Remembering the battle of Arnhem

There have been countless books on the Battle of Arnhem. Those accounts of ‘Operation Market Garden’ have been documented and created into many documentaries and movies, not least the famous ‘Bridge too Far’.

Rembering Arnhem, at first glance, may appear to be yet another version of the well told story. However this is not the case. This new film is not a detailed day to day narrative of the operation or a document of its failures. This is the moving real story told by the actual men that were there, from their own personal viewpoint and memories.

Operation Market Garden, launched in September 1944, was an unsuccessful Allied offensive mainly, fought in the Netherlands. It was the largest airborne operation in history up to that time. The operation was a daring one and it was the brainchild of the British General Bernard Montgomery. He intended the airborne offensive to allow the allies to break into the German heartland and to end the war quickly. However, this was not the case, the allied offensive was to prove to be a costly failure and may have even delayed their victory in Europe.

In ‘Remembering Arnhem’ we have recorded the memoirs and personal accounts of a few selected combatants, men that took part. They tell their own personal stories and recollect their own individual experiences. The men we have chosen for this account were all recorded in their twilight years; and for many this film is probably  their last public account of their experiences and memories of the ill-fated battle..’Their Last Post’.

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Major Tony Hibbert (1917-2014) called himself the “Maverick Major” — and with good reason. As brigade major of 1st Parachute Brigade, he played a spirited role in the operation to capture the Arnhem bridge over the Rhine.  He landed outside the Dutch town of Arnhem in September 1944 without challenge, but noticed both a lack of dispatch and the periodic disappearance of the operation’s senior officers by the time he joined Lt-Col John Frost’s 2nd Battalion on the north end of the bridge.

On establishing his headquarters in the attic of an office block, he was unable to make wireless contact with a promised relief force. He felt that a vital opportunity was lost when he pointed out that a road to the bridge was still open and was informed that the 3rd Battalion had been halted for the night. As the situation deteriorated, Hibbert was kept busy by the faulty communications while sniping and keeping an hourly diary. Finally he saw a large enemy gun arrive, and extracted his party just before it blew the entire building to pieces. After three days pummelling, 100 able-bodied and walking wounded were left with about five rounds of ammunition each. There was no water to extinguish fires, and little food or medicine.

Taking over command when Frost was wounded, Hibbert agreed to a truce for the evacuation of the wounded, then organised a withdrawal in small sections to link up with the still expected XXX Corps. But the sound of his men crunching through the glass-strewn streets alerted the Germans, and he was caught hiding in a coal shed. After being marched to a church hall, he tried to escape up a chimney and then by pulling up floorboards before being put on to a lorry taking captives to Germany. An SS guard became so infuriated by the way the prisoners made V-signs to any Dutch they passed that he halted it several times, threatening to kill them. On the third stop, Hibbert slipped over the side and zigzagged through some gardens to hide under a pile of logs. The guard panicked and shot dead six others in the back of the lorry; for Hibbert it was a burden he would carry to his grave.

Lt David Eastwood joined the 21st Independent Parachute Company in 1944, when the Division returned from Italy. He commanded No.1 Platoon, whose tasks on Sunday 17th September were to mark out and guard DZ-X before the 1st Parachute Brigade arrived. On the following day, the Company set about setting their beacons up on the zones for the Second Lift, whilst No.1 Platoon headed for the more isolated position of LZ-L, in order to highlight it for the attention of those aircraft bringing in supplies on that day. The lift was expected to come at 10:00, but bad weather delayed the take-off and so the Platoon waited.

At midday aircraft were heard, but they were German fighters which spotted and proceeded to strafe No.1 Platoon. No casualties were suffered, however the Eureka beacon only narrowly escaped injury

On the following day, No.1 Platoon returned to LZ-L to mark it for the arrival of the Polish gliders. Again they were attacked by numerous German fighters and terrifying though this was, no casualties were suffered, mostly because the Platoon were now wary of the threat from the air and so had taken the trouble to dig in deep.

The Independent Company were involved in a controversial incident on Wednesday 20th, involving 50 German soldiers and members of his own platoon that were German jews serving with the British Army.. He talks about this confused incident, which culminated in the death of the majority of the enemy group, in the film.

His platoon finally ended up holding the crossroads at Oosterbeek for almost three days, with the enemy only a road’s width from them at any time.

For his actions at Arnhem, Lieutenant Eastwood was awarded the Military Cross.

Colonel John Llewellyn Waddy OBE (born 17 June 1920) is a former officer of the British Army who served in World War II, Palestine and the Malayan Emergency before becoming director of the SAS.

Joining the British Army shortly before the Second World War, he initially served with the Somerset Light Infantry in India. He subsequently volunteered for the Parachute Regiment and saw action in the Italian Campaign in late 1943. After returning to the United Kingdom with the 4th Parachute Brigade, part of the 1st Airborne Division, he took part in the Battle of Arnhem.

In October ’43 he was promoted as Major and commanded B Coy 156 Bn at Arnhem, where he was wounded in fighting at Johanna Hoeve woods (September ’44). He was subsequently wounded twice more while at a Main Dressing Station and eventually taken prisoner.

In Spring 1945 he was liberated by General Patton’s army from Stalag VIIA in Bavaria and was able to return to the UK. Colonel John Waddy was also a military advisor on the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’.


Sapper Tommy Hicks, said: “It wasn’t frightening after a while. We were just determined.

“We were only supposed to hold the area for two days and every time we heard a motor we thought it was our Army coming to reinforce us but it was the German tanks.

(Photograph copyright Richard Jopson)

“The plan was overambitious from the start. I am an ordinary soldier. Generals make plans but they don’t have to carry them out.”

Tom volunteered for war service in 1939 and was initially placed in the military railway of the Royal Engineers. In search of adventure, he successfully applied to join the newly formed 1st Parachute Squadron of the Royal Engineers. In the film he describes the intensity and rigours of parachute training in detail, along with the comradeship and humour that came to the fore as this small 150-man unit fought throughout the Second World War as part of the 1st Parachute Brigade.

It was at Arnhem, after nine days’ fighting with his mates falling around him that Tom was wounded and taken prisoner. Out of his unit of 150 men, he recalls that only three escaped being captured, wounded or killed.’Were weren’t expecting what hit us, you can’t fight tanks with sten guns, my mates were being killed around me. At the end we were completely cut off and captured..

He recalls being in a German hospital recovering from his wounds. In the next bed was a German soldier ‘ he was in the SS but I couldn’t hate him, he kept asking for ‘wasser, wasser’, so I gave him a drink and held his hand. The next day a German officer came in and asked me my name’ he said ‘for you Tommy, the war is over’.

Following the battle, Tom was transported in a cattle truck to Germany where he was used as forced labour in a lead mine until being liberated by the Americans in 1945.

St Sgt Peter Clarke was a pre-war territorial soldier based in West Croydon. In May 1939 he enlisted as a medic in 133 Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (TA). On the 2nd September the same year the unit was mobilised and Peter was called up for active service with his fellow medics.

In the spring of 1942, Peter volunteered for service as an Army Glider Pilot.

On Sunday 17th September 1944, Peter Clarke, now an experienced pilot, and Sergeant Arnold Phillips took off from Broadwell, their destination was Landing Zone “S” north of Oosterbeek. On board Peter’s glider were No.23 Mortar Platoon of the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment, towed by a Dakota of 575 Squadron RAF.

Ours was, as far as I can recollect, one of three glider crews detached from Fairford late in the day to fly one of the gliders allocated on the first day of Market Garden to convey the 1st Border Regiment’s 23 Mortar Platoon (Handcarts) or a major part of it to the battle, tasked to land on LZ “S”; their rendezvous being located at the south-west corner of that landing area.

I do recall that we were efficiently briefed with maps and photographs to the extent that by the time we were approaching the LZ at 2500 feet, without the benefit of our having any kind of communication with the tug aircraft, as this had been inoperative from takeoff, I clearly identified where we were to land and descended rapidly with the use of flap, landing I recollect at around 80-90 mph and steering the glider as far as was possible towards the south-west corner of the field, as near to the line of trees to our left as was possible, not to be near the rendezvous (as no one told us where it was at the time), but so as to be able to unload the glider as conveniently and as without interference as possible. As we were only carrying a maximum of 13 individuals and 6 handcarts loaded with mortars and bombs and the rest of their paraphernalia, who and which could be extricated through the left hand side front door, it seems likely that “ours” is one of the three gliders observable in some of the subsequent aerial photos, at that end of the field nearest the railway line with the tail intact but probably not that one nearest to the west boundary (line of small woods at that end). The process was completed very smoothly.

Things soon changed

Lieutenant Jimmy Cleminson commanded No.5 Platoon of “B” Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion.

His experience — partially re-created in the film, A Bridge Too Far — was in fact as fierce as that of any young officer in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden. Captain “Jimmy” Cleminson’s platoon led the advance of the 3rd Parachute Battalion from the drop zone towards Arnhem on September 17 1944, until progress was briefly impeded by a German staff car which the platoon enthusiastically shot up, discovering later that they had killed Major-General Kussin, the Arnhem garrison commander.

After further skirmishes they moved through the quiet suburb of Oosterbeek to the Hartenstein Hotel.

The following day, the company was pinned down by unexpectedly strong German fire a mile short of their objective, the bridge at Arnhem. Cleminson and another captain found themselves trying to assist the divisional commander, General Roy Urquhart, who had become separated from his staff, to regain his HQ on foot. When progress became impossible, the trio accepted a Dutch couple’s offer of shelter, only to find a German self-propelled gun positioning itself outside the house; there followed 24 frustrating hours in an attic, during which Urquhart became fixated on Cleminson’s luxuriant moustache, which he described as “damned silly”. In A Bridge Too Far, Michael Graham Cox played Cleminson to Sean Connery’s Urquhart

For his actions in the Oosterbeek Perimeter, Lieutenant Cleminson was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:

From 23rd to 26th September Lt Cleminson commanded a mixed platoon of 3rd Battalion in the sector of 1st Parachute Brigade at Oosterbeek. His area during that time was heavily attacked on several occasions by tanks and infantry. At no time did Lt Cleminson allow the enemy to penetrate his position. He inspired his men with his offensive spirit and never was there any suggestion that the enemy would penetrate. With complete disregard for his own personal safety he led fighting patrols into the skeleton houses which bordered his position, both by day and night. Never for one moment did he allow his vigorous leadership to relax and was always found leading where danger seemed greatest. His defiance was primarily offensive, he never waited for the enemy but went out to meet him. In all he was attacked six times by day and twice by night, and each time he inflicted heavy damage on enemy infantry. His fearless courage was reflected in the actions of his men who fought with great gallantry until Lt Cleminson was wounded and evacuated on 26th September.

On September 17 1944, Staff Sergeant Arthur Shackelton was serving with the Glider Pilot Regiment, co-piloting a Horsa glider on Operation Market Garden.

Shackleton and his co-pilot, Major Toler, the squadron commander, were assigned to fly Lt-Col Derek McCardie, the CO of 2nd Battalion the South Staffordshire Regiment, together with five of his men and a Jeep and trailer.

Toler and Shackleton (who acted as the former’s bodyguard) established a command post in a cellar close to the Hartenstein hotel. By September 25, after days of relentless shelling and mortaring, mounting casualties and no sign of reinforcements, it was clear that the position was hopeless.

Toler, by then in command of the regiment, was ordered to make a strategic withdrawal across the river during the night. As they approached the bank of the river, they came across a file of airborne troops who were leaderless. Toler put Shackleton in charge of the group, but shortly afterwards they were ambushed and caught by an accurate burst of machine-gun fire. Shackleton, one of the few survivors, was hit in the shoulder but managed to stagger to the river.

He was reunited with Toler, who insisted that he be evacuated and put him aboard a small landing craft with the other wounded. In mid-river, the craft was hit by a mortar bomb. Shackleton, barely conscious, heard someone asking for help in “getting this body out of the river”. Feebly protesting that he was still alive, he was pulled out and taken to a field dressing station where the medical staff tried to remove the bullet and pieces of shrapnel from his body..

Staff Sergeant Stanley Hann, Glider Pilot Regiment..

…’It was a piece of cake….at least we thought it was going to be’

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