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Private Gerry Dimmock

Private Gerry F. Dimmock

 

Unit : "A" Company, 10th Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 7893723

 

Gerry Dimmock was a Jeep driver in the 10th Parachute Battalion, and at Arnhem was the driver of Captain Queripel VC. The following are his recollections of the battle as reported in an article in the Galloway Gazette in 2004:

 

Numbers have special significance when commemorative events for World War Two come around. For the Allies, the early war years at sea, in Europe and in Asia were ruinous: hence 1940-1942 tributes are sombre and muted. Actions at Dunkirk and Moscow are remembered for what they were - heroic and bloody battles against overwhelming odds. After Stalingrad the tide of war turned, meaning 1943-1945 anniversaries reflect renewed hopes of the time, a belief that dawn was about to break after a long dark night.

 

By 1944, east and west the war was being won. On June 4th, D-Day launched the long awaited second front in Europe, while in the east Kiev was liberated by the Red Army on the 29th. Both events had their 60th anniversaries this year. But as Allied forces drew closer to Germany's borders, late 1944 witnessed severe reverses. None were worse than 'Operation Market Garden', according to Gerry Dimmock, of Knockstocks Cottage, near Newton Stewart.

 

22-year-old Gerry was part of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's master plan to shorten the war by 6 months, when on September 17th he was among 10,000 British paratroops of the 1st Airborne Division to be dropped far behind enemy lines near Arnhem in southern Holland.

 

Gerry had already seen years of war, and had emerged more or less unscathed to take his place in the glider. Gerry had joined the Royal Tank Regiment before the war, before joining the 10th Battalion, Parachute Regiment for the desert campaign after El Alamein. From there it was across the Mediterranean for the invasion of Italy in 1943, where Gerry was captured north of Tarranto. After several weeks he managed to escape back to British lines, a sceptical officer making Gerry - dressed in a German Army shirt and belt - sit on the bonnet of his jeep as he drove him back for debriefing.

 

Now Gerry was on his way to Holland with the 1st Airborne. Their mission -- to take, and hold, the Arnhem Bridge over the Rhine, far behind enemy lines until help arrived. 20,000 US troops simultaneously dropped at Eindhoven and Nijmegen, much closer to Allied lines, were to link up with 30 Corps in the south, then strike out for Arnhem and the British bridgehead, relieve it, then steamroller into Germany. The plan depended upon coordination, timing and good intelligence. Gerry remembers the plan as having none of those elements.

 

He flew out in the first wave on September 17th, from Keevil Airfield, near Bath on a beautiful autumn morning. A long tow line connected the Horsa glider to the Stirling tow-plane, which had to get them to Arnhem. Hopes were high. Inside the glider were two pilots, four drivers including Gerry, and four co-drivers. Their weapons and equipment were secured behind them, next the row of four jeeps, chained to the fuselage. Short of Arnhem, enemy fire became intense and the Stirling was hit by heavy flak as the main canals came into view near the Dutch town. The glider was forced to cast off early and landed short, only just on the drop zone's perimeter. Gerry remembers watching the burning Stirling go down in fields nearby. Once out of the glider, a hail of mortar and machine gun fire met them.

 

"In our briefing we were told the opposition around Arnhem was going to be light but when we got there, there were two German Panzer divisions holed up there. We hadn't been given any anti-tank weapons to deal with them," said Gerry. "Once we had fought our way off the drop zone, it was our job to link up with the rest of the battalion. 2 Battalion were sent into Arnhem and the 10th and 156th stayed to defend the perimeter at Wolfheze and Oosterberck. In the end we were just defending a very small perimeter. The fighting was horrendous, my job was mainly ferrying the wounded to the St. Elizabeth Hospital." This was a deadly task. Three miles closer to Arnhem, even getting to the hospital with his casualties was a minor miracle for Gerry, who ran the gauntlet of constant enemy fire. The hospital was to become the main treatment centre for 1st Airborne's casualties.

 

Almost immediately after landing, the situation began to worsen. Radios would not work, making communication next to impossible. Crucial supplies drops fell mostly into German hands because faulty coordinates were given. Fog over England delayed the arrival of reinforcements as pressure on the Oosterberck pocket began to intensify. Units became detached from each other. Worst of all, the relieving armoured columns were bogged down far to the south. Gerry remembers the hellish conditions vividly.

 

"On the fourth day my jeep was hit by mortar fire. Until then I had been based at the Hartenstein Hotel, but from then on I fought with the infantry," he said. The hotel, true to its central role in the battle, features in the film 'A Bridge Too Far'. During this time desperate attempts had been made to relieve 2 Battalion, who had managed to punch through to the Rhine bridge's north end in Arnhem. Under murderous fire from the south bank, the attempt failed, and what was left of the relieving force fell back on Oosterberck. During this action Gerry's CO, Captain Lionel Queripel, from Jersey, led and encouraged his men with selfless bravery as they tried to reach Arnhem. Most were cut down by enemy machine gun fire and mortars from across the river. Hours later, a mortally wounded Captain Queripel ordered his men to withdraw from a hopeless situation near Wolfheze, choosing to remain alone to cover the retreat. He was posthumously awarded the VC. "He was a wonderful man," said Gerry.

 

At Oosterberck the savaged battalions were joined by those units who had managed to fight their way through from the now overrun landing zones to the north. It would now be impossible for the main body of 1st Airborne to save their comrades at the north end of the bridge at Arnhem. Only 3,500 troops now remained in a small bridgehead north of the river. Meanwhile, at the Arnhem bridge, after four days and three nights of tenacious struggle, the last few dozen men from 2 Battalion were overwhelmed. The plan now was to hold the Oosterberck pocket on the north bank until 30 Corps and the American airborne divisions could reach them from Nijmegen. But in a cauldron of death and horror, day on day the pocket was reduced. "We had several truces with the Germans to exchange prisoners and to allow the wounded to be taken to the hospitals - theirs and ours," remembers Gerry.

 

After 8 days of carnage the 1st Airborne's commanders agreed to withdraw the men that were left across the Rhine. "When we were ordered to withdraw we were gutted," said Gerry. "Those who could swim across did so, but by this time the Polish Army from the other side [on the south bank] had brought up rubber boats, but most of them were sunk by mortar fire. Being a strong swimmer I managed to get across, but all the time I was swimming across the river we were constantly under mortar and machine gun fire because the Germans had taken over the heights and could see everything that was going on. Many of the battalion scattered into the Dutch countryside and were hidden by Dutch patriots, others were captured or killed and just a few of us managed to get across." Gerry and his fellow swimmers came under merciless bombardment, and by the time he was dragged out of the river he had severe blast wounds, caused by percussion from mortar rounds.

 

"From the River Rhine we were taken to Nijmegen, then Brussels, then home. When I look back on life I'm bloody lucky to be here. I'd resigned myself to shake hands with Jimmy God several times. Compared to previous battles in North Africa and Italy, they were tea parties compared to Arnhem. It was a horrendous battle. The whole time was so traumatic, especially with all your colleagues dropping all around you," said Gerry. "I've always said we parachuted into hell and it's been hell ever since - with memories. There was a fair amount of anger afterwards, it was a battle which should have been foreseen, and the danger of it. It was definitely a bridge too far and it was the Brits who went the furthest."

 

For Gerry the war was over, but more personal grief was soon to follow. On Christmas Day, 1944 his father in law was killed in the Ardennes during the German counter-offensive later known as 'The Battle of the Bulge'. "The Yanks were running and they threw them (British troops) in to stem the flow. I had the job of going to tell his wife, it was a horrible time."

 

After arriving battle-weary and shell-shocked in England, the shattered remnants of the Parachute Regiment were sent to Scotland to convalesce at Loch Eilort. There, for some, the horrors of what they had seen became too much to bear. Gerry remembers how one officer hung himself in the Highland solitude, others being so traumatised they contented themselves with lobbing grenades into the loch to kill fish. Scarcely six months later, Gerry was back in Arnhem, this time with a camera in place of a gun. Even as they were burying the dead from September's battles, "Theirs is the Glory" was being filmed amid the ruins and stench of corpses.

 

The fore-runner to the less graphic 'A Bridge Too Far' used surviving soldiers from the struggle as actors, along with local residents playing themselves. Every incident was either experienced or witnessed by those who appear in the film. Gerry featured in several scenes, but other memories of his second visit to Arnhem still haunt him. "They were still digging up the bodies in the gardens all around Oosterbreck and putting them in the central cemetery," said Gerry. "All you could see was a mass of feet sticking out of the backs of the lorries as they took them away to the cemetery. The cameraman wouldn't go into one tunnel because there were still bodies piled up inside, but they were only skeletons in uniforms. I took the photograph, because the media people wouldn't go down there."

 

Of more than 10,000 troops landed at Arnhem, scarcely 2000 made it back, making Operation Market Garden one of the western war's most costly failures. Gerry is in no doubt Montgomery's planning failures had cost so many of his comrades their lives. "It was Monty's cock-up. There are far too many young men in the graveyard at Oosterberck," he said.

 

Now Gerry is planning his annual pilgrimage to the place where so many colleagues will forever lie. A huge welcome, as always, awaits. "They are going to give us a hell of a good do this year. The Dutch government are spending a hell of a lot of money - all the school kids are doing something. Every day there's a different function put on by the Dutch Government. There's a march across the railway, a parachute drop on Genckel Heath, when 1000 paratroops will drop in memory of those who died." Over the years Gerry has made a lot of Dutch friends, though one year at Arnhem was extra special. He met the sister of his CO Captain Lionel Queripel, who died in that heroic last stand at Wolfheze.

 

 

Gerry Dimmock passed away on the 14th November 2015, aged 93. The following was subsequently printed in the Galloway Gazette:

 

World War Two Battle of Arnhem hero Gerry Dimmock from Knockstocks Cottage, near Newton Stewart, passed away last Saturday at the age of 94. In September 1944, Paratrooper Gerry was with the 1st Airborne Division instructed to take the bridge at Arnhem, as part of 'Operation Market Garden' as the allies tried to push the Germans back after the D-Day landings. As a driver, Gerry and his jeep were towed across to Holland in a glider attached to a tow plane and had to battle through two crack German Panzer divisions using only small arms.

 

In an interview with the Galloway Gazette last September, Gerry remembered: "We had to fight them without anti-tank weapons, we were only fighting them with small arms, the bombs we did have were just bouncing off the tanks. As a driver, during the last three days of the battle I was busy picking up the wounded and taking them back to the dressing station it was a very, very hairy thing to do as I expected a bullet in the back at any minute as I only had a white handkerchief on a broomstick driving through the German lines. We burst the doors off houses and I wired three of them onto the jeep so I could carry three wounded lying down and two in the seats. I put on so many tourniquets on people that were bleeding to death I became the world's expert."

 

"I was wounded three times during the war and the last time was when I was crawling out of the Rhine at Arnhem when I was hit by a mortar, having gone through the eight days of the battle. A mortar bomb landed so close it burst my eardrum and a piece of shrapnel shaved my pelvis. I was taken to Brussels and then flown back to England and that was the end of the war for me. General Browning after the Arnhem battle got all the survivors together in the church at Nijmegen to announce: "I will see to it that none of you who fought at Arnhem will go into action again", and he kept his word."

 

Gerry also fought at Dunkirk, North Africa, the Middle East and Italy. After the war he returned to Arnhem for the filming of 'Theirs is the Glory'. Despite his failing health, Gerry returned to the scene of one of the war’s most bloody battles every single year since 1944, until last year when his doctor advised against travelling to the Dutch town for the 70th anniversary, where he would have been given pride of place as the only survivor left of the Allied troops who swam the Rhine to escape the Germans.

 

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