RAF Broadwell Chapter 7


Monday, the 25th September, dawned a lovely day. We had been in Holland for over a week now. How different we looked from the immaculate force that had left England nine days before. We made a breakfast of fruit and discussed the outlook for the day. Some fellows from next door told us that contact had definitely been made with the Second Army and that a few troops had been ferried across the river.


During the morning a woman came into the house. She was, it seemed, the occupier. She had fled with her family to a safer place. I don't know where that could be.


She didn't seem to mind the shambles her house was in but when she went into the back room she caught sight of the damaged painting and burst into hysterical tears. It must have been of great value to her.


She was looking for something but apparently could not find it. After collecting some bottled fruit and apples she left us.


No orders came through that morning, and nothing untoward happened to us. Down the street a S.P. gun was pumping shells into the houses. Occasionally I would creep upstairs and take a good look round for any infiltrating enemy. I did not see any.


We discussed our prospects together. There did not seem to be any organisation now. Everyone was taking care of himself. We talked of a plan of escaping across the river that night. We looked over the maps we had and decided to try and make it if nothing turned up during the day.


In the afternoon a soldier came round taking names of the occupants of houses. He told me he had heard the troops were going to be evacuated that night. I couldn't believe it. He asked me not to discuss it with any civilians. Ten minutes later another chap came across asking for me by name. He told me I had to report to Wing H.Q. at five o'clock prompt. I asked him what it was all about. His answer was cryptic.


"Nothing to do with me, chum" he said, "I couldn't help it". "Oh", I stuttered, "Could you not". "No'.' he replied, "You see your name was on the top of the list".


That didn't sound very encouraging to me, but I could get no further information. As he was going, he said, "If they want you to do some suicide job, take no notice of it, just pretend you'll do it. You see I've heard we're going to evacuate to-night".

I didn't know what to think. I felt sure I was booked for some crazy scheme. I didn't look forward to five o'clock a bit.


Three civvies came across to the house. One of them was the husband of the woman who had been that morning. He talked to us for a while. He could speak reasonably good English. He seemed to take his misfortune in good part and didn't seem to mind in the last our using his stuff. I do believe he was more sorry for us than we for him.


We had found some photographs of his family under the mattresses and we gave them to him. He was very pleased; he said they were the things his wife had been seeking.


He told us all about his family He had two beautiful daughters. One was in Hollywood, the other in South Africa. Both of them had married well.


As five o'clock drew near I began to wonder more and more what lay in store. Mick kept urging me to get on my way but I delayed until the last minute, when reluctantly I went.


I had to cross two lots of gardens to get to H.Q. There were snipers and machine gunners firing down the street. I fairly bounded across the road and gardens.


I reached the house. It was not the one the Wing H.Q. had been in earlier. In the hall was Laurie Weedon. He smiled weakly at me. Old Laurie seemed worn out.


He showed me down into the cellar. It was packed end simply stank. An oil lamp was glimmering in the middle of the floor. There were three or four officers present.


I saw Lt. Pickwoad. He smiled across at me and said, "I'm glad to see you, Holcroft. I was worried, thinking you had been left in the wood." I explained to him what had happened. I was very glad to see him, too.


We chatted for a few moments until the rest of the fellows who had been sent for arrived. He told me that Captain Shuttleworth was dead. I had good reason to feel very unhappy at that news. I remembered only too well Captain Shuttleworth's outstanding consideration for us during the past week.


One of the officers called for silence. What he had to tell us quickly dispersed any thoughts I had had of some disagreeable task. He confirmed that we were to evacuate that night. The Second Army had managed to get about 100 troops across the river but had not been able to come up in strength.

There was a man present from every house in the district. We received orders to instruct everyone to gather behind the Wing H.Q. at nine p.m. All heavy equipment had to be left behind. Every man had to bandage up his boots with cloth to avoid creating too much noise in the move down to the river. We were told that Engineers would be at the river with assault boats to ferry us across to the other side.


1 took note of the route it was intended to use in case my party became detached from the rest. Everyone was pleased with this news though at heart I think we all felt a little sad to realise that all our efforts had failed. We must give up all that had cost us so dear.


I went back to the house. I passed Tommy Moore on the way. He told me to watch carefully how I went as a sniper was busy. A little mortar barrage was in progress to the south of our house. I could see the bombs going over.


I got back without mishap and gave the boys the news. It was almost dark now. 1 thought that if we could last out until nine o'clock we had a good chance of seeing our homes again. I expected the Germans to attack us that night. I could not fathom it out why they had not attacked before. They had everything in their favour. They never did put in an all-out assault right up to the last.


We each took turn in guarding the house again. Those who were not on guard prepared for the move. We bandaged our boots and tucked our ammunition in our pockets. I had a Bren gun and a rifle. I thought it best to take the rifle so I hid the Bren gun after taking out some vital parts that I took with me.


Through having eaten so much of the bottled fruit Mick and I had stomach ache. The lavatory was not working so we decided to use the garden in turn, digging a little hole for the purpose. As I communed with nature I thought of the mess I should be in if a Jerry appeared and caught me, literally with my pants down. Fortunately we were both left in peace.

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