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Bruce Jeffrey

Lieutenant Bruce Carstairs Jeffrey

 

Unit : 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance

Army No. : 291381

 

Bruce Jeffrey was born on the 20th July 1919, the second son of Reverend Thomas and Caroline Jeffrey. He grew up in Edinburgh and studied Medicine at the University, from where he qualified in 1941. Joining the army in 1942, he was the Resuscitation Officer of the 181 Field Ambulance, resposible for ensuring patient had sufficient fluids before going to surgery, and also post-op care. The following is a partially completed report he compiled about the exploits of the Ambulance at Arnhem:

 

In their advance through Belgium in the northern sector of the Western Front, the British troops, having crossed the Albert and Maas-Scheldt canals, found themselves by mid-September, confronted by a natural barrier more formidable than any hitherto encountered - the three parallel rivers Maas, Waal, and Rhine. Accordingly on Sunday 17th September an airborne force of two American and one British division was flown from England and landed by each of these rivers, with the task of capturing, and maintaining intact, strong bridges on the line of advance, so that the tanks, heavy vehicles and fighting men of the land forces could pass over without hindrance or delay. Within four days the two bridges held by the American airborne divisions were reached and passed, and the heavy ground armour had advanced to within a few miles of the Rhine. Then it was checked, and could go no further. Thus the British division which in the operation had landed at Arnhem, the furthest point inside enemy-held territory, found itself separated from its land support by a wide, fast-flowing river. There, in Arnhem and its suburbs, British parachute and glider-borne troops fought a bitter house-to-house battle for eight days before the remnant was withdrawn, with difficulty, to the south bank of the river and rejoined the supporting land forces. This chronicle will describe the experiences of the Field Ambulance attached to the Air Landing Brigade, and will try to give an impression of the work done by the RAMC personnel of the Division.

 

The 181 Air Landing Field Ambulance consisted of x men, of whom x took part in the airborne side of the operations. The remainder were detailed to the "Seaborne Tail" of supplies, which was to have come up with the relieving land troops; and to a rear party. The unit was given x gliders to carry its men and equipment. Of these, x {7} flew on the first day, and, when the Main Dressing Station was established, a divisional reserve of x {24} came down with additional men and supplies.

 

Three gliders, each containing a light section, landed with the battalions, and came under the control of the battalion Medical Officer (MO). Each of these light sections consisted of x men, a Staff-Sgt, and a medical officer, and carried a Jeep and handcart in their glider. Their task was to supplement the battalion orderlies, and to evacuate the casualties from the Regimental Aid Posts to the Main Dressing Stations (MDSs). The light section MO was instructed to find his way back to the MDS once he was sure the battalion MO was safe and was functioning with his unit. The other x gliders of the x carried the MDs. Of these x the loads in personnel and equipment were divided into identical pairs. The first x each carried a surgeon, a surgical team of x {9} men, and a Jeep with 10 cwt trailer attached. The second x carried two handcarts, two light motorcycles, and x men. One of these gliders carried a "heavy" section of x men and an MD. The other carried Second-in-Command, the padre, the dental officer and the remaining nursing orderlies. The x gliders in the "second lift" carried an MO sand x men, along with equipment and supplies.

 

To lift a full-blown Field Ambulance into the air in a very limited number of gliders meant cutting out all inessential equipment to reduce weight, without forgetting anything that was really important. This needed a lot of hard thinking, and with little previous experience as a guide, it had to be decided how many Jeeps to take and how much transport to rely on commandeering on the ground. Whether or not to take the heavy water-trailer, or the collapsible operating table - whether to take 20 lbs of Cramer wire and 10 Thomas splints or 10 lbs of Cramer wire and 20 Thomas splints. How many bottles of plasma to take on the first day, and how many to rely on receiving from the supply parachute drops on the succeeding days. Every article carried - each shell dressing, each syringe, each muscle retractor, rack bottles of A.T.S. {Anit-Tetanus Serum}, had to be indispensable, and had to justify every scrap of its weight and bulk. Many items, such as the light motor-cycles and the stretchers, were specially constructed for "airborne". But the plaster-of-Paris bandages and the blankets, both essentials, used up a lot of the poundage and space allowed in the fuselage of the Horsa gliders. There were a thousand difficult problems to be solved. And indeed, though the main loading plan was at last stabilised, alterations and additions in detail were being made right up to the time of taking off.

 

Since the 6th June the men of the Field Ambulance had been ready, at a few hours notice, to climb into their gliders, and play their part in any airborne operation that the tactical situation indicated. No more need be said about the atmosphere of tenseness in which they lived for a hundred and thirty-five days. Most of these men had seen some activity in Italy, and some had taken part in the airborne attack on Sicily. Many had entered "airborne" as volunteers, while some had been drafted to the unit through the usual channels. In addition to their RAMC training, they had a thorough knowledge of the equipment and field organisation peculiar to an airborne medical service. They had 'put up' a Main Dressing Station literally scores of times while taking part in brigade or divisional exercises. Their standard of PT was higher than in most ground troops. After two or three flights most of them became accustomed, or rather resigned, to the eccentricities of the Horsa glider, which prided itself in behaving a little differently from any air, sea, or land craft ever devised by man. "Abundant fluids tend to decrease apprehension in aerial flight", say the experts. At the air strip, from which the MDS gliders are to take off there are two six gallon containers full of hot, sweet, tea. The gliders and tug-planes are drawn up in two neat rows; each Horsa, half-inclining its blunt nose towards the runway, is partnered in the opposite row by a plump, efficient-looking Dakota. Fortunately there is very little delay before the first pair are hitched together and begin their long painful crawl along the runway. At last they lift into the air and rise slowly …the second pair follow closely behind … then the third…. and the fourth. Soon, as the end of the line is reached, the Field Ambulance gliders, in their turn, take off. Finally the sky is crowded with these strange couples making their widening circles around the airfield as they gain height. Then they string out in a line and move eastwards, gradually disappearing from view. No novel of H.G. Wells could have prophesied a scene as weird and futuristic as this.

 

Inside one of the Field Ambulance gliders, after half an hour's flying, a man, peering through the small port-hole window, picks out his own home among the straggling groups of houses two thousand feet below. Another man, sitting in the middle of the back row, is writing a letter home to his wife. A Staff Sgt, presumably to recompense for the dullness of his surroundings, is deep in the plot of an Edgar Wallace. A four-sided poker game is in progress, while another individual closes his eyes and appears to sleep. The Medical Officer, sitting temporarily between the glider pilots in their steering compartment, can see the hundreds of gliders above, below, and in front of him. As they move out over the sea and England disappears behind, he sees several gliders dropping down unattached and splashing into the water. For a while the horizon is bound all around by the sea. Then after two hours flying the coast of Holland is sighted, like a low cloud in the distance. The land draws nearer and nearer until individual houses and fields are passing underneath. Large areas of ground are flooded and many villages are half-submerged. With hundreds of planes in the sky there is a carefully suppressed curiosity about every fighter plane that flies close to the glider, but no Messerschmitts appear - and there is a strange absence of ack-ack.

 

Presently more solid land approaches and the meandering of the Waal and the Maas come into view like a huge map laid out below. Then the first pilot gives the warning. "Prepare to land." The succeeding few minutes are made up of brief impressions of a jerk as the glider is released from the tug-plane, of a burning building glimpsed through the window as the glider banks around to land; of individual trees and hedges rushing past; and finally of the long, familiar, grinding sensation as the glider bumps along the ground and comes to rest. The door is opened and the men start unloading their cargo - on to the fields of Holland…. So ends the airborne part of the business…..

 

The MDS gliders, along with Brigade Headquarters and one of the battalions, had as their landing zone some ploughed fields and grassland to the west of Wolfhege, a small group of houses six miles to the west of Arnhem. As far as the Field Ambulance was concerned the opposition on the ground was confined to a few wild rifle shots, and some belated anti-aircraft shells which burst low overhead. Within half an hour of landing all the MDS glider-loads, but one, had assembled at the cross-junction of two wooded paths, just west of the village. This was not the pre-arranged rendezvous, which was about 200 yards away on the edge of a small wood, but which was not yet considered safe from the enemy. The glider carrying one of the surgical teams made a bad landing and ended up on its side with one wing sheared off and the other pointing perpendicularly in the air. It took the operating assistants two hours hard work to extricate their Jeep and trailer. No one was hurt. Indeed up to this time there was not a single casualty among the Field Ambulance, including the light sections, or among the battalion medical personnel.

 

By 2.30 p.m. Wolfhege was considered safe and the men from the MDS gliders who had made good landings marched along with their equipment on hand carts and a Jeep to set up their hospital in a house opposite BDE HQ. They were joined in a short time by the other surgeon with his team. Bedrooms and living rooms were converted into wards; cases needing urgent operation were first resuscitated in a shed in the back yard, then carried into the house, where the kitchen was rigged up as an operating theatre. Thirty wounded were brought in during the afternoon and evening, and the house next door was taken over to help accommodate them. The surgeons operated on five cases, including two abdominals. From the fields round the village there was a periodic rattle of small-arms fire as an enemy sniper or some small patrol was encountered, but there was no direct attack on our positions. Everything seemed to be going "according to plan".

 

Next morning, however, the battle flared up, 130 casualties were admitted, and the MDS had to expand to seven neighbouring houses. From then on the pressure of work began to rise. For the MOs and orderlies the next seven days were full of hard, physical work as they carried in more and more wounded, treated and dressed their wounds, operated on them, put them in plasters and splints, gave them intravenous plasma, injected them with morphia and ATS, fed them, kept them warm, and generally made them as comfortable as possible. Although there was still plenty of food with the numerous 24 hour rations plus several boxes of 'Compo', a shortage of water began to make itself felt, and this continued to be a problem at times throughout the operation. Here it had to be drawn from the rain water tank in the next door garden and then sterilised.

 

The Luftwaffe made its first appearance on the second day when a few Messerschmitts dived down and poured several bursts of fire into a collection of derelict gliders in a field nearby, setting them on fire. But the prize performance of the day was the arrival of the "second lift" to which the men in the MDS were treated to a ringside seat. It was indeed an awe-inspiring sight. A seemingly endless succession of Horsas were cast off overhead and glided smoothly round before dipping down and lurching heavily along the ground; while over to the west a strong force of parachutists could be seen tumbling out of their planes and floating downwards. The reserve section landed safely and reported to the MDS with their Jeeps and equipment. These new arrivals were sent along with one of the surgical teams to a building about 500 yards away, across a railway line. This place was originally a Dutch Sanatorium but had latterly been used by the Germans as some sort of barracks. As can be imagined, it made an ideal Dressing Station, and the pity was it would not have been used for a longer time. As it turned out all the casualties were eventually transferred to this place during the afternoon, but the Brigade made a move further into Arnhem that evening, and the MDS had to travel with it.

 

Thus, by means of two commandeered lorries and an omnibus, along with eight Jeeps, 130 of the patients in the Sanatorium, who now numbered 210, were transported by shuttle service into the suburb of Oosterbeek, where Brigade were setting up their HQ. Most of this transfer was done in pitch darkness, and considering the uncertain knowledge of enemy movements the four mile journey was a distinctly eerie experience. The main building of this final dressing station was a hotel situated beside a crossroads, which it was considered, would prove to be well inside the Brigade perimeter of defence. A Dutch Hospital 300 yards down the southwards road was also taken over and the two surgical teams were sent there with 30 of the cases most needing operation.

 

Along the eastward road lay the Arnhem bridge, which was now in the hands of 1st Para Brigade. A few hundred yards up the road to the west stood Divisional HQ and the HQ of the 4th Parachute Brigade. The Air Landing Brigade HQ was situated in a wood a short way towards the river from these positions. By midnight on the evening of arrival, the MDS was in working order with all its usual departments. "Reception" was in the wide foyer of the hotel. Big wards were set up in the lounge and dining hall downstairs, while two smaller rooms were given over to "Resuscitation" and "Minor Operations". The first floor had numerous bedrooms which were soon filled with patients, and the staff had their quarters in the attic. Two hydro-burners were installed in the kitchen, and were kept running most of the time cooking hot meals. By some minor miracle there was still running water from the taps.

 

On Tuesday morning the remaining 80 patients were brought in from the Sanatorium at Wolfhege. The MO {Captain Paddy Doyle} who had been left there with his section took over a school house between the crossroads and the Dutch hospital, which subsequently relieved the main building of many of its walking wounded. Before the last of these patients had arrived the Germans began a serious counter attack from the east on the Oosterbeek positions. Presumably they had recovered from their initial confusion, and it soon became obvious they were in the vicinity in considerable strength. They started by mortar bombing the area around Divisional HQ, and one or two short ones landed a few yards from the Dressing Station itself setting one of the Field Ambulance Jeeps on fire and damaging a few more. Down the road came the gradually increasing din of small arms automatic and rifle fire. Casualties began to pour in. By nightfall there were a total of about 350 wounded. A garage next door, a barn further up the road, and the house opposite, had been taken over as additional accommodation. These places were staffed with the help of several orderlies and two MOs who had become separated from their units in the confused fighting. Darkness brought with it, as it did on succeeding nights, a very welcome lull from the fighting.

 

Towards evening some elements of the {133} Parachute Field Ambulance including the CO and DO, two surgeons and 40 orderlies, set up a small Dressing Station a few houses down the road to the east. This unit was able to take over 12 of the most seriously injured from the MDS and operate on them. Wound excision was a refinement which, by now, could be offered only to a small proportion of the casualties, although the two surgical teams at the Dutch hospital were still functioning. For the most part, when a wounded man was brought in, the wound was examined and dressed after the removal of any gross contaminants. His fractures were splinted, and he was given ATS and morphia if necessary. If he was badly shocked he was resuscitated with plasma, or blood from a donor among the staff. If it was considered essential, he was put through the minor operations theatre where an urgent amputation or other emergency procedure was carried out.

 

A feeling of unreality, mingled with disgust and fear, is the predominant sensation of a soldier in a battle. But there was something peculiarly unnatural and grotesque about this close house-to-house fighting. The distorted pattern of war seems all the more macabre when it is set against a background of genteel avenues and dainty gardens. A soldier with his finger on the trigger of his Sten peers through the window of a drawing room, which still has the remains of a polite tea-party on the table. Slit trenches are dug with garden spades, and the crew of a Lewis gun have an ornate sunken garden as their firing pit. A Tiger tank, fighting a furious dawn battle with a six pounder gun, rampages in front of a prosperous row of mansions, where once one might imagine the early morning message boy was rebuked for whistling and the milk cart was fitted with rubber tyres.

 

There was one particularly impressive aspect of the work in the MDS. The orderlies worked very hard, but they could never have got through the thousand and one jobs concerned with looking after the numerous casualties if it had not been for the assistance given by a stout-hearted band of Dutch nurses and civilians. These people, most of them women and girls, helped in a most useful and common sense way. They brought in blankets and mattresses. They organised the big task of carrying hundreds of plates of hot food from the kitchen to the patients. They wandered round the wards with bowls of warm, soapy water and towels; it put new heart into many a badly wounded man to have the grime and sweat gently wiped off his face by some middle-aged Dutch housewife - whose home, a few yards down the street, was now perhaps the scene of bitter fighting and in ruins. Best of all, they were always cheerful and calm when they had every excuse, on many occasions, to be neither. After a while this unobtrusive courage was taken for granted but still remained as our inspiration to every solder who noticed it.

 

END

 

Bruce Jeffrey was captured after the battle, along with all but 31 of the medics, many of whom remained behind to care for the wounded while the Division was evacuated. As a prisoner and a medic, his first destination was to the temporary hospital set up 15 miles north of Arnhem at a Dutch Army barracks at Apeldoorn, where approximately 1,700 wounded airborne men were treated. On the 12th October Bruce left the hospital, accompanying a party of wounded away. As a doctor he naturally plied his trade in the hospital at Stalag IXC where he was the anesthetist and blood transfusion officer, most of his patients being American airmen. As a result of his experiences since Arnhem he had greatly advanced his medical knowledge and experience. The following are the letters that he wrote home and the diary he kept during the Long March of 1945, otherwise known as the Death March:

 

24/10/44 - Dear Mother, If you could only see me now! I am sitting in the mess of a very comfortable Allied POW hospital in Germany after an afternoon spent in having a rare long walk over the very picturesque hill country they have around here, rounded off by a real tightener of a tea of salmon and potatoes, bread, butter, jam and cheese! It's a long story honey, and a pretty gruesome one - but its all over now. I'm safe and well, doing my own job to my own countrymen, I'm in good company, I'm getting good food, I'm optimistic and happy and (keep this to yourself) feel rather full of myself. Get in touch with the Red Cross and get the gen about sending me parcels. I could do with some English Cigarettes (Players) - loads of them. Apart from that I can think of few things I need except perhaps a few Readers Digests or something like that. I have plenty of warm clothing - but this building is centrally heated! I have been made anesthetist and blood transfusion officer to the hospital. Love, Bruce

 

24/10/44 - Dear Dad, This is my second letter. Excuse my queer prose but I must (1) write legibly (2) save space and (3) not displease the censor. I am learning a lot of surgery in this place. I hope you have not forgotten to keep all the newspapers since 17th September. Believe me I will be able to add some personal touches to the news when I get home. Tell Mother to lay in plenty of dried egg and McVita for round about the Christmas season for that is when I imagine she will feel the pinch. I am dying for news of the family especially Archie and Isobel. I do hope you have not been worrying too much and that I was not posted missing for too long. Go and see Mrs Allardice, 76 Bangor Road, Leith, whose husband is an orderly in this place and she will be able to give you more information that I can squeeze into two letters. At the moment, 8.30 p.m. we are having a light supper of tea biscuits and jam and mushrooms which we picked on our walk this afternoon after which I am going to sink into my spring mattress! Love, Bruce

 

04/11/44 - Well, I've got quite into the way of this place by now. As things have worked out, quite a lot of my friends are now here both as patients and doctors. I have now got a ward of about 30 patients, mostly American airmen who have been shot down., They are sometimes great fun. I sat down at the piano in the corridor outside the other day and started a rare session of Scottish song-singing. I spend most of my free time, when we are not out for a walk, reading. The library is as good as the MacDonald Road one any day. I'm doing some writing as well. In fact I never felt less like a prisoner in my life. I'm getting more butter, jam, and cheese than we ever had at home during the war. We had a marvellous drink last night of reconstituted cream and malted milk. Keep all newspapers. I believe the "Illustrated London News" has some good articles about the operation. I'm keeping some of the German newspapers. Love, Bruce

 

04/11/44 - This is a continuation of the last letter. We write 2 letters every 10 days and about 6 post cards a month. The trouble is I feel I can never really let myself go when I write and send a good racy, homey letter. I have quite settled down to staying in this country till the end of the war. The chances of being repatriated are very remote and any way there is plenty of hard work to be done on our own lads who find themselves "in the bay" along with us. I'm certainly being far more of a doctor here than I've ever been since leaving the Astley Ainslie. I like to think of my pay piling up back in the Edinburgh bank. This episode in my life, believe me, has increased my interest in politics. There is nothing like first hand experience. The only thing we lack here is the news from the British point of view and I would give a lot to have heard Frank Phillips doing his stuff at 6 o'clock tonight. Love, Bruce

 

15/11/44 - Dear Mother, Well it doesn't seem like 10 days since I wrote last. We had a "clinical meeting" the other day among the thirty odd doctors, when several of them showed their prize cases and lectured about them. It was just like being back at the Edinburgh Royal. The standard of work done here is very high indeed. We get some drugs through the Red Cross (such as Penicillin) which are scarce even in England. I have never read so many books in my life as I have in the past month (I will have been here a month tomorrow). There are two medical students here who have sat their first year exams while actually prisoners. This gives me a chance to do my big professional act in showing them how to do blood transfusions and odd jobs about the ward. This transfusion business is something I am pretty hot on now for I did scores back at Arnhem in coal-cellars and such-like places. Believe me, the line I am going to shoot when I get back! This letter is continued in letter 6. Love, Bruce

 

15/11/44 - Dear Dad, I was thinking the other day how lucky I am to have got out of my little battle with (a) a whole skin and (b) a lot more surgical experience and self-confidence than when I started. An interesting aspect of this hospital is that it has representative doctors from America, Australia, New Zealand as well as Britain, and their treatment of the same type of case varies enormously. Also they are all good talkers. The Scottish element is strong. We had a Scotland v. the Rest snow fight the other day during one of our walks. Every Sunday we have a good hard game of rugby and hope next Sunday to have an Airborne v. the Rest match. We finish each game with the good old-fashioned hot and cold shower. Now I must hurry and close this letter as it is nearly 11 o'clock which is lights-out time. I have been sitting eating dried prunes as I write. Need I say again that I am well fed, in comfortable quarters, busy, in good health, in good company and happy. Love, Bruce

 

25/11/44 - Dear Mother, I spent a real sweaty morning in the theatre helping to take out the kidney of one of my airman patients. He had the "gravel", of all things to develop after crashing in enemy territory. There is not one man in the ward who couldn't tell a hair-raising story about his war experiences. I am simply bursting for news of the family. Is Archie home? Has Bella gone to France? What is Lewis saying? etcetera. I reckon by now that my first letters have reached you and I feel good about that. Now I expect to get a reply from you in approximately, and optimistically, four weeks. A lot of things can happen in your weeks however. Now keep all the newspapers in the meantime and I'll have a rare read when I get back and I can relate my own side of the picture to the British side. We have been making quite fancy things with this German bread of which I am getting quite fond. We had jam fritters today with Welsh Rarebit to follow by a cunning management of bread, jam and cheese. Love, Bruce

 

25/11/44 - Dear Dad, See last letter. This meal, by the way, was only a snack at 9 p.m. just to satisfy pure greed. I'll tell you someone you might go and see if you have time. Mr Flockhart, 16 Hope Place, Levenhall, Musselburgh. His son is the dental officer of one of the parachute field ambulance in here with me now and has just lit my cigarette. We two are the chief cooks of the mess and whenever anything fancy is to be made it is us who make it. He is great fun and has an inexhaustible store of juicy Scottish jokes which only I can enjoy. To be quite honest the whole mess is great fun and I'm sure I haven't laughed so much for years. (I am reading several good books just now, "Art of Reading", "Q", "English for Pleasure" by L.A.G. Strong, Fowler's "King's English", and "Rats Lice and History" by some American. It is now 9 p.m. and the wardmaster has just come up to tell me that the kidney patient is getting a bit restless so I must go and see him. Don't forget the dried eggs and white cod fried at Christmas. Love, Bruce

 

05/12/44 - Dear Mother, I have to write my letters in a great rush today. It is now 10.15 p.m. and the lights go out at 11.00. I started off giving a blood transfusion at 6.15 tonight and had a hell of a job. I didn't finish till 9.30 Added to that I was working all day in the theatre and feel like a bit of chewed string. However I'm very well. I was just thinking the other day I have probably never been so healthy in my life. I have regular meals, regular exercise, am asleep every night at 11 p.m. and have enough work to keep me going most of the day. We do all sorts of exciting operations here that are usually only done by people like Sir John Fraser at home. I assist at those and get a chance of seeing the operation all through. In fact I'm getting far more experience than I would have got if I had got back over the Rhine at the end of the Arnhem business. Love, Bruce

 

05/12/44 - Dear Mother, I got a book out of the shelves in the mess to lay this letter on to write it. It was the Punch Almanac of 1896 and I have been reading for the past two hours. On Tuesday this week I went over to the Convalescent Hospital attached to this place which is about eight miles away. I went there about 2 p.m. by a bus carrying some patients and did a job of blood-grouping some of the staff so that I could call on them if I needed a pint of blood. Afterwards I had supper in their mess and came back by train. This was a completely fascinating experience. We had to wait in the station (with a guard of course) for about ¼ hour and I had a fine opportunity (not for the first time) of seeing the Germans in their everyday urban life. I would not have missed this education for worlds. I really cannot describe how interesting it was but I will have a rare story to tell when I get back. In fact the difficulty will be to stop me talking. Tons of love, Bruce

 

05/12/44 - Dear Dad, See last letter. Talking about Arnhem I can now shoot a bit more of my line!! We were captured by the Germans after 3 days while we were running a dressing station in a house in the suburbs of Arnhem.. Next day however we were recaptured by the British troops but captured again a few days later. All week we were right in between the two sides. Often there were Germans in the house on one side and British troops in the house on the other side. In addition I was called away for a few days to be M.O. to a small group of troops who were doing a special job. (This was a lot less hectic than it sounds but it looks very well on paper). The only thing I still long for is news of the family. I hope to have your first letter by Xmas if I am still here to receive them. Don't forget about laying in a good stock of dried egg and MacVita for you never know when there will be a sudden demand for these commodities. Tons of love, Bruce

 

05/01/45 - Dear Dad, I will always write to Mother first so your letter will be a continuation of it. Every day we are getting wounded soldiers and airmen from the Western Front. Each one has a fascinating story to tell. Some of the older prisoners are very interesting too. Most of them date back to Greece and Dunkirk but we have two Commando medical students captured at St. Nazaire who have become my particular pals. My wardmaster was captured (a Canadian) at Dieppe and the dresser at the convalescent hospital was shot down on the third day of the war. By the way there is a chance I may transfer to this better hospital (about five miles away). It will be a fine change for me and two officers of my unit are there already. It has better facilities in the way of books and accommodation than here, and there is a rest from having to attend seriously ill men all the time. I took a pint of blood off a Skye man today (very broad accent) to give to a Mississippi Top Sergeant. Cosmopolitan! Much love, Bruce

 

15/01/45 - Dear Mother, A sergeant in the airborne who was one of my patients at Arnhem, arrived at the hospital the other day having been referred here from another hospital in Germany. He was very surprised to see me as he had heard that I had got shot in Holland while trying to escape. I do not know how this rumour got around and I hope it does not get to you before this letter. I spent a very satisfying morning yesterday giving a badly wounded man, newly in from the Western Front, two pints of blood (drawn off from two of the nursing orderlies). To see the bloom coming back into the faces of these men beats a ham and egg tea any day. Quite apart from what it does to their constitution, their whole personality changes - they recover their self-respect and their courage as well as their appetite. This countryside is now a fairy land of snow and icicles - literally . I cannot even begin to describe how overwhelmingly beautiful it is. I think I'll bring my family here after the war for their holidays! Much love, Bruce

 

15/01/45 - Dear Dad, I am getting quite a reputation here as a literary critic. I happened to be talking about writing to one of the majors one day, so about two days later he shyly produced some short stories he had written. They were atrocious. I gave him a lecture for about half an hour, more or less repeating what you have told me, e.g. "hard writing is easy reading", "avoid the word 'very'" etc etc which seemed to have impressed him. Now, today, I got a long screed of stuff from a Colonel here which Sheena would have been ashamed to write, and have been requested "to give my opinion and help on it." It is amazing what grown men will write, and what's more, be proud of. Some patients are being repatriated soon. I have asked some of them to write you or even call and see you, so don't be surprised if some queer looking one-armed chap rings the bell. I am still wondering about Archie and Bella and all of you - how you are getting on, what Andrew and Lewis and Caroline and Sheena have got to say about all this - Much love, Bruce

 

25/01/45 - Dear Mother, We had a quiz programme in one of the wards tonight. I was given the job of setting the questions. Among some of the questions and answers received (mostly from Americans) were "What is a "wee bairn?" … - a small hill! Who wrote Gray's Elegy?…..Lamb! The whole thing went down very well and we are having it again. The one about the 'wee bairn' was asked of a Texan and his answer caused an uproar among the Scotsmen in the ward. One of the patients nearly broke my clean record the other day by stopping breathing on the operating table when I was giving him an anaesthetic. He started again after a few minutes and I, too, was able to breathe again. It is a soul destroying experience which comes at least five times to any doctor. Thank goodness I have only four more times to go. I have just finished the "Way of All Flesh" by Sam Butler. You MUST read it. Its all about how a father and mother maltreated a son so that he grew up with a warped mind!!!!!!!!! Love, Bruce

 

05/02/45 - Dear Mother, Queen Victoria used to write to her children "I am fairly well and hope you are very well." Well, I am disgustingly well and hope you are indescribably well. I am half way through "Precious Bone" by Mary Webb. It is an entrancing book. I think I can remember you reading it and enjoying it immensely. I am going to be a bit more busy from now on as I have taken on the job of anaesthetist in one of the two operating theatres as well as being Blood Transfusion Officer and looking after thirty patients. I am now giving about four transfusions a week. This entails getting two orderlies, a well patient, and bleeding a pint from each of them and then giving the two pints into a patient through his veins. I can do this now pretty well with my eyes shut. The only thing that worries me is that I think I am putting on weight despite the three long walks a week. There is no justice. Tons of love to all, Bruce

 

The Death March

 

On the 29th March 1945, Stalag IXC was evacuated and its inmates joined the 'Death March'. Due to the close proximity of the Russian Army to the German mainland, many camps in the east were emptied and their prisoners forced westwards. Already weak from malnutrition, many men lost their lives or became gravely sick as a result of this relentless march, covering many miles per day and sleeping out in the open in frequently appalling conditions. What follows is what can be deciphered from notes Bruce Jeffrey made during the March.

 

29.3 Left 0800 with handcart. Gunfire around Tresa. Arrived about 4. Men pinching bread. Slept French Arb K.

 

30.3 Left 0700 crossed Autobahn and Fulcha. Stopped Altmorchen. Child with cuts.

 

1.4 Left 0100 arriving about 1200 at place NW of Reichensachen. ++ strafe.

 

2.4 Left 0100 passed Eschwege. Bridge blown just after us. Lost Major who stayed behind with case then later passed on K. wagon. He stayed at Diedorf. We stayed at Heyrode. I slept in wagon. M. Currie came over with message.

 

3.4 Left during night to Klein Weshbach. Slept next to oven. Made Lynch batman. Passed Muhlhausen.

 

4.4 Left early morning to place where there was a big barn and smaller farmhouse where L. G. and I slept together. Krauts left here. Names in other book + 2 more. Rest day on 5.4

 

6.4. Started early morning to place N. of Weimar. Slept in cart inside byre. Left 36 Krauts of which 11 had even to walk.

 

7.4 Arrived Zottelstedt. Slept in big barn all day + had shits during march.

 

8.4 Rest day. Wrote diary felt better. Men very irritable. V. little discipline. What the Hell is to be done? V. homesick. However good experience and hope to get back home some day. Left 10 p.m. Ultimatum to goons.

 

9.4 Passed Apolder. Arrived late in morning. Med Sgt Grey got cigs and meal from him. Met up and slept with men. Poppendorf.

 

10.4 Arrived Lederhose passed Helmsdorf. Burning buildings. Worst march yet. Few halts. Slept through strafing of station 400 yards away, never heard it.

 

11.4 Chicken and met up again with Guy. Coffee and sweet biscuits. Arranged leaving 73 of sick and 12 Frogs to go to Stalsoda. 12 Red Cross parcels.

 

12.4 Sent off sick and came on with French stragglers. Left column to see Allenby at Braunsdorf. Got cig papers and razor blades and some tins of ham. Then travelled alone. ++ aerial activity. Ammo and weapons. Two separate keen Nazis. Man banging his head against tree. Burkasdorf and sick Frog. On to Muncha on cart. Heard about Scott dying.

 

13.4 Long lie. Sick parade picked about 30 English and 20 Frogs. Dubec said leave list with Winkelman before 10 a.m. on 14. Good feeling. Another rest day.

 

14.4 Handed list to Winkle (straw warm because of some horse manure in it). Ulcers on heels with dirty necrotic bases and pinched out edges. Guard that wanted to join the Gefangeners. A certain respect for people that were still Nazis. Slight disrespect for those who said allies caput - such is human nature. Men who fell out not so much from a desire to escape but from an irresistible craving to flop down somewhere and sleep. Guard going wild (watch dog) as we went thro Helmsdorf with burning buildings. Women and children. Jim, who spoke broken German with a strong Australian drawl. While I silently reviled the God that made me and the Hen-lice in straw. Men cooked eggs for us left 8 p.m. with sick wagon of Frogs.

 

15.4 Arrived. Had row with Winkle about Farmplan and place for us. Both satisfactory. Airborne and Yanks joined us. Sick wagon laid on automatically. Left 8 o'clock.

 

16.4 Arrived Burkhardgrun. Tiny cowstall. Serbian 1st pig killed, left 8 o'clock.

 

17.4 Arrived Langenan near Posseck. Bigger cowstall 2nd pig killed. Dined off it. Lovely place and good weather.

 

18.4 Arrived 8 kms from Ayberg. 20 of sick left at last place. Winkle told me to write out report. Very tired. Heard Chemnitz fallen. Everything seems an effort

 

19.4 Rest day thank God! Boy with poisoned foot. Trying to get some more off march. Peas pinched. Handed report to Heinke. Left 8 p.m.

 

20.4 Young fellow with bad shoulder. Heard Regensburg and Eger fallen. Dumplings, sauerkraut and pork for dinner. 19 eggs food ++. Brew of tea. Left 8 p.m.

 

21.4 Arrived early. Slept with porters till daylight then billet across road. Thick bed lucky pancakes for dinner. Red Cross parcel . Tank alarm in evening. Left 8 p.m. Dulsec said rest 22nd.

 

21.4 Arrived Carstall two Frenchmen. Poor feeding. Found our own billet. Had meal cooked. Rain in evening. Left 8 p.m.

 

22.4 Rain ++. Marched behind political prisoners. 8 to first walk. Very cold and depressing. Date Unknown Tanks up done arranging. Now infantry up - better more transport - they now will do arranging. Now not going to Cham. Talk of delousing plant at WEIDEN. May all have to go through it. Sick have been evacuated. Berlin has fallen. Working on principle that we will stay here a week.

 

Church hall. Excess rations kept till next issue. Making bread? Into groups of 25. Plane and truck load. Names and particulars in triplicate. What is civilian food situation? Still military discipline. Take names. Refer to me. Most have forgotten how to be soldiers. Don't want to go home as rabble like the Russians. Prestige going to adjoining villages. One man not come back. Sick daily at 10. M.P.s are here.

 

31.4 Arrived at place and slept next horses. Left kit on Jerry cart.


END

 

When he was repatriated to the UK, Bruce was given the customary period of leave before he rejoined the army. After the war, promoted to Captain, he accompanied the 6th Airborne Division to Palestine, where he died on the 3rd March 1946. A strong swimmer, he was in the habit of going for a dip every day, but it is believed that on this particular occasion a party of soldiers had accompanied him and one of these men got into difficulty. Jeffrey went to his aid, but in saving the man's life he lost his own. He is buried in Ramleh Military Cemetary in Israel.

 

Thanks to Bruce Jeffrey's niece, Sheena MacDonald, for this story, and to Niall Cherry for all his help.

 

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