Pictures

Bill Fulton at Easton Hall, 1944

Bill Fulton in Italy, 1943

Bill Fulton in 1944

Lance-Sergeant William Fulton

 

Unit : No.3 Platoon, "A" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 4124666

 

Bill Fulton was a member of No.3 Platoon, "A" Company. Landing near Heelsum on Sunday 17th, in what he described as gorgeous weather, one of the first things he saw were local Dutch girls running on to DZ-X to collect the much coveted parachute silk for their own use. A Company were chosen to spearhead the 2nd Battalion's advance, and after a short distance No.3 Platoon passed a car that had recently been ambushed and shot up by British troops, and to the left of the vehicle were three houses which an officer, probably Lieutenant Andy McDermont, ordered Bill Fulton to check to be sure that they were empty. The only man inside who was in military clothing was an elderly gentleman in the uniform of the Dutch Army, but being a little too old to be of use to either side Bill left him and moved on.

 

Approaching a crossroads near Oosterbeek, the platoon was fired on by a German machine-gunner positioned to their left, and Lieutenant McDermont gave Fulton the order to take the gun out. His men were being fired on all the time that they were getting into position, but not wishing to become bogged down in such skirmishes, McDermont changed his mind and called the men back, explaining: "Forget that - we'll send more men later on. All we want to do is get through to the bridge as quickly as possible." As they neared Arnhem, moving through the houses to keep off the streets, a German motorcyclist approached No.3 Platoon's position and he was fired on by Fulton. The man did not appear to be hit, but he fell off his bike and proceeded to sprint back the way he had come and dashed into a house off to the side. The Platoon continued to press on.

 

Having reached the bridge after dark with his section, Bill Fulton was under the ramp when an officer, not McDermont, who was obscured in the gloom asked for any NCO's present. Fulton presented himself and was ordered to take his section on to the bridge itself and to capture the northern end of it. Fulton said "I've only got seven men", but the officer replied "That's alright. I'll send more up when they come". Making his way up the steps and onto the ramp, Bill was the first British soldier to step foot on the bridge. Moving along the side, he could hear German voices and so he told his section to be silent while he had a quick peep over the top. 15 yards away was a parked truck, facing south, an officer or an NCO was standing at the back of it talking to the men inside, and it appeared that they had been working on tank traps along the side of the bridge. Not wanting to blow the element of surprise that his section still had in their favour, Fulton kept his section quiet until, shortly after, the Germans got back in their truck and departed.

 

Moving across the bridge, Fulton surprised a couple of Germans lurking behind the corners of huts whom he took prisoner and passed to the last man in his section, who led them off the bridge and back to the British positions. Going further across, Bill noticed what appeared to be a gun being raised two feet away on his left, and so he presented his Sten and shouted "Hande hock!", which he had been informed meant "Hands up!" in German. The man began to "jump around" and so Bill shot him, but the soldier must have had his finger on the trigger because as he fell to the ground he also fired and put a bullet in the top of Fulton's left leg. Bill ordered his section to fall back and report that the bridge was well defended and more men were needed to capture it. Crawling behind an iron girder, Fulton remained where he fell for the next hour and a half before stretcher bearers came, though they had no stretcher with them and so they carried him on a door. As they reached the steps to the side of the ramp, the paneling on the door gave way and Fulton fell through it, with a curse, and onto the ground below. He spent the next three days in the cellar of Brigade HQ with approximately 200 others, until the building was so badly ablaze that a truce was arranged to hand all the wounded into German care.

 

Now a Prisoner of War, Fulton like all other wounded at the bridge was taken to the St Elizabeth Hospital, where he remarked that the Germans treated them as best as they could. Two days later he was moved to the temporary hospital established at Apeldoorn where his leg was X-rayed and put in plaster. He did not know how it came to be because there about 1,000 British casualties in the hospital at this time, housed in separate buildings, but all the others in his ward were Germans. He became good friends with the two Dutch nurses who weighted on him, and when they cleaned the patients lockers they got themselves into the habit of stealing a few cigarettes and sweets from the German lockers and depositing them in Fulton's, whose they cleaned last. Some weeks later they brought him a big bunch of flowers, but naturally the Germans in the ward took exception to this gesture and as a consequence the nurses were reprimanded. Fulton remained at Apeldoorn until November when, on a stretcher and still in plaster, he was loaded on a train with a party of wounded men and eventually ended up at Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel, where he remained until liberation in May. However, before he arrived at the camp the plaster was removed and it was discovered that his left leg had shrunk by 3.5 inches.

 

Years later Bill Fulton went to great lengths and spent several decades attempting to track down the two nurses whom he had befriended at Apeldoorn. In 1985 he finally learned that they now both lived in England, one in Wimbledon, the other in Kingston-on-Thames, and he has corresponded with them ever since.

 

My thanks to Henriėtte Kuil-Snaterse for a copy of an interview with L/Sgt Fulton.

 

Bill Fulton made the pilgrimage to Arnhem for 30 years until his death, and had the honour of leading the parade across the Bridge during the 60th anniversary. He died on the 15th January 2008. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were laid at the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek that year, during the 64th Anniversary of the battle.

 

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