Private Colin Hall
Unit : "D" Company, 10th Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 83656
The following are extracts taken from Colin Hall's book "Dropped In It", which may be purchased from Amazon via this link.
I had been in the RASC since the beginning of the war but when in 1943 the bombing got heavy in Dover where I was stationed, my friend Tommy Farrage and I decided to volunteer for the Parachute Regiment. We thought it would be an easy ride training out in the countryside up in the Midlands. It was fun, for a while. We got fitter than we had ever been before but had never predicated actually being sent anywhere abroad for proper fighting - we all clung on to the hope that the war would end before our time came.
I boarded a Dakota for Holland on September 18th 1944 - to take part in Operation Market Garden. Tommy and I had clung to the hope that the war would be over before our training was finished but it was not to be. We flew in low over a flooded coastline and were soon passing over Ginkel Heath, some 65 miles within territory occupied by the Germans. We'd had a few pep talks before leaving, one from Montgomery himself, and had been led to believe that the taking of the bridge at Arnhem would be easy. They'd told us that most of the enemy had retreated leaving only 'old boys' there to fend us off.
For the first day we came to believe it to be true. We all parachuted in safely and gathered for an 8 mile march onwards towards Arnhem. I remember seeing dead soldiers, their bullet ridden bodies neglected at the side of the road - they were all German. I know now that the British troops who perished in the day before my Battalion landed (and there were plenty of them) had all been cleared away - for the sake of our morale.
The first night we hid in our dug-outs and listened to the distant sound of anti-aircraft fire. It still seemed so far away and something that was happening to others, not us.
In the morning we continued our march, following the railway line to Wolfheze and the noise of rifles, machine guns, mortars and tanks firing in the distance became louder and more frequent. It wasn't long before my battalion suffered its first casualties. Men all around me were hit. Some wounded, some killed outright.
For me it was the first taste of real war. I'd been a driver for 4 years with the RASC and although I'd encountered many air raids and seen a few civilian casualties I'd never experienced bodies blown apart by bullets and mortars. It was terrifying and each of us knew that any one of us could become the next dead body.
I'd been given the specialist job of radio operator, not from any previous knowledge, but solely because I had been the only man brave enough to 'have a go' with the equipment during training. It was this that cost me an injury. I got shot in the arm while extending the aerial - but it was this injury that saved my life. I had to retreat for treatment. I never saw my mate Tommy again, he was killed soon after.
I got my arm patched up and hitched a ride on a jeep back to my unit, who were by now at Oosterbeek. There was nothing I could do, with my injured arm I couldn't even hold a gun so I spent a couple of days hiding out in a garage there, providing only moral support to others whilst witnessing the battles at the crossroads.
I suppose I thought that we would still be relieved, that more troops would arrive to back us up. What I didn't know was that our lot were actually evacuating the area via the river to the south. Looking back, I probably couldn't have gone with my damaged arm, I would have been a hindrance to others.
After two days in hiding, we heard the rumble of a tank out side. Daftly, I still thought there was a chance it was a British or maybe American one. It wasn't. Two German soldiers entered my hideout and I surrendered instantly, as did the other men with me.
I was taken prisoner and eventually sent by slow train to Stalag XI-B. Once there, although glad to be alive it was still six months of hell - enduring the cold, hunger and dirt while many of my mates died around me from injuries, disease and indifference.
New prisoners arrived weekly and the overcrowding became intolerable. Thankfully, six months is all I had to endure for the war had ended by the following spring. Some inmates had been there for years.
We were eventually flown back to England and what I remember most about our homecoming was the medical staff who had come to greet us staring unbelievably at this row of pitiful skinny, yellow men emerging from the plane.
It was many years before I could talk about my war time experiences, but now I've put everything down in my own memoirs which I called "Dropped In It" - because I think we all were. I don't hold any grudges. The blokes on the other side were ordinary men just like us. But war is a terrible thing and it's right that present generations should know that. I visit Arnhem most years now for the commemoration services in September and always call at the cemetery to pay my respects to my lost mates.
My thanks to Deborah and Colin Hall for this account.
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