RAF Broadwell Chapter 4


I hadn't been sat down ten minutes when the order came round to fall in again. We fell in on the road just outside the wood. S/Sgt. Dodd seemed a little edgy and asked Clarke if we were the only flight of Glider pilots in Arnhem. Clarke sympathised and said he had protested too; but there was nothing to be done but obey orders. They had to return to the positions that they had held that morning. It seemed that the area was hard pressed.


Lieut. Clarke marched us down to the house. Confusion reigned here, as it appeared the officer who was to take us to the positions was back at the top of the wood. We marched back to the top of the wood. He was not there.


It was all confusion for a little while because if we didn't find the guide we had been allocated we were stumped.


Lieut. Clarke instructed me to find the officer and the missing members of our flight. In the battle of the bridge the following had among others gone astray - Rice, Tobin, Davison and Davidson, not to mention Mick Hall. Lt. Clarke went off down to the house again and I began the almost impossible job of locating the other boys in the blackness of the wood. I only found Mick and the conveying officer.


I explained the position to the officer and we all traipsed down to the house. Lt. Clarke still was not satisfied with the size of his flight and sent me back again with Mick to have a further search. I went and found one more fellow. When we reached the house again both flights had left.


We didn't know what to do then. I hadn't the slightest notion where they had gone. We set off to walk up through the wood. We arrived at the topside of the wood and met an officer. He knew all about it but said it would be impossible to find the others in the dark and we should stay in the wood until first light. We did, myself, Mick and McKimm.


In searching round for a hole to sleep in we became hopelessly lost. I didn't know where to start to look for our area where my kit was. We found a couple of holes and shared them. Mick and I lay on the top beside one, McKimm took the other. Just after midnight a terrific barrage commenced from the wood. A few minutes later Jerry shells began to fall in reply. Mick and I leapt into the hole. There was hardly room for us both. The noise was deafening. I could not differentiate between exploding shells and guns firing. McKimm seemed to get a little worried and called out to Mick and me not to leave him on his own. I assured him we wouldn't and felt pleased that somebody was a little more nervous than I was. The battle subsided after a while and we dozed fitfully.

At first light we set off to find the flight. We received instructions from an officer. I was most anxious to rejoin the boys. I did not fancy getting picked up and pushed in with some strange outfit.


Our first objective was Wing H.Q. This was situated in a house at Hartenstein, northeast but not a great distance from Div. H.Q. We found Captain Mills patrolling outside with a German rifle. He looked tired and worn out. I asked him if he could give us any information about 14 Flight. He told me that they were in the wood across from Wing H.Q. We went into the wood to find them.


After we had been walking for about five minutes on a path that ran through the wood, we came upon a series of trenches. There were no soldiers to be seen and all was very quiet. The area looked as though it had been hurriedly evacuated, as there was equipment of al 1 kinds left lying on the ground. We discussed the matter together but could arrive at no suitable solution. We decided to proceed a little further. We did not go far as it was plain to see that there was no one about. We retraced our steps through the wood back to Wing H.Q. I went into the house and saw the Adjutant, Captain Shuttleworth. He was a fine chap. I had known him for over three years. I told him my story 4nd he listened most sympathetically. He asked me when we had eaten last. I told him at dinnertime the day before. He said he would do his best for us but could not promise very much. The Germans had cut off the water supply and that commodity was becoming very scarce. He told us to hang around outside.


I went back into the garden and told Mick and McKimm what was going on. As we were standing there Laurie Weedon came out of the house. He was glad to see us and we him. Laurie is the funniest of fellows. Back in England his favourite topic was girls. He could tell a doubtful story better than anyone I know. I asked him if he felt like telling us a few now. He laughed and said he had his eye on a nice piece of Dutchware.


As we chatted, the Adjutant came out with some chocolate and a drink of tea for us. He apologised for not having anything better. We felt very grateful for his kindness towards us. He said he could not tell us where to go and that we had better wait around for a while. He expected 14 Flight would turn up.

We talked on for a little while and were violently interrupted by a shower of mortar bombs. We all fell flat on the ground. I held my breath involuntarily, listening for the explosions. They went off one after another for a few minutes, then silence, broken only by the tinkling of a few tiles from nearby houses.

After it was over we recovered our composure and laughed the matter off Mick and I sat down on some supply panniers lying about, to talk things over. He commented in fact that we were lucky really as we kept getting away with it.


As we sat there Wedgebury turned up He had it seemed been having something of a rough time. Old "Wedge" looked a bit worried, but being the cheerful optimistic fellow he is, he cheered up when he saw us.


About ten o'clock the war started in earnest again. It seemed as though something happened every day at ten. Rifle fire broke out with tremendous fury in the wood behind us and we could hear the sound of shouting and running feet. A soldier came dashing out of the wood saying the Jerries were attacking in strength and pushing our men out of the wood.


Mick and I took up positions on the edge of the wood looking into it. The air was filled now with the crackle of rifle fire and shouting. It all seemed very close. The noise of the rifles sounded like Jerries. We waited; my heart was pounding like a steam hammer.


Three men rushed out of the wood with a heavy machine gun. They erected it just behind us. The Sergeant in charge of it looked a tough fellow. He saw one or two chaps trying to sneak away. "Come back you yellow bastards", he roared. "It's no use running away". They came back. I was sick with excitement and fear. Mick too looked worried to death as he stared over the sights of his Bren gun.


The battle continued in the wood. I could hear the most lurid language being used. Then the noise subsided and everything became quiet. Mick and I moved back to the house across the road. Wedgebury had made his exit long since, creeping away in the most comical fashion, on his tummy.


As we were approaching the house an officer saw us. He was standing in a trench on the corner of the road. "Just what we need here" he shouted, "a Bren gun." We went over to him and he asked us to stay with him. He had three men with him. We didn't argue but got into his trench. At least Mick did, I went into an adjacent one on my own. There was a big tree between the two trenches and I had difficulty in seeing Mick. The officer told us that they belonged to the R.A.S.C. but as they had little to do they were acting as infantry. He said he was determined to hold this position to the last man. If necessary, he said that we would fight hand to hand with knives and hand grenades. It may be realised how difficult the situation was getting as Div. H.Q. was only 200 yards behind us. If that fell we should be finished.


We asked him if he had any news. He said that the rumours were so contradictory that nothing could be relied on. He believed that the Second Army were pushing on hard. If only we could hold on for another day or so. This was Wednesday, the 20th September.

We were attacked several times during the day with mortars. The battle of the wood warmed up from time to time, the crackle of rifle fire seemed incessant. The Jerries were using some kind of weapon which gave the impression of rifles firing above our heads. I couldn't fathom it out at all, and neither could Mick. It worried me considerably and for a long time I thought it could be snipers at work, but there was too much of it. I never did find out what it was. I believe it was some kind of explosive bullet coming out of the wood and striking the trees near us.

In the afternoon the Dakotas arrived again with more supplies. They got an even hotter reception than the day before. It was like bedlam. I dare not look up in case I got hit with shrapnel. I sneaked a look now and then. The planes seemed to be flying into hell. The parachutes were coming down in hundreds but it seemed to me that a lot of them were dropping into what I estimated would be the enemy lines. A couple dropped across the road, one fell on the tiles and smashed a few, then fell into the garden. The other one fell without the parachute opening. It fairly smashed itself in to the ground. After the aircraft had left I went across to this smashed pannier. It was a basket full of food. Most of it was smashed to pieces. I managed to salvage a tin of meat and a tin of sardines. I had nothing to open the tin with except my fighting knife. I gouged a piece of metal off the top of the tin of stewed steak, and winkled out small piece. It did not taste too good.

The R.A.S.C. boys and the officer left us now. They had been ordered to take a jeep and start collecting the supplies. They came back later in the evening. They had found some of their boys in a house down the road.

They took Mick with them. He came back an hour later saying he's had a lovely meal, in a house where the occupants were still living. They had cooked him some chicken. I consoled myself with a bar of chocolate and a cigarette.

We took turns to watch through the night. It never got really dark as there was a house burning down the street. I hardly slept at all, I could only doze and think.

It was misty next morning, and we had to keep a sharp look out for a surprise attack. Later the sun broke through and a lovely morning developed. Mick and I decided to make an excursion back to the wood where our kit was. All our food was in there. We set off and on our way met Dodd. Old Doddy looked done in. When saw us he began to rail at us a little. He said, "Half the Flight is dead or wounded. There's not many left besides myself'. He told us what had been happening. They had fought quite a battle in the wood. They had been bombed, shelled and blasted right and left. One mortar bomb had dropped on a trench occupied by four of the boys end killed three of them outright, mortally wounding the fourth. Graham was among the killed. He was only about twenty, and one of my best friends in the Flight.

Doddy seemed to think that we had been dodging the column. I reminded him what had happened on the night they left us and he calmed himself down a little. We left him looking almost forlorn.


The wood was just the same as we had left it. There were one or two fellows from another flight in occupation now. Among them, deep down in a great hole, was Sgt. Major Petrie. He was just brewing some tea. He had an ammunition box full of tea and another one full of sugar. He invited us to stay. We did. Quite a funny little chap the Sgt. Major and he cheered us up considerably. He said that they were catching it rough in the wood with mortar fire and that was the reason why he had dug himself a big hole.


After we had had tea we went to look for our kit. We found it just as we had left it. Nothing had been touched. As we left the wood on our return journey we passed Major Dale with Captain Shuttleworth. The Captain had a few friendly words for us. That was the last time I saw him alive.

We reached our trenches without mishap. It was a lovely day apart from the war. I made a meal out of one of my ration packs. I didn't enjoy it.


In the afternoon the Dakotas repeated their efforts of the previous day. The R.A.S.0 men went off again to round up the supplies. Heavy mortar fire was laid down on us from time to time. I became more and more accustomed to it and began to learn when to keep my head down and when I need not worry. I was still worried by the exploding bullets. About four o'clock the battle in the wood developed again. Hell seemed to break out and after a while 1 could hear the shouting of "Kamerad, Kamerad" mingled with English voices shouting "Come out and give in you **** bastards". This went on for some time. An officer came out of Wing H.Q. and began crying out in English and German. First he was telling the Jerries to surrender and then he was telling our boys not to shoot any prisoners. After what seemed an age, things became quiet again. A few of our chaps began to come out of the wood and take up positions near us. One or two prisoners were brought in. One of these was in charge of an old friend of mine, S/Sgt.


Ainsworth. As he passed us a shower of mortar bombs came over. The young Nazi, still with his hands above his head, bent down on one knee. Ainsworth took not the slightest notice of the bombs but planted a foot in the seat of the German and propelled him on his way


I recognised S/Sgt: Dance across the road. I hadn't seen him for six mouths. I went across to him and asked him what he was doing. He said the wood was full of Jerries and they had had a hell of a hand-to-hand fight with them. They compelled them to withdraw. He, it seemed, had been relieved, and was going to live in the garden across from us for a while. He seemed quite shaken and worried by what he had been through

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