Gunner George Edwin Durant
Unit : No.1 Battery, 1st Airlanding Light Regiment
Army No. : 14284494
George Durant was born in 1922 and joined the Army in early 1942. By the summer of 1944 he was serving with the Signals Party at No.1 Battery Headquarters, 1st Airlanding Light Regiment.
He flew to Arnhem on Sunday 17th September 1944, his Horsa glider landing safely on LZ-N near Wolfheze. After nine days of continuous action he was captured, issued with the POW number 91884 and first sent to Stalag XIIA, then IVB and IVC. He was liberated by Allied Forces in May 1945. The following is his account of the battle, taken from his letters written in the 1990's to Bob Hilton, to whom I am indebted for this biography.
I was a Driver/Wireless Operator - I suppose there were approximately 8 - 10 to a Battery/Troop - whose function was to link communication by radio and even hand-laid line telephone (a legacy from W.W.I) between our O.P's [Observation Posts] and the guns Command Post. Thus providing information and supporting fire to the forward infantry when needed.
We were mobile and this long established and well trained drill was practiced by R.A. Field regiment's - though particularly difficult at Arnhem, there being no real 'front' and the first lift of 1st Airborne Division stretched all over the place.
I landed by glider in the first lift on Sunday 17th September about 1.40 p.m. - a very 'nose-in' heavy landing. Up front was my Troop Sergeant Major, Reed and two or three others, my jeep, radio, trailer with spare gun-ammo, compo rations, T.S.M's motor-cycle and riding in the tail with myself were 'Archie' Pitt and 'Bob' Dixon.
We were at such a steep angle on landing that us three had to jettison the tail and drop off with it. We then had to hack enough fuselage away to extract the personnel, jeep, etc, but this we accomplished, whilst other gliders were homing-in and para's literally dropping on top of us.
T.S.M. Reed had damaged both his ankles badly (we thought he'd broken them), so we lashed him onto the jeep and I took his m/c [motorcycle] and we eventually made good progress to our first position, on some sloping ground, dug-in a Command Post and remained there that night to await the arrival of the second lift (which of course was badly delayed). Next day was not too active, except around noon, we got straffed by ME 109's which at first we had thought to be Spitfires! After two or three passes, they disappeared with no serious damage in our position.
That night we moved into a new position nearer Arnhem on the edge of some woodland and from then on it got 'hairy' indeed. We made several forays and patrols into the outskirts of Arnhem and many to Divisional H.Q. to try and find some sort of pattern, but after mid-week the battle had degenerated into scores of disjointed sectors, finally squeezed into the famous perimeter around Oosterbeek.
Against and into this zone, the Germans poured troops, shells and mortars - the latter particularly nasty as their six-barrelled mortar rounds emitted a gut-wrenching low increasing moan as they were coming in!
It was on the rim of this area, at dusk, an Officer ordered about 18 of us - mixed units - to hold three slit trenches at all cost and to stay there alive or dead until further orders. He told us that there had been a break through and relief forces were coming over the Rhine that night and repeating his order, he took off into the gloom - we never saw him again, but complied - we'd heard this so many times before, but it might be correct this time! As you well know, you just don't question an order.
As darkness fell, an almighty barrage developed and went on for hours and eventually faded into a weird silence before dawn. The five others I was with, which I seem to recall included a Sergeant in the Recce Squadron, and myself were elated that we were still in action, but this drained away as it got light and we broke cover to see what the score was - we were totally surrounded by German troops, who had just walked over us.
We were marched some way down to a road where there were 30 or so other airborne comrades and I met 'Wally' Bowtell, another signaller from my section, who had just been taken POW. Then we learned that some of the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division had managed to get back over the Rhine, but at least we carried out our last order to the end.
'Wally' and I remained oppo's together via various P.O.W. Camps right through to the end of the war. We met two or three times after the war until he emigrated to Australia, but the greatest re-union was when we raised our glasses in 'The Centrum Café' by Arnhem railway station on 17th September 1994 exactly 50 years to the day we first landed there.
It was near here, in some railway sidings, that the Germans herded the British prisoners, who were locked in covered cattle-wagons (70 in a truck) to begin a grim 9 day journey to Limburg [Stalag] (12A), which was situated in a sea of constant liquid mud.
I was selected, together with a mixed bag of 'Airbornes' for what transpired to be 'special interrogation' and taken to an unknown camp. En route, via Cologne, we were almost lynched by civilians reacting to a recent R.A.F. raid.
A few days in and out of 'solitary' and sick bay and then back to Limburg, then to Mulburg, Stalag IVB. Eager for escape opportunities I joined a working party - which unfortunately proved to be a coal mine (Bettyschacht IVC) sited in a high security zone. It entailed a twelve-hour shift, six days a week, half a mile underground and on a starvation diet with weather at sub-zero.
Early in 1945 we were moved to an open-cast mine near Brux, Czechoslovakia, surviving several determined R.A.F. night raids which pulverized the nearby benzene plant. Sadly, it was during one such raid that we lost three airborne lads, killed by an exploding ack-ack shell in the roof of the hut.
This camp was overrun by the Russians, who liberated us on 7th May 1945. We foraged around Brux, but the situation became increasingly hazardous - the Russians took increasingly large numbers of civilians for summary target practice in retaliation for the actions of young SS-styled fanatics who, armed to the teeth, were dedicated to taking pot shots at anything that moved after nightfall.
We were eventually evacuated by the Russians to the 3rd U.S. Army and thence in stages back to the U.K.
After returning from Germany, some leave and rehabilitation training, I requested to return to The Light Regiment, which I did, but it disbanded in late 1945 and 20 of us flew out to Hyderabad, India as advance party to Eagle Troop, 6th Royal Horse Artillery, the rest of them travelling by sea. They were, by now, using Sherman tanks as O.P's and armoured self-propelled 25 pounders! We could well have done with those at Arnhem! It was a good Regiment and I stayed with them until demobbed.
In the 1990's George became the Chairman for the Swindon Branch of the Parachute Regiment Association and by 1996 had taken up the post of Vice Chairman. George Durant died on the 11th September 2010 aged 88 years. In early 2011 his ashes were taken in a casket on a tour around all the principle sites of the battle from 1944 and photographs taken at each of those places.
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