RAF Broadwell Chapter 2



Gliders were now pouring into the field from all directions and space for landing was becoming very limited. One machine came hurtling over the field towards the trees at a terrific rate.  I could see that a crash was inevitable. As it reached the trees, the Pilot pulled the nose sharply upwards and it stalled op top of the trees. One wing caught in the topmost branches and broke away fantastically; then the whole aircraft turned completely over on to its back, and, with a horrible crackling of splintering wood, smashed down through the trees to the ground.


Considering the number of gliders landing, the accidents were not on a large scale. All the troops in the machine I saw crashing escaped with a shaking, though the two pilots were badly wounded in the face. I saw them later after they had been brought from the wreckage.


Sporadic rifle fire was going on all this time and our little band of men kept a sharp lookout for enemy but did not see any. As soon as the troops had removed their small trailer from the glider we moved off to join the rest of the Border Regiment in the wood close by.


The Glider Pilots had orders to stay with the troops they had brought in until the following day, when they were to rendezvous at Div. H.Q. When we got to the wood I found Mick arid his party, he told me his glider was the second to land. As we stood talking a parachutist landed just beside us. I le rolled over and over on the ground, then got up, divested himself of his 'chute and grinned happily at us as though this was an everyday occurrence. Now a large number of paratroops were landing, this must have been a second lot for a large number had landed before us.


A cottage was close by and the occupants came out to greet us. They distributed apples and pears amongst us. Being autumn, they were apparently very plentiful. Six of our gliders had brought in the Border Regiment and one by one members of Fourteen Flight began to gather together. Among them were "Admiral' Dicky Banks (so called on account of his having been in the Maritime Ack Ack), S/Sgts. Doad and Tobin, and Sgts. Hogg, Hartford, Davison, Graham and Parkinson.There were twelve of us altogether to go with the "Borders".


The C.O. of the Company of Borders was a Scots Major. He was a fine fellow. We had met him for a little talk back in England. He quickly gathered his Platoon Commanders about him and issued orders for the next move.


We had to march about two miles to take up positions to cover the landing of the gliders on the following day. We moved off cautiously. A good part of the journey was over open country. We passed hundreds of parachutes that had been left behind by the paratroops.

The Dutch people were busy gathering them up and hurrying away with them, presumably to make clothes of them. They didn't seem to worry about the fact that they may get shot up any minute. The scene was almost farcical. One or two of them tried to talk to us. They seemed quite happy to see us.

We moved on towards our positions, meeting no opposition on the way. Here and there were one or two wrecked gliders. In some cases the crews were still trying to salvage the weapons that lay trapped inside. On the roadside I passed several fellows that I knew and exchanged greetings.


As soon as we arrived at our positions the C.O. gave us (the Glider Pilots) a little area to defend. We immediately began digging slit trenches. The time was about 6 p.m. We had now been five hours in Holland and seen nothing, to mention. After we had made our positions we took out our rations and made something to eat. The meal was a great success though I found myself wishing I had brought the sandwiches I had left in the glider.


We had rations for three days. They were made up into little cardboard packages, each one sufficient for a day. Besides these we each had a patent Tommy's cooker, a very useful gadget, and twenty cigarettes. The food was all dehydrated The most amazing concoctions emerged from the most mysterious looking little cubes.

With darkness the atmosphere became more warlike. We were each detailed to do two hours sentry in the night, two men to each shift. My shift, which I did with Hartford, was from 2 a.m. to 4a.m., so I had a good opportunity to try to get some sleep. I found it difficult to rest in these surroundings, and tended to let my mind run riot with thought. Not far away from us some fellows belonging to the Artillery were having a little strafing party. The Jerries replied suitably with a moaning Minnie they had brought up. It seemed to come from the direction of the town of Arnhem. We were quite a distance from Arnhem on the west side, and north of the River Lek. Moaning Minnie made a rather fearsome noise to persons hearing it for the first time. It is a six barrelled mortar, and had been used with some success on the Russian front. It went off with a kind of Eeerrrkkk, and a second later the mortar bombs would come whistling over. Luckily none fell near us though once or twice I thought they were going to. At two o'clock Hartford and I went on duty. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred, except the artillery boys would fire off a few rounds now and then. I could hear them giving range orders quite clearly. Two sentries of the Borders came up to us and chatted for a few moments. One of them was a Burnley lad and he was surprised when I told him I came from Padiham.


I was glad when morning came and I could see what was going on around me. We made an early breakfast of some porridge, but it was not very successful. Then we began to think about the gliders arriving. They were due at about 10 o'clock. At 9 o'clock a little flap developed. The Major sent us word that fifty Germans were approaching our position.


We were to wait until they got close before we engaged them. I began to sweat a little. We all manned the trenches to wait for these Germans. I was wondering what it would be like to have fifty Jerries bearing down upon us. Half an hour passed and nothing happened, then we got word to stand down, leaving two men on guard.


S/Sgt. Dodd, who was in charge of us, told me to take up a position on the edge of the field just outside the wood and when the paratroops dropped to prevent the Dutch from stealing the 'chutes as they had done the day before. I took up a suitable position.


Promptly at ten o'clock a squadron of fighters appeared overhead and began to circle our position. "Here comes the escort", shouted someone, "They'll not be long now". They certainly were not long, but not the gliders. The fighters, after circling our position once, turned in towards us. Someone yelled 'Jerries" and at that moment they opened fire. I was staring at them petrified and could plainly see the flashes of fire from their guns. They were sweeping in fast now and diving as they came. I dived to the ground and held my breath as the aircraft roared over the top of me, firing as they went at our positions on the wood. They came down to tree top height and as they passed over, climbed steeply into the air again. The Major called to us out on the field, to get back under cover. I did not need telling twice, I fairly bounded into the wood. Before I could reach my trench they were down on us again. I lay flat again, badly frightened, and as they came in I could hear the shells from the cannons clipping into the earth on my right. As soon as they had passed over I made another dash for my trench and this time made it, just as they came in again for the third and last time.


I waited some time before I crept out of my funk hole, the rest of the boys were doing the same. I looked sheepishly across at Mick, but I think we all felt the same, just a little shaken. Doddy said a machine gunner nearby had shot one down. I hoped that was true. I thought if that is a sample of fighter strafing I don't want to experience any more.


The gliders hadn't arrived by eleven and things quietened down. Someone brewed some tea. Mick. Admiral and myself went over to get some. In a corner of the wood a soldier was being buried. We went over to pay our last respects. He had been wounded the day before on landing and had died from his wounds in the night. We met an Officer, just back from Brigade H.Q. He told us the battle was going satisfactorily. Admiral said three "ops" like this would be enough for any man! He had been on the "D" Day operation, flying a glider in the night before with Lt. Pickwoad. They did a good job then, in securing vital bridges for the following troops. We laughed at Admiral's remarks, and I reminded him that when we were m North Africa together he had said that he intended to avoid any operations.

He looked at me and said: "We say a lot of things we know we don't mean, don't we Wally?"

As we were talking, a bunch of German prisoners came marching down the road under escort. The Major came out to take a look at them. He seemed to go mad when he saw them. "Get your bloody hands up you bastards", he shouted, and kicked one or two of them in the pants. They all put their hands up hurriedly. They looked scared to death. The Major ordered the escorts to see that they kept their hands above their heads. There would be about twenty of them. This was the first time I had seen German prisoners in a body. I had seen odd ones in London. Here they were new straight off the battlefield. I was not impressed with them. They looked a very poor type of German to me. They disappeared down the road. The incident made me feel good.

The gliders and paratroops arrived after lunch. They had been held up by bad weather in England It was very heartening to see these gliders pouring in by the hundred The air was filled with the noise of hundreds of aircraft. It was a magnificent display of strength.

They all got down without much trouble and then began the long job of sorting themselves out and moving off When they had gone we got ready to move too. Mick and I were thankful. For some unknown reason we both had the idea that once we joined the Glider Pilots our troubles would be over.

We marched off down the road. It was quite warm for September and the weight of my big rucksack made me sweat. We were held up on the way by a truck and a big gun which was being driven up a steep bank. It turned out to be in charge of an old friend of mine, Sgt. Major Petrie. He proudly pointed out to me that he had safely brought this three-ton truck and gun from England in one glider. It looked impossible.

Eventually we arrived at the main road to Arnhem and here we had to leave the "Border Regiment". A large crowd of Dutch people were gathered there, together with the biggest motor truck I have ever seen and about fifteen German prisoners. The truck had apparently been captured from the Germans, it was painted with their camouflage. Some of the civvies were trying to turn it round, a job which proved no easy matter. It was so big. The Germans were made to help, and after the job was done they were made to load it with parachute supplies which lay stacked by the roadside. We decided to ride down on the truck as it was going to Div. H.Q. We took the Jerries with us.

This party of Germans seemed a better lot than the last but they too looked frightened. Doddy told one of them to cut off his S.S. insignia. He did and Doddy took it for a souvenir. This caused an epidemic of souvenir hunters and soon all the Jerries were busy cutting off their badges.

We arrived at Div. H.Q. It was situated in a large and beautiful hotel just outside Arnhem on the main road. German equipment was lying all over the place. Everything had the air of battle going well for us. We went into the hotel but could not learn anything of our fellows so we decided to dig in outside the Hotel for the night. It seemed to me that everything was over bar the shouting. I suggested to Mick that the Second Army would be up by the next day and we should be on our way home. He agreed and we set to together to dig ourselves a trench.


Several 17-pounder guns had taken up positions near us. They were manned by Poles. We settled down for the night with confidence. It hardly seemed now that there was a war on. About two o'clock in the morning I was awakened by the noise of an aircraft. We had not bothered to sleep in the trench as everything seemed so peaceful. This aircraft circled once and then seemed to dive straight towards us. In one bound Mick and I disappeared into the trench together, expecting a bomb on top of us. It must have been a reconnaissance aircraft, because nothing happened. It served, though, to make everyone alive to danger, and frantic shouts of "Put that ***** light out" could now be heard.


Early next morning, Tuesday, the 19th September, we moved off to join the rest of the flight. We found them about a hundred yards away. Lt. Pickwoad was there and Lt. Clarke. Lt. Clarke had forced landed on the first day and flown in again on the second day. Mick and I were in Clarke's section, and when we arrived they were all ready to move off to new positions. Lt. Clarke in his customary efficient manner took charge and without further ado we got underway in a requisitioned truck. We had not far to go and arrived eventually at our new position in a large wood.


There was a large house in the wood and this was to be our flight headquarters. We had hardly begun to take up positions when over came a flight of Messerschmits.


We were busy digging trenches as the enemy attacked at low level. We had no experience of this kind of warfare; in fact most of us had no experience of any kind of warfare. Not surprising perhaps we all dashed for shelter beneath the trees. Lt. Clarke in command of the situation insisted we kept on at the digging. We did, but not too enthusiastically.


The strafing was over in about three minutes but I didn't feel any better than I had done the day before. This time they had been dropping small bombs or rockets for there were quite a few explosions. Soon after the last aircraft had passed over one of the boys made the discovery that the wood was honeycombed with deeply dug holes. These had apparently been machine dig by the Germans. I found myself a good one and Mick and I entrenched ourselves.

We were busy making ourselves comfortable when Ginger Rice came up to us. He looked shocked. "Banks and McLaren have had it", he said, "and several of the boys are wounded". The news numbed my senses for a moment. "Admiral" dead, it just didn't seem possible. As I had walked up through the wood he had passed me on the way down with a cheery smile on his face. Burly McLaren too. Mick and I were momentarily stunned. I recalled Admiral's words only the day before, "Three of these 'ops' are enough'. Admiral had not got past his second one.

These being our first battle casualties, and among fellows who had lived together for over six months, caused some despondency to fell over the chaps for a little while. But it was of little use worrying and we had to forget. Admiral and Mac were gone and nothing we could do would bring them back.

Towards dinnertime somebody found a big greenhouse full of ripe tomatoes and grapes. In less than an hour the place was empty. I managed to get a share of the proceedings. I went over to Hartford and gave him some. Mick was unfortunate as, being in charge of a Bren gun, he had to take up a position on the perimeter of our defence area. I chatted to Hartford for a while and then went back to my trench. Mick rejoined me later when his tour of duty was over.

Towards two o'clock we heard the familiar drone of Dakota aircraft. The third lift was coming. More reinforcements. Alas, they were to receive a different welcome this time. By this time Jerry had brought up an immense number of Ack Ack guns, and no sooner were the gliders and aircraft overhead than these guns let fly with all they had got. It was terrific to listen to. A giant symphony of gunfire, mingled together with the noise of the aircraft engines fairly made the earth tremble. We went to the edge of the wood to watch it. The sky was filled with little black puffs of smoke from the Ack Ack but the aircraft were flying steadily on as though they were on exercise. It was a magnificent spectacle, but several aircraft had to pay the supreme penalty.

Several of the aircraft were dropping supplies. Out of them would come tumbling dozens of multi-coloured parachutes with packages on the end. They billowed gently down to earth. As soon as the last package was out the aircraft would turn steeply away and circle round to come in again, completely ignoring the murderous fire from the ground - I marvelled at such courage.

I returned to my trench with Mick. I felt really downcast. That last episode coupled with Admiral's death seemed to forebode ill to me. We had been told we could rest awhile if we were not on sentry and Mick and I sat together discussing our prospects.

We heard the sound as of running feet. I eased myself up to look over the trench. It was an officer. I had known this officer since the early days of the regiment and I had always held him in the highest esteem. He saw me but I don't think he recognised me.


As he dashed by me he hurled a whole torrent of invective at Mick and me. "What the hell are you skulking there for", he cried, "You'll never kill a German hiding in there". He hurried by and left me and Mick livid with anger. Skulking and hiding indeed!


A few moments later panic broke out. Lt. Clarke began to dash about calling his flight together. That meant Mick and me. We gathered round Lt. Clarke and he told us what was going on. We were to go out together with Lt. Pickwoad's flight, and do a fighting patrol. We had to leave our kit behind and parade together near the bottom of the wood by the house, in ten minutes time


We went down there and found everybody present with tense and serious faces. We did not know where the enemy were and we were to carry on until we found them. My heart was in my mouth, so to speak. I didn't like this business at all. We set off Proceeding very cautiously we arrived at the lower main road to Arnhem. We proceeded through the village of Osterbeek. In the centre of the village a roadblock had been set up with jeeps and six-pounder guns. A lot of paratroops were here and had run out of ammunition. Or so we were told. The Brigadier was giving orders to Major Dale and we carried on down the road. We halted occasionally to take stock of the situation. I was doing my best to appear unconcerned, but I could feel perspiration trickling down my neck.


Soon we came to a railway bridge. It had been blown and one end of it was down in the water of the Lek. Here Lt. Pickwoad contacted the enemy. He hurried his section towards the bridge and brought his automatic weapons to bear on the Jerries. Meanwhile Lt. Clarke took me and another chap to a house that overlooked the railway bank. The owner had locked the door and would not let us in. Lt. Clarke wasted not a moment but put a rifle butt through a window. In we went. We hurried up to the attic and from there had a good view of the railway through the roof which had been shattered away by mortar fire.


The railway line was situated on a high bank. Over on the left, about fifty yards up the line, was the station for Osterbeek. On the right practically opposite the house I was in was Lt. Pickwoad and his men. The Lt. seemed pretty busy. He had seen a party of Jerries running down the far bank of the railway and he was urging his Bren-gunners to "let them have it". I could clearly see the guns spitting lead up the bank towards the station.


I.t. Clarke ordered me to fire into the station buildings. I did so, though I could not see any sign of the enemy. After firing a few rounds I pointed out

to him that it was little use using ammunition on invisible targets. He agreed and I stopped firing. The Lt. decided to have a look round outside again. He told me to keep a sharp look out. I did not see any enemy activity, it seemed to be on the other side of the railway bank where Lt. Pickwoad was. He seemed to be quite at home with his little battle. I do believe he liked it.

Ten minutes later Lt. Clarke called me down from the attic. I had noticed the attic floor was littered with apples of a very tasty looking variety. I stuffed a few in my pocket and withdrew.

 Go to chapter 3