Trooper John William Bateman

 

Unit : Polsten Section, Support Troop, 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron

Army No. : 5734460

 

"Bill" Bateman enlisted on the 18th September 1941. After he had completed his basic training and been posted to his unit, The Dorset Regiment he volunteered for Airborne Forces. He was personally interviewed by Major Freddie Gough and accepted into the 1st Airlanding Reconnaissance Squadron in 1942. He was posted to "B" Troop, under the command of Captain A. J. Waterman, and saw service with the Squadron in North Africa and Italy, before returning to the United Kingdom.

 

The following is his account of his experiences at Arnhem:

 

As dawn broke over the fields and villages of England, we got ready for our flight. Ruskington had been home for us and now we were trained and ready to go. As we flew on that memorable Sunday, 17 September 1944, from the ground, thousands watched the great winged armada. An unforgettable sight winging its way towards the coast after many standbys for operations, and cancellations. We emplaned for Arnhem 60 miles behind the German lines, the tension of the many cancellations had been very trying on the nerves. We flew for Holland, and as we crossed the Dutch coast, we flew through the anti-aircraft gunfire. It was pretty nerve-racking. We got the green light to jump and landed on the dropping zone of Wolfhaze.

 

My jeep failed to arrive and after much waiting I was given the spare jeep. I could not find my troop so I joined up with another troop of my squadron. Our instructions were, for the first part of the operation, to get to and hold "The Bridge at Arnhem". If you should encounter the enemy "put your foot down and blast your way through!!!" were the orders. This column I was with ran into an ambush and the first three jeeps blocked the road, and so our instructions could not be obeyed. The casualties on this ambush were 75% killed or wounded.

 

I managed to turn round and went back to the dropping zone, and made contact with my own troop. We proceeded to Oosterbeek and took up positions by the GHQ. Then the enemy started to shell and mortar us all day long. It never stopped at all during the day and at night we used to go out on fighting patrols [to shoot up the enemy]. For the first two days I was afraid to die, but after that it was in my mind that I would never see England again, and I was not afraid anymore.

 

On the fourth day Lt John Christie and I went out to engage a German tank that was causing us a lot of trouble. We proceeded down the road and the tank missed us with his first shot, Lt Christie and I took cover, then Lt Christie tried to get the jeep under cover and was blown up with the second shot from the tank. It struck Lt Christie full in the chest and took an arm away as well as part of his shoulder and chest. His jeep was destroyed but I could not believe he actually walked towards me and fell into my arms. The horror of it all remains to me this day, how could he, with such terrible injuries have managed to try to return to his men. I tried to comfort him but he cried out "My God ! My God !" and died in the shelter of my arms.

 

I then returned to my own troop position and when I arrived there I was told to take a wounded Dutch boy to the First Aid Post about half a mile away, this I did, then returned to my position by GHQ at the Hartenstein Hotel.

 

The woods in front of us had 300 German soldiers waiting for us to surrender. Around us our dead lay unburied because the shelling was too great. Little Jock Odd my friend suddenly shouted "I'm Twenty One Today!" and jumped up with joy. A snipers bullet rang out, and hit Jock in the head, the next he lay dead, from that moment memories became hazy. I suffered from back wounds, from shrapnel, but still remained in the front line instead of reporting to the First Aid Post.

 

Night followed day, and one lost track of time, Eventually we had orders to pull out. The continuous rain which was very depressing, I feel, saved our lives in the end. We quickly made our way to the river bank, holding the jumping smock of the man in front of us, following the white tape through the trees. We could hear the German sentries talking, but just felt numb.

 

In all this period of time, we had no food whatsoever and only rain water to drink. Ten days we had fought and stood together, and I myself had lost four stones in weight. I will never know how I managed to cross the river, I just got into a boat, one of the lucky ones, as so many did not make it to safety. Eventually on arrival at the other side, I walked to Nijmegen, and was put on a plane which flew me to England. They put me into Dudley Guest Hospital where I remained for 6 months, my speech was gone, and it took 3 months for it to return. My mother walked past my bed and did not recognise me.

 

Eventually, I returned to my unit and from 300 men I only knew 4. From 10,000 comrades flying over for operation "Market Garden" only 2,000 returned home.

 

Since then I have never slept through a night, and the nightmares of Arnhem are relived. The smell of the gunsmoke, the dead are there and the continuous noise of the bombardment. I started drinking heavily and only stopped when I remarried. My wife says "I parachute every night" and she shares the awful memories now, and takes me back to pay my respects where my comrades fell so many years ago. Eventually I hope to join them there in the place where I got hurt, I may find eternal peace, in that quiet, peaceful place now, called Oosterbeek. The peace that eludes me in life, I hope I will find in the life to come. For years I had a guilt complex, of a beautiful Dutch village, which was left in ruins when we left. But in recent years with the kindness of the Dutch people, especially close friends I've grown to love, I see Holland has risen again, and they have never forgotten those days when we stood together and they had freedom for 10 days.

 

END

 

After his return from Arnhem to Ruskington in Lincolnshire, Bill was one of those that helped to rebuild and reform the Squadron for further operations. In May 1945 they were deployed to Norway for several months to oversee the surrender of the German occupation forces there. After the war, Bill signed on for the Regular Army, serving both the Royal Artillery and in the Cavalry. He saw service in both Korea and Malaya, where he earned a Mention In Despatches when his 25 pounder field gun blew up and, although wounded in his arm, he got his gun crew to safety. On return to Britain he transferred to the Military Provost Staff Corps and then spent four years in Singapore. He finished his service with the rank of Staff Sergeant. After his retirement, Bill would visit Arnhem each year and give talks at different schools to the children about the battle and then accompany them on the pilgrimages when they laid flowers at the Oosterbeek Cemetery in September. He was an early member of the Arnhem 1944 Veterans Club and a staunch member of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron Association. Bill died on the 2nd March 1993.

 

Thanks to Paul "Blackie" Dixon and Bob Hilton for the above account.

 

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