NOW MARKET-GARDEN, the operation Montgomery hoped would end the war quickly, proceeded inexorably toward its doom. For sixty terrible miles men hung on to bridges and fought for a single road, the corridor. In General Maxwell Taylor’s sector north of Eindhoven, troopers bolstered by British armor and infantry repelled one fierce attack after another while trying to reopen the empty stretch of highway severed at Uden; in General Gavin’s 82nd area the great Waal bridge was under constant bombardment and the enemy continued to press in from the Reichswald in steadily growing strength. Gone was the attitude of a week before, that the war was almost over. Enemy units were being encountered that had long been written off. The Nazi war machine, thought to be reeling and on the verge of collapse in the first week of September, had miraculously produced sixty Tiger tanks, which were delivered to Model on the morning of September 24.* Market-Garden was strangling, and now the principal objective of the plan, the foothold across the Rhine, the springboard to the Ruhr, was to be abandoned. At 6:05 A.M., Monday, September 25, General Urquhart received the order to withdraw.
In the planning of the Arnhem operation Urquhart had been promised relief within forty-eight hours. General Browning had expected the 1st Airborne Division to hold out alone for no longer than four days at maximum. In an unprecedented feat of arms for an airborne division, outnumbered and outgunned, Urquhart’s men had hung on for more than twice that long. To the courageous Scot, commanding an airborne division for the first time, withdrawal was bitter; yet Urquhart knew it was the only course. By now his strength was fewer than 2,500 men, and he could ask no more of these uncompromising troopers. Galling as it was to know that relieving British forces sat barely one mile away, separated from the division only by the width of the Rhine, Urquhart reluctantly agreed with his superiors’ decision. The time had come to get the valiant men of Arnhem out.
At the Hartenstein, a weary Lieutenant Colonel Eddie Myers delivered the two letters—Browning’s and the withdrawal order from General Thomas—to Urquhart. Browning’s congratulatory and encouraging message, written more than twenty-four hours earlier, was outdated. In part it read, “… the army is pouring to your assistance, but … very late in the day,” and “I naturally feel, not so tired and frustrated as you do, but probably almost worse about the whole thing than you do …”
The withdrawal order—especially coming from Thomas, whose slowness Urquhart, like Browning, could not forgive—was by far the more depressing. The 43rd Wessex was now beginning to feel the weight of increasing German pressure, Thomas’ message said. All hope of developing a major bridgehead across the Rhine must be abandoned; and the withdrawal of the 1st Airborne would take place, by mutual agreement between Urquhart and Thomas, at a designated date and time.
Urquhart pondered his decision. As he listened to the continuing mortar and artillery bombardment outside, he had no doubts about the date and time. If any of his men were to survive, the withdrawal would have to be soon and, obviously, under cover of darkness. At 8:08 A.M. Urquhart contacted General Thomas by radio: “Operation Berlin,” he told him, “must be tonight.”
Some twenty minutes later Urquhart released the message prepared for Browning that he had given Lieutenant Neville Hay to encode the night before. It was still pertinent, particularly the warning sentence, “Even slight enemy offensive action may cause complete disintegration.” For at this moment Urquhart’s situation was so desperate that he did not know whether his men could hold until darkness. Then the agonized general began to plan the most difficult maneuver of all: the withdrawal. There was only one way out—across the terrible 400 yards of the Rhine to Driel.
Urquhart’s plan was designed along the lines of another classic British withdrawal—Gallipoli, in 1916. There, after months of fighting, troops had finally been pulled out under deceptive cover. Thinned-out lines cloaking the retreat had continued to fire as the main bulk of the force was safely withdrawn. Urquhart planned a similar maneuver. Along the perimeter small groups of men would keep up a fusillade to deceive the enemy while the larger body of troops slipped away. Gradually units along the northern face of the perimeter would move down along its sides to the river, to be evacuated. Then the last forces, closest to the Rhine, would follow. “In effect,” Urquhart said later, “I planned the withdrawal like the collapse of a paper bag. I wanted small parties stationed at strategic places to give the impression we were still there, all the while pulling downward and along each flank.”
Urquhart hoped to contrive other indications of “normality”—the usual pattern of radio transmissions would continue; Sheriff Thompson’s artillery was to fire to the last; and military police in and about the German prisoner-of-war compound on the Harten-stein’s tennis courts were to continue their patrols. They would be among the very last to leave. Obviously, besides a rear guard, other men would have to stay behind—doctors, medical orderlies and serious casualties. Wounded men unable to walk but capable of occupying defensive positions would stay and continue firing.
To reach the river, Urquhart’s men would follow one route down each side of the perimeter. Glider pilots, acting as guides, would steer them along the escape path, marked in some areas with white tape. Troopers, their boots muffled by strips of cloth, were to make their way to the water’s edge. There, beachmasters would load them into a small evacuation fleet: fourteen powered storm boats—managed by two companies of Canadian engineers—each capable of carrying fourteen men, and a variety of smaller craft. Their number was indeterminate. No one, including the beachmasters, would remember how many, but among them were several DUKWs and a few canvas-and-plywood assault craft remaining from previous crossings.
Urquhart was gambling that the Germans observing the boat traffic would assume men were trying to move into the perimeter rather than out of it. Apart from the dreadful possibility of his troops being detected other hazardous difficulties could occur as more than two thousand men tried to escape. If a rigid time schedule was not maintained, Urquhart could foresee, an appalling bottleneck would develop at the narrow base of the perimeter, now barely 650 yards wide. If they were jammed into the embarkation area, his men might be mercilessly annihilated. After the futile experience of the Poles and the Dorsets in trying to enter the perimeter, Urquhart did not expect the evacuation to go unchallenged. Although every gun that XXX Corps could bring to bear would be in action to protect his men, Urquhart still expected the Germans to inflict heavy casualties. Time was an enemy, for it would take hours to complete the evacuation. There was also the problem of keeping the plan secret. Because men might be captured and interrogated during the day, no one, apart from senior officers and those given specific tasks, was to be told of the evacuation until the last minute.
After conferring with General Thomas by radio and obtaining agreement on the major points in his withdrawal plan, Urquhart called a meeting of the few senior officers left: Brigadier Pip Hicks; Lieutenant Colonel Iain Murray of the Glider Pilot Regiment, now in charge of the wounded Hackett’s command; Lieutenant Colonel R. G. Loder-Symonds, the division’s artillery chief; Colonel Mackenzie, the chief of staff; and Lieutenant Colonel Eddie Myers, the engineering officer who would be in charge of the evacuation. Just before the conference began, Colonel Graeme Warrack, the chief medical officer, arrived to see Urquhart and became the first man to learn of the plan. Warrack was “downcast and unhappy. Not because I had to stay—I had an obligation to the wounded—but because up to this moment I had expected the division to be relieved in a very short time.”
In the Hartenstein cellar, surrounded by his officers, Urquhart broke the news. “We’re getting out tonight,” he told them. Step by step he outlined his plan. The success of the withdrawal would depend on meticulous timing. Any concentration of troops or traffic jams could cause disaster. Men were to be kept moving, without stopping to fight. “While they should take evasive action if fired upon, they should only fire back if it is a matter of life or death.” As his despondent officers prepared to leave, Urquhart cautioned them that the evacuation must be kept secret as long as possible. Only those with a need to know were to be told.
The news carried little surprise for Urquhart’s senior officers. For hours it had been obvious that the position was hopeless. Still, like Warrack, they were bitter that relief had never arrived. In their minds, too, was the fear that their men might endure an even greater ordeal during the withdrawal than they had in the perimeter. By accident Signalman James Cockrill, attached to division headquarters, heard the terse message: “Operation Berlin is tonight.” He puzzled over its meaning. Withdrawal did not even occur to him. Cockrill believed the division “would fight to the last man and the last bullet.” He thought that “Operation Berlin” might mean an all-out attempt to break through for the Arnhem bridge “in some kind of heroic ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ or something.” Another man knew all too clearly what it meant. At the headquarters of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, Colonel Payton-Reid of the KOSB’s, helping to arrange details of the evacuation of the western edge of the perimeter, heard Brigadier Pip Hicks mutter something about “another Dunkirk.”
All through this day, in a frenzy of attacks, the Germans tried to overrun positions, but still the Red Devils held. Then, men would recall, shortly after 8 P.M. the news of the withdrawal began filtering down. To Major George Powell of Hackett’s 156th Battalion, at the top of the perimeter, the news was “an appalling blow. I thought of all the men who had died, and then I thought the whole effort had been a waste.” Because his men were among those who had the farthest to come, Powell started them off in single file at 8:15P.M.
Private Robert Downing of the 10th Parachute Battalion was told to leave his slit trench and go to the Hartenstein Hotel. There, he was met by a sergeant. “There’s an old plastic razor over there,” the sergeant told him. “You get yourself a dry shave.” Downing stared at him. “Hurry up,” the sergeant told him. “We’re crossing the river and by God we’re going back looking like British soldiers.”
In a cellar near his position Major Robert Cain borrowed another razor. Someone had found water, and Cain scraped the razor over a week’s growth of beard and then dried his face carefully on the inside of his smoke-blackened, bloodstained smock. Coming out he stood for a minute in lashing rain looking at the church in lower Oosterbeek. There was a gold cock on the weather vane. Cain had checked it at intervals during the battle. For him, it was a good luck symbol. As long as the gold cock remained, so would the division. He felt an overpowering sadness. He wondered if the weather vane would still be there tomorrow.
Like other men, Major Thomas Toler of the Glider Pilot Regiment had been told by Colonel Iain Murray to clean up a little. Toler couldn’t have cared less. He was so tired that just “thinking about cleaning up was an effort.” Murray handed over his own razor. “We’re getting out. We don’t want the army to think we’re a bunch of tramps.” With a small dab of lather that Murray had left, Toler too shaved his beard. “It was amazing how much better I felt, mentally and physically,” he recalls. In Murray’s command post was the Pegasus flag Hackett’s men had planned to fly as the Second Army arrived. Toler stared at it for a moment. Then he carefully rolled it up and put it away.
In artillery positions where troopers now would fire at will to help disguise the evacuation, Gunner Robert Christie listened as the troop’s signalman, Willie Speedie, called in to the battery. Speedie gave a new station as control and then said simply, “I am closing down now. Out.”
Sergeant Stanley Sullivan, one of the pathfinders who had led the way nine days before, was furious when the news reached him. “I had already figured we’d had it anyway and we might as well go down fighting.” Sullivan’s outpost was in a school “where youngsters had been trying to learn. I was afraid for all those children if we pulled out. I had to let them know, and the Germans too, just how we felt.” On the blackboard in the room he had been defending, Sullivan printed large block letters and underlined them several times. The message read: “We’ll Be Back!!!”*
At precisely 9 P.M., the night sky was ripped by the flash of XXX Corps’s massed guns, and fires broke out all along the edge of the perimeter as a torrent of shells rained down on the German positions. Forty-five minutes later, Urquhart’s men started to pull out. The bad weather that had prevented the prompt arrival of troops and supplies during the week now worked for the Red Devils; the withdrawal began in near-gale-like conditions which—with the din of the bombardment—helped cover up the British escape.
In driving wind and rain the 1st Airborne survivors, faces blackened, equipment tied down and boots muffled against sound, climbed stiffly out of positions and lined up for the dangerous trek down to the river. The darkness and the weather made it impossible for men to see more than a few feet in front of them. The troopers formed a living chain, holding hands or clinging to the camouflage smock of the man ahead.
Sergeant William Tompson, a glider pilot, hunched his body against the pouring rain. Charged with helping to direct troopers to the riverbank, he was prepared for a long wet night. As he watched men file past he was struck by the fact that “few men but us had ever known what it was like to live in a mile-square abattoir.”
To Signalman James Cockrill the meaning of “Operation Berlin” was now only too clear. He had been detailed to stay behind and operate his set as the troops withdrew. His instructions were “to stay on the air and keep the set functioning to make the Germans think everything is normal.” Cockrill sat alone in darkness under the veranda of the Hartenstein, “bashing away on the key. I could hear a lot of movement around me, but I had no other instructions than to keep the set on the air.” Cockrill was certain that he would be a prisoner before morning. His rifle was propped up beside him, but it was useless. One bullet was a dummy, containing the cypher code used to contact Second Army. It was the only one he had left.
On the Rhine’s southern bank, doctors, medical orderlies and Dutch Red Cross nursing personnel stood ready in reception areas and at the collection point. In Driel convoys of ambulances and vehicles waited to move Urquhart’s survivors back to Nijmegen. Although preparations for the arrival of the men were going on all about her, Cora Baltussen, after three days and nights tending the wounded, was so exhausted she thought the bombardment and the activities on the southern bank marked the prelude to yet another crossing attempt. In the concentrated shelling of Driel, Cora had been wounded by shrapnel in the head, left shoulder and side. Although the injuries were painful, Cora considered them superficial. She was more concerned about her bloody dress. She cycled home to change before returning to help tend the fresh flow of casualties she was certain would shortly arrive. On the way Cora rode into enemy shellfire. Thrown from her bicycle, she lay unhurt for some time in a muddy ditch, then she set off again. At home exhaustion overcame her. In the cellar she lay down for a short nap. She slept all through the night, unaware that “Operation Berlin” was taking place.
Along the river at the base of the perimeter the evacuation fleet, manned by Canadian and British engineers, lay waiting. So far the enemy’s suspicions had not been aroused. In fact, it was clear that the Germans did not know what was happening. Their guns were firing at the remaining Dorsets, who had begun a diversionary attack west of the perimeter. Still farther west, Germans were firing as British artillery laid down a barrage to give the appearance of a river assault in that area. Urquhart’s deception plan appeared to be working.
In the drenching rain, lines of men snaked slowly down both sides of the perimeter to the river. Some men were so exhausted that they lost their way and fell into enemy hands; others, unable to go on by themselves, had to be helped. In the inky darkness nobody stopped. To halt invited noise, confusion—and death.
In the ruddy glow of fires and burning buildings, Sergeant Ron Kent, of Major Boy Wilson’s pathfinder group, led his platoon to a cabbage patch designated as the company rendezvous point. There they waited until the remainder of the company assembled before moving toward the river. “Although we knew the Rhine lay due south,” Kent says, “we didn’t know what point they were evacuating us from.” Suddenly the men spotted lines of red tracers coming from the south and taking these as a guide, they moved on. Soon they came to white tape and the shadowy figures of glider pilots who directed them along. Kent’s group heard machine-gun fire and grenade explosions off to their left. Major Wilson and another group of men had run into Germans. In the fierce skirmish that followed, with safety only a mile away, two soldiers were killed.
Men were to remember the evacuation by small details-poignant, frightening and sometimes humorous. As Private Henry Blyton of the 1st Battalion moved down to the river, he heard someone crying. Ahead, the line stopped. Troopers made for the side of the path. There, lying on the sodden ground, was a wounded soldier crying for his mother. The men were ordered to keep on moving. No one was to stop for the wounded. Yet many did. Before troopers in Major Dickie Lonsdale’s force left their positions, they went to the Ter Horst house and took as many of the walking wounded as they could.
Lance Corporal Sydney Nunn, who with a glider pilot had knocked out a Tiger tank earlier in the week, thought he would never make it to the river. By the church where artillery positions had been overrun during the day, Nunn and a group of KOSB’s had a sharp, brief skirmish with the Germans. In the rain and darkness most of the men got away. Lying on the ground Nunn received the first injury he had had in nine days of fighting. Shrapnel hit some stones and one of Nunn’s front teeth was chipped by a pebble.
Sergeant Thomas Bentley of the 10th Battalion was following the Phantom operator, Lieutenant Neville Hay. “We were sniped at continually,” he remembers. “I saw two glider pilots walk out from the shadows and deliberately draw the German fire, apparently so we could see where it was coming from.” Both guides were killed.
In the Hartenstein, General Urquhart and his staff prepared to leave. The war diary was closed; papers were burned and then Hancock, the General’s batman, wrapped Urquhart’s boots with strips of curtain. Everybody knelt as a chaplain said the Lord’s Prayer. Urquhart remembered the bottle of whiskey his batman had put in his pack on D Day. “I handed it around,” Urquhart says, “and everyone had a nip.” Finally Urquhart went down to the cellars to see the wounded “in their bloody bandages and crude splints” and said goodbye to those aware of what was happening. Others, drowsy with morphia, were mercifully unaware of the withdrawal. One haggard soldier, propping himself up against the cellar wall, told Urquhart, “I hope you make it, sir.”
Lieutenant Commander Arnoldus Wolters, the Dutch liaison officer at Division headquarters, moving behind the General’s group, observed absolute silence. “With my accent had I opened my mouth I might have been taken for a German,” he says. At some point Wolters lost his grip on the man in front of him. “I didn’t know what to do. I simply kept going, praying that I was heading in the right direction.” Wolters felt particularly depressed. He kept thinking of his wife and the daughter he had never seen. He had not been able to phone them even though his family lived only a few miles from the Hartenstein. The watch he had bought for his wife in England was still in his pocket; the Teddy bear he had planned to give his daughter was somewhere in a wrecked glider. If he was lucky enough to make it back to the river, Wolters would be leaving, probably for England, once more.
At the river the crossings had begun. Lieutenant Colonel Myers and his beachmasters packed men into the boats as fast as they arrived. But now the Germans, though still not aware that a withdrawal was taking place, could see the ferrying operations by the light of flares. Mortars and artillery began ranging in. Boats were holed and capsized. Men struggling in the water screamed for help. Others, already dead, were swept away. Wounded men clung to wreckage and tried to swim to the southern bank. Within one hour half the evacuation fleet was destroyed, but still the ferrying went on.
By the time Major George Powell’s men reached the river from their long trek down the eastern side of the perimeter, Powell believed that the evacuation was over. A boat was bobbing up and down in the water, sinking lower as waves hit against it. Powell waded out. The boat was full of holes and the sappers in it were all dead. As some of his men struck out swimming, a boat suddenly appeared out of the dark. Powell hastily organized his men and got some of them aboard. He and the remaining troopers waited until the craft returned. On the high embankment south of the Rhine, Powell stood for a moment looking back north. “All at once I realized I was across. I simply could not believe I had gotten out alive.” Turning to his fifteen bedraggled men, Powell said, “Form up in threes.” He marched them to the reception center. Outside the building, Powell shouted, “156th Battalion, halt! Right turn! Fall out!” Standing in the rain he watched them head for shelter. “It was all over, but by God we had come out as we had gone in. Proud.”
As General Urquhart’s crowded boat prepared to leave, it got caught in the mud. Hancock, his batman, jumped out and pushed them off. “He got us clear,” Urquhart says, “but as he struggled to get back aboard someone shouted, ‘Let go! It’s overcrowded already!’ ” Irked by this ingratitude “Hancock ignored the remark and, with his last reserves, pulled himself into the boat.”
Under machine-gun fire Urquhart’s boat was halfway across when the engine suddenly stuttered and stopped. The boat began to drift with the current; to Urquhart “it seemed an absolute age before the engine came to life again.” Minutes later they reached the southern bank. Looking back Urquhart saw flashes of fire as the Germans raked the river. “I don’t think,” he says, “they knew what they were firing at.”
All along the bank of the Rhine and in the meadows and woods behind, hundreds of men waited. But now with only half the fleet still operable and under heavy machine-gun fire, the bottleneck that Urquhart had feared occurred. Confusion developed in the crowded lines, and although there was no panic, many men tried to push forward, and their officers and sergeants tried to hold them in check. Lance Corporal Thomas Harris of the 1st Battalion remembers “hundreds and hundreds waiting to get across. Boats were being swamped by the weight of the numbers of men trying to board.” And mortars were now falling in the embarkation area as the Germans got the range. Harris, like many other men, decided to swim. Taking off his battle dress and boots, he dived in and, to his surprise, made it over.
Others were not so lucky. By the time Gunner Charles Pavey got down to the river, the embarkation area was also under machine-gun fire. As the men huddled on the bank a man came swimming toward the place where Pavey lay. Ignoring the bullets peppering the shore he hauled himself out of the water and, gasping for breath, said, “Thank God, I’m over.” Pavey heard someone say, “Bloody fool. You’re still on the same side.”
Sergeant Alf Roullier, who had managed to cook and serve a stew on Sunday, now attempted to swim the river. As he floundered in the water a boat drew alongside and someone grabbed his collar. He heard a man shout, “It’s O.K., mate. Keep going. Keep going.” Roullier was totally disoriented. He believed he was drowning. Then he heard the same voice say, “Bloody good, old boy,” and a Canadian engineer lifted him into the boat. “Where the hell am I?” the dazed Roullier mumbled. The Canadian grinned. “You’re almost home,” he said.
It was nearing daybreak when Signalman James Cockrill, still at his set under the veranda of the Hartenstein, heard a fierce whisper. “Come on, Chick,” a voice said, “let’s go.” As the men headed for the river, there was a sudden sharp burst of noise. Cockrill felt a tug on his neck and shoulders. His Sten gun, slung over his back, had been split wide open by shrapnel. Nearing the bank, Cockrill’s group came across a few glider pilots standing in the bushes. “Don’t go until we tell you,” one of the pilots said. “The Germans have got a gun fixed on this area, a Spandau firing about waist high.” Coached by the pilots, the men sprinted forward one at a time. When Cockrill’s turn came he crouched down and began to run. Seconds later he fell over a pile of bodies. “There must have been twenty or thirty,” he remembers. “I heard men shouting for their mothers and others begging us not to leave them there. We couldn’t stop.” At the river’s edge a flare exploded and machine guns began to chatter. Cockrill heard someone shout for those who could to swim. He went into the chilly water, striking out past panic-stricken men who appeared to be floundering all about him.
Suddenly Cockrill heard a voice say, “All right, buddy, don’t worry. I’ve got you.” A Canadian hauled him into a boat and seconds later Cockrill heard the boat ground on shore. “I nearly cried when I found I was back where I started,” he says. The boat had gone on in to pick up wounded. As men all around helped with the loading, the craft started off again and Cockrill remembers a rush as men climbed in from all sides. Although their boat was weighted down and under fire, the Canadians made it to the far shore. After hours under the veranda and his nightmarish trip across the water, Cockrill was dazed. “The next thing I knew I was in a barn and someone gave me a cigarette.” Then Cockrill remembered one thing. Frantically he searched his pockets and brought out his single piece of ammunition: the .303 dummy bullet with his cypher code inside.
Shortly before 2 A.M. what remained of the 1st Airborne’s ammunition was blown up. Sheriff Thompson’s gunners fired the last remaining shells and artillerymen removed the breech blocks. Lance Bombardier Percy Parkes and the remainder of his crew were told to pull back. Parkes was surprised. He had not thought about the withdrawal. He had expected to stay until his post was overrun by the Germans. He was even more amazed when he reached the river. The area was jammed with hundreds of men and someone said that all the boats had been sunk. A man near Parkes took a deep breath. “It looks like we swim,” he said. Parkes stared at the river. “It was very wide. In full flood the current looked to be about nine knots. I didn’t think I could make it. I saw men jumping in fully dressed and being swept downstream. Others made it across only to be shot scrambling out of the water. I saw one chap paddle across on a plank, still carrying his pack. If he could do it, I could.”
Parkes stripped to his shorts, throwing away everything including his gold pocket watch. In the swift current his shorts slipped down and Parkes kicked them off. He made it over and, hiding by bushes and in ditches, eventually reached a small deserted farm cottage. Parkes went in to find some clothing. Emerging a few minutes later, he encountered a private from the Dorsets, who directed him to a collection point, where he was given a mug of hot tea and some cigarettes. It took the exhausted Parkes some time to understand why everyone was staring at him. He was dressed in a man’s colored sports shirt and wore a pair of ladies’ linen bloomers tied at the knee.
Private Alfred Dullforce of the 10th Battalion swam to the south bank nude but still carrying a .38. To his embarrassment two women were standing with the soldiers on the bank. Dull-force “felt like diving straight back into the water.” One of the women called to him and held out a skirt. “She didn’t bat an eyelash at my nakedness,” he remembers. “She told me not to worry, because they were there to help the men coming across.” In a multicolored skirt that reached to his knees and wearing a pair of clogs, Dullforce was taken to a British truck driving the survivors back to Nijmegen.
By now the Germans were flaying the embarkation area and mortar shells were screaming in. As Lieutenant Commander Arnoldus Wolters ran behind a line of men for a boat, there was an explosion among the group. “I was absolutely unharmed,” Wolters recalls. “But around me lay eight dead men and one severely wounded.” He gave the man a shot of morphia and carried him to the boat. In the already overloaded craft there was no place for Wolters. He waded into the water and, hanging onto the side of the boat, was pulled across the river. He staggered onto the southern bank and collapsed.
As dawn came, the evacuation fleet had been almost destroyed, yet the Canadian and British engineers, braving mortar, artillery and heavy machine-gun fire, continued to ferry the men across in the boats that remained. Private Arthur Shearwood of the nth Battalion found Canadian engineers loading some wounded into a small boat. One of the Canadians motioned for Shearwood to get aboard. The outboard motor could not be restarted, and the Canadians asked all soldiers still carrying rifles to start paddling. Shearwood tapped the man in front of him. “Let’s go,” he said. “Start paddling.” The man looked at Shearwood without expression. “I can’t,” he said, pointing to his bandaged shoulder. “I’ve lost an arm.”
Major Robert Cain had put all his men across by dawn. With Sergeant Major “Robbo” Robinson, he waited on the bank so he could follow, but no more boats appeared to be heading in. In a group of other men someone pointed to a slightly holed assault craft bobbing on the water and a trooper swam out to bring it back. Using rifle butts, Cain and Robinson began rowing, while troopers who still had helmets bailed. On the south bank a military policeman directed them to a barn. Inside, one of the first men Cain recognized was Brigadier Hicks. The brigadier came over quickly. “Well,” he said, “here’s one officer, at least, who’s shaved.” Cain grinned tiredly. “I was well brought up, sir,” he said.
On the perimeter’s edge scores of men still huddled in the rain under German fire. Although one or two boats attempted to cross under cover of a smoke screen, it was now, in daylight, impossible for the evacuation to continue. Some men who tried to swim for it were caught by the swift current or by machine-gun fire. Others made it. Still others, so badly wounded they could do nothing, sat helplessly in the pounding rain or set out north—back to the hospitals in the perimeter. Many decided to hide out and wait until darkness again before trying to reach the opposite shore. Eventually scores succeeded in making their escape this way.
On the southern bank and in Driel, exhausted, grimy men searched for their units—or what remained of them. Sergeant Stanley Sullivan of the pathfinders, who had printed his defiant message on the school blackboard, remembers someone asking, “Where’s the 1st Battalion?” A corporal immediately stood up. “This is it, sir,” he said. Beside him a handful of bedraggled men pulled themselves painfully erect. Gunner Robert Christie roamed through crowds of men searching for troopers of his battery. No one looked familiar. Christie suddenly felt tears sting his eyes. He had no idea whether anyone but him was left from Number 2 Battery.
On the road to Driel, General Urquhart came to General Thomas’ headquarters. Refusing to go in, he waited outside in the rain as his aide arranged for transportation. It was not necessary. As Urquhart stood outside, a jeep arrived from General Browning’s headquarters and an officer escorted Urquhart back to Corps. He and his group were taken to a house on the southern outskirts of Nijmegen. “Browning’s aide, Major Harry Cator, showed us into a room and suggested we take off our wet clothes,” Urquhart says. The proud Scot refused. “Perversely, I wanted Browning to see us as we were—as we had been.” After a long wait Browning appeared, “as immaculate as ever.” He looked, Urquhart thought, as if “he had just come off parade, rather than from his bed in the middle of a battle.” To the Corps commander Urquhart said simply, “I’m sorry things did not turn out as well as I had hoped.” Browning, offering Urquhart a drink, replied, “You did all you could.” Later, in the bedroom that he had been given, Urquhart found that the sleep he had yearned for so long was impossible. “There were too many things,” he said, “on my mind and my conscience.”
There was indeed much to think about. The 1st Airborne Division had been sacrificed and slaughtered. Of Urquhart’s original 10,005-man force only 2,163 troopers, along with 160 Poles and 75 Dorsets, came back across the Rhine. After nine days, the division had approximately 1,200 dead and 6,642 missing, wounded or captured. The Germans, it later turned out, had suffered brutally, too: 3,300 casualties, including 1,100 dead.
The Arnhem adventure was over and with it Market-Garden. There was little left to do now but pull back and consolidate. The war would go on until May, 1945. “Thus ended in failure the greatest airborne operation of the war,” one American historian later wrote. “Although Montgomery asserted that it had been 90 percent successful, his statement was merely a consoling figure of speech. All objectives save Arnhem had been won, but without Arnhem the rest were as nothing. In return for so much courage and sacrifice, the Allies had won a 50-mile salient—leading nowhere.”*
Perhaps because so few were expected to escape, there was not enough transport for the exhausted survivors. Many men, having endured so much else, now had to march back to Nijmegen. On the road Captain Roland Langton of the Irish Guards stood in the cold rain watching the 1st Airborne come back. As tired, filthy men stumbled along, Langton stepped back. He knew his squadron had done its best to drive up the elevated highway from Nijmegen to Arnhem, yet he felt uneasy, “almost embarrassed to speak to them.” As one of the men drew abreast of another Guardsman standing silently beside the road, the trooper shouted, “Where the hell have you been, mate?” The Guardsman answered quietly, “We’ve been fighting for five months.” Corporal William Chennell of the Guards heard one of the airborne men say, “Oh? Did you have a nice drive up?”
As the men streamed back one officer, who had stood in the rain for hours, searched every face. Captain Eric Mackay, whose little band of stragglers had held out so gallantly in the school-house near the Arnhem bridge, had escaped and reached Nijmegen. Now he looked for members of his squadron. Most of them had not made it to the Arnhem bridge; but Mackay, with stubborn hope, looked for them in the airborne lines coming out of Oosterbeek. “The worst thing of all was their faces,” he says of the troopers. “They all looked unbelievably drawn and tired. Here and there you could pick out a veteran—a face with an unmistakable I-don’t-give-a-damn look, as if he could never be beaten.” All that night and into the dawn Mackay stayed by the road. “I didn’t see one face I knew. As I continued to watch I hated everyone. I hated whoever was responsible for this and I hated the army for its indecision and I thought of the waste of life and of a fine division dumped down the drain. And for what?” It was full light when Mackay went back to Nijmegen. There he began to check collecting points and billets, determined to find his men. Of the 200 engineers in his squadron, five, including Mackay, had come back.
On the other side of the river remained the soldiers and civilians whose jobs and injuries demanded that they be left behind. Small bands of men too late to make the trip stayed too, crouched down in the now-unmanned trenches and gun pits. For these survivors there was no longer any hope. In the blackened perimeter they awaited their fate.
Medic Taffy Brace had brought the last of his walking wounded down to the river, only to find the banks now empty. Huddling with them, Brace saw a captain coming forward. “What are we going to do?” the officer asked Brace. “There won’t be any more boats.” Brace looked at the injured men. “I guess we’ll have to stay then,” he said. “I can’t leave them.” The captain shook hands. “Good luck,” he told them all. “I’m going to try to swim across.” Brace last saw the officer wading out into the water. “Good luck yourself,” Brace called. “Goodbye.”
For Major Guy Rigby-Jones, a physician at the Tafelberg, “the division’s leaving was a bitter pill to swallow,” but he carried on his work. With teams of medics Rigby-Jones scoured the houses in the area of the hotel, bringing in wounded men. Often hand-carrying the casualties to collection points, the medics loaded them into German trucks, ambulances and jeeps and then climbed on themselves, heading into captivity.
Padre Pare had slept the whole night through at the Schoonoord. He awoke with a start, sure that something was terribly wrong. Then he realized that it was unnaturally quiet. Hurrying out into a room, he saw a medic standing at a window, in full view of anyone outside. As Pare came up the medic turned around. “The division’s gone,” he said. Pare, who had not been told about the evacuation, stared at him. “You’re mad, man.” The medic shook his head. “Look for yourself, sir. We really are prisoners now. Our chaps have had to retreat.” Pare couldn’t believe it. “Sir,” the medic said, “you’ll have to break the news to the patients. I haven’t got the nerve to tell them.” Pare made the rounds of the hotel. “Everyone tried to take it in good heart,” he recalls, “but we were all in a fit of deep depression.” Then in the large room where most of the wounded still sheltered a soldier sat down at a piano and began to play a medley of popular songs. Men started to sing and Pare found himself joining in.
“It was queer after the hell of the last few days,” Pare says. “The Germans could not understand it, but it was easy enough to explain. The suspense, the sense of being left behind produced a tremendous reaction. There was nothing left to do but sing.” Later as Hendrika van der Vlist and other Dutch civilians prepared to leave to help the wounded in German hospitals, Pare waved goodbye regretfully. “They had suffered with us, gone hungry and thirsty, and yet they had no thought for themselves.” As the last ambulances disappeared, Pare and the medical staff loaded their meager belongings onto a German truck. “The Germans helped us,” he recalls. “There was a curious lack of animosity. None of us had anything to say.” As the truck drove off, Pare stared moodily at the blackened wreckage of the Schoonoord, “where absolute miracles had been worked.” He was “firmly convinced that it was only a matter of a day or two, possibly this coming night, before the Second Army crossed the Rhine and took the area back again.”
Across the street from the church, Kate ter Horst had said goodbye to the wounded, all now prisoners. Pulling a hand cart and accompanied by her five children, she set out to walk to Apeldoorn. A short distance away she stopped and looked back at the ancient vicarage that had been her home. “A ray of sunshine strikes a bright yellow parachute hanging from the roof,” she wrote. “Bright yellow … A greeting from the Airborne … Farewell, friends … God bless you.”
Young Anje van Maanen, also on the road to Apeldoorn, kept looking for her father as the Red Cross cars and ambulances passed, bringing the wounded from the Tafelberg. With her aunt and her brother, Anje stared at the familiar faces she had come to know throughout the week. Then, as a truck passed by, Anje saw her father, riding in it. She screamed to him and began to run. The truck stopped and Dr. van Maanen climbed down to greet his family. Hugging them all, he said, “We have never been so poor and never so rich. We have lost our village, our home and our possessions. But we have each other and we are alive.” As Dr. van Maanen got back on the truck to care for the wounded, he arranged for the family to meet in Apeldoorn. As they walked among hundreds of other refugees, Anje turned to look back. “The sky was colored scarlet,” she wrote, “like the blood of the airborne who gave their lives for us. We four all are alive, but at the end of this hopeless war week the battle has made an impression on my soul. Glory to all our dear, brave Tommies and to all the people who gave their lives to help and save others.”
In Driel, Cora Baltussen awoke to a strange silence. It was midmorning Tuesday, September 26. Painfully stiff from her wounds and puzzled by the silence, Cora limped outside. Smoke billowed up from the center of the town and from Oosterbeek across the river. But the sounds of battle were gone. Getting her bicycle, Cora pedaled slowly toward town. The streets were deserted; the troops had gone. In the distance she saw the last vehicles in a convoy heading south for Nijmegen. Near one of Driel’s ruined churches only a few soldiers lingered by some jeeps. Suddenly Cora realized that the British and Poles were withdrawing. The fight was over; the Germans would soon return. As she walked over to the small group of soldiers, the bell in the damaged church steeple began to toll. Cora looked up. Sitting in the belfry was an airborne trooper, a bandage around his head. “What happened?” Cora called out. “It’s all over,” the trooper shouted. “All over. We pulled out. We’re the last lot.” Cora stared up at him. “Why are you ringing the bell?” The trooper kicked at it once more. The sound echoed over the thousand-year-old Dutch village of Driel and died away. The trooper looked down at Cora. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” he said.
*“The tanks arrived in the early hours of the morning,” notes General Harmel in Annex No. 6 of his war diary, September 24th, adding that “II Panzer Corps headquarters allocated the bulk of this detachment, 45 tiger tanks, to the 10th SS Frundsberg Division.”
*The children would never see it. On September 27, in a brutal reprisal against the Dutch, the Germans ordered the entire Arnhem area evacuated. Arnhem and the surrounding villages were to remain uninhabited until the very last days of the war, when Canadian troops arrived on April 14, 1945.
*Dr. John C. Warren, Arirborne Operations in World War II, European Theater, p.146
“In my—prejudiced—view, if the operation had been properly backed from its inception, and given the aircraft, ground forces, and administrative resources necessary for the job—it would have succeeded in spite of my mistakes, or the adverse weather, or the presence of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in the Arnhem area. I remain MARKET-GARDEN’S unrepentant advocate.”
—FIELD MARSHAL SIR BERNARD MONTGOMERY, Memoirs: Montgomery of Alamein, p. 267
“My country can never again afford the luxury of another Montgomery success.”
—BERNHARD, THE PRINCE OF THE NETHERLANDS, to the author.