Captain Percy Louis

24 Sep 1944

  • Mentioned in Despatches medal

Captain Percy Louis, son of Mr and Mrs S Louis, was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps shortly after the Second World War began in November 1939, and later served with 133 Parachute Field Ambulance. In September 1944, he was attached to HQ Airborne Corps and travelled to the Battle of Arnhem as part of the Operation Headquarters to Nijmegen.

As the Battle progressed and the likelihood of relief of 1st Airborne by the ground forces of XXX Corps seemed increasingly remote, it became clear the overstretched Airborne medical personnel (and corresponding heavy German casualties) warranted a relief operation to send more Medical supplies to the Airborne troops in Arnhem. As part of the HQ Medical staff, Cpt Louis would accompany Lt Col Herford, a fluent German-speaking Commanding Officer, of 163 Field Ambulance (part of the ground forces which had received HQ Airborne Corps in their attempts to reach Arnhem).

On 24 September 1944, Lt Col Herford was granted permission to organise an attempt to get urgently-needed medical supplies over the Rhine to Oosterbeek, with Captain Louis, and four Other Ranks from 163 Field Ambulance. Although this supply mission ultimately failed, Lt Col Herford's presence in Arnhem was vital in co-ordinating Medical services for the wounded in the latter stages of the Battle, and the subsequent establishment of the 'Airborne Hospital' at Apeldoorn following the 1st Airborne withdrawal on the night of 25-26 September.

The relief attempt began in daylight, with the party displaying a Red Cross flag to the south bank of the river. Here they found an abandoned assault boat and paddled across the Rhine. Reaching the north bank safely, Lt Col Herford left the others as he went forward to 'reconnoitre' their position. He would not return as subsequent events overtook the initial plan.

The remainder of the party fared rather worse. Their path to Allied positions was unclear, and Privates Bean, Hill, Moore and Keeghan of 163 Field Ambulance were all taken prisoner - mostly likely on 24 September. Captain Louis is believed to have initially sought refuge, before unsuccessfully attempting to the re-cross the swollen river to Allied positions, swimming the Rhine later in the day.

Captain Louis drowned in the Rhine on 24 September 1944, aged 29 years old. His body was never recovered and he is now commemorated on the Memorial at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, near Nijmegen. He was awarded a Mention in Despatches.

With assistance from Niall Cherry.

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Percy  Louis

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