We took off for Holland on Monday, 18th. September, 1944. Briefing had followed the usual pattern and, once briefed, we were confined to barracks. We were, however, marched down to Oakham cinema to watch "Gone with the Wind". The first lift had gone in the day before: we were on the ground by 10.00 hrs.. The flight over was uneventful, except for an occasional "ping" as a piece of flack hit us.
I landed in a wood north of the D.Z., missing the trees, and found Pte. J. Leech at my side. We were soon joined by L.Cpl. Jones whose 'chute had been caught up in a tree but he had managed to release himself. Shortly after this, before we had had time to make any plans, a group of enemy appeared through the trees, about twenty or so in number and approximately twenty yards away, firing as they came. I was to learn, at a later date, that these were Dutch S.S.: the detachment was commanded by a German named Albert Paul Heinz Georg Naumann, (as I discovered much later), who lived in Annaberg in Saxony.
We were lying on the ground, trying to get some cover from the very slender trees, with bullets kicking the ground all around. One of these got me in the arm, but one hardly noticed it at the time. There seemed little future in trying to take them on with my revolver so we gave ourselves up. I saw Leech lying on the ground, went over to him and found he had been shot in the neck. One of the enemy force, standing by said "he is dead", an observation with which I had to agree. Apart from removing weapons, map cases and compasses our captors were relatively civil and considerate.
Jones and I were taken to a nearby farm building, possibly called Hindekamp, where I attended to a German who had been shot through the chest, then this German, Jones and I were evacuated by horse and cart to a Medical Aid Post at Ede where my wound was dressed. This post was situated out in the open, under some trees. There were two Medical Officers and about six Nursing Orderlies. The equipment was in two or three panniers, not unlike our own, here German Field Medical Cards were issued. After about an hour an ambulance load of patients, all German except Jones and myself, took us to Apeldoorn: by now it was after dark. We were taken to the Katholieke Ziekenhuis where, also, were brought some other airborne wounded. Jones had a bruised shoulder but an X-ray showed no bony injury. I did not see what happened to Jones later and, indeed, I did not see him again.
At this hospital my wound had a debridement under local on the 19th. September and, apart from having to wear a sling, the wound was no real trouble so I started roaming round the hospital and finding no objection was raised I began to compile a nominal role of British patients and did my best deal with their anxieties and questions. The nuns who provided the nursing services were first class and so outgoing and friendly. ( It was a great pleasure to meet one of them again during a visit to the hospital after the war). A Dutch maid gave me half a cup of Advocat! Shortly I was transferred to the St. Joseph's Kriegs-Lazarett, a large German Military Hospital. This was already overcrowded with German wounded as well as our own. Casualties began to arrive en masse, both German and British, for at least another three or four days in an unending stream. I can do no better at this stage than to reproduce what I wrote in my official report on returning to England:
General Attitude of the Germans:
this was co-operative and humanitarian in every way. I can recall only one case on which they refused to operate because of the time involved or because of the prognosis, (other than that of the immediate operative risk), this was a man with a trans-buttock wound involving the rectum and with obvious advanced retroperitoneal sepsis. He might have been done earlier, but there was a great rush on then and he would have required too great a time on the table. I feel their decision was justified.
So much for a formal report but what was it really like? Of course the situation was ghastly according to the standards by which we are used to assessing medical situations but my memory is not one of being in constant mental agony. There was a job to do, a job for which I had been trained: one worked continuously, but I do not remember feeling tired or under strain: (it was no worse than being a house-surgeon at St. Mary's during a busy spell)! The medical resources were not lavish but they were not bad; one had enough to do a reasonable holding job, especially pain relief and reassurance, letting the chaps know how things were going and that they were not being forgotten. The biggest bottle-neck was the shortage of surgeons and of theatre time - inevitable with such an influx of wounded. Above all, the men themselves were magnificent: they did not complain and they maintained a sense of humour; perhaps what one would expect from such troops. I expect, also, that there was an element of feeling relief at being alive.
On the 25th. September I was visited at the St. Joseph's Kriegs-Lazarett by Martin Herford. He commanded 163rd. Field Ambulance (R.A.M.C.) in 30 Corps and, when it was clear that the battle was going far from well, had volunteered to row over the Neder Rijn under cover of a Red-Cross flag, carrying 6 cwt. of emergency supplies, hoping to get through to the Airborne Forces and deliver the supplies or, if this failed, to liaise with the Germans, offering the supplies and trying to arrange for the evacuation of the wounded. He succeeded in getting across on 23rd. September, (and this is a story in itself - I have Martin's own account of this outstandingly brave venture) and, in the event, he was captured by the Germans who said he was a prisoner, (they said an envoy should have come under a white flag). Nothing daunted, Martin, who spoke fluent German, (he had been a student at Heidelberg), persisted in his aim and in the end managed to see the German Chief Medical Officer, Lt.Col. Zingerlin whom Martin described as a very reasonable and efficient man. He took Martin to a large barracks, the Kazerne Willem III, which was intended to receive British lightly wounded to be looked after by a British M.O.. They then came to the St. Joseph's Kriegs-Lazarett where Martin met me, as mentioned above. Hearing that most of our medical personnel were now prisoners Martin suggested turning the Kaserne Willem III into an Airborne Hospital to be run by our own R.A.M.C. personnel. This was agreed and as a result I was transferred there.
Already there were about 700 Allied wounded there but no doctor: they were being looked after by six Dutch girl volunteers, not trained nurses, one of whom was Hendrika van der Vlist. Her father had owned the Schoonoord Hotel at Oosterbeek and during the battle there it had become a dressing station, staffed by R.A.M.C. personnel and aided by the six Dutch girls. Hendrika was a school teacher in English. The Schoonoord had been in the thick of the battle, changing hands at times but controlled eventually by the Germans. Just before remnants of the Division withdrew across the Rijn on the night of the 25th. and 26th. September, the Germans evacuated the Schoonoord, using trucks, and the casualties, with the six Dutch girls who insisted on accompanying them, were taken to the Kaserne Willem III, the last trucks arriving by 1700 hrs. on the 25th. September. By now the Kaserne held some 1500 wounded: the severity varied from the lightest of injuries to the most severe, indeed, there were some deaths during the night and I remember having the ghoulish task, assisted by a glider pilot who was only lightly wounded, of carrying the bodies and stacking them into a small, windowless room which had to serve as a temporary mortuary. I worked through the night doing what I could to relieve pain, (I did have morphia), with the help of the Dutch girls to make the wounded as comfortable as the circumstances allowed and to achieve what order was possible but, once more, one had to pay tribute to the immense courage and fortitude of these men who had gone through so much and yet did not complain and maintained their sense of humour. I have only a vague and kaleidoscopic memory of that night.
Next day still more wounded arrived until there were about 1800, despite 500 lightly wounded being evacuated to Germany by train. However, our own medical staff were arriving, medical officers and orderlies, including Lt.-Col. "Wally" Alford, my own C.O., and Major "Pip" Smith and Capt. "Jock" Lawson, also of my unit Later in the day Col. Graeme Warrack, A.D.M.S of the Division arrived and took over command. Martin Herford had arranged with Zingerlin that the Germans would supply blankets, sheets, soap, towels, bed-pans, urinals etc. as well as food and we would be responsible discipline, returns and control of food and supplies. Our medical personnel had brought their own medical equipment and supplies which, at first at any rate, were adequate but later were supplemented by the Dutch and the Germans. The food was of very poor quality, consisting largely of potatoes, prepared in the cookhouse situated in the centre of the compound.
Very rapidly the Airborne Military Hospital took shape and in a remarkably short space of time was running as efficiently as could be expected under the circumstances. Martin Herford was 2.i/c and his command of German was invaluable in our dealings with the Germans eg. negotiating for supplies and in resisting the attempts by the Germans to evacuate walking wounded by train with inadequate arrangements. I was sometimes involved in such negotiations with my rather basic command of German. My most noteworthy howler, was to say that "wir mussen noch mehr Maitressen haben". This request for mistresses rather than mattresses (Matratzen) caused much amusement all round.
On the whole the Germans left us alone to run our own hospital. One notable exception was, early on, when a Feldwebel (Sergeant) came round, mainly looking for hidden weapons. He took grave exception to the spike on our issue pocket knives which he regarded as a dangerous weapon. Our explanation that this was only intended for taking stones out of horses' hooves did not seem to convince him that it had no more felonious function: no doubt he thought we were taking the "Micky" and that not even the British Army could be so archaic. One of my functions was to go with a German ambulance and driver round the Dutch hospitals to transfer cases too serious for our relatively primitive conditions and to take men for X-ray. At one of these hospitals, the Algemeente Ziekenhuis, in the X-ray department, a hidden radio was brought out and we listened to the news from London: one of the many examples of the courage shown by the Dutch. On one occasion as my driver and I were driving along we saw a body lying in the centre of the road on the white line with a notice propped up against it reading "TERRORIST": no doubt the work of the Gestapo against some underground member they had caught.
My driver stopped the ambulance and was sick in the gutter. Of course, at this time, as medical officers there was no question of trying to escape and on one occasion I decided to walk back to the barracks on my own. Despite my wearing battle dress and red beret I was not challenged by any German I passed: it gave me a wonderful sense of freedom and, I learnt, forty years later, did the same for a Dutchman who lived nearby and saw me passing.When things had settled down a little, Martin and I did a few minor operation lists on our own in the evening. This was done on the stone slab of an ablution; it made an excellent operating table!
During the second week, on 2nd. October, the Germans ordered us to prepare 250 wounded for evacuation to Germany by train. Despite delaying tactics and Martin's protests about sending wounded in cattle trucks the train eventually departed with medical officers Captains Keesey, Lawson and Simmons and dental officer Captain Ridler on board.I learnt later that instead of being allowed to circulate through the train as Colonel Zingerlin had promised the medical and dental officers were locked in their own wagon. Accordingly, as they would not be able to attend the wounded they decided that they would escape, drawing lots for one to stay behind: this lot fell to Captain Simmons and the other three jumped the train. Captain Keesey was shot dead by one of the guards but Captains Lawson and Ridler made good their escape. 'Jock' Lawson I did not see again till after the war but Derek Ridler I was to meet again in a few weeks in Holland as will be recounted later.
Colonels Warrack and Herford protested very strongly to Colonel Zingerlin about the conditions on that train and on 6th. October, when it was proposed to move another 500 patients, Zingerlin did produce a proper ambulance train. Lt.Col. "Wally" Alford was O.C. train with "Pip" Smith, Ian Hudelston and me, all from 133 Parachute Field Ambulance as medical officers. We boarded the train on 6th. October but it was three days before we were able to move as the R.A.F. had shot up the available locomotives and the Dutch Government had called a railway strike.
(Both Martin and Graeme were still at the barracks and, at a later date, both escaped. Martin knew when the Hospital was being finally evacuated that his work was done and on 16th. October he escaped via a window, through the guards and eventually, after some adventures, swam the Rijn back to our troops and thence, home. On returning to England he contacted my parents at once and this was the first news they had had that I was alive: I still have that letter. Padre McGowan who escaped with him was, unfortunately, recaptured. Graeme hid in a cupboard until the hospital had been evacuated and a Panzer regiment had moved in and then he, too, left through a window. I was to meet him again later when we were both "onderduikers", literally " under-divers" ie. people hiding from the Germans).
Eventually we got on the move. I asked Wally Alford if I might leave the train at an appropriate moment and he agreed. Accordingly, I went out on to the observation platform outside our carriage and there I met Private Leslie Davidson R.A.M.C., a medical orderly attached to 3 Para Battalion who had also had permission to escape. We waited until the train was not going too fast and, believing that the Germans had machine guns trained down the lines from the back of the train, waited until we could see a good bush approaching behind, which we could hide on landing. It was so exciting to hear the train disappearing into the distance until, there we were, lying in a field with not a sound to be heard. And now what do we do?
After a short pause we set off eastward from the railway line, across fairly open terrain and soon we came to a house. We had been told before leaving England that, on the whole, we could expect he Dutch to be on our side and helpful so, after listening at the window to make sure, as far as I could tell, the people inside were not speaking German, I knocked at the door and, when it was opened, did my best to explain who we were - in my best German - the language which I thought they were most likely to understand. Imagine their dilemma: they were confronted by two men in British uniform, one of whom was speaking German and requesting help. It says much for their courage that they took us at our face value and agreed to hide us. We spent the first night sleeping on straw in a barn behind the house and next day we were conducted to hole dug in the wood about a hundred yards from the house. It was about six feet deep and of about the same depth, entered through a camouflaged trap door. It had been so cut as to leave a sitting space around the wall. The preparing of such holes was not uncommon so that able bodied lads could hide from the Germans who were in the habit of rounding up young men to undertake manual tasks such as digging defences on the Ijsel river. We were told to remain there until such time as they could contact the underground. Meanwhile, we were supplied with food and drink, several times a day, brought to us by the three children of the house, which was a farm. There were two girls and a boy. The boy was sixteen at the time and his sisters were a little older. I did try to "date" one of the girls, the intention being to meet after dark, but I was told that this might be too dangerous. (I hope they were only referring to the Germans and to nothing else!). (On a recent visit to Holland I was conducted to the area by Wolter Noordman, a young Dutchman who lives at Heerde and has taken a great interest in the events during and after the Arnhem battle. He showed me where we left the train - it is no longer a railway line - and took me to the farmhouse which had been our first point of contact. It is now owned by Mijnheer van Diepen: he was the sixteen year old boy who, with his sisters, used to bring us food and drink in the wood! He reminded me, with a smile, that I had tried to "date" his sister; unfortunately, I cannot, now, remember which. One is dead, the other, Annie Annie Wijkuis-van Diepen, lives at Oost-Kappelle in West Holland).
After a few days, perhaps about four, we were told that underground were coming to visit us. That night our trap door was lifted and three men descended. The first looked a typical spy of fiction: he wore glasses like the bottoms of bottles, a black broad-brimmed hat with the brim turned down and a long dark coat with the collar turned up. His two burly companions wore dark clothes and seemed to be bristling with weapons. The leader of the party started questioning me in a thick gutteral accent, the purpose clearly being to establish that we were whom we said we were. After a time it appeared that he was satisfied, thank goodness, and we were asked to come aloft out of the hole and, riding bicycles we should find there, follow the man who had questioned me at a distance of fifty metres. As we were getting ready the children of the house were heard approaching so our guide challenged them in raucous German and they fled. It seemed drastic action but the last thing he wanted was to be identified. Eventually we reached a small modern house and we were invited into the brightly lit kitchen. Then took place an incredible metamorphosis: my "spy" took off his hat and said in the mildest of accents "do you know who I am, I am the local parson and this", pointing to the gentle little lady by his side, "is my wife".This was our meeting with Nico and Lena t'Hart and we have kept touch with them ever since, indeed, soon after the war they came to stay with my family in Manchester. The t'Harts lived in a small village called Wapenveld, just south of Zwolle, and Les Davison and I stayed with them for about six weeks. This rather long stay, I was to discover later, was due to some difficulty the underground were having in establishing our identity through London. They had spoken to Captain Charlie Noble, also a M.O. in our unit and who was hiding in the area, saying that there was a man whom the underground wished to help but they were suspicious that he might be a German "plant". "Oh," said Charlie, "you had better shoot him". "He says his name is Theo" they added: Charlie obligingly reversed his advise. It was this difficulty in establishing our bona fides that had got Nico involved in the first place; they needed someone who spoke good English and had the knowledge to conduct an interrogation.
It was dangerous enough for the t'Harts to have two British escapees in the house but things were complicated by the fact they were already hiding a Jewish businessman. We knew of his existence but things were arranged so that we never met, except once when, I understand, Les and the Jew caught sight of each other but no word was exchanged. Nico was a strict Calvernist minister of the Dutch Hevormde Kerk. We learnt, for example, that dancing and card-playing were works of the Devil. But he was a very tolerant man; he showed great interest, not to mention surprise, in the fact that it was not unusual for our Churches to actually organize dances, he also produced a pack
I slept in the attic and suspended above my head from the beams were rows of wonderfully aromatic mettwurst. We had each been provided with an old farmer's suit which we wore over our uniforms: apart from the obvious need to conceal our identity there was the belief that were we caught the wearing of our uniforms, albeit underneath, we might be treated as prisoners of war rather than being shot as spies, a belief that made one feel somewhat uneasy, knowing that our protectors would undoubtedly be shot - at the very least. One unexpected side effect form the provision of the suit was that I found after a day or two that I had contracted pediculosis corporis. Each morning, while stripped, I scrubbed myself from neck to toe with a nail brush and also did the same to the seams of the suit. I noticed that gradually the size of the beasts got smaller each morning, presumably they were now only the ones which had hatched out during the night, and after about a couple of weeks I had won.
The Padre's house was alongside the Church and he took us in there once to show us a hiding place under the eaves where we might hide, were there time, in the event of a raid by the Rottmoff, (the usual derogatory term for the Germans): we never had to use it. In fact we never went out: at night after 20.00 hrs. there was a curfew and in the day, as has been said, able-bodied youths were picked up. As might be expected religion played quite a role in the day's activities. Grace, in English, was said by the Padre before each meal and a reading from the bible afterwards. However, this latter was performed by me and, of course, from an English Bible: as Nico pointed out this would also serve as an English lesson for him! I did try to learn Dutch during the whole of my sojourn as a guest in that country. At first I was using my German, learning how the words in that language can be modified to become Dutch and gradually I was speaking more Dutch and less German. Of course, it was vocabulary of household chores, (tafel dekken, afwassen, de kachel opmaken), the food position, (de voedsel positie), and the progress of the war, (hoe is het met de oorlog?), with which I became most familiar but I never became really proficient and I never learnt any formal grammar. The biggest difficulty in learning Dutch was that nearly everbody wanted to speak and practice their English and most people spoke it very well.
One entertainment we were afforded, not infrequently, was to watch from a window the R.A.F. Typhoons attacking the trains on a nearby railway track; very heartening! And so the six weeks passed and one day Nico told us that we were to leave. Nothing was said about where we were going or why - the usual safety precaution. All we were told to do was to mount the bicycles with which we had been provided and to follow our guide, keeping fifty metres apart. It was a very dark night but quite pleasant cycling along until a German military truck drew up alongside me and one of the soldiers yelled something at me which I supposed was asking the way somewhere. I yelled back "Ja, Ja" and pointed in the direction we were going: this seemed to satisfy them and they moved off.
Ultimately, we arrived at a large house, (which I recently learnt was the Old Manor House at Old Putten, Doornspijk, not far from Elburg). Eighteen of us, including Charlie Noble, had collected there and we understood the plot was to get us down to the Rijn and so across. (Sometime earlier, October 22nd. in fact, some 150 escapees and evadees had successfully crossed the Rijn under Brig. Lathbury and Major Digby Tatham-Warter: this operation became known as Pegasus Operation I. The operation in which we were about to take part became known as Pegasus operation II). We were fed and warmed up, there was a good fire burning, and eventually we were all loaded on to the back of a truck, armed with shovels on the pretence that we were Dutchmen going to work. This was the night of 17th. and 18th. November.
We were stopped more than once by German road blocks but it appeared that our papers satisfied them and we continued. Ultimately, the truck came to a halt and we were asked to go into the woods and hide there until the underground contacted us. Informatiom was rather scanty but we gathered that our guides had lost their way. (Later I learnt that it was lucky for us that we had not joined the main party for they ran into a German post and were shot up with some loss of life, both of our troops and resistance workers). We stayed in the woods for a couple of nights, Charlie Noble was with me, and then we were contacted by members of the underground and moved to a barn where we slept on the hay and were warm and adequately fed. Our contract at that time was "Dick" Kragt, who had been dropped in Holland in June 1943 to liase with the Dutch underground and to assist in the repatriation of evadees and escapees. He had done his best to make Pegasus II as successful as Pegasus I but things were against him, (see Leo Heaps' "The Grey Goose of Arnhem"), and now he helped us to new billets. (He was a very brave and able man: he and his wife now live in Norway and we are still in touch and we had the pleasure of having them as our guests in Leeds).
The Rouwenhorsts and Sikkemas.
I was taken to Barneveld and became the guest of Mijnheer en Mevrouw Rouwenhorst. He was a gas inspector and lived in a small modern house. Already billeted there were Mijmheer and Mevrouw Sikkema. He was a well-to-do business from Arnhem and he and his family had been evacuated from Arnhem by the Germans. I think at first he was somewhat taken aback to find that a British officer was to live in the same house, for it was not without risk to all concerned, but we all got on well together and I very much enjoyed their company. Across the road were billeted two Sikkema daughters, Leni and Rie, and I saw a good deal of them during my stay in Barneveld. (It was the beginning of a close friendship that is still very strong). It was, indeed, a happy time, full of social activity. I was allowed to move about much more freely than at Wapenveld, (whether this was wise or not might be open to doubt). I met a few other people in the neighbourhood, visiting their houses, playing bridge and drinking a home-made gin, concocted from potatoes. Leni, Rie and I even went skating despite the fact there was an occasional German soldier on the ice: needless to say one had to watch one's language! On St. Nicholas' day, December 6th., we gave each other presents, as is the Dutch custom, accompanied by appropriate poems written for the occasion.The food situation seemed to be not too bad, perhaps because we were in a country district and, I believe, because extra help was given by the underground. One day it was planned to kill a pig, which was forbidden by the Germans. It seemed as though the whole neighbourhood had congregated in the house for the occasion and the pig disappeared into joints, bottles and sausages in no time at all. Tobacco, also, is very important to a Dutchman: the problem was solved by the Rouwenhorsts growing there own and one of our spare-time occupations was rolling the dried leaves into cigars and slicing some to make pipe tobacco. (After the war the Rouwenhorsts went to America and I lost touch with them but they returned to Barneveld eventually and he died. Mevrouw Rouwenhorst still lives there and we met her again recently. Remembering that her command of English was far from good I reverted to my bad Dutch on our first contact, forgetting the years she had spent in the U.S.A.: I did feel a fool!).
Huis te Maarn.
I was with the Rouwenhorsts for about six weeks when, again, I was told I was on the move. The usual bicycle materialized and I was off one dark night and, also as usual, with no information about my destination. After cycling for some time my guide stopped at a crossroads where were a number of dark figures: these turned out to be Graeme Warrack, Lippman-Kessel and Derek Ridler, for me an exciting meeting, as I had no knowledge of what had happened to them since Apeldoorn. We set off again and our destination proved to be the stable block of a large country house called the Huis te Maarn. (The ubiquitous Dick Kragt had organized this rendezvous and one of the guides on this trip was Henk van Bentum, a very brave man who had done much work with the underground and who was eventually caught by the Germans and suffered severely at their hands. I did not, of course, know him at the time but I have met him several times recently).
The stables were an underground H.Q. and among other things an ilicit newspaper was being produced there. One of the Dutchmen we met was Henny Idenburg whose family lived at the Huis te Maarn. (He is now a diplomat and lives at den Haag. Jay, Leni and I met him at Oosterbeek in 1991 and had lunch with him: he is a very charming man. He, too, had been caught by the Germans but escaped from their clutches on a bicycle while they were firing after him as he fled).
A Failure to Cross by Tiel.
The next phase in our adventure began by our leaving the Huis te Maarn on 'cycles en route for the Betuwe and then to cross the Waal near Tiel and so back to our own lines. There were four of us, Graeme, "Lippy", Derek and I. Our guide was known as "King". (His real name was Gilbert Sadi-Kirschen: he was a Belgian lawyer who, after escaping from the Vichy French got to England and joined the S.A.S.. Two days before Market Garden he was dropped in Holland. He still lives in Brussels). He had with him a little Jewish wireless operator called Jean Mouse, also a Belgian. As we rode along we would stop from time to time for Jean to string up a wire in a barn, for example, turn a handle on his set and, voila, he was in touch with London. Needless to say, we did not linger long after such an episode.
It had been, and still was, snowing heavily and cycling was heavy going. We crossed the Lek, (or Neder-Rijn), by rowing-boat and reached at town called Buren. We went into a farm-house and sat round a stove in a back room, luxuriating in the welcome heat. Suddenly a woman came into the room and told us not to make any noise as there were some Germans in the next room. We had only one pistol between the lot of us so putting up a fight did not seem to be a very good proposition so we sat tight, hoping for the best. Eventually the Germans went and we could breath again. At this stage we received the unwelcome news that the Germans had evacuated Tiel. This meant that the underground was broken up and so the crossing would not be possible. The only thing to do was retrace our steps, wearily, to the Huis te Maarn.
(In September, 1991 I was able locate that farm, through the help of a Dutch friend, Wolter Noordman, and Jay, Leni and I visited it. It is called Veldzicht but is no longer a farm and has been much altered. However, the present occupier said that there had been a stove, such as I described, in a back room which he showed to us. More important, the son of the people who had been living in the house at the material time was living in a house a few hundred metres away. We went to see him and although he was not born at the time, he is 41, the story about the Germans coming in while we were there is still well known in the area and he was very excited to meet us. Leni went to see him again, taking a photograph we had taken and learnt that his name is Gerrit van Herwaarden, his address being Aalsdijk 3a, Buren. The woman who came in to warn us to be quiet was called Jannichje van Verssveld: she was the maid who lived with the family and had brought up Gerrit's father, as well as his brother and sister, when their young mother had died. Gerrit's father had married in 1947 and his mother is still alive. Another contact we made was to visit a man called Jan Stam. He now lives at Nijkerk but at the time he was a Burgemeester in the area: it was he who brought the news to the farm of the evacuation of Tiel. His son lives in Buren and knows the van Herwaarden family quite well: it was his wife who looked after Gerrit's aunt Bertha when she became old).
Back to the Huis te Maarn.
About two after our return a surprise arrival, on January 30th. was "Shan" Hackett, our Brigadier. He had received an abdominal wound during the battle and Lippman-Kessel had sewn up fourteen holes in his small gut at the St. Elizabeth Hospital at Arnhem. Notwithstanding this major surgery he had escaped on the tenth day, October 4th., via the mortuary, and had been nursed back to comparative health by the three outstandingly courageous de Nooy sisters in their home at Ede. Now he was trying to get back home. "Shan" still had a discharging sinus from his abdominal wall and I assisted Lippy in removing some residual fragments of shrapnel. The instruments for this had been borrowed by from a local doctor by Henny Idenburg. Shortly after his arrival "Shan" asked me for a list of the names of all the Dutch people in the stable block. I had to admit I did not know them all. "Do you mean to tell me Redman", he said in his quiet manner, "that you have been here two days and you do not know all their names"? I have never forgotten this gentle reprimand but, I am afraid, with my appalling memory for names, it has not done much good!
Home Through the Biesbos by Canoe.
"Shan" left the Huis te Maarn on February 3rd. and Graeme and Lippy shortly afterwards. Both "Shan" and Graeme crossed through the Biesbos, successfully, on the night of 5/6th. February. Lippy, I believe, sank and had to try again - and that time got through. I left on 6th February by cycle and managed to cross on the night of 6/7th. February. I am not sure when Derek and an R.A.F. Officer Goggin left although I know they, too, got back safely through the Biesbos on 12th./13th. February.
I kept the customary fifty metres behind my guide, crossed the Lek by rowing boat and arrived at Groot Ammers after dark where, after the usual prayers and a hymn, accompanied by the harmonium, we were refreshed before continuing on to near Sliedrecht. Here I waited in a house close to the Nieuwe Merwede. The Biesbos is a marshy, swampy area about 15 kms. in each direction, honeycombed by a network of water channels. It is fed by the Waal and the Maas and drains via the Hollands Diep into the North Sea. The Nieuwe Merwede, which is virtually the continuation of the Waal, runs obliquely across the area to run into the Maas at Moerdijk where they is a vast expanse of water. This was our destination for the Canadians were at the other side at Lage Zwaluwe.
In this area a band of resistance workers known as the Groot-Ammers crossing group, who knew the twists and turns of the maze of waterways intimately, were plying regularly up and down the Nieuwe Merwede, running a courier service between the German occupied territory and the Canadians. They used canoes, some of which were fitted with silent electric motors. (In 1989 I met a Mevrouw de Heer whose husband, no longer alive, and she were members of that group. Her pseudonym was "Adri".
She showed us a little book containing scores of names of Allied Forces men they had helped home through this route: the names of our little group were among them). Later that evening I was led down to the water's edge by Jan de Landgraaf who was to be my partner for the trip. He was a manager in the local sugar-beet factory. There, waiting, was our canoe being held by a girl. We got in and pushed off: we were using paddles. We carried with us an army water-bottle filled with rum which a considerate R.A.F. had dropped for us. It was an eerie feeling, gliding along on a very dark night in almost complete silence except for the gentle lapping of the water as our paddles dipped rythmically. Above all was the excitement that at last final escape was within reach, all being well.
The length of our trip down the Nieuwe Merwede was about 20 kilometres and our progress was quite effortless, assisted as we were by the current. From time to time we were passed by other canoes, moving more quickly than we with their electric motors: a whispered greeting and on they went. These encounters dispelled the feeling of loneliness and although it would be an exaggeration to say that the trip was taking on the aspect of a Bank Holiday on the river, it was surprising to see so many craft. The only cause for concern was about halfway down where the Germans had established a post on each side of the river. We passed this point without incident and pulled into the side, not for the first time, for a good swig of rum.
Suddenly, we heard the noise of an engine, gradually increasing in intensity as it came up river towards us. We pulled rapidly into the side and waited, under cover of overhanging vegetation, for the boat to pass. Jan said he thought it was the Kriegsmarine. (In fact it was Leo Heaps in a captured motor launch on his way up to meet us for it was known that we were on our way out that night. Leo was a Canadian writer who had dropped at Arnhem, escaped and then returned to assist other Allied men to get home).
When the boat was out of range we pulled out into the river and paddled on till we came to the point where the Nieuwe Merwede runs into the Maas. In the intense darkness this vast stretch of water, far more turbulent than we had experienced hitherto and whose far side we could not see, was quite awe-inspiring. We had had to bail periodically but now we shipping water much more quickly. At this moment one of the electric motored canoes draw up alongside and offered us a tow. Jan and I looked at each other and agreed we would complete the trip "under our own steam" so we set off paddling as hard as we could. No time now for bailing and we just about reached the other side before sinking. We had drawn up against a sloping wall composed of stone blocks up which we scrambled, tilting the canoe to empty it then pulling it up after us.
It was only a short walk to a wooden hut and we went in from the outside darkness to the bright light inside where we were greeted by a Canadian army officer. Now we had consumed the whole of the water- bottle of rum and, although it had kept us warm and cheerful it had produced no other effect. But now, as we were released form all tension, it suddenly took effect and the officer must have wondered what had hit him with the two of us cavorting round his office with excitement. Perhaps he was not surprised; he must have seen it all before.
There was no anti-climax about the return to relative normality but looking back over the last the thing which stands out most in ones mind is the amazing way in which one adapts to unusual circumstances, especially those with an element of danger: It always seems that the present situation is reality and normal, everything else and in particular the past is shadowy and has a dreamlike quality. Living intensely as we were, the events of that time remain vividly in one's mind and the friendships formed live on with undiminished strength. Unfortunately, we never knew many of the brave Dutch people who risked their lives and it was not always possible to find them after the war, but the Dominee Nico t'Hart and his wife Lena we see from time to time and also Leni and Rie. Of the onderduikers whose experiences I shared, "Shan" Hackett I meet once a year at the Para Brigade Officers' Dinner where also, from time to time, I renew friendship with other members of the old 133 P.F.A. - Donald Olliff, Philip Smith, Ian Hudleston, Tony Barling and others - as well as many other Officers of the Brigade. Charlie Noble is a surgeon at Wanganui in New Zealand and we have visted him there. Martin Herford has remained a close friend and is Godfather to our son James. Graeme Warrack and "Lippy" Kessel are, alas, dead but they both attended the 40th. Anniversary of the battle, an occasion which involved the unveiling of a plaque at the Willem III Kazerne at Apeldoorn to commemorate the British Airborne Hospital which ran there so successfully.
After the war Theo Redman made it to Colonel.
In his story he mentiones Les Davison who' s comprehensive acount is also available in this section.
Mr. Redman and I corresponded frequently until he died of cancer on 11/07/2004.