lack of a better place on the stairs, and there was no room for more lying patients, in fact, I had difficulty in finding a place for the stretcher bearing a dying Dutch nurse with a terrible head wound. She was unconscious and I wanted to put her outside in the open, but the mortaring at that time was particularly heavy. My patients were marvellous, and I found some odd English books of the Penguin type to read, in the hope that it might take their mind off things. I clearly remember giving one man a green crime book entitled “Enter a Murderer”. Perhaps it was coincidence, or perhaps a judgement for the poor joke I mad about the appropriateness of this title, but as I turned to go from the stairs to the main room, there was a horrid bang, a blast of red hot air on the left side of my face, a nasty stinging pain where my neck and right shoulder join and I found myself falling to the ground, blown over by the blast.

Having decided that my wound was fatal, owing to its locality and that I was going to die from severe haemorrhage, I lay for the moment on the floor in an uncomfortable position, but to adjust myself better I moved my right arm, and finding I could do so, cursed myself for  a fool and proceeded to get up. My instinct was to run away but before I could get started on that, I found that I was in the main room and some German patients had the same idea and were trying to get up. Most of the patients were calling out panic stricken. I shouted out everything was alright and made the Germans lie down again, and then thought to return to the entrance hall where the bomb had fallen but the place was so full of dust and smoke, I could see nothing.

I found ambulant patients and sent them to the annexe with a message asking for help and proceeded myself to the cookhouse to find someone to dress my wound. Four of my orderlies arrived shortly afterwards with the same idea as they had been hit too, but there was no one to give us a hand because we had turned everyone out to do dressings on re-wounded patients after a close hit about five minutes before.

We dressed each other’s wounds and I instructed them to lie down or carry on accordingly as they were hurt. Having had my own wound dressed and be told (very comforting) that it was quite minor, I returned to the scene of the accident and found that Peter Griffin and Barry Scott were there, dealing with the situation.  One medical orderly was killed, but how many patients were, I do not know, probably at least five and most of the others wounded again.  Apparently a shell had hit the wall by the window on the stairs and coming in, had exploded in the entrance hall. Barry had not received my message, but while in the annexe, had seen smoke coming from our front door and had come over with Peter to investigate.

I did a round of the patients downstairs and upstairs; the balustrade on the landing had come adrift and the ceilings were down upstairs, but apart from being shaken, only one man was hurt – another medical orderly – but not badly. None of the Dutch personnel or patients were hurt.

Having completed my round, I found myself in no condition to carry on, so handed over to Barry and found myself a mattress in the annexe.

Meanwhile, our patients were being evacuated apace, a very unpleasant business because of the mortaring and shelling, and in due course, I walked off with the tail end. Things were quieter now. We walked down a little side lane, past houses which were barricaded, carrying a Red Cross flag until we came to the back door of the M.D.S.

Evacuation had been going on through this back door, where patients had arrived and were passed out through the front door to German vehicles which carried them to hospitals in Arnhem.

I stayed in the M.D.S. that night. I was moderately happy in a room inside the building which had previously been extended so that the walls of the room were healthily strong; I was very grateful for this because not surprisingly, I was very frightened by all the bangs. Everyone was very kind, and after suitable doping, I managed to sleep.


I woke up and everything was surprisingly quiet. The night had been very noisy and I do not know how much I had slept, and how much of the noise was actual or only part of a nightmare. The quietness was because the battle was over; our troops, what there were left, had withdrawn across the river. On Thursday, the A.D.M.S. had told me he had about 2000 wounded under his control, so how many he had today, I do not know. The fighting had been more severe since Thursday and the casualties would be correspondingly greater.

Evacuation continued, and in the end, I went as a Doctor with the fit medical personnel. I felt anything but fit and was hardly interested in what went on about me, but I did manage to keep my eyes open as we were driven in a truck through Arnhem. I could not get a very good view because the truck was covered and I was near the driver, sitting on straw on the floor. Arnhem was a nasty mess, particularly in the main road leading past the M.D.S. and much of the middle of the town was damaged also, either by bombs or shell fire. We left Arnhem and going north, arrived at the William, III Barracks in Apeldorn.

I was too dopey to take a last look at the Tafelberg, but it must have looked a bit of a wreck. I never counted how many times it got hit, but I know three of its four corners were damaged, only one causing loss of life, because the other two hits were on unoccupied rooms. Then there was the shell that had exploded in the entry hall. Probably the outside did not look too bad, the inside was a shambles, almost every ceiling being down and not an atom of glass left in any window.

One unfortunate patient who was thee before we were, and had a compound fractured humerous, was covered in ceiling plaster, brickwork and an electric light fitting in one room upstairs, but escaped unhurt. He was unluckier next time when he moved into another room which received a hit outside just below the window; again he was covered with plaster and brickwork and had severe small facial and superficial abdominal and chest wounds. The third time he was luckiest, being just around the corner from the shell which hit the stairs window and removed the balustrading and killing so many in the entrance hall. In spite of all these vicissitudes which he suffered with varying degrees of shock, he was a very cheerful soul. I never knew his surname, only his Christian name. I think he was a sergeant in a parachute battalion.

The annexe had one or two rather nasty misses. It was never actually hit but some of its patients received second wounds. One Canadian officer on whom I had operated for severe haemorrhage from a wound in the hand, found a large piece of metal sticking through the dressings on his already injured hand, the fragment coming from a near miss.

After the battle there used to be mild arguments in the usual competitive manner as to who had been in the hottest spot; these arguments always being based on the fact that everyone else had been in a really safe place! I am quite sure that none of our medicos had been in such a hot spot as mine was.

Apeldoorn Town is a sizable place, and is notable for the Dutch Queen’s country palace of Het Loo. We were taken to some barracks – William III Kaserne – and took over three blocks.

We had plenty of medical staff because 80% of the Divisional R.A.M.C. were prisoners and most were brought to Apeldoorn Barracks. By the time we were all assembled, there were 22 Medical Officers, with three dentists, and four Padres, (excluding myself) this also includes four Surgeons.

Two operating theatres were fitted up and Surgical Team 1 and a team from each of the two parachute filed ambulances went into action with a rota of duties.

Most of this was in process of being organised when I arrived. We got out of our truck and were mildly searched for weapons. My glider compass which I had managed to carry with me was taken away, and also my pocket knife; my revolver I had given away to one of our foraging parties early on in the battle. I was very frightened of it and thoroughly agree with the man who told me many months before when I joined the Army first, that a revolver was a suicidal weapon.

After this, I was sent to the Medical Officers mess, and found a sort of box bed with a straw palliasse and straw pillow, blankets appeared from somewhere and there was everything ready for me. I was just going to bed (sometime after noon) when I was sent for to see a Dutch Sister – the one who had looked after all my patients upstairs in Tafelberg. This wonderful woman had brought with her from Arnhem most of our surgical instruments which she had feretted out of the debris and salvaged for us. She had been brought out by the Germans to nurse German wounded in the hospitals of Apeldoorn, (there were four hospitals I think) and had taken this opportunity to come to see us. Supervision and guarding had not had a chance to be organised, as the Germans had obviously taken a nasty hiding, and we knew from remarks to the A.S.M.S. that the Germans had their hands full in dealing with the treatment of their own casualties. We were fortunate in having the medical personnel and equipment we had; I should not be surprised if we were better off in this respect than the Hun.

I took to my bed after this, and lived a semi-conscious life for the next week or two. The shock of my wound, concussion and deafness in the ear, combined with physical exhaustion, has cast a film over this period and it seems very vague and distant.

The most lasting impression is the recollection of the sensation of hunger and salt lack.

I have much to be thankful for and at this time I thought myself lucky that being dopey, I did not feel the pangs of hunger so strongly as all the others!

Another recollection is that everyone was walking through straw. There was a little straw on the floor but not sufficient to give me the peculiar auditory impression that they were almost wading through it.

Next morning, S.S. men of the Hermann Goering Division carried out a search but did not trouble me much as I was lying in bed. They were remarkably human I thought, in this respect. I had heard quite a few stories about their capability in brutality and we had further evidence in the shooting of one of our medical officers in Arnhem, and the finding of three of our men disarmed and without equipment, dead in a row, each with a neat bullet hole in the back of the head. I was told about these.

I used to get up for meals in the mess, if one can call them meals, and go back to bed when I got bored. No one expected me to work I’m glad to say, I certainly did not feel like it. The meals consisted as far as I can remember of a piece of bread with lard, and a cup of ersatz coffee for breakfast at about 8:30am, some soup, (thin broth) and potatoes at 1:00pm, some more bread with either honey or margarine, or molasses and ersatz tea at 5:00pm and that was all for the day. The quantity was very small, and the bread not particularly fresh. I was rather hungry on this diet, but the others were starved, as they were all working. The patients were having this diet as well, and it is surprising that their wounds healed so rapidly.

We had lived nine strenuous days, short of sleep and food, and now we were exhausted, and required a plentiful supply of appetising food. The food supplied was not appetising, otherwise the pangs of hunger would have been even more fierce.

On Thursday 28th September I was given Pentothal and my wound was given a surgical toilet; incidentally, I had found other minor injuries about my body – an area of soreness in the back, where someone said there were some small pepperings, and another greater one on my right buttock where my hip pocket used to be. I had found the contents of my hip pocket pulverised but was unaware of my injury to myself until I found it uncomfortable to sit down or lie on my back in Apeldoorn.

Following my “operation” I was filled up with Sulphathiazole which provided a substitute of depression for the head noises and deafness which had troubled me so far. Not until Sunday October 1st did the food improve, and it was more a matter of quantity than quality.

On Monday October 2nd, the Germans took away 250 walking wounded including three M.O.’s and a dental officer. I was given a job to do, that of organising a department for rehabilitating the minor injuries; my assistant was a sergeant of the Army Physical Training Corps. This job was a good thing because it started me thinking about other people, and not only about myself. In fact, I immediately started getting better!

Next day, another 49 men, mainly stretcher bearers went off to join the others already in the train. On Wednesday October 4th, we had shower baths, this was a great relief.

These barracks were really quite well suited for our purposes except for the lack of hot water. The officers sleeping quarters were in rooms set apart for N.C.O.s. The last occupants had been women, either the equivalent of A.T.S. or W.A.A.F.’s and the cupboard (one to each bed) reeked of the same stale scent which had pervaded the cupboards at the Sanatorium in Wolfheze. Each bed and its cupboard was separated from the next by a short partition, and there were two rows of basins with running cold water. In the main wards there was less comfortable accommodation, many of the beds being in double tier bunks.  The lavatory accommodation was the worst; it did not seem to have been built for so many occupants. On first view, it was excellent and it worked but the design was not in accordance with the continual use to which it was put. There was also a shortage of bedpans and urinals for patients use.

The upper floor had a large washroom with benches, supplied from a row of taps with cold water only. The bathing accommodation was in one building adjoining the main cookhouse and dining rooms. There were no actual baths except a large plunge bath of the type used in football changing rooms, and dozens of showers each in a neat little cubicle. Our own cooks and fatigue men dealt with the preparation and cooking of our food, and the ambulant patients and orderlies, marched across to eat their meals in the dining room.

We were all under the command of the A.D.M.S. and the commanding officers of our field ambulance.

The Air Landing Field Ambulance (to which I was attached) was at Apeldoorn in almost full strength. The Parachute Field Ambulance, being less full represented. In fact, we had the feeling that our Field Ambulance had been singularly fortunate. We had arrived at Arnhem intact with no loss of men or material until the Tuesday, and we had worked together as a group throughout the battle. The Parachute Field Ambulance seemed to have been unfortunate in not connecting together on landing, and having to work disjointedly thereafter. I may be wrong about the Parachute Field Ambulances; I saw nothing of them until we arrived in Apeldoorn.

On Thursday October 5th, 530 more left us, this number included eleven doctors, a dentist, two Padres, and R.A.M.C. personnel. They went off to a pukka hospital train, but later, five doctors and the dentist came back to us. They had spent the night in the station and watched, like us but at closer range, rocket firing Typhoons attacking targets further along the line. These planes came diving down over the station which was well guarded by light Flak, and the resulting noise was distinctly disturbing to the men in the train who thought they were being fired at.

The food slowly improved in variety and quantity. Sunday October 8th we had Spam sausage, bread and butter and jam, and ersatz coffee for breakfast. Midday we had pork, potatoes, cabbage and an apple. tea consisted of onion, cheese, lettuce, bread and butter, and apple and ersatz tea. At 7pm we had bread and jam, lettuce and potato with ersatz coffee.

I found all the food was very insipid and sucked a tablet of salt with great relish; this made me feel much better, and it did not increase my thirst. I had heard miners drinking salt water but never thought I should appreciate sucking salt tablets.

Our guards were old men for the most part, some bright officer in the mess referred to them as the Bismarck Youth. One had a very unstable knee joint so he considered to be a parachutist of the Crimean War. One small detachment was of four men of  different sizes ranging from very small to rather tall, wearing their steel helmets they looked complete film comedy morons and we named them the Dead End Kids, - Heil Hitler! We were counted every now and then, their counts growing more frequent as our numbers decreased from about 1200 to about 600. The figures could never have been exactly correct because the Germans never seemed to notice that men were escaping all the time!

We had several inspections by High Officers at different times, sometimes to see if we were detaining fit men, other times to see our arrangements. They were most interested in the ward given up to resuscitation, which was fully occupied by men being got ready for operations, or undergoing transfusion to make up for loss of blood by secondary haemorrhage.

The battle ended just in time, for almost immediately after arriving in Apeldoorn, the surgeons had to deal with a spate of secondary haemorrhages. Blood was provided by the Dutch and occasionally by our own orderlies. Throughout our stay in Apeldoorn we were all immensely hopeful that the Second Army would cross the Rhine and we should be prevented by their advance from being taken to Germany. All sounds of guns and aerial activity caused us the most intense interest. Each man hoped he would not be in the next lot to be deported, so certain were we all that it would only be a short time before the Rhine was crossed and for a long time, we were under the impression that we had had a bridgehead at Wageningen. As it happened there was a bridgehead but it was a German one over the river to the south. Our hopes would be buoyed up by small incidents which we magnified unduly. One such occurred when we saw a column of German infantry set out from the other blocks of the barracks and we heard that they had gone suddenly leaving their food in the dining hall untouched. Our optimism touched new heights. There still remained a large medical staff to look after about 150 patients and the Germans were preparing to receive more; we understood that they were putting in a counter attack and were expecting an in rush or British patients and prisoners. However, we were wrong or the attack was beaten off, because we saw no intake of fresh wounded.

One of our medical officers, who had been wounded in the arm and taken prisoner on the D.Z., had been working among our casualties in the various hospitals in Apeldoorn, ever since. He took up residence with us and every day went with patients in an ambulance to get them X-rayed at one of the Dutch hospitals.  The Padres also went round visiting. By these means, we had contacted the Dutch underground and aboveground, gleaning news, but at length, the Germans refused permission for these visits, son on Tuesday October 10th, I went down in the ambulance to get myself X-rayed unnecessarily. The Gemeente  Ziekenhuis had a German surgeon on its staff so a certain amount of caution was exercised in conversation. But on the whole, all the Dutch were keen to talk English. There was a radiologist from Amsterdam who had just taken his duties; an assistant and a nurse but the news they could supply was contradictory and on the whole, unpleasant for us. The Director of the hospital I also saw, and spoke with privately. His news was not encouraging either; he was interested in British surgery and was sorry the war had interrupted his succession of volumes of Guys Hospital Reports. My return to the Kaserne was greeted with expectation doomed to disappointment, and everyone said I was a confirmed pessimist and a retailer of ill tidings. I’ve forgotten now what the news was, I think one item was that there no longer existed a bridgehead at Wageningen, some Dutchman had been in that neighbourhood on the north of the Rhine and saw there was no sign of activity. This visit gave each patient a chance to get a different kind of meal and the Dutch were most generous to us. In the barracks our food had improved in quantity but owing to the high carbohydrate content, was very productive of flatulence. Medically speaking, we were all very interested in the cause of the frequency with which one had to urinate at night. It affected everyone and later, we found that this was common among prisoners in German hands. I forgot to ask a German if it was common among the Germans. It was not present I believe among P.O.W’s on Italian diet.

Our number remained approximately the same, on October 12th, we were slightly depleted but on October 13th, our numbers were made up again by the arrival of two Parachute M.O’s and a Padre from St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Arnhem, where they had been working since the battle began. An American Parachute Padre also was added to us; we did not treat him with confidence for a long time because we feared he might be a German agent. A German had recently been round the wards trying to ascertain what had happened to General Browning 2i/c to Brereton, (the C.O. of all allied airborne forces) and C.O. of all British Airborne Forces in Europe.

We were fortunate in receiving some Canadian Red Cross parcels which being too few to go round, were split up and used as appetisers for the patients , and having at this time become a fulltime ward patient, I was able to appreciate the difference this extra delicacy made. My appetite doubled as a consequence.  Some Dutch parcels for which we were very grateful arrived on 17th Oct, they contained Milk-cocoa, sugar, butter, biscuits, jam and cake. Knowing the shortage of food in Holland we could not think how they had managed to provide these parcels which were distributed one between two men.

On Monday 16th October we had four separate German visitations. The first being the routine morning head counting, the second by the camp Commandant trying to determine how many patients were transportable, and the third, by a surgeon to confirm the visit of the camp Commandant. The fourth count was a repeat of the head counting which had proved unsatisfactory in the morning owing to two people too many being present, this evening count found three too few, in fact tree had slipped out during the night. The morning count was understandably incorrect, because the medical officers, parading outside the building, had created havoc by moving about and finally Graham had thrown a very good imitation of an epileptic fit. The surgeon had been critical of the surgical methods we used and diagnosed fever by the pulse rate; he also required windows to be made in plaster casts which needless to say was effectively resisted, firstly by refusal by word of mouth, and secondly, by inaction.

On October 18th breakfast was rudely interrupted by parading of the staff with instructions to go elsewhere. The A.D.M.S. had received these instructions and having passed them on, promptly disappeared. Only Major Simon Frazer, Major Rigby Jones (M.O’s) Major Harlow, Captain Buchanan (Padres) and Peter Griffin (dentist) were left behind with about 12 other ranks to look after about 100 patients. The others left on horse drawn carts after being fed and thoroughly searched. It rained hard shortly afterwards and we heard that they had a miserable journey to Zutphen. The place was searched several times from top to bottom to find the A.D.M.S. but he evaded discovery. Although about six foot four in height, he concealed himself in the false top of a built in cupboard receiving food and water while we still were occupying the building, but he had to be abandoned by us when we moved. His store of food fortunately lasted him until he was able to join up with the Dutch underground and get back to England. At the time, I did not know where he was hidden.

The removal of so many medical personnel was precipitated by the number of escapes being made. Lt. Col M.E.M. Herford, R.A.M.C. (with several decorations) had arrived across the Rhine with medical supplies for us, and had been taken prisoner. I should imagine that we owed a great deal to him because in Apeldoorn we were plentifully supplied medically; he made his escape from the Kaserne successfully. I was glad the Dutch in Tafelberg had changed my invasion money for existing currency because I was able to hand it out as my contribution towards aid for escapers. Two officers were unfortunately surprised while making tracings for maps but the Germans did nothing more for the moment than removing both originals and copies.

The medical staff was too few for the number of patients, and all available hands turned to; I dealt with urinals and bedpans in the ward I was in. More patients were admitted from Ammersfort area, including Padre Bowers and Lt. Baker both of 10th Para Bn. The latter had been 10 years in the R.A.M.C. before getting his infantry commission and he willingly relieved me of some of my more unpleasant duties, for which I shall be everlastingly grateful.

The food became worse in quality but we welcomed more Dutch Red Cross parcels, and later masses of grapes and some apples. These additions aided the unpalatability of a great bowl of stew which nauseated all of us when we receive it because it was such a great quantity all at once. We spent our time playing cards, reading some of the books which the Dutch has managed to find for us, listening to gun noises, and hoping not to hear train whistles. For some days the latter had been silent owing to bombing on the railway in the vicinity but on Thursday 26th October, a train whistled for the first time for several days and we were all moved off by ambulance to a hospital train waiting in the station. Our M.O’s, Padres, Dentist and four orderlies remained in Apeldoorn while the patients were to go into Germany.

I travelled as a patient officially, but there was on German doctor instead of two on the train (one had been killed in an air raid on Hanover a week before) and I was asked to look after the British.

We gathered some more patients at Enschede just before crossing into Germany, and one I had to put off at Wurzburg for urgent treatment. (When I returned to England 7 months later, I happened by sheer coincidence, to meet him again while I was visiting a hospital in Newmarket)

After five days and four nights in the train, we ultimately arrived at Freising, just north of Munich where I got off with 60 of the more severely wounded, the remaining 80 going on to Moosburg  (Stalag VIIA).

Kindly supplied by R Hilton from The Medics Museum at Keogh Barracks.

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