RAF Broadwell Chapter 8


Promptly at five minutes to nine we moved out of the house. Even with our boots padded it was difficult not to make a noise as we felt our way over hundreds of tiles that lay broken on the ground.


We had to climb a few fences and had difficulty in keeping together but we made the rendezvous at last.


I looked at my watch. It was exactly nine. At that very moment all hell broke loose and a shower of mortar bombs dropped on the common where we were standing. Vivid flashes of flame lit up the sky and there were terrific explosions.


All the boys dived for what cover they could find. I found myself on the ground near an officer and another S/Sgt. The officer panicked a little and said, "Let's get to hell out of here". We should have stayed there until nine fifteen.


The officer made off and left the S/Sgt. and me together. I knew him well. It was S/Sgt. Waldren, our Intelligence Sgt. Bombs were still exploding all round us. He asked me if I was prepared to try and make the river with him. I said certainly. I had lost Mick and the boys. It was fruitless trying to find them in this hail of lead.


We moved off. One or two explosions occurred dangerously near to us. We got on to the right road to the river. It took us past the wood where we had been when "Admiral" was killed.


We met up with some more fellows. Here and there were guides to show us the way. Machine guns were crackling merrily but none came near us. We passed many jeeps and much equipment that had been destroyed and pushed into the roadside. Everywhere seemed a shambles.


Presently we came to the church in Osterbeek. We were not far from the river now. Looking down the road to Arnhem I could see many fires burning. The Second Army was shelling the town from across the river.


We reached the river at last. There was already a big crowd there. We're safe now, I thought. All that remains is to get across that river. It was raining hard but I didn't worry over that.


Guides were endeavouring to sort the men out on the bank. I rested against what I thought was a rubber dinghy. I had been leaning against it for a few minutes when it occurred to me that it was a funny sort of a dinghy. I examined it closely. It was a dead cow.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly when suddenly there was a swishing noise and a shower of 20 mm cannon shells fell amongst us. They exploded and immediately yells of anguish could be heard from all sides. Another shower followed almost immediately, causing more casualties and some panic. 1 was on the ground by now and one burst dangerously close to my face. Tim Matthews was killed with one and Hartford was wounded, though I did not learn this until later. I decided to get away from the crowd and moved up river.


The shells continued to come over at irregular intervals. Many of the fellows on the bank, so near to safety, got killed or wounded. 1 got down to the water's edge during one fusillade and hung half in and half out of the water. The thought came to me, "What if my wife could see me at this moment, grovelling here". Having got so far I didn't want to become a casualty at this stage.


After a while things became a little more peaceful. I got up from my precarious perch and had a look round. Our guns from across the river were fairly pumping shells across into Arnhem. The whole town seemed to be on fire. Further down the river the bank was suddenly lit up by a heavy concentration of bursting shells. If they had fallen on our bank they would have killed the lot of us.


I could hear a few boats chugging across the river. Cannon shells commenced to burst on the river. There didn't seem to be anywhere that was safe.


I saw two men with a rubber dinghy near me. One of them was an Officer. I spoke to him but he didn't seem to recognise me. He had been my Flight Commander in North Africa.


He promised to come back and fetch me. I waited an hour but he did not come back.


A soldier came up to me and asked me to swim it with him. I didn't know how far it was across but I decided to have a go. I took off my boots and upper clothing and made a bundle of it round my neck. I got into the water and struck out.


The current was very strong and I felt myself being rapidly swept downstream. By the time I had got twelve yards out I was numbed with cold and almost exhausted. I realised I would never make the other side and decided to go back.


When I got back to the bank I was in a sorry state. Everything I had was saturated. I put on my boots. I had lost my socks in the water. I found my rifle again and made my way back to where the boats were.

After sitting on the bank for half an hour I saw a boat coming in. It seemed to me that it was a case of every man for himself. I rushed out into the river and scrambled into the boat as it touched the bank. It was soon filled up, almost to danger point.


The Engineer in charge wasted no time but got the little outboard motor chugging and off we went. It did not take long to reach the other side.


I was thankful when I reached the opposite bank and felt firm earth beneath my feet. Guides were there to direct us. I recognised them as Second Army men from their type of tin helmet. I have never been so pleased to see any one, as I was to see those boys.


We had to walk about four miles to a little rest centre that had been prepared for us. I was wet through, cold, and every step I took gave me pain with having no socks on, but I wasn't miserable. I was happy, supremely happy. It would not have worried me if I had been told to walk to Brussels.


The number of men already at the rest centre when I reached it surprised me. We had to wait in a queue outside a wooden building for a meal. I began to shiver and feel the effects of my experience in the river. I longed for a cigarette. For the first time since I had arrived in Holland I had not got a cigarette.


I got into the hut at last. We were each handed two tins of hot stew, tea, cigarettes, a blanket and a tot of rum. Ron Jones was next in the queue to me. When he saw the state I was in, he insisted on my having his ration of rum. I was very grateful to him for that.


I felt much better after that meal. We were told to get outside as quickly as possible as transport was waiting to take us to Nijmegen about seven miles away.


When we arrived at Nijmegen I was surprised to see street lamps burning. We passed over the celebrated bridge and into the town, eventually arriving at a great building that looked like barracks.


The organisation here was superb. Beds were waiting. Hot water was laid on and another hot meal was ready. All the staff treated us like heroes. We certainly looked a sorry mess in our saturated clothes and dirty condition.


I had another meal, a wash down and climbed into bed; it felt lovely. A kind of reaction set in and I began to think of what I had escaped from, and of the boys who would never come back. I had the greatest difficulty in restraining myself from crying.

Go to chapter 9