Lieutenant Harry Michael Ashbrooke Cambier

{ Michael }

09 Sep 1921 - 10 Oct 1944

Harry Cambier was born into an Army family in Batavia and educated in England, graduating from New College Oxford with a mathematics degree. 

He was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1942 and posted to Egypt in time to serve at the second battle of El Alamein (Oct – Nov 1942).

Early in 1943 he volunteered for parachute duties. Following training at the Middle East Parachute School he was posted to 156 Battalion then stationed at Jenin in Palestine. He served as a Platoon Commander with B Company initially in Tunisia and then Italy when 4th Parachute Brigade took part in the sea landing at Taranto; in the subsequent fighting Cambier was mentioned in dispatches. 

On the battalion’s return to England in December 1943 he took over command of the recently formed Anti Tank platoon in Support Company. 

On the 18th September 1944, the second day of the Arnhem Operation, he was dropped with the rest of the 4th Parachute Brigade on Ginkel Heath. After picking up their equipment from the brigade’s gliders which had landed on DZ ‘X’ west of Telefoonweg in Heelsum, they advanced via Wolfheze across the Johanna Hoeve area, the present day ‘Papendal’ Sports centre. On their way to Dreijensweg, which connects Oosterbeek with Amsterdamseweg, they met with continually increasing German opposition.

Although Cambier was wounded in the foot on 19 September he remained with his platoon, and took part in the withdrawal towards Wolfheze. He was probably captured during the attempt to join the rest of the brigade via the Wolfheze level crossing. Because of his wound he was then taken to the St Joseph Hospital in Apeldoorn.

He was subsequently put aboard a hospital train as lightly wounded for transportation to a hospital camp in Neurenberg. On the train he met up with Lt. Raymond Bussell and they decided to escape together.

During the journey they succeeded in making a hole in the floor of the carriage and managed to escape between Deventer and Bathmen on the afternoon of Tuesday 26 September. They reached a farmhouse shortly after escaping from the train. The farmer’s wife put them in touch with the owner of ‘De Menop’, a house in Bathmen, where they were accommodated for a week. Their wounds were treated by the local doctor and they received civilian clothing. On the evening of Sunday 1 October 1944 they were placed under the care of an Amsterdam student and resistance member, who took them via `t Joppe to the ‘Braamkolk’ farmhouse in Eefde, the intention being to smuggle them across the River Ijssel. However, this area was extremely dangerous because of the work being done on the German defence lines along the Ijssel and they were soon asked for their papers by a suspicious German soldier. They had been advised to answer ‘Verloren’ (lost) in such an event, but the German was unconvinced and took them to the Zutphen police station, completely unaware that he was dealing with two British officers. Later they were taken to the police station in Gorssel where the Dutch police released the Amsterdam student because his papers were in order.

Bussell and Cambier were under the impression that they would be treated as POWs and had no appreciation of their precarious position.  A Dutch secret policeman had got wind of the two prisoners being held at Gorssel police station and soon discovered that they were two British servicemen. He informed his superior, Untersturmfuehrer Ludwig Heinemann. Things could not have been any worse for the two men, since they were now in the hands of one of the Sicherheitdienst’s (SD) most infamous murderers. On 10 October 1944 Cambier and Bussell were taken to the local SD HQ in the `t Selsham villa in Vorden. 

They were interrogated by two English speaking SDers but trusting in the rules of the Geneva Convention, gave just their name rank and army number. They were taken to Heinemann who accused them of spying and resistance activities, whereupon their hands were tied behind their back. Early in the afternoon of the 10th October they were led to a patch of grass at the front of `t Selsham where Heinemann, single handedly shot them in the head using a captured British Sten gun. They were buried in the front lawn of `t Selsham villa together with the bodies of three Jehovah witnesses who had also been executed. 

On 9 June 1945, after the liberation of the Netherlands the bodies were exhumed by a member of the Dutch resistance and the local residents under the supervision of the members of the War Crimes Commission. They were then reinterred in Vorden cemetery (Cambier in Grave 17). 

Heinemann was subsequently arrested in Germany in 1946 and brought back to Holland for trial. The deaths of over 40 Dutch and British were attributed to him by the Dutch CID; he was convicted and executed by firing squad in February 1947.

This profile is based on an article from a Newsletter of the Society of Friends Airborne Museum, Oosterbeek. With grateful thanks and acknowledgement to Chris Van Roekel and Phillip Reinders.

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Harry Michael Ashbrooke Cambier


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