Personal account of SSgt Mark Leaver of his experiences at Arnhem

Apart from light flak over various parts of Holland, the journey was fairly uneventful and we landed on the L.Z late afternoon. We then made our way to Wolfheze where we received orders to proceed to the bridge in Arnhem, via Oosterbeek and the lower road near the river.

We made good progress until we rounded a bend in Klingelbeeksweg and ran into heavy fire from the junction with Utrechtseweg where German tanks were located. We did as speedy a turn as possible with a jeep and trailer and managed to return round the bend just as the Germans spotted us and brought their heavy guns to bear.

As there was no other way available we decided to wait near the green adjacent to the Railway Station at Den Brink (now two private houses) until reinforcements arrived. After dusk we had several skirmishes with German patrols, but held our position.

At about midnight on the 18th and after hearing a lot of heavy firing coming from the other side of the railway line, we heard quite a large group of men marching along the bottom road from the direction of Oosterbeek and approaching our position. We issued a challenge, and were very relieved when it turned out to be the South Staffs. We advised them of the position and it was decided that we would continue to the bridge at first light.

Tuesday, 19th Sep. We continued towards the bridge, but made very little progress and were taking a lot of casualties. The order came to withdraw to what later became the Oosterbeek perimeter.

Eric [Holloway] and I occupied the rear bedroom of the second house in a row at the back of the laundry, our position facing over open land towards Arnhem. The night was quite windy and there were a lot of rustling noises which kept us on our toes. We had now been joined by a Bren gun team.

Wednesday, 20th Sep. During the morning we spotted a German squad of about 8 men setting up a mortar position about 400 yards to our left. We opened fire and cleared the site. There was no time for congratulations for where the mortar site had been there now appeared a Tiger tank which wasted no time in demolishing our position, causing us to evacuate with great speed.

We then crossed the road at the back of the laundry under cover of a phosphorous grenade. We were lucky to get across this road without casualties as a few minutes later a self propelled gun with infantry support came down the road towards the laundry. With the assistance of Major Cain and his men plus gunners from the 75mm howitzer site, this menace was suitably dealt with.

We then occupied a house at the side of the laundry and adjacent to the gun battery and in this house on the Wednesday afternoon Eric was fatally wounded. The time was early afternoon, we were up in the front bedroom with an officer from the gun battery, we were feeling a bit hungry so I volunteered to go down to the cellar at the rear of the house where there was quite a good supply of bottled fruit and vegetables. Whilst making my way with some speed down the stairs (as the front door was missing and the stairs had previously been under fire), there was a very loud explosion in the front bedroom which blew me down the last few steps. I returned through the mother of all dust storms to the front bedroom where I found the artillery officer dead [Lt.I.O.Meikle] and Eric badly peppered with shrapnel from an 88mm airburst shell from an SP gun, on the other side of the open space to our front (it had entered the bedroom through the window).

I called for medical assistance from the Artillery Battery, this came very quickly.

We got Eric to Kate Ter Horst’s house (near the Lower Church) which was now a Medical Aid Post. Eric died later that afternoon. Both Lt.Meikle and Sgt.Holloway were buried in the garden of the Ter Horst house.

I then became a member of the ‘Lonsdale Force’.

Journey back to base.

Time, I know not, it was dark – raining when we arrived at the river bank, everything was very orderly and although we were taking casualties no panic, I think after the previous 8 days this was minor. When my turn came to board a boat (being paddled by Canadian sappers – great guys) I would have been the last one in, the boat was starting to pull away from the bank. When I was hit just below my right knee cap (flesh wound) and then I was knocked sideways by a bullet hitting the map pocket left leg and hitting the tin of water sterilisation tablets which prevented it entering my leg (I can still recall the sensation – I should imagine being hit with a 14lb hammer sums it up!) whilst falling I grabbed the rear of the boat with my right hand (my left arm being out of action due to previous wound in the bicep) and after being pulled half way up, I was helped into the boat.

On reaching the South bank we made our way to a farm which had been set up as a reception centre (by golly doesn’t rum make you forget your problems) we were then piled high on a jeep, the driver being directed by the chaps on the bonnet. We were taken to a tented First Aid Post just North of Nijmegen Bridge, given tetanus jabs and then to Hospital in Nijmegen.

After being suitably patched up I decided to make my own way back to my base at Fairford.

29th Sep. Got a lift on the top of an armoured car to Eindhoven.

NAAFI canteen van to Louvain.

Back of a Despatch riders motor-bike to Brussels airport.

Slept the night on a table in the Officers Mess.

30th Sep. Air Transport Auxiliary – Avro Anson to Fairford, where I was met by Major. Croot, O.C: ‘G’ Squadron.

2nd Oct. Home on leave – received medical treatment at King’s College Hospital, London.

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