British airborne troops fight on in Oosterbeek

Major-General Robert E Urquhart, commanding 1st British Airborne Division, with the Pegasus airborne pennant in the grounds outside his headquarters at the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 22 September 1944.

Major-General Robert E Urquhart, commanding 1st British Airborne Division, with the Pegasus airborne pennant in the grounds outside his headquarters at the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 22 September 1944.

A carrier crew of 8th Rifle Brigade hands out chocolate to Dutch civilians during the advance of 11th Armoured Division in Holland, 22 September 1944.

A carrier crew of 8th Rifle Brigade hands out chocolate to Dutch civilians during the advance of 11th Armoured Division in Holland, 22 September 1944.

Still the British Airborne forces clung on, fighting an intense battle against mounting German forces. They still hoped that the tanks of the 2nd Army might yet break through to them.

Stuart Mawson was a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He describes the situation in the British Dressing Station within the Oosterbeek area on the outskirts of Arnhem. Established in the Schoonoord hotel-restaurant it was on a crossroads that much of the fighting was centred on. On the 22nd he was called to attend to a man whose condition appeared to be getting worse:

The wounded man was one of those unfortunates lying near the window. The mattress Simmons and I had thrust into the lower part of it still gave a certain amount of protection, but the stuffing was coming out in places where it had absorbed metal fragments, and it did nothing to mitigate the noise which battered at the nerves with a threat of sudden injury or disaster.

An increase in the relation of whistles to crashes indicated that a target rather more distant than the Hartenstein area was receiving the brunt of the enemy softening-up process. Shells were passing overhead in an unending stream while, compared with yesterday, the explosions in the immediate vicinity were reduced; but this was an academic consideration.

Many of the wounded had been lying in this room for the best part of five days, their resistance and vitality gradually being sapped by pain, toxaemia and semi—starvation. Colour had drained from their faces from which, owing to the difficulties, it had not recently been possible to remove the stubble.

Their eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, and there were few now who could summon a complete show of indifference to the bombardment. They stared at the ceiling as if trying to follow the track of each missile, and with every crump they twitched and started. They were beyond defeat beca-use they could not run away, and though they might not be able to control their bodies they did control their tongues: no complaints, no accu- sations, no squeals, just grim, silent endurance, save from those who could not suppress an involuntary groan when I had to handle their wounds.

I examined the man’s thigh above the upper rim of the plaster of Paris splint that encircled his leg down to the foot, and with careful fingers palpated a puffy swelling under the skin. It had a curious feel like well-aerated dough. I began to worry as my fingers sank with almost a crackle into what should have been the firm flesh of the thigh. It evoked some text-book memory which I sought intently to recall. Some instinct implanted by past medical training prompted me to put my nose closer to the plaster, and then the diagnosis leapt into my mind, gas gangrene. This was serious; as far as I had heard, the first case we had had.

At two o’clock in the afternoon the sky was mightily rent by the sound of numerous aircraft, and Dakotas of the supply drop again roared overhead, threading their way like wraiths through the rain clouds. They were flying so low it looked as if one could touch them, and the proximity of these comrades-in-arms gave a fresh fillip to the prevailing optimism that was not, except among the more thoughtful, dashed by the defiant and enormous clatter of anti-aircraft fire that sprang up from the Arnhem-ward side of the hospital.

Whatever might be the preoccupation of the Germans they were not too busy, or on the defensive, to be debarred from putting up a terrific barrage that took painful toll of the lumbering planes. Unfortunately, in spite of the tenacious courage of the airmen, the greater part of the supplies again failed to fall within the perimeter, and the many spectators from the hospital who rushed out to watch had the chagrin of seeing coloured parachutes opening in huge clusters over the enemy-held territory nearer the town.

When the last flight had passed over and the anti-aircraft fire had died away forage parties once more went out to recover what they could.

See Stuart Mawson: Arnhem Doctor

A German picture of some of the supplies dropped by parachute that fell within their area.

A German picture of some of the supplies dropped by parachute that fell within their area.

A German assault gun in the Oosterbeek battle.

A German assault gun in the Oosterbeek battle.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brian murphy November 14, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I am trying to find out if my father was in the 11th armoured during ww2. His name was Patrick Joseph Murphy. Is a list available of soldiers in this division. He was at Belsen when it was repatriated

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