RAF Broadwell Chapter 3




The battle on the bridge was over. Lt. Clarke told us that we were going to occupy the houses near the bridge and defend the road. As we were discussing the matter a motorcyclist rode by and called out to us that enemy tanks and self- propelled guns were approaching our position, from Arnhem.


The German self-propelled gun is 85 mm and many of their tanks are the same. I thought to myself it is high time we were beating a retreat. The only weapons we had were rifles, Bren guns and 2 Piat guns.


Lieut. Clarke ordered us into the houses immediately. We went in parties of six to each house. The house I was in was next to the end. Mick unfortunately got adrift from me and was in the end house. We took up positions in the upper rooms. I had a room to myself to defend towards the rear of the house, though I could see back along the road that we had travelled down We began to barricade the windows with furniture.


The house was quite empty. It was a lovely house, beautifully furnished. In fact the furnishings astonished me as so many of them seemed new. It did not appear that there was any shortage of luxury goods in this area.


It seemed as if the occupants had left in a hurry. On the bed in the room I was in lay a suitcase. It was open and empty. The bed was left in an untidy state, and on top of the clothes was a pair of men's pyjamas and a beautiful silk nightgown. I could not help but try to picture these two people, obviously man and wife and very young, too, by the lingerie. Where had they gone? They had certainly not taken much with them. I reflected on the fact that three nights earlier they would be in this bed, completely ignorant of the toils of war that would engulf them.



By the time we were settled in the house it was nearly five o'clock. I didn't try to barricade my window, as I didn't expect any enemy tanks from the South. Major Dale appeared on the scene and Lieut. Clarke went to have a few words with him. Lieut. Clarke tried to persuade the Major that our arms were not heavy enough to cope with the Germans' heavy stuff but the Major said we must do our best and await further orders.


Some of the boys, including Davidson and Davison, were on the other side of the road looking towards the back of our houses. They were laid along a bank that dropped away from the road towards the river. A German self-propelled gun got a bead on them and lobbed a few shells over their heads. A battery of machine guns peppered them with lead, chipping up the ground in front of their heads. They were in a tough spot. Now shells began to come over wholesale. Two houses disappeared in a great explosion and mushroom of smoke just behind, and over to the left of our houses. When the smoke cleared one of the houses was burning furiously.

Dusk began to fall and with it my spirits fell too. I had no one to talk to and I fell to thinking most despondently. Houses were catching fire all over the place. The rattle of machine gun fire became more and more intense. Any moment I expected to hear a shell crunch into our house. I wondered how Mick was going on.

The boys in the other rooms were making a hell of a noise with the furniture. Boucher came into my room to explore the furnishings. On the dressing table was a lovely manicure set. Boucher opened it and took out the nail file. Just what I need, he said. He stuffed it into a pocket. I had been looking at it before myself. I would have liked it but dare not take it. It looked so mean a trick I was sure that it would bring me bad luck.


As darkness fell and I saw the sun setting in the west, it seemed to me that it would probably be the last sunset I would ever see. I could not see any future for us when the tanks arrived. I munched one of the apples that I had stolen. It was as good as it looked.

I heard a new sound. The sound of distant thunder, or so it seemed. I knew what it was; it was the Second Army fighting to the south of the river. The thoughts of the Second Army cheered me immensely. Hardly had I heard the guns when we got an order to withdraw back to the wood. I could have danced with joy. We formed up outside. Far away across the river on the skyline was a big red glow. The guns sounded louder now. They will be here to-morrow, I thought.

We marched back up the road. Everything was fairly quiet now. Back through the village and the fields and into the wood. It was pitch black in the wood and I could not find my hole. I wandered round for a while, falling over tree stumps and into other people's pits. Eventually I came across it. It seemed like the Grand Hotel.

Go to chapter 4