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Arthur Hendy on Ginkel Heath, September 2006

Lance-Corporal Arthur S. Hendy

 

Unit : "B" Troop, 1st Parachute Squadron

Army No. : 1874248

 

Arthur Hendy was born on 13th July 1918. He enlisted for the army in 1937 and joined the Royal Engineers. He completed his basic training and was posted to 1st Royal Engineers Searchlight Regiment then to a training Battalion as a PTI instructor. In 1940 he was with BEF in France serving with a Searchlight Unit. Unable to reach the main force at Dunkirk he made his way to Calais and was able to return to the UK.

 

On returning from France he was posted as a PTI to a Chemical Warfare Training Battalion. In 1942 he was posted to the Bomb Disposal School. He volunteered for Airborne Forces which the Prime Minister of the day, Winston Churchill, had ordered to be established. After a long wait he was accepted. At this time the main aircraft used by Airborne Forces was the Whitley which only carried ten men. Amongst the men on his course were Lt. Dennis Simpson, Sappers Joe Malley and John Bretherton. We were all posted to 1st Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers.

 

Arthur served in North Africa from January to April 1943, the invasion of Sicily, the sea-borne landing in Italy and in the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. The following are his recollections, in his own words, of that now famous battle:

 

"After many false starts, my unit, 1st Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, were given a target as part of the Parachute Brigade. We were to capture the road and railway Bridges at Arnhem and if we were unable to capture the bridges untaken, we were to secure the Pontoon Bridge. The centre section was not in position, to allow shipping to use the river."

 

"Saturday morning, 16th September, we were given our final briefing and issued with ammunition and rations. The majority of the Squadron had served in the campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. The three Troops, A, B and C were usually detached to work with the 1st, 2nd or 3rd Battalions. We had been together before they were designated as The Parachute Regiment and we were referred to as 'The Battalions' or 'Bat Boys'. For this operation our role was different. A and B Troops were to make for the Bridge, with C Troop to remain in the DZ area."

 

"My Troop, B Troop, served with the 2nd Battalion as much as with our own Squadron. There was usually an Officer and ten men with each Company. My section was always allocated to 'B Company'. Before we set off on the morning of Sunday 17th, we were able to obtain the Sunday Newspapers. Our morale was high at the good news we read of the latest Allied advances. Most of us carried Sten guns and in our kit-bags we had a rifle and extra ammunition. As we boarded the plane we were given extra bandoliers of .303 ammunition and hand-grenades."

 

"The flight was uneventful. Lt. Dennis Simpson, our section Officer, emphasised that we get one of the containers, which the aircraft would drop, and congregate by it. As the green light went on everyone appeared to be making a quick exit, but I was not able to move forward. It appeared that number sixteen in the stick had caught his rigging line up on one of the seats and number seventeen, L/Cpl Joe Malley, was trying to push past him. The jammed rigging line finally cleared but in doing so his kit-bag had become released from his leg. He had no time to strap it on again and threw it out of the plane before jumping. The jump Master shouted 'Good Luck' and I followed Joe out of the door. We both landed in a small copse. As Malley had lost his kit-bag which contained his rifle and only had a Sten gun, I gave him the extra grenades and Gammon bomb from my kit. We were now some distance from the DZ. The drop must have finished as we could not detect any aircraft. We were not sure which direction the DZ was so started to go in what we thought was the right direction. The first contact we made was with a young Dutchman, about sixteen years of age, driving a horse and cart. As we approached him he thought we were Germans as our uniforms were similar. I opened my smock to reveal the English signs on my tunic and his attitude changed immediately. He indicated to us to get on the cart and then took us to a farmhouse which was the home of his family. They gave us food and wine, but we were unable to make them understand that we wanted to get to Arnhem. The lad finally indicated to us to board the cart. I don’t know if it was luck or what but we feared for his safety if he was caught with us. We later picked up another heavily laden man, he was an American who like us had got lost. He dropped with the Brigadiers party."

 

"When we finally arrived at the DZ everyone had moved on except for a small Medical Unit who were treating those injured during the drop. Amongst them were Ted Laker and Geordie Plunton, two of my section. They had damaged their ankles so decided to board the cart and come with us. The Medics were able to tell us that the Brigadier had gone with the 3rd Battalion, so Malley and I decided to take the American to find Brigadier Lathbury whom we knew well by sight. We made good progress and the Dutch lad was still keen to take us. We met up with the Brigadiers party which had another American officer with it, also a Dutch Captain who had dropped with the Brigadier [This Dutch officer and the two Americans were Jedburgh Team Claude - see Captain Jacobus Groenewoud and Lieutenant Harvey Todd for further details]. We were able to thank the boy as the Captain spoke perfect English. We were told to leave the cart with them and try to rejoin our unit. Two of my section, Laker and Plunton, decided to come with us but we had to leave them as they could not keep up with us. We passed a car containing the bodies of a German General and his driver. We were soon on our own passing the odd house which was now flying Orange flags, but we had to leave our two injured men behind and make for the lower road. We were in a wooded area when we noticed two cyclists coming along a path in the woods. They were almost level with us when we noticed that they were Germans. As we stepped out in front of them they fell off the bikes. Their rifles were slung over their shoulder so could not be used. Malley covered them while I searched them, took the bolts out of the rifles and threw them into the woods."

 

"Then the problem was, what to do with them. We could not shoot unarmed men and we did not want to alert the enemy that we were in the area. We indicated to the two men to put their hands on their head and started to walk back towards the 3rd Battalion, gradually dropping back. They did not realise we were not with them. Returning to the bikes we were soon cycling down the road and had still not met any of the rear party. We had only gone about a mile when a jeep came from behind us; it was driven by Alex (Gus) Woods of "A" Troop. He had been detailed to bring the jeep and trailer which contained the Squadrons Flamethrowers. He told us that this had been his first trip on a glider. Although he landed on a different DZ to us he had managed to find the right road to the Bridge. The Flamethrowers were later used to knock out the pill-box on the Bridge."

 

"As we did not want to lose the bikes we decided to hang onto the back of the trailer. It was not long before we met up with the rear party of 2nd Battalion. As we approached the area of the railway bridge, Malley and I decided to make our way on foot and we soon joined our old friends of "B" Company. As we got near the bridge it was still daylight and we took up positions in the garden of a house facing the pill-box. After a few bursts of fire two of those in the pill-box came out and we told them to come down to us."

 

"The 2nd Battalion were now arriving in force, amongst them was Lt Simpson and about a dozen members of "B" Troop. They had with them a canvas trolley loaded with stores which they had pulled all the way from the DZ."

 

"As darkness fell the location became quite crowded and Lt Simpson decided to find a more defensive position. We went underneath the bridge and turned left into a road running parallel with the bridge. As we made our way we came under fire from the other side of the road, so we hurried forward and Lt Simpson told us to go into the first building we came across. There were four or five steps leading up to the front door which was locked, but someone must have left in a hurry because those who had gone round the back found the side door unlocked. They let us in and Malley and I took the floor nearest to the door. The rest of our small party occupied the lower floors and started to knock the windows out and barricade the doors with furniture. As we were doing this a lone man called to us and asked who was in charge, and that he was a member of the Dutch Resistance. Lt Simpson told me to take him along to the 2nd Battalion. I took him to the underpass and then returned to the house."

 

"Later from the same direction came half of "A" Troop led by Captain Eric Mackay. They were about to enter our building but were told to 'Bugger off' and find their own position, as there was intense rivalry amongst the Troops of the Squadron because of our attachment to the Battalions, who had the same sort of rivalry. They passed by us and took over a house just to the front of our position. They were not there long before they came under attack and part of the building caught fire. They pulled out and joined us taking over the upper floors, although two of them came into the room I was in, this was useful as they had a Bern gun. "B" troops Bern gun had been taken upstairs and was covering the approach to the road. Later a party of young Dutchmen came from the direction of the ramp and asked if they could join us, but they were told to go along to the 2nd Battalion position. In the early hours of the morning a small detachment of "C" company of the 3rd Battalion arrived. They were led by Major Lewis and I knew some of the men. One was Jim 'Boxer' Ward. I had boxed him a few weeks before and he had cut my lips so badly the fight had to be stopped. He was carrying an eighteen wireless and took up position on the stairs."

 

"As it got light Malley and I had a wander round the building. There was a small metal fence around the front but hardly any rear garden, just room for a small footpath, then a steep embankment up to the ramp running onto the bridge, which gave protection to almost the whole of the building and were protected by the embankment. Malley and I then asked the "A" Troop Bren crew if they would like a break and they agreed. Malley took over the Bren as up to then he had only had his Sten gun. I was beside him with the spare barrel and magazines. As the other two were standing up, the enemy in the house opened fire, wounding them both. We could not return fire as we could not see where the fire was coming from but hose on the upper floor opened fire at the balconies opposite, which were covered with house plants. Next they fired what must have been a rifle grenade which blew the remaining windows out plus blowing the door off. Those on the upper floors returned fire but could not really see where the fire was coming from, Malley and I also let off a few bursts into the house opposite. The enemy returned fire and those upstairs were then able to pin-point them. Everyone on this side of the School opened up, killing a number of the enemy and forcing the remainder to retreat."

 

"The two wounded men were taken to the cellar where a First Aid station had been set up by Cpl. Roberts of the 3rd Battalion, who had been trained in first aid. Captain Mackay detailed George 'Poacher' Paine and Ron 'Pinky' White to assist him. "B" Troops other wounded and killed were also taken to the cellar. The only medical supplies we had were those we carried, each of us had a shell dressing, two shell dressings and one tube of morphine. Malley and I took up our position again, but "A" Troop reclaimed their Bren gun, but Malley had now armed himself with a rifle from one of the wounded."

 

"The rear of the building now came under attack, everyone on that side must have opened as the noise was deafening and the building was filled with the smell of spent ammunition. Then there was a heavy smash from behind, Malley and I turned round to see a half-track was wedged against the window which blocked the footpath. The driver and some of the crew were all dead. The embankment was covered with enemy dead and as we got to the upper floor we saw a number of half-tracks littering the approach to the bridge. There could not have been any survivors as the fire was so intense the floor was covered with spent ammunition as Malley and I returned to our position."

 

"Where the windows had been blown in we put up mattresses so that the enemy could not see any movement in our room, but they were soon set alight by the tracer bullets, filling the room with smoke. We beat the flames out and pushed the mattresses out of the window. Lt Simpson then told us to evacuate the room and take up position o the stairs, where 'Boxer' Ward was still trying to contact the 2nd Battalion. He gave me the spare earphone and I could hear messages being relayed, but 'Boxer' was unable to send any outgoing messages."

 

"I was then able to heat some condensed soup in my mess tin. I was able to heat it by breaking small bits of plastic HE and I made enough for three of "B" Troop, although the last two had some of the plaster from the walls in it as the building was hit by mortars."

 

"It was a relief when darkness fell but we were soon under attack again. This time two enemy tanks came along the road. They fired at both sides of the road, although none of the buildings opposite were unoccupied, the tanks continued firing as they moved past us and started firing at the only other building by our forces on the opposite side of the road. Although we didn’t know who they were, after each attack we would shout out our old North African battle cry, "Wahoo Mahomet." The following enemy infantry were easy targets as burning buildings illuminated the whole area although by now, owing to the involvement of the tanks we were now engaging the enemy from the cellar."

 

"When we returned to our position as daylight broke the latest casualties were taken to the cellar. We still expected that we would be relieved; the room which Malley and I had occupied had been completely destroyed by the tanks. 'Boxer' had set up the wireless again on the stairs. Ammunition was now getting short, the extra "B" Troop had brought on the trolley was nearly exhausted. As I looked into one of the rooms, I saw Major Lewis, his face lathered, having a shave. Later on that day in a minor attack he was wounded and Malley and I carried him down to the cellar."

 

"By midday it was obvious we could not hold out and when armour started to appear Captain Mackay gave the order to pull out and make our way to the 2nd Battalion position. "A" troops Bren was still covering the ramp and footpath and was manned by Cpl 'Canadian' Joe Simpson. He had already been awarded the American Silver Star and British Mentioned in dispatches during the North African Campaign. He was supported by Sapper Johnny Bretherton from St Helens, Lancashire. The road was still covered by "B" Troops Bren manned by L/Cpl Danny 'Paddy' Neville who came from Southern Ireland, he was supported by Sapper Steve Carr, a Scot."

 

"Getting the badly wounded from the cellar was difficult, so we carried them up on mattresses and then transferred them onto doors. During the evacuation we used side door which was out of view of the enemy. We encountered a problem as there was a high wall covering the side of the school, which with the combined weight of the door and the wounded man made it very hard work. It tool four men to get them over the wall. The pull out was quite orderly and Lt Simpson’s final orders to Malley and me were to destroy the remaining weapons. The last man to get wounded was the man who had been wounded in the first attack. One of the men carrying him was Johnny Bretherton who was killed, he had only nine minutes before come down from his Bren position. Another one of "B" Troop, Norman Butterworth, was mortally wounded caring for the wounded.

 

"I could hear the Bren still engaging the enemy when the whole building shook. Malley and I were covered in debris and I was completely deaf and had difficulty in breathing and it took some time to clear. The roof was completely gone. Malley and I made our way through the rubble and we found Steve Carr bleeding from his nose, mouth and ears so we moved him into the garden."

 

"We could see two tanks on the ramp and they had now turned their attention to the house opposite. We started pulling the rubbish and found Joe Simpson as we pulled him clear he was still grasping the Bren. I carried his upper body and Malley his feet and laid him on the stairs. I took his helmet off but it was obvious he was dead. We then went to find Danny Neville but there was so much debris we were unable to find him. Whilst we were searching Eric Mackay returned to the building with the news that the main party had been captured. He suggested that we should cross the road and make our own way through the rear garden to 2nd Battalion. First we sheltered in the building previously occupied by "A" Troop, which was by now just a shell. We had decided to cross the road one at a time and I was the first to cross. As I ran into the rear garden I ran into a party of the enemy. They were engrossed in their tanks destroying the houses and did not see me and I fired a quick burst. They dived for cover and did not return fire. I quickly made my way forward but could see Captain Mackay or Malley and decided not to wait for them and quickly ran in the other direction to make my way out of the garden. I had only gone about 50 yards when I saw a strong force of enemy who were searching the houses. I lay behind the garden wall and the first of the enemy passed me and indicated to me to stand up. As they marched me back towards the building that had been occupied by the unit we had been shouting at "Wahoo Mahomet" at. I saw Lt Barnett who was badly wounded being supported by one of his men. They were from Brigade Defence Platoon who we had worked with on many occasions. The other man told me that as well as the Defence Platoon, some of HQ of 1 squadron fought in the building."

 

"It was while he was talking to me that one of the escorts hit me with a rifle on the back, he was instantly reprimanded by an officer. He told me to take my hands off of my head and called a man who could speak English. The first words he spoke were "do you need medical attention?" I was bleeding from the mouth from my old boxing wounds and my clothes were blooded from those we had been carrying apart from a few burns on my legs, I was not wounded. The interpreter indicated for me to stay with the wounded. We were loaded onto lorries, the floors of which were covered with straw and I stayed with them for 2 days. I was able to help feed the badly wounded then I and a slightly wounded 2nd Battalion man who was able to tell me what had happened to the rest of the Squadron. One section had gone to Rollaway Bridge with the "C" Company, the remainder of the troop had with our HQ troop, fought on the other side of the ramp and had been responsible for destroying the pill-box on the Bridge. Only the two injured men had failed to reach the Bridge.

 

"It has taken me over 60 years to record these events. To place on record four of my comrades who sacrificed their lives for their comrades. They were Cpl. Joe (Canadian) Simpson, L/Cpl Danny (Paddy) Neville, Sapper Johnny Bretherton, Sapper Norman Butterworth. They were in their twenties and three of them had children, which made their sacrifice even greater."

 

"I did not return to Arnhem for 15 years. I could not trace the farm or the lad that helped us or any of the Dutch party I took to 2nd Battalion. In 1946 I met Steve Carr who was still serving in the Army. He said the shell burst had hurt his lungs but otherwise he had not been wounded. I also met Joe Malley and I asked him why he did not follow me across the road. He said both he and Eric Mackay only heard one burst of fire and thought that I had been hit and decided to cross at a different point. I was able to find out who the American was. His name was Sgt Carl Scott and he was a member of the Jedburgh Team. He managed to escape from Arnhem, but was killed in the Ardennes in December 1944. It was some years later I found out that Joe Simpson was not a Canadian. He had been born in Tavistock in Devon but returned to England, from Canada, at the outbreak of the war. I do not know what happened to the Dutch men I took to the 2nd Battalion on the first day or the party of young Dutch youths. It is ironic that the bodies of Danny and those buried in the remainder of the school, and to whom it was not a ‘Bridge too Far’, have never been found. Their names are not shown at Oosterbeek or Arnhem but are miles way at Nijmegen. This is something I would like to be corrected. In 1963 I met Major Lewis when we were invited to the War Office in London. Amongst those present were Lt/Col John Frost and the German General Wilhelm Bittrich."

 

Arthur Hendy died on the 19th February 2007.

 

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