MARKETGARDEN.COM - THE DIGITAL MONUMENT 1995-2018
MY MEMORIES OF ARNHEM 1944

Name: H.S. Dean (Stan)
Rank: Lieutenant
Unit: 3rd Parachute Battalion
Regiment:The Parachute Regiment

 

It is 0430 hrs and the morning has arrived at last. The one we all have been waiting for. A beautiful sunny morning and a brisk walk to the Officers mess for breakfast. Like other times before when an operation was cancelled. But not this time, no cancellation! What a relief. Well yes and no as months of field training and exercises were now about to be tested so what better to start the day with then a hearty breakfast of porridge, toast and kippers and for once there was little conversation.

The Battalion had been confined to barracks for the past 24 hrs so the troops were fully aware that the balloon was about to go up. The first hours there was plentyof rumours and speculation as to where we were about to drop as a few weeks before an operation was about to take place and we moved to an aerodrome near Oxford for a landing near Paris. But owing to our troops and tanks moving so fast our dropping zone had been over run so it became a stand down. As liaison Officer between battalion and brigade I attended a briefing at brigade headquarters in Grantham on the 16th September along with battalion commanders and others. Our battalion commander Lt. Col. E.C. Yeldham was not going to be with us but a Major Fitch was to take his place. The operation was called 'Market Garden'. The briefing over and laden with maps, times and landing places. Returning to battalion HQ on my motor cycle I passed the White Hart Hotel in Spalding where my wife Lina was staying, as much as I would have liked to have stopped, it would have been to say at least irresponsible and a sure courtmartial in doing so. On return our new commanding Officer Major Fitch held a briefing session with all Officers in the battalion so the battle plan was prepared and orders issued. In turn company commanders would issue orders to his company. So by 0630 hrs Sunday 17th September 1944 we were all aboard our respective vehicles and on the move and about to join the remainder of the convoy on the Spalding road. At 0700 hrs we were off on the first leg of what was going to be an Historical journey. Leaving our Spalding home which it had been for the past few months and where much training exercises had taken place, were now about to be tested to it's limit. We had many a happy day there and we were all deeply grateful for the generosity and kindness of its people.

Our thoughts turned to Holland with FLAK or a Roman Candle (parachutes failing to open) and what the ground opposition we were likely to encounter on our arrival would be, jpw would the Dutch people react. They would have already been alerted because at noon Stirling Bombers would be flying over the Arnhem area not knowing that they would not be blasted but contained 186 men of the Pathfinder Company who were to drop one hour ahead of the main force. They would mark the dropping zone with orange smoke signals in advance of the Division. I wondered, was the information given us regards the type of German troops in the area correct. At that moment my mind was like a roulette wheel intermixed with the feelings for those of my kin at home as we journeyed to the areodrome. What an inspiring sight it was that met our eyes when we arrived, row upon row of Dakota C47's lined on each side of the runway, awaiting to take their place as part of this gigantic air armada. Our transport drove to plane No. 51. Alighting on to the tarmac the men were joking and full of high spirits. The parachutes were lined up ready to be fitted knowing you have no second chance with these and hoping that the ladies of the Royal Air Force had packed them correctly and not to give to you a ' Roman Candle '. Much too late to decide that Parachuting was not for you once fitting had been carried out. Tea and sandwitches arrived and passed around. Something stronger would not have gone amiss. A final inspection of the men and the order was given to emplane. This was accomplished by 1030 hrs. and everybody comfortable as could be under the circumstance. One hour later we found ourselves airborne. The last link with home and our loved ones had been severed.

It was a glorious sight  as these vast formations of aircraft were passing over the South Coast. The people below no doubt thinking as many times before ' someone's going to get it again ', little knowing that these aircraft were loaded with Parachutist's on their way to fight one of the most disastrous and bloody battles of the war.And not only us but the troops who were already fighting there way towards the Arnhem bridge where we should meet. So we bid our little island a fond farewell in the hope that some od us would one day return. Our flight became a little bumpy but only one sick bag was used. Someone shouted he could see land ahead only to be false alarm. Never the less we had not long to wait for twenty minutes later it was sighted. Land unknown to most of us, exept on maps.The results of our Allied Air Force were soon in evidence as one looked down on the coast below. Further on we saw the destruction made by the Germans on Dutch territory, the flooding of vast stretches of land. Time for the order to be given to hook up.

Birthday in prisoncamp - october 1944'Twenty minutes to go' said the American jump master. From then on my eyes rested on my watch untill three minutes to go.'OK  chaps put the back seat down, is everyone allright? If not it's too late now!'. By this time time I had taken my position at the open door ready for the exit. It is the duty of all Officers to jump first (the men are trained to jump on the order of the green light). There ahead of us we could see the River Rhine and Arnhem coming closer every second. There were the red chutes with our equipment in containers being released. The red light followed by green and out we went. So there we all were dropping towards the D.Z. and no FLAK, it can't be thrue but it was. The earth was getting closer and I had a safe and well trained landing. On releasing my parachute harness out came my jack knife and cut a panel of silk from the parachute. A piece is still remained in my War Time Log. On collecting the men together we proceeded to the rendezvous area. On our arrival and to my astonishment we found twelve Germans who offered no resistance. In no time the whole battalion were in position 100% strong. The only casualties being two three inch mortars and two vicker machine guns.

I resumed my job as liasion Officer finding my lightweight motor cycle it gave me a little trouble in starting but I was soon on my way to Brigade HQ giving the Battalion Commanding Officers report on the landing. First mission complete I returned to the 3rd Battalion who were on the road to Arnhem. The Dutch people were out on the street waving their flags and taking photos. It all seemed to easy and suddenly came the first burst of fire. It was a minor encounter and I kept moving freely up and down the column on my motor cycle. A civilian flagged me down to tell me that the Germans were pulling out of Arnhem, thrue or not as one is always aware of Fifth Column information. Never the less it was reported to HQ. Finally our column was halted some three miles from the Dropping Zone. B Company came under fire from a German light armoured car and was giving them some trouble. The Company Commander Intelligence Officer proceeded to the head of the column, I followed in the hope of getting information. In all battles it is of paramount importance to keep your troops informedas much as possible. There is nothing worse for moral than the lack of information. Stopping at B Company HQ some twenty yards from the cross roads and talking to the second n command when suddenly he yelled ' look out an armoured car!' Without hesitation we both disappeared in a ditch when another of my eight lives was lost. A direct hit on my motor cycle sent it up in smoke along with my rations and cigarettes which had been strapped on the back. Also putting the anti tank gun crew out of action. Fortunatly the Artillery Commander had witnessed the tragedy and with the help of others soon had the German armoured car retreating. Though not before inflicting casualties on B Company. Now on foot the CO told me to find whatever transport I could for use between him and Brigade. Once on the move we saw a German motor cycle and side car. With both it's occupants still aboard but dead. I shall never know if I would have had the nerve to remove them as at that moment we came under heavy fire so I had to fight along the side with the men in helping to push forward.

The Brigadier followed closely by General Urquhart to asses the situation. Commanding Officer  C Company arrived and were given orders to get through to the Arnhem Bridge. Later reports stated they were inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans, later their communications failed and contact with them for the time being was lost. The Germans were now using their six barrelled mortars. Lucky for me I had many experiences of them in North Africa. On hearing them I was the very first in a ditch, nothing to be proud of but an experience learned by others. At this point our advance along the main road to Arnhem was held up and with the light failing the CO issued his orders B Coy to dig in ahead of Battalion HQ, mortar and defence platoons with A Coy at the cross roads. The Germans were very quit not being sure of our position. Had they have known the real situation we were in our part in this operation mau never have been told by me. We were cut off from both Brigade and also Divisional HQ, communications were non existent. As hard as we tried to contact C Coy, who we thought should be near the bridge by this time, found it impossible. A small amount of news in this situation may have helped. Around midnight the CO gave me orders to take to B Coy who were some distance ahead. It can not be explained as to how I managed to get into the house OC B Coy were occupying because they were confined to quarters by a German machine gun trained on the entrance. I got there by an extraordinary piece of luck, call it what you will, I walked in only to miss a burst of machine gun fire by a fraction of a second. The house B Coy were in was called 'The Hartenstein Hotel'. About 0500 hrs 18th September we were on the move once again and could not believe we could move so freely without any opposition. The Dutch people had been hidden from the Germans and showering us with fruit which I was most grateful for since my loss of rations on the motor cycle. This seemed all too easy, a false sence of security. It was to end as we reached the road running along side the River Rhine. We came under heavy fire, this did not stop our advance, and soon passed 'Charing Criss' a code name for a railway bridge crossing the River Rhine and were not held up again until we entered the main part of Arnhem. To me it all seemed unreal. Trams and other transport at a stand still, an experience never encountered in the battles of North Africa were street fighting was not involved. The exercises and training in street fighting at ' Leith Edinburgh Scotland' were far removed from the real thing.

Wireless communications with A Coy had failed and were now cut off from the battallion. The shelling was getting heavy and snipers were having their own way. The one reason that German troops already stationed in Arnhem would know the area far better then we. By now beeing a small force we had no supporting arms and unable to push ahead as casualties were increasing. A defensive position was taken in the hope that supporting arms would soon reach us. Not realizing the situation at the time, but wat a shambles. We had taken a defensive position in a block of flats. The Germans fortunatly for us were not aware that. In one of the top flats it held the Brigade COmmander Brigadier Lathbury and the Divisional Commander General Urquhart. The heavy shelling continued at this point in time there was no alternative other than sit tight. The signals were trying hard to renew contact with C and A Coy's without success. To add to our plight German troops appeared in the back gardens and still not aware of our presence in the flats above. Around 1200 hrs a German self propelled gun mounted on a heavy tank stopped outside the flats. You can visualise the situation we were in without the support needed. B Coy under the command of Major Waddy were fighting a bloody battle against all the odds, but what a courageous fight. Peter Waddy himself managed to place a gammon bomb in the side of the tank while in doing so he was killed. not by the tank crew but one of our own mortar bombs. No blame can be leveled at the mortar platoon, but shambles and lack of wireless communications.

About 1600 hrs communications were restored with C Coy and reported that they had joined with 'Sandy Battalion' and holding the 'Bridge at Arnhem' being our objective. They badly needed ammunition as their supploes were nearly out. We were in no position to help at that moment of time. Our next piece of news was that communication had been established with A Coy who had attached themselves to 'Freddie Battalion' and were trying to break through to us. By now the whole situation was very serious, casualties were high and ammunition low. Spirits had to be maintained, as sure things would change. And so it happened, ammunition reached us bt Bren Gun Carrier and was distributed. The CO decided that we should push on. Consulting our maps a route was marked out via the railway line to the bridge Before proceeding the remnants of A Coy wrrived without any Officers who had been killed or injured. The CO ordered me to take control of the remainder of A Coy and take the route previously given. He with HQ and the remainder of B Coy would follow in the rear. This is another situation not to be relished especially not knowing all the facts on one's own troops movement. Thoughts ran through my mind of training and exercises at the ' Battle Scool ' in Calendar Scotland long before I became a parachutist. In the art of street fighting especially at night and be aware of every doorway and corner thatcould hold an enemy ready with a knife to cut your throat. Never the less the training in the past for what ever reason was going to be of some help and keep me fully alert.

Commanding a mixed bunch of men it did not worry me as knowing their training was of such high degree as parachutist. Signals and commands given by me would be easily understood. Proceeding through a lane of back gardens with cottages either side heading the railway, we encountered German machine gun fire which forced us to take cover in the cottages not knowing they were occupied by families. This proved to give me cause for concern as communication with HQ was not going to be easy, further more we were submitted to a barrage of mortar fire to which we had no reply but for the moment stay put. I felt very sorry for the families in these cottages who we had occupied uninvited and as civilians being brought into this conflict. The cottage we were in was occupied by a family of six. They were hudd;ed together in what was called in Scotland a sit in bed. One that was built in a recess in the living room with a curtain that could be drawn across. The father wanted to leave to get help but I had to refrain him from doing so at the point of a gun, for all I knew he could have been a collaborator. That change could not be taken I had an idea that the signals were in the cottage next door so decided to knock a hole in the wall rather then try to contact them by the back door thus giving the Germans a chance of picking any of us off. As luck had it the signals were there so contact was made with battalion HQ and informing them of our situation and was to await for further orders. Darkness began to fall and all went quiet.

The CO ordered me to try and retire back under cover of darkness to HQ where further orders would be given. The next plan was to make another attempt to reach the Bridge by going back to the lower road along the river. So once more we were in the lead. The time beeing 0230hrs Tuesday 19 September. Lady luck seemded to be with us again for the Germans had for the moment dissappeared. With everything so quiet we made our way around the St. Elisabeth Hospital until we reached the lower road. The quiet and luck were soon to run out.  We were met by a heavy barrage of gun and mortar fire. The Germans seemed well prepared for us knowing this route would be used by some of our troops to try and get through to the Bridge.The barrage increased in strenght while we moved forward and we were getting casualties, myself receiving a tracer bullet in my right leg. It may sound crazy to say luck again but the tracer bullet was red hot therefore cauterising the wound. At that moment I was not aware that it was going to stay tthere for the next twenty two days. An ordinary bullet would have by that time turned the leg gangrene so I would never have survived the ordeal. Having been assisted back to the house where the CO was, I injected my morphine and was able to give a report to the CO. Then machine guns opend fire and there came also shouts in English a ploy we often used in North Africa and I was wounded before I had the chance to hit the ground. A small patrol was sent out to recce and reported on return that a number of machine gun nests were active. B Coy were sent out to try and wipe them out but heavy casualties were inflicted upon them in their brave effort.In the meanwhile the Airlanding Brigade (the brave fellows who came in Gliders) arrived in strenght and managed to push the Germans back. The whole affair finished in the CO beeing killed and heavy casualties including many Officers. there was little more that could be done in this situation other then the remnants of the battalion withdrawing to regroup. Myself beeing left with the rest of the wounded. It was day light before being removed to St. Elisabeth Hospital a few hundred yards from the cellar I was in. My stretcher was placed in the corridor near the entrance. An orderly informed me that the Hospital had changed hand a few times between British and Germans.

Within two hours another heavy attack commenced. The enemy using MK IV Tiger tanks, self propelling guns and all the artillery at their disposal. In spite of the hospital marked with a large red cross the Germans continoud to shell it. A life time seemed to pass while we lay there, more were wounded or killed. The Air Landing Brigade engaged the enemy in a brave battle against all odds but were heavily out numbered with all the supporting arms the Germans had. Eventually there was little else to do other then withdraw. The Germans did not enter the Hospital until they had fired several bursts of machine gun fire through the main door. When the victorious Germans entered the Hospital their first thought was to pillage what we had. Packs and rations were taken, even some surgical equipment For the remainder of the day I was left in the corridor on a stretcher, towards evening moved to a bed upstairs in a corridor for that beeing the safest place rather then a ward. The next morning, it was now Wednesday the 20th September we could hear the sound of heavy gun fire so a battle was still raging somewhere near the hospital. Wounded arrived from time to time. One of the woulded I was able to speak was Brigadier Lathbury who was dressed as a Lance Corporal. The Dutch nurses and all the hospital staff were very brave in the situation that confronted them, making us comfortable as humanly possible.

Day after day the sound of gun fire got less and less and I realized the Battle for Arnhem was being lost. On 25th September the Germans decided to evacuate as many as possible to Germany. Truck arrived and our journey commenced.We passed through what must have been a picturesque town called Arnhem now badly in ruins. Thinking what a waste passing a park we observed some dozen or more heavy tanks camouflaged under trees. Our first destination was a Dutch barracks in Apeldoorn. From there we were transited to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

Editor: Stan Dean passed away at his home in Spain on saturday, 19th march 2011, at the age of 93 years old.

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