My memories of the Battle for Arnhem are very disjointed! due, no doubt, to the occasion itself and the lapse of time - but here goes.
Literally at the last moment on the airfield I was told to join a different aircraft, I don't know why! As we flew over Holland I heard a rattling noise outside and thought a wire had broken loose! Looking out of the window at my back I could see tracer bullets going through the wing 7-8 feet away! The man on that machine-gun was a damn good shot. Anti-aircraft shells were bursting some distance away.
Some time later we jumped over the dropping zone and as I hung in my chute I realised how bad the noise of gunfire was. I released the snipers rifle at my leg and expected to be shot at any second, then I realised that most, if not all, the shooting was at the aircraft, not little me.
Men were landing all over the dropping zone from the Dakotas, with the gliders not far off, on end and side and in the trees. I arrived at the Platoon RV in a corner of the dropping zone by some trees to find I was the only one of my section (7 men ?) to get there. Didn't know then, but later learned that the plane they were in was said to have been shot down, about 22 miles from Arnhem. Captain Frank King, who was in charge, got all the men out safe except the last 5 or 6. The port engine was on fire and burned their chutes as they left the plane. I have hoped that someone on that plane is still alive and may tell me exactly what happened - the men that died were my close friends. At the Platoon RV our section bren gunner, Jim Barlow, failed to show up.
The Platoon Sergeant (Shortland) took away the snipers rifle and gave me a bren gun. I learned , again later, that Captain king, with the help of the Dutch underground people, got his surviving men into Arnhem. In fact, on one occasion later, I saw him across the street from me. I remember thinking 'What a dirty face you've got Kingy!', this was 2 or 3 days into the battle. He saw me jerked his head and winked, I was not used to winking back at a Captain, so I think I gave him a bit of a salute! A while after the drop the platoon moved off. We were sent to hold a big house on a junction of a main road. We held it till the following day, then our Platoon Officer led us out. We were fired on by many guns but I don't think anyone was hit. The bullets did more damage to the road surface than us. Later the Platoon Sergeant and I went through a house on the bank of the Rhine, looking for a position for the bren, but the back balcony overlooking the river was a small iron grille affair and so , no use. Later tanks arrived and knocked out a nearby anti-tank gun then it withdrew again later, I was still with my own Platoon when a Captain (Not known to me) saw my bren and told me to go to a big 3 storey building nearby and assist a South Staffordshire Captain (pistol) and his Sergeant (rifle). The house looked over fields and the enemy were trying to cross them. We upended a table at the first floor french windows, to give my bren a firing position. One tank tried to get at us from a side street. We had an anti-tank gun in the street below our side window, but by the time I was able to alert the crew, the tank withdrew. The enemy then used Nebelwerfer (multi gang mortar shells) to set fire to the roof of 'our' house. The Captain kept his eye on the roof, leaving the Sergeant and me to take care of Jerry; but after a while smoke and flames got down to us and we had to leave.
I passed that house the next day it was just a gutted shell! The Sergeant and I were sent along a row of houses to assist another Platoon who had no bren - (A Lieutenant, a Sergeant, a Corporal and about four men) - they were 11th Battalion but not my Platoon. I fired from the back bedroom by resting the bren on the window sill. The South Staffs Sergeant hauled himself onto a box at the side of the window. I told him he was too exposed in that position, but he said he had a good view! Shortly after that, he received a bullet through the shoulder, which knocked him to the floor. Later a runner came along the street shouting that we were "killing own men" - all felt very rough about that, but another came shouting that the report was wrong - they were the enemy! Battle recommenced, another runner along the street - "The British Army were crossing the "Bridge" - another load of rubbish. During a lull in the fighting, I went downstairs and was standing talking to the Lieutenant and Sergeant, when the Lieutenant got a bullet straight through the heart. We had assumed the enemy were all at the back of the house over fields, but thinking about it later, maybe a sniper had been left in the house on the opposite side of the road from us. The Sergeant and his men went out of the house and down the street to where more of our men were. I went back upstairs to where my bren was sitting on the bedroom floor - feeling a bit down. A short time later, I heard the sound of boots on the broken glass and bricks at the back and the Captain, he had sent me to the house, shouted up to me to check the lieutenant's body again.
He was quite dead and lying across the passage where he had fallen through the door of the downstairs room. I felt his wrist and a pulse was going like mad - mine! The Captain shouted to me to come to the end of the street and after collecting my bren I decided to follow him along the back. Couldn't open the back door fully for broken glass and bricks and in squeezing through what opening there was, my wire cutters (in a webbing carrier) caught the door handle and I could get neither in or out. Panic set in, I ripped at the door as if my life depended on it - I thought it did! A split second and I told myself to calm down - forced the door open a fraction more and went to the end of the houses. Some time later (I told you this was disjointed) I found myself helping an MO to tend some wounded men. He asked me if I had been hit, At that point I hadn't. He said "Well your face is all white". It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him, so was his, but he was a Captain!
Later again, I found myself alongside a Colonel when a German tank came down the road at us. We were in the bushes - not dug in - at the side of the road and I remember thinking " If that tank changes direction he may run over us". But the tank saw one of our anti-tank guns (only one crew member) and retreated in a panic. Colonel decided to charge over the road - waved his pistol; and shouted charge. We did but I can't remember what at, Later still I was sent with a Lieutenant, a sergeant and a couple of other men to hold the junction of two streets (that bren !) Two tanks came at us and we withdrew. At one point during the battle - I don't know exactly when - I was in a part dug slit trench and I remember thinking "well, I'm not going to come through this. I'm only 23 and I haven't seen anything of life yet, but I will surely die here". I was not terrified or even frightened but just facing up to what I felt was reality. Part of the time I had a No 2 on the bren, by the way, but somewhere along I had lost him. He was a tough man and known as Big Wilkie in "C" Company.
Later again, I was in a partly dug slit trench in a gap between houses, with a row of houses on the other side of the street at the back of us and being shelled by two - or was it three tanks? SP guns. They assumed there were men in these houses at the back of us. The brick dust in the air was so thick we could see the whirling passage of the shells through it - about six feet overhead. At this point I felt my right arm vibrate like a piece of elastic and looking down saw the tears in my sleeve - obviously shrapnel. I said to the man who was near me "I think I have been hit". He said " No you haven't, its just your imagination". I felt the wetness at my wrist (yes that right wrist not waist) and knew it was not my imagination. I remember seeing a dressing station in a bungalow at the end of the street. I ran to it and got my arm bandaged. During the night, with German tanks passing slowly outside, the enemy overran the position and in the morning about six of us were taken prisoner, wounded, with two medical orderlies, one of them wounded (a very brave man).
In a captured jeep, driven by an SS Officer we were taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital - it seemed about 1 or 2 miles away. My arm was operated on by a British MO and some days later, I was taken with others to Apeldoorn and guarded by Polish soldiers. We were searched by an English speaking German Officer. He removed a pamphlet (I had bought it in Woolworth's, Haifa) from my top pocket. It had an advert on the back for "Steimatskys Guide to Palestine". His eyes widened in horror and he said "you are a Jew"? I took the pamphlet from his fingers and turned it round so he could read its title "German for a Shilling". He laughed and said " when you go home to England in five years time you will speak German". I laughed and said "I'll be home for Xmas". We were both wrong, but I was nearer than he ( April 1945).
Editor: Dan went on to Prison Camp (Stalag 11B near Hannover), was moved, as forced labour, to a lead mine at Bad Grund, near the Harz mountains. In early spring of 1945, whilst being moved East, Dan escaped and was picked up by the advancing Americans. Spent a week in Paris before being repatriated home in April 1945.
Daniel Wright sadly passed away on the 6th of May 2004.