Lieutenant Donald Marsh Douglass
Unit : Assault Platoon, Support Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 276864
My war began at the age of twenty. I knew little of life, little of fear and nothing of danger. In the next six and a half years I learnt a great deal, and more about all of these things.
When I was 'called up' I found myself in a little village not far from Salisbury. I was in the 5th Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment. We were housed in a very old workhouse. It was cold and damp. We were trained in the 1918 tradition of spit and dirt. On May 7th I was twenty one years of age, I celebrated it with my friend Sid by buying the last tin of peaches in the village store. We climbed a hill, sat down and opened the tin with my bayonet and shared the tin together.
Just two days later Germany attacked Holland, Belgium and France…they were invaded. My brother Peter was killed as he and his RAF friends tried to stop them. The Germans were the 'superheroes' and out classed the opposition. The British Troops fell back to the port of Dunkirk. In answer to our prayers most of them were brought back, not only by the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy but also by every voluntary private craft available.
Having missed that action we were sent to man the Channel Coast. It was days of hard work…sandbags to be filled, barbwire to be fixed. At night we watched for the invasion which would surely come. Hitler was making every effort, he had only to beat the RAF and sink our ships and he could just walk in.
After Hitler failed and took on the Russians, I slowly started to receive promotions. After two years I had become a full Corporal. I was getting bored with the Infantry and was pleased when I was sent to the Isle of Man to an Officer's Training Camp. I enjoyed the good food, the Officer's training however was not of a very high standard. I remember I learnt that I had to shave under all conditions. Once we were balled-out after a nights exercise for not using the duck pond for this purpose. (I failed my training whilst in Arnhem). I wasn't happy to go back to the Infantry, so when they asked for Officers for the Parachute Battalion I was keen to volunteer.
I was sent to Ringway to do my training. We had to do ten jumps per day, two from a balloon and eight from an aircraft called a Hamden which had a hole in the middle of it (originally this was for the gun turret). We had to sit either side of this and jump through feet first. The Hamden was called the 'flying coffin' by the RAF so we were pleased when we switched to a DC3.
I joined the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, B Company in North Africa, they had been in action before I arrived. I had to wait till my Platoon was reformed, however, I was never to see that Platoon as the Americans dropped them the wrong side of Mt. Etna and they were never seen again. We then travelled by ship to Taranto and chased up the heel of Italy looking for Germans. I got sick with Malaria. Soon we were in another troop ship and sent home to train and prepare for the invasion of Europe. This was done in the pleasant countryside of Cornwall. So far I had seen little real action, and in my ignorance felt a bit cheated. I guessed in some way this was not to last, and I was right.
We trained very hard, I had a special Platoon under me and we specialised in explosives. We blew things up when needed and on one occasion I nearly blew myself up. I still have the scars on my legs.
Sunday 17th September, 1944
At 1030hrs we were in an aircraft on the way to Holland. Our objective was the Arnhem bridge. Our task was to capture and hold it till the main army reached us. Two American Divisions were to be landed south of us, and they had similar objectives. We were to expect the main army to reach us within forty eight hours, despite the fact we were the farthest north.
Jumping number one meant that I had a wonderful view. The Battalion was in the air all around me. There was no closed door in the DC3, I could see some fifty aircrafts against a background of white clouds, blue sky and below the North Sea calm and so blue. Fear was normal before any jump. We had had a busy time getting briefed and getting organised, and now we were busy with our own thoughts. There came to my mind a Bible Class song we used to sing; Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heaven above, deep, deep as the deepest sea, is my Saviours love. I though so unworthy am still a child of his care, for his love reaches me everywhere. Childlike maybe, but it seemed an assurance for the future.
The Dutch coast loomed up. We hooked up to the wire above us, we had already strapped our weapons to our legs, they were a sort of canvas bag and it was important to release them when the parachute opened. We checked one another, and then the order to 'standby' came. One foot on the edge of the door, both hands holding the padded exit. The Platoon pressed behind me very close. The light came on red at the same time as the aircraft was losing height, the engines became quiet. It was a shared fear. I could see the trees and green fields below, and then suddenly the green light, I swung my right leg out, and like a giant hand the slip stream takes over and the chute opens. First, the weapon on my leg, I release the safety pin and it hangs by rope some ten feet below me. Then the landing, I manage the correct side roll, when on the ground I release my parachute and get my Sten Gun out of the bag. As I had planned I got my men together by waving the Red Beret. They all came up looking like they could take on the whole German Army. As we set off L/CPL Higginbottom arrived a little late explaining that he had landed on a farmhouse roof.
We then had to find Col. Frost. My Platoon was the Assault Platoon, and we were part of the Battalion HQ. There was the sound of automatic gun fire ahead of us as we moved off behind A Company. We were soon among the suburban homes of Arnhem. In the middle of the road was a German staff car with a German Officer hanging out head first, on the edge of the road were two young, wounded German soldiers, they asked us for help. I felt guilty because we couldn't stop to help them. They also gave me a surprise because they could have been two of our lads, there was no difference except for the uniform.
There were Dutch families outside their neat homes to greet us. We felt so pleased, so dignified, yet anxious. So sad that we were to let them down.
Our advance was now beside the Rhine, ahead of us was the railway bridge. The leading section of the B Company was just crossing it as it was blown. We pressed on to the main bridge. My position now is with the leading Platoon, although I am still behind the leading section. Col. Frost kept coming up and urging us to move faster, the reply to that from most of the lads was 'it's all bloody well for him'. Anyway, we reached the Bridge just as it was getting dark. Before we could reach cover however, we were fired on by a German Patrol. One of the men, Murray, was badly wounded (he later died). We managed to get into the buildings at the approach to the Bridge. A Company tried to get across the Bridge but were beaten back with casualties. That first night we stayed awake and alert as various German units came under our fire.
The next morning I was given the task of mining the road onto the Bridge, the Germans made armoured attacks from the other side of the Bridge. We managed to shoot up their vehicles with piats and light anti-tank guns. They then got our mortar fire in range and from then on we were under an ever increasing barrage of shells. We tried to contact the rest of the Division and the main army but were unsuccessful. We of the 2nd Battalion were on our own until at least the following Tuesday. That Tuesday turned out to be a day of desperate fighting and shellfire….still alone. That night I was sent out by my CO to see if the Polish Troops had arrived. In God's goodness I returned after a face to face meeting with a German. It was very dark and I was tired, I suspect the German soldier thought I had come to surrender, I was shouting and waving my Red Beret as I thought that in the dark someone would shoot me….be it Pole, German or Brit.
On Wednesday we were really nearing the end. Our building was the only one left, so many men wounded. The German's fire now included Tiger Tanks and a dirty, great gun that shot shells directly into our tough stone building. We were forced into the ground floor as they set fire to our roof. As a result we were forced to surrender our German prisoners and the wounded.
On Wednesday night it really was all over. There was no escape. Apart from a cut finger, I was not wounded. But like the others, I was a casualty from battle fatigue and no sleep for four days and nights, I had reached the end of my strength.
We were captured the next day and spent the following night in a bombed out church. We arrived in Oflag 79, North Central Germany about a week later. The trip there was by rail cattle trucks and pretty harrowing… we were once shot up by the Germans and once by the RAF and were pleased when it was over.
Written by DM Douglass
Dates of Interest between Sunday Sept. 17th 1944 & April 1945
New Year's Day
17th Sept '44
21st Sept '44
22nd Sept '44
23rd Sept '44
30th Sept '44
16th Oct '44
20th Oct '44
15th Dec '44
25th Dec '44
1st Jan '45
5th Feb '45
8th Feb '45
30th Mar '45
1st April '45
12th April '45
'Took off' - 1030 hrs Saltby, England
'Dropped' - 1400 hrs Arnhem, Holland
'Captured' - having spent the night in a Cellar
'Shot up' - while in transport, 4 killed, 8 wounded
'In a cattle truck' - not the best way to see Germany
'Transit Camps' - Limburg thence to Haddimat
'In another cattle truck' - more food this time, but how I hate the RAF
'Oflag 79' - Red Cross Parcel, my home for ? short weeks
'News from Home' - via Bill Read
'A very happy day' - yes, in spite of the barbwire
'And am still here' - roll in Monty or Joe
'A letter' - from Mother
'I take an exam' - ???
'Easter' - and things are looking up
'I start a Diary' - hope there will be bags to write about
'The Yanks arrive'
Lt DM Douglass
Pte Pte Lumsden
Cpl McCreesh (w)
Pte Higgins (+)
Pte Smith (w)
Pte Murray (+)
Cpl Rattray (+)
Pte Ellewood (w)
Pte Crane (w)
POW Slang Dictionary
Goon - The German Guards, in fact anything German eg. Goon Coffee, Goon Stew
Kreigie - A POW particularly an old Kriegie
Bash - To eat all one's rations at once or to walk up and down outside
Goon-Up - The warning cry whenever a German comes into a building
Fugimer - A Kreigie who thinks only of himself, only too many of them here
Round the Bend - A Kreigie who has become a bit mentally unbalanced
Bag - A POW is said to be 'in the bag'
Bag-Happy - Same as Round the Bend, but to a smaller degree
Stewfer - The act of cooking grub, or brewing tea in the building
A typical days 'Goons' menu
Breakfast - Goon Coffee
Lunch - 3 spuds and hot water
Tea - Red Cross Tea
Dinner - Turnip Soup
* On this day I Bashed ¼ loaf of Goon bread, this being 2 days rations
* Also at this time we were out of Red Cross Parcels, just tea remaining
Breakfast - Biscuit porridge, powdered milk, sugar, tea & chocolate
Lunch - Pea soup & tea
Tea - Tea & home made cake (very good) & bread and jam
Dinner - Goon soup, coffee & home made duff
* At dinner time I could not finish my duff
* We were at this time in Parcels
London Food - Restaurants
Schmidt, Charlotte St, Soho - German Food
Casa Trade, Edgeware St - Pancakes
Choy, Dean St, Soho - Chinese
Ley On, Dean St, Soho - Chop Suey
Mrs Cooks, Denman St, Soho - American Omelettes
Majouce, Palace Hotel - Spanish
Antoine, Charlotte St, Soho - French
Vaiani, Charlotte St, Soho - Italian
The Indian Rest, Shaftsbury St, Scotts Mansion - Indian
'Edward Wilson of the Antarctic' - George Seaver
'The Screw Tape Letters' - C.S.Lewis
'The Jesus of History' - T.R.Glover
'A Short History of our Religion' - Somerville
April 1st, 1945
Today, Sunday 1st April 1945 I decide to write a diary, my reasons? I have been given a notebook, and I have been given a pencil and the war begins to look interesting, so here goes. This is Easter Sunday, no chocolate eggs this year but plenty of church services, and time to think what this time really means, so I guess I should be thankful and not waste the opportunity. A full stomach or even a half full stomach would be a help. But the Goon rations are a bit thin and there are no Red Cross Parcels. Food and the progress of the war is liable to be the only subjects of thought or conversation here among the Kriegies. Tension is high just now. Spirits are up and down, as changeable as the weather. Rumours all the time….'they are 10 miles away'….'big tank battle on the Wasser'…..'the German CO has handed us over to our SBO'. No one really believes them but everyone takes great delight in passing them on. I attended a Communion Service at the free church, was very impressed. Then had ½ an hours bash on the concrete outside with Len before 5.30 Roll Call. Supper of Goon Stew at 6.01. The clocks go forward tonight, lose an hours sleep which is no odds here. This is my dangerous period of the night, between now and the nightly RAF blackouts, since I am liable to eat all my weekly bread rations (½ a loaf), which means going hungry till next Thursday, as bread is our mainstay.
Monday April 2nd
This camp has decided to found a Boy's Club on return. Situated somewhere in London, called 'The Brunswick Boys Club', already eight thousands pounds and three hundred pounds annual guaranteed income has been raised. The Free Churches and the Church of England have decided to raise an additional fund to provide a Chapel. I have been today engaged in collecting for my own Company. The whole idea I think is good, that out of this time of difficulty and boredom should at least come one good thing to show the years have not been in vain. Many here have been in the bag for nearly six years, I am a very young Kriegie, just over six months old. I never expected to be a POW, nor did any of my fellow Kriegie's as far as I can tell. Wounded or maybe killed, but POW…never.
Tuesday April 3rd
Another day of Goon rumours. Joe has begun his attack on Berlin, German army in Saar has surrendered etc. Anyway I have had my hair cut in preparation for Monty's arrival, washed a towel and vest yesterday, so he can come any day now. Just heard that the sweet shops at home are well stocked and rationed, what it must be like to eat a good meal again. I will be in bed early tonight, having walked for nearly an hour this evening, about as much as I can manage now on Goon rations. Have just taken out a crime novel by Dorothy L. Sayers from the Library, I find it a bit difficult to concentrate on anything at all heavy just now. Kriegie life is much more difficult when news is good than when it is dull.
Wednesday April 4th
The highlight of today is a letter from Dad (heavily censored), dated the 22nd December 1944. From this I learn that Bill Read senior has passed on the news of my arrival to Dad at Oflag 79. Also he tells me that they had a turkey for Christmas. Well, there's always next Christmas I guess. Very cold this evening, when I finish this I am going to make my bed and stewfer up my evening brew of Goon tea. News has just come that there are two trucks at the station with Red Cross Parcels. I have only had ½ a parcel since halfway through February, so if it is true, it is really good news. One is very hungry these days on the scanty Goon rations. I have lost two stone since I have been in the bag. Although I am weak, I still manage to keep fit. This is all too good, a letter and parcels, and soon I will be home.
Thursday April 5th
The parcels turned out to be 400 American Parcels, which works out to be one parcel between 6 men, a bit of an anti climax, but it makes a good break. We are like children at Christmas. I went to a Gramophone Recital this afternoon and enjoyed it very much. Must take Pom to one when I get back, perhaps to see the London Symphony Concerts.
Friday April 6th
The great event of today was a hot shower… first for six weeks. Only five minutes under as the hot water is limited, and there are hundreds to get through. But it sure feels good to be clean. I have now retired to bed having brewed myself a cup of coffee from my 1/6 USA Red Cross Parcel. Also had a cup of tea with Bill Read at the Camp Coffee Pot (price 1 cigarette), I passed on the news of Dad's letter to him. Oh, we have great plans for leave as our time for release draws near. Food, food, food, we talk of little else, but it will be great to be able to satisfy one's stomach and get really fit again. I have lost over two stone and will have to put it on again. Len is just getting into the top bunk. I will read a few pages of 'My Hungry Hill' by Daphne Du Maurier, and then dream of home and freedom. Roll on Monty.
Saturday April 7th
Today has been a day of strain and tension. It is not known yet if they will move us eastwards or not, the Allies are very near, just how near we do not know. We hear of other Oflags being moved. We won't be surprised if our Goon's get us to march, though we aren't fit to march. Tonight's Goon news says that the Yanks have crossed the Waser and are marching East. Well, the war is nearly over, and that is for sure. The next forty eight hours will show I think if we are to be released or moved East.
Sunday April 8th
Our own troops are said to be within a few miles from here. So really we may expect to be released any day. It looks now as if we will not be made to march eastwards….this has been our chief anxiety. I hope the people at home are not too anxious. One must just keep calm and wait. For the first time on a Sunday I have not written home, these days are too great. My thoughts are all of going home tonight….peace and never having to roam again. I have just enough tea left for a last brew, so tonight I will brew one for Len and myself before going to bed.
Monday April 9th
A truck of two thousand Canadian Parcels were reported by the Goons at 5.00 this afternoon to have arrived at Brunswick Station, we hope to get them tomorrow. Then at 5.15 a Red Cross truck with one thousand parcels arrived here at the camp. Wonders of wonders, it looks like we are finishing up our Kriegie life in style. I am writing this in bed, having had my nightly brew, just a spot of American coffee left. The last two days have been sunny, but a cold N/E wind has been blowing, great for a walk in the country. As it is, one is not up to more than ½ hours walk outside, but wait till I get some real food inside me.
Tuesday April 10th
We have been expecting to be released all day. Tactical air force has been in strength, dog-fights in the air and explosions have been going all day, as well as demolitions in Brunswick…we think. Nearly all the guards except a very few old men have gone off to fight. I don't think they are very determined though. The German CO has told our SBO that he expects our troops here today. He added that he instructed his guards not to resist, but to surrender immediately. Thus today we have been enjoying the best and warmest day of the year so far. American Parcels have been dished out at the rate of one per three men, so we have been enjoying a wee bit of luxury, a taste of days to come. Just lately, the Goons have been very anxious to help. Though their rations scale is very low, they have gone out of their way to try and better our rations as well as get parcels to us. I also got a letter from Pom today dates 7th January describing Christmas and local news, Oh happy days are indeed ahead, I can hardly believe that these days of captivity are nearly at an end. Maybe tomorrow we will be free, and then I hope a quick journey home.
Wednesday April 11th
All last night the Brunswick area was under shell fire, so we got little sleep. This morning nobody seems to know anything at all. The guards are taking very little interest in us, there was no Roll Call this morning. There was gunfire all morning, the Allies are fighting in the area, but nothing is definite. One can only wait and hope to be released today. Just received a letter from Mr Briner dated 12th January.
Thursday April 12th
This morning we were released at 0920 hours by the US 9th Army, they arrived in two jeeps with news of rations on the way. Brunswick has fallen without a fight. The armies are miles beyond us, though there is still sniping in the town of Brunswick. Our Goon guards have been put in trucks and taken away. They, unlike myself, are prepared with suitcases and plenty of rations. The excitement and rejoicing is tremendous, we are all very thankful that it has gone off so quietly. Most Oflag camps have had to march East. An open air Thanksgiving Service was held this afternoon. And so to bed with a full stomach and a happy heart.
Friday April 13th
Today parties have been out getting rations, tins of meat, bread, margarine and bottles of wine, we have eaten like Lords. It is wonderful not to be hungry. I am feeling 100% stronger already. We have been warned to be at a ½ hours notice to move if and when the transport arrives. So there is great activity cleaning up and packing ones few possessions. I listened to the BBC, no news of the capture of Brunswick, or as we hoped the release of Oflag 79, so I guess our people are still anxious.
Saturday April 14th
For the first time in over five months we were allowed outside the barbwire. It is a lovely spring afternoon, the woods are grand. Nearly all the people about are French, Russian or other foreign workers. It would seem in spite of our flap yesterday that we will be here some days or weeks before they can raise the transport. The armies have the bit between their teeth, and I guess the winning of the war must come first. I am very tired, overfed and content, I feel I shall sleep very well tonight.
Sunday April 15th
I went to the morning church service and then a short walk in the woods before lunch. Had a great meal of tinned pork, peas, carrots and spuds. This afternoon I went for a long walk and inspected the nearby Drome, the place has been looted in turn by Russian, French, Italian and British Officers, so it is in a bad mess. The news is that they hope to fly us back home direct in a few days, which will be great, if it takes place. So, roll on Blighty.
Monday April 16th
Lovely warm, Spring day, best day of this year. Everything is very advanced here, the flowers are blooming just like May time at home. Today Brig. Flavell arrived, he is going to try and speed up our evacuation home by air we hope. He is also going to get some cigarettes and tobacco sent on. We expect now to be here a few days as there is much confusion with hundreds of POW's awaiting to be taken home….
Letters written home by Don Douglass
27th October 1943 (Written from Italy)
Received your letter dated 3rd October saying that you had just learnt that I am in Italy. Since then no doubt you have gathered that there is no cause for alarm. At the moment in fact, I am confined to bed having got what is commonly known as "Yellow Jaundice' (no rude remarks please). Anyway, for the past week or two I have felt very liverish and out of sorts, last week I went off all grub. So, I went 'sick' and was shown to bed and no live quite pleasantly on a diet excluding all fat, milk and butter. However, I am getting quite a bit of fish and eggs, and all in all am enjoying the clean sheets and rest. And since I have been in bed I'm not feeling too bad at all. Except for my face I am very yellow, just like a Chinaman. There are no pretty nurses her by the way, the place is run by our Field Ambulance. Hope to take the family to the 'Indian Rest', maybe for Christmas, who can tell? At any rate be it sooner or later my stomach is looking forward to it. I have gotten browned off with writing in bed and have got out to finish this letter. I hope the air raids that I have been reading about have not scared you. Dad maybe has been on the job…. Whatever that may entail. Might just as well be shooting at them as gaze at them from the garden. I am sorry you will not be up to see me with your shopping basket and Wilson's ice cream, but the way, don't worry about the grapes. Although I could do with some visitors. I expect to be here for a week or maybe more, so I will be away from my unit for quite some time. I hope the mail is not getting interrupted too much, just as long as mine is getting through ok. Well I must get back to bed before they catch me, Margaret would not approve….just as well she is not my Nurse. All the best for now. Keep cheerful.
5th October, 1944
Captured by the Germans and in good health. I shall be transferred in a few days to a Camp, the address of which I will send you. I shall only be able to receive letters and send them from the new Camp.
7th October, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad, Well here is another card from your son behind barbwire. I am 100% and in good heart, but will be pleased when you know I am ok. After a pretty grim time I am now comfortable, and have gotten my first red Cross Parcel today. I am still in transit. We had a very hot time indeed, but the lads did fine. I am very thankful to be alive and fit. Write my old address for my Kit. Don't worry. Keep the home fires burning. Will be home before long.
22nd October, 1944
At last we have arrived at a permanent Camp. This place is well organised, good books, lectures, plays and other amusements. Have received a Red Cross Parcel. Norm Reid is here. Trust all is well. Hope you know I am here.
3rd November, 1944
I hope by now you have heard that I am safe behind barbwire. I don't expect to hear from you for a month or so. I am well settled in here, studying a bit of French. Hope to attend classes on Physics next week, I also hope to improve my English reading etc. All with the view of taking my London Matric. On return to Blighty. Though any plans for the future will depend on future circumstances. Must wait and see. I see quite a bit of Norm Reid, he is fit and keeps in very good spirits despite his long captivity. Donald Doman is here, safe but wounded, Joney and 'Bombs' are also here and ok. I guess Mother sits over the fire these days and takes, no doubt the usual visits to the Wilson's. Remember me to Mrs Robb and your other friends. Pom is no doubt in full swing with her red Cross work. Trust Meg is fit. The day for my return cannot be very far away now. I have much to be thankful in this war. It will certainly make me appreciate home life again. Keep fit this winter. And very many Happy Returns Mother.
15th November, 1944
There is no doubt Christmas is coming. Maybe I will be home this year, but without doubt I will be home for Christmas 1945. In the meantime I am studying here, French, English, Maths and Physics for Matric. If I am back in time I hope I will be able to take the June exam. Things being as they are, send me chocolate and cigarettes, you are allowed. My pals will smoke the cigs, and I can also trade them for food etc. with the other chaps. Am quite ok for clothes, but if the war lasts long enough socks, handkerchiefs and slippers are always welcome. (Got bags of soap). This week I am going to a play - 'School for Scandal', they are of a very high standard. Though the 'female' characters are a bit stiff. On Sunday I went to a Church Service. Today attended my French class. Hope things are all quiet at home. You will have to celebrate your birthday this year with a real 'bang' on my mounting Credits. All the very best.
20th November, 1944
Here is wishing you and the girls a very Happy Christmas. I remember last year writing the same from Italy. Too much to expect the same this year, but at any rate I won't be long. Mothers birthday in three days, next year we will have a lot to make up for.
29th November, 1944
Am still studying a bit, but lack of glasses limits me a bit. I need a new right lens, if I look like being in the bag long enough, you had better send it on to me, I will leave it up to you. Hope to hear from you in a few weeks, I am fit and in good spirits, trust you are all the same.
4th December, 1944
Well, only three shopping weeks till Christmas. Looks as if you will have to wait a bit this year for my present. I am making a Christmas Cake with breadcrumbs, milk, butter and raisins from my Red Cross Parcel. Went to the Sunday Service this morning, and then a walk outside for the exercise. Tomorrow I am going to a Play - 'Ladies in Retirement', very good I hear. Just one round of pleasure. If I am home very soon I'm thinking of studying Matric. At the London Pollitanie. If then my Medical student plans develop, I can study for my First MB exam etc. Either in London or Sydney, or part and part. Though my final years of practical work should I think be done at one time. But for now all must be speculation. I'm thinking of a good place to take Mother for a holiday (the rest of the family too if they can come) on my release from here. Perhaps a comfortable Hotel in Devon or Cornwall? A very Happy and Peaceful New Year.
13th December, 1944
Just been walking in the sunshine, pale sunshine, but welcome just now. I am drinking a cup of char, Red Cross Parcel, I drink it like Mother now. So far I have not felt like a prisoner, only as an Exile from home. I have lost my address list, so tell all my friends to write. According to the situation send parcels, cigarettes, chocolate, and if I look like being here awhile and becoming an old Kriegie (POW) , send socks, handkerchiefs, shirts and underclothing. But that will not be necessary I hope. More to the point, you might send my grey suit to the cleaners. Apart from a shirt or two, some socks and grey pants I am ok for civvies. Am looking forward to some news from you all, should not be too long now, if in doubt about anything Mrs Reid will, I am sure, help you. How are I wonder all the Sultan Ladies getting on? The Wilson's no doubt are still in the social centre. One meets people from all over the world, quite interesting cross section of the British Empire. Certainly Kriegie life is an education. All the best for now.
20th December, 1944
Today, I am making a Christmas Cake with flour, Canadian biscuits, sugar, raisins and no eggs. I never expected to spend Christmas quite like this, but it is a worthwhile experience as long as it doesn't last too long. We will have a lot to make up for after this.
Christmas Day, 1944
I do hope you are all having a very Happy Christmas. We are having a good time here. I have made some really fine dishes, even an iced Christmas Cake and a Christmas Pudding (cooking for tonight), with ice cream (frozen outside last night), and a Salmon Pie, I tell you I am becoming a really fine cook. I went to Church this morning, and last night the Choral Society sang carols around the Camp. Really a very fine Christmas Spirit here, my first and last in Germany. And next week I am going to a Pantomime called 'Aladdin'. I think I will go for a walk soon to digest my meal. No doubt Meg will be having Christmas Day at the Hospital. Very small family I guess this year. Bill Reid has just told me that his mother wrote to say that you had heard that I am a POW which is a great relief. Trust to hear from you any day now. Well, I will be home soon. Hope you are all well and there aren't any bombs. My, how we will celebrate next Christmas.
3rd January, 1945
We had hoped to start 1945 in Peace, but I guess we must wait a little longer. In the meantime, I do not think the time here has been wasted. The chief thing to do is keep busy. I find it difficult to do concentrated work, so I do a little variety of things. Wish Pom a very Happy Birthday for 13th February. May yet do so myself.
7th January, 1945
Another Sunday come around, I try to write these once a week. I hope my letters come through regularly. I met two chaps here, one knew me at Clanrecard, and the other was in my form at Homefield. If you have any pennies to spare, don't forget the red Cross, one is very thankful for their food parcels here. I keep very fit, I am thankful to say no colds etc. yet. I trust you and the girls are ok this Winter. Hope Meg is in a good Ward and that Pom too finds her work interesting. I guess the city is much the same. Am interested to know what the bets are on the War finishing now. I have just been for a walk around my Estate with Norman Reid, he gives me any news from home he gets. I hope Mrs Robb is better. Tell her I am looking forward to buying her a coffee soon. I wonder if you will be still at No. 22 when I return. I had better call in on Dad first to make sure. Meantime I must live in the present.
21st January, 1945
I hear you are having a very cold Winter, I trust it is a dry cold, and that you both and the girls are keeping fit. The days here are going very quickly. Spring will be here soon, and I trust I will be home again (from my Continental Holiday - not so much of the Cook's Tour about this one). I expect Mother, that you are spending your Sunday cooking dinner as usual, and that Dad you are spending yours in the garden, no Home Guard these days I guess, are you using the trousers to garden in? I have just come from the Sunday Service, they are well supported with bags of hearty singing. The Padres do a good job here. As you may well guess, things here are very well organised. Thus I keep myself busy so that the time does not drag out as it otherwise would.
Well, I trust that my stay in this country is nearly over, I feel that my return home will not be long now. Maybe before I hear from you I will be back home once more. I wonder if England has changed much? Have worked at a bit of Maths this week and I attended a Gramophone recital yesterday.
4th February, 1945
This week some of the chaps received their first letter from home, so I too am expecting news any day now. Did you I wonder address the letters before you knew my Oflag number, to the Red Cross, Geneva? If you did I may hear from you soon. Though I have heard indirectly through Norman Reid. I hear that our luggage was sent home. I will be amazed if it is ok. If you find any military or rather 'strange objects', just hide them away. I packed in rather a hurry and am anxious as to what may be in my tin box. I know you will look after my clothes. Another two months and Winter will be over. Spring is on the way, and I trust the end of the War….and home. I wonder if I will still find you at No. 22, I hope so. If I get a letter from you, I trust I will have more to write about.
17th March, 1945
Spent quite a busy week. Visited the dentist, having two teeth filled (ready for your cooking). Went to a very good play reading, 'The Man of Decency' by B Shaw. Heard a chamber music concert, 'Frog Quartet' by Shubert, both of which I enjoyed very much. We had three sunny days, which were great, doing us all well.
13th April, 1945
Yesterday at 0920 hours we were liberated. Am fit, and we are now well looked after, and expect to be home in a week or two. These are great days and I am looking forward to coming home.
Letters sent to Donald Douglass after release
2nd May, 1945
Dear Sir, I am so grateful to you for your most kind letter, it is the first news I have had of my son's death other than the news from the War Office to say that he had died of his wounds. I did not have this news until the end of February. We were hoping that he was a prisoner of war. It is a great comfort to me and his father to know that you were with him when he was dying, as I have always pictured him dying alone. Now that I know the truth it does help to ease the great loss his death means to us. I am so sorry that I am unable to travel to see you, but, I and my husband thank you very much for your great kindness to my son. We are so glad you are released from the prison camp. Thank you so much and may we both wish you good luck. Yours Sincerely Elizabeth Murray.
14th May, 1945
Dear Lt Douglass, Mrs Rattray and I thank you very much for the letter we had today. It was very kind of you to write to us. We are very glad to have definite news about Arthur at last. We went last week to see Cpl. McCreesh at Bolton Infirmary, it is eleven miles from here. Unfortunately, when we got there we found that he had gone home for a few days. That was last Tuesday and Wednesday. As we know where he lived we went there and found him at home. He gave us all the news about Arthur that he could, and told us about the last time he had seen him. It is a big blow to us to know that Arthur is dead. During all the long time we have been writing, we have never given up. We are pleased to know you thought so much of our boy. He was very keen about his job. He spoke about you last time he was home. If you would like to visit us we would love to meet you, and we have plenty of room to put you up. There is only Mrs Rattray and I at home now. Our only girl died on the 21st of February last year. She was in the ATS and contracted TB there, she was discharged. She lingered a long time and suffered a lot at the end. Our other boy is a Sgt in the RAF and doing fine. He is still in the country. If you can let me know when you are coming here, I could come and meet you. Sgt McCreesh is getting on fine now. He had a big shake. It must have been terrible for those boys on that awful march. We are glad to know that Arthur was able to do such good work. We both wish that you will soon be alright after your spell in captivity. Best Respects J&N Rattray
16th May, 1945
Dear Mr Douglass, Very many thanks for your welcome letter Sir, and I am very glad to hear you arrived back in 'Blighty'. I sincerely hope you're in the best of health, and thoroughly enjoying your leave. It isn't recent wounds that has put me in hospital Sir, (although I did stop a second packet late on that fateful Wednesday night), but maybe Sgt Carter didn't tell you of the march we had from Sagan 8c to Frankfurt 9b….quite a trek Sir. I was taken straight in the camp hospital with bronchitis, and was still there when the Yanks arrived on Easter Monday. All the sick were taken to American Hospitals in the area. I found myself having the first hot bath in months. When the Dr examined me he added Malnutrition and a gastric stomach on my Medical card. Yes, I guess I was a physical wreck Sir. Naturally I was put on a diet, and for a few days I was just having milk. From that I went on to fish etc. and it's only this last fortnight that I have been on a full diet and have been able to have meat. Honestly Sir, I'm eating like a horse now, no bronchial trouble, no gastric, and I have put on three stone in the last month, from 9st 71lbs to 12st 61lbs. I've still got to take it easy though, when the Dr sounded me last week, he told me I'd strained my heart. I hope to be out of 'dock' soon and be able to make the best of my six weeks. I think I've spent enough time telling you about myself, so I'll give you what news I can about the lads. Ellwood's blindness was only temporary Sir, as I saw him at Linberg. Higgins, I believe Sir, was killed as L/CPL Higginbottom was with him at the time and he informed me of this. Smith was wounded Sir, in the leg. It happened when we were trying to escape form the Brigade Building. Crane I believe was also wounded in the arm. I heard about CPL Rattray, but I couldn't bring myself to believe it….I kept hoping he would turn up. I had a visit from his folks last Wednesday, all they had heard was that he was reported 'missing', and they wanted to know if I could give them some definite news. I told them I couldn't, but that I would write to SGT Carter and try to find out anything definite. I was expecting them to come up either tomorrow, but I see that you Sir, that you have already broken the news to Mrs Rattray. Another little bit of news I have Sir is that I saw Colonel Frost the day we landed back in England. It was at an American Transit Hospital near Swindon. He looked very fit Sir, but still limped a little. I too Sir hope to be able to meet you and the rest of the Platoon in the near future, we can perhaps have a small reunion of our own. I heard that the 1st Division had done the job in Norway, so I took it that the Division had been made up to strength. I don't know whether this is correct or not Sir. I think that's all the news for now Sir, so cheerio, and all the best to you Sir and to your folks. Yours Sincerely CPL L McCreesh
Letters received by Donald Douglass's Father
From Lieut. Gen. F.A.M Browning C.B. D.S.O.
Headquarters Airborne Corps
31st October, 1944
Thank you for your letter of 27th October with regard to the 1st Airborne Division's operation at Arnhem.
I am unable to discuss in detail the points you make in your letter, but I should like to make the following quite clear:
1. The remark attributed to me - that the operation was 85% successful - was in fact Field Marshal Montgomery's official statement after the operation had taken place, and was not mine though I agree with it entirely . It referred to the whole operation of the Airborne Corps, which consisted of three Airborne Divisions. The task given to the Corps was to control an area over 50 miles deep, and this task was accomplished except for the two last miles, and one bridge out of the seven involved. That this 15%, or two last miles, resulted in the heroic defence by the 1st Airborne Division and its consequent casualties was, for those closely concerned as you and I were, a personal and tragic misfortune. The casualties saved to the rest of the Army are almost incalculable, but I would put them at between 20 and 30,000. War is a grim business, and one must look at the big picture whatever one's own loss and feelings dictate.
2. Your allegation that there was a serious leakage prior to the commencement of the operations is absolutely untrue. This has been confirmed from German sources since the operation took place. The whole Airborne operation came as a complete surprise to the enemy. The initial landing by all three Divisions was practically unopposed, the casualties to aircraft and troops being negligible.
3. It is true that the 1st Airborne Division was told that the Second Army hoped to be with them in 48 hours. It is also true that we drop, for any operation, with only 48 hours supplies with us, but resupply by air on a large scale is always prepared and dropped automatically, as it was in this case. All Airborne Troops are well aware of the fact that they may have to fight for considerably more than 48 hours. My other two (American) Airborne Divisions fought for three weeks without a break.
4. Overwhelming enemy dispositions were not immediately at hand to operate. They were built up over a period of time, But I agree that the ability of the Germans to concentrate the force in the time they did was certainly not anticipated or considered likely in view of their state of disorganisation at the time.
5. Communications by wireless were not good. The reasons for this were largely technical and were not such as could have been anticipated.
Finally, I must emphasise that the operation was ordered by the Commander in Chief, who had gone into all the risks and fully appreciated them. The risks were accepted.
The normal hazards and uncertainties of war are automatically increased in Airborne operations, and for that reason we have picked troops with, I hope, a very full realisation of what we are taking on. In the case of the failure of the Army to reach 1st Airborne Division the fates were cruel in more ways than one.
You will appreciate, I am sure, that it is neither the custom nor one's duty to discuss military operations to the extent I have done in this letter. As, however, you have taken the trouble to write in the way you have I consider it essential to correct unfounded rumours.
I shall be grateful if you will meet me by not quoting me, and by keeping the contents of this letter private. If I had not felt from your letter that you were the sort of person who would accede to this request, I should not have written so fully as I have.
N.C. Douglass, Esq
22 Worcester Rd
From Major General R.E. Urquhart
Headquarters Ist Airborne Division
7th October, 1944
Dear Mr Douglass,
Thank you for your letter.
I feel that you have got the wrong impression of the activities of some of the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. If you have gained this impression from any remarks of mine I must apologise.
If your son was serving with the 2nd Bn Para Regt, he possibly took part in the most important of the actions of the Division during that period. His Bn actually secured the Bridge at Arnhem and held it for three days.
The Bde, of which the Bn formed part, was given a task which it was appreciated that they would be able to carry out until relieved by the rest of the Division and the 2nd Army. As you know now this was not achieved, but only by a narrow margin.
I hope you will hear some definite news of your son in the near future. (this sentence is hand written)
22 Worcester Road
Account of the Battalion Operations at Arnhem 17th September, 1944
The task given to the 2nd Battalion was;
1. To seize the three bridges over the Rhine at Arnhem.
2. Later to establish the Western half of the brigade sector, forming a bridgehead North of the main road bridge, to allow the advanced units of the 2nd Army free passage, and deny the use of it to the enemy.
The plan for carrying out these tasks was as follows. The battalion would advance with all possible speed, with A Company leading, to seize the Main Road Bridge. On reaching the Railway Bridge West of the town, C Company were to seize the North end, and pass one Platoon to the South with A Company on the main Bridge. C Company were then to establish their part of the Battalion sector for Phase 2.
On reaching the Boat Bridge, B Company were to seize the Bridge and hold it as the left flank of the Battalion sector Phase 2.
We were in possession of detailed information of enemy defences and concentrations, and did not expect anything except hurriedly organised resistance in Phase 1. It was clear however, that the enemy would resist strongly, and we expected to withstand heavy counter-attack, with the likelihood of tanks, until the arrival of the 2nd Army who were scheduled to reach us after 48 hours.
The Battalion was dropped at 1445 hrs on D Day 17th September, with perfect accuracy on the DZ 7 miles west of Arnhem. There was no opposition on the DZ and except for a motor patrol captured by A Company at the RV no opposition was met until we had moved 2 miles towards the town. Here A Company bumped what proved to be the southern flank of a strong enemy position, after a spirited assault by one platoon, were able to continue the advance. They met no more opposition until the Railway West of the town. From then on Armoured cars and hastily organised defences caused only minor delay in the failing light, until A company reached and seized the North end of the main bridge at 8pm. They had taken some 50 prisoners during the advance.
Meanwhile C Company had taken the North end of the Railway Bridge only to see it blown up as they began to cross. Similarly the Boat Bridge which B Company reached after overcoming considerable resistance, was burnt before they could use it. An assault by A Company across the Main Bridge was met by devastating fire from the tanks and light AA on the Bridge, and the attempt was abandoned. Efforts were then made to secure boats for an assault on the South end of the Bridge, but thorough reconnaissance revealed that all the boats had been removed from the North bank.
In spite of these reverses we were more than satisfied with the course of events. By first light on Monday the position was as follows;
1. We had captured our objective with comparatively few casualties.
2. We were holding a small but strong bridge-head North of the Bridge. The force now consisted of the 2nd Battalion, less C Company and one Platoon of B Company (DON DOUGLASS WAS LT. OF THIS PLATOON), with the addition of brigade Headquarters and attached troops who had followed us in. We also had four 6 Pdr. A/TK guns. The force was commanded by LT Col Frost DSO MC.
3. A strong counter attack from the South had been repelled during the night.
4. We had lost contact with C Company after their episode at the Railway Bridge, and although patrols were sent out to contact them, nothing more was heard of them during the battle. We heard afterwards that they had reached their objective, but owing to the failure of the Brigade to establish the original sector, they were isolated, surrounded and eventually suffered much the same fate as ourselves.
Throughout Monday we were attacked with increasing vigour from the East and subjected to continuous mortar fire and shelling. A number of tanks and SP guns supported the attack, and several attempts were made to bring armoured cars and tanks over the Bridge. Heavy Toll was taken by both 6Pdrs and PIATS, and nothing crossed the Bridge during the three days we held it.
During Monday night another counter attack was repelled with heavy losses. The position East of the Bridge where A Company and part of the HQ force and one Platoon from B Company had borne the brunt of the attack.
Until Tuesday midday we had no wireless communication with Div HQ or the rest of the Brigade but we could hear by the noise of the battle that they were having a very sticky time. When contact was finally made, we heard that every effort was being made to reach us. We heard afterwards that they had been unlucky in meeting very heavy opposition soon after leaving the DZ and though they fought without a break, they never got more than a footing in the town.
Major Wallis was killed on Monday evening and Major Tatham Warter took over command of the Battalion. Our casualties had been very heavy, but were mostly wounded. Tuesday was a repetition of Monday, with no appreciable worsening of the situation, except for an increase in casualties and a growing shortage of ammunition. The most serious deficiency was in PIAT bombs, of which we now had none left, and so had no method of dealing with Tanks which shelled our houses at very close range. The 6 Pdrs still kept the Bridge and Western approaches covered but could not maintain the positions East of the Bridge.
By Wednesday midday the situation had worsened considerably. We had been burnt out of all our positions East and immediately West of the Bridge. In spite of the most gallant defence and repeated counter attacks by A and B Company, the remnants of both companies had to be withdrawn to a firm position still covering the Bridge but slightly North, which had previously been held by HQ Company. Col Frost and Major Crawley MC (Commanding A Company) had been wounded the previous evening.
It had now become clear that the rest of the Division were very unlikely to reach us but we were cheered by the news that advanced units of the 2nd Army would reach the Bridge by 5.00pm that evening. This did not happen and by dark the situation had become critical. Soon after dark the few houses still standing were set on fire, and we found ourselves without a position. The wounded were then surrendered, and from reports I received afterwards were well cared for, with our own Doctors to look after them.
During the night we tried to re-establish ourselves in other houses, but in doing so suffered heavy casualties and became very split up. By morning we were no longer a fighting force and the Battle was over.
Of the 2nd Battalion approximately 350 had reached the Bridge, of this number 210 were wounded, many of whom fought out to the end in spite of their wounds. It is not possible to estimate the killed, but I know of approximately 100 taken prisoner unwounded.
The Battalion had fought with the utmost gallantry in inconceivably difficult conditions, and had denied the use of the vital Bridge to the enemy for 80 hours.
My thanks to Helen Smyth for this account.
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