RAF Broadwell Chapter 5


I went back to Mick. The other occupants of his trench had not returned so I transferred all my stuff to his trench. We chatted for a while. We were both very miserable. Mick said there was a chap dead, just round the corner. I looked out and saw him lying on the footpath with a greatcoat over his face and shoulders. Mick said he had been killed in a jeep by a bomb. We discussed the Second Army and the prospects of its ever arriving. We had heard all sorts of rumours during the day. Some fellows said the Army was in Arnhem, they had actually seen the tanks. Some said we held the bridge, others said Jerry had taken it back. We did not know what to think.


We decided to make some tea. I went across to try to get some water from H.Q. I could only get one mug full. We joined this. An hour before when the battle had been at its height, and the bombs were falling like hail, I had looked at my watch and thought it's unlikely I shall be alive half an hour from now. I had one cigarette left and decided to smoke it. Now when we were having tea I hadn't any and I was still very much alive. A head poked through the trees. I can't remember who it was; someone I knew. He had a trench just behind us. He asked me if I had any fags. When I said I had none left he gave me a packet of ten. It was like receiving a nugget of gold.


Night came round again. There was the usual mortar fire. More houses were on fire. I was feeling very low. Mick was no better. He sat in the corner of his trench and I in the other corner. I had resigned myself that there was not much hope for us. It seemed to be only a matter of time. All day jeeps had been hurrying from the wood with wounded men. I fell to brooding again. It was a foolish thing to do because it didn't help. Being in one place for so long, though, tended to make me feel like that. I worried about my wife and children at home. I felt that if I could only see them again I wouldn't mind what happened after that. I toyed with the idea of writing a letter and leaving it with a civilian to post "when the war was over".


Like most men who, when there seems no way out, I turned to praying a few prayers to myself. I was ashamed to let Mick see my weakness. I wondered why I couldn't be like the soldiers one reads about that never fear anything. I could not get a text out of my mind at this time; it was from the 23rd Psalm. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me". This little passage cheered me up immensely and I felt better. Mick and I took turns to watch through the night but little happened apart from the shelling.

Early next morning I went off to get some water. The Wing H.Q. was now a shambles; everything was covered with dust and plaster. In one chair, sat like a graven image, was the padre. He looked most unhappy. I had never seen him without a smile before. I got a mug of water and went back to Mick. We made a little breakfast and during it discussed the prospects of the day. Mick said we had been thinking it was the end two days ago, and we were still alive. Perhaps the Second Army would arrive today. It was now Friday; the 22nd September.


About nine o'clock a column of troops marched up the road. It was the boys; or at least what was left of them. Lt. Pickwoad was with them; he came over to us. We told him what had been going on. I was immensely glad to see him. He put new life into Mick and me. He could not give us any good news but was quite optimistic. He said he had a composite section with him from what were left of the two sections of the Flight. Lt. Clarke was wounded together with Lt. Stevenson. He said he was going to take up positions round about us. They had a few rations with them and they gave us some, together with a number of cigarettes. It was good to have them round again.

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