Pictures

Private Henry Bennett

"B" Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion

Private Henry Bennett in Stalag VIIA

A post-war photograph of Henry Bennett

A post-war photograph of Henry Bennett

Private Henry Bennett

 

Unit : No.5 Platoon, "B" Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 5958939

 

Henry "Terry" Bennett was born on the 9th April 1923. He joined the Army on the 14th October 1940, initially posted to the Royal Artillery and then the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, serving in North Africa from the 11th April 1943 to the 5th January 1944. Bennett qualified as a parachutist on the 2nd March 1944 and was posted to "B" Company of the 3rd Parachute Battalion. He was wounded at Arnhem on the 19th September 1944, taken prisoner and sent to Stalag VIIA. Upon his release, he was discharged on the 1st August 1945, "ceasing to fulfil Army medical requirements."

 

Below are three accounts of his experiences at Arnhem. The first is from his contemporary diary:

 

Reveille was 4.30am, and breakfast at 5.0am, with orders to be ready to move off at app. 6.00, so after getting our kit and chutes ready, we left Spalding by lorry roughly at 6.15am for our dromes.

 

We arrived there at 7.30am, and our planes, already numbered were all lined up ready to go. Everybody was excited and joking with each other, and as we had plenty of time, we gave our chutes their final check over. Just before we were ready to leave we met our pilot and crew, who gave us our last briefing regarding our flight. Zero hour arrived, so orders to emplane were given, and shortly afterwards, all planes started to warm up.

 

By this time, the sun had come out, and as there was only slight clouds, it appeared to be a nice day. Finally we started to form into our respected flights, us being 39, so we had a bit of time left to sit in our plane, and watch our pals from another battalion take off. Our run in came before long, and it was dead 9.30 when we took off. It took a certain amount of time to form up, so we had the pleasure of seeing a good part of England from eight hundred to one thousand feet up.

 

Appr. 10.30am, we knew we were on our way and soon we were flying out over the coast of England towards the channel, and as we were over the water we noticed a fair amount of [craft] about (perhaps for our benefit). By this time we had met our fighter escort, and we spent our time watching them. All the way we were being told the time, and at roughly one o'clock we could see the coast of France, and we sort of felt that that funny feeling we get just before our descent. We noticed the flights in front of us had turned slightly to the left, we knew we should be turning with them.

 

At 11.35am we passed over the coast and shore, we knew it was Holland, as everywhere was under water. Farms, small villages, and you could see the roof tops. After a while we saw the first sign of life, as for a few moments we thought we had arrived at our D.Z. but it proved wrong. It was a fairly large town, and we could plainly see people in the streets waving to us. Up to now we had had no interference from the enemy, but as we were getting further inland we knew what to expect. Before long we knew we were getting close, and we got what we expected. Our plane dropped and rose like a boat, but the flights on our left caught a lot more of flak than we did, but our luck must have been in, as all planes got through without mishap. Still there were no enemy fighters about, and that helped to cheer us up. By now everyone was getting tense as to what to expect next, but that was soon dashed from our minds, as the time arrived to prepare for the descent. It took only a short time to adjust our chutes and strap out kitbags to our legs and we were ready to go. That came next, and as most of my pals said it was one of our best jumps. My kitbag broke loose from about one hundred and fifty ft, and as I watched it crash to the ground, I crossed my fingers for the boys already on the deck as it is a fairly unpleasant thing when kitbags and containers start floating around.

 

It was exactly [2pm?] when I hit the deck and after regaining my kitbag, and finding my two pals, we headed for our rendezvous already marked by coloured smoke. Flights were still coming in, and on the field to our left, our gliders laid everywhere, those boys were the first to land. Still we had not met any enemy resistance, as a few of my pals remarked, (it was too easy), how true those words came later on. At three o'clock, my battalion moved off towards Wolfiesing and we passed quite a few Dutch people who were friendly enough and they only seemed to be interested as to whether they could have our chutes or not, there must have been hundreds laying about.

 

At six o'clock we stopped on the outskirts of Wolfiesing as it was getting dark, and spent the night in some of the houses. Now, the enemy troubled us for the first time with sniping and a bit of mortar fire, but as it was getting dark, he was a shade troubled as to where we were. The night passed without any interference "to note" and at four thirty Mon morning we again moved on to ARNHEM. We had firstly got to go through the village of Wolfiesing, and as we did not know what to expect, we were advised to be cautious. Now we were getting more trouble with snipers as our advance party was a fair distance to the front of us, and the area we had to go through was thickly wooded, a snipers paradise. We made Wolfiesing about 6 o'clock and quite a few civilians were about, but no troops. They were either scared at trying to wonder what was happening, or what to expect, but as they gave no trouble, we tried our hardest to make them feel safe. Soon we were back into open wooded country again, and by now resistance was getting more and more heavy. Progress became slower but we were still moving forward to our positions.

 

During the next few hrs the enemy was getting stronger, and fighting became more fierce, and by Weds morn we knew we were in for no picnic. We had seen other battalions flying in Tues and we had seen others arrive later on during the day, and the ack ack grew more and more intense. Before us the fighting grew more fierce, and before long we were fighting hard for every inch of ground, but we knew or expected our armour to arrive before very long as the arranged time was drawing near. From now on we were having a hard time and we all felt that if our armour did not soon appear we should have to move back. The enemy knew by now what our strength consisted of and he intended to stop us. By this time the main part of our force had reached their positions, and the boys on our left must have been having a hell of a time, as the firing was very heavy. We were getting too much for our liking, and we knew that we must get to our comrades that were already in ARNHEM and fighting like demons, so we had orders to advance. That helped us slightly, because as soon as the enemy saw naked steel, he began to draw back. We kept pushing forward, and by now every man knew he had got to look after himself, and our casualties had begun to mount. The enemy open up with mortars, and we got a taste of his six barreled mortars. After a while news arrived that armour was in the district, and everyone thought that our tanks had arrived, but soon we knew that they were no use to us. Tanks had arrived, but it was heavy enemy armour and before long we saw and felt it.

 

Now we knew we were going to have, as one of our pals said, a hell of a party, and before long we were being blasted out of our positions. Orders came from our H.Q. that they had had to pull out, and very shortly we also started to pull back. We no sooner got a foot hold, then along came his tanks to push us out. All this time he had been hit fairly hard, and quite a number of his tanks had been put out of action, but more came and soon our anti-tank crews were suffering heavy losses. Still we were forced further back, and by now everyone was asking the same question, where the hell our armour was.

 

I was taken to a field dressing station, a fairly large house in the village. I did not remember a lot what happened during this time as I had lost a lot of blood than I should have, but I was treated and soon made comfortable, and I passed out. When I did regain my senses my first thought was what had happened during that space of time, and what my wounds were. I was told I had some blood injected, and also morphine to relieve the pain, as both of my legs were numb, and I had flesh wounds on my right cheek and right thigh. Outside the battle carried on, and occasionally new arrivals gave us the news. We were in that [place?] two days and nights, and the house did not escape damage, as we were in the centre of the battle.

 

Although we could not see anything we could hear plenty of noise, and casualties were arriving all the time. During the afternoon we were told our armour was coming as their heavy guns were firing over our [positions?] but it did not arrive. That night, the firing became more and more intense and we thought our armour had arrived, but the next morning we were told what had happened. The doctor came in and gave us all news which was that our forces had had to retreat owing to heavy pressure and lack of supplies. He did not know how many had got away, and from reports, only a very few managed to cross the river, so we knew our casualties were heavy. Later on a German officer arrived and told us what had happened, and during the day German medics arrived to move us to a proper hospital. We were given cigarettes and food, and as transport arrived we were moved to a large cavalry barracks converted into a hospital, and operated by our own R.A.M.C.

 

We spent the next few weeks there and finally after a train ride which lasted four days and nights through some very pretty country we arrived at Res Lazarette Freising on the 29th Oct 1944 and up till this time I had only met five comrades from my own battalion, and my pal who was with me the day we were wounded. We never did actually know why our tanks could not get through to us, but perhaps one day we shall get to know.

 

That was our D Day. Sept 17th to 26th 1944 and Happy Landings to all comrades who fell with the 1st Airborne Div.

 

 

The following is a questionnaire which Bennett completed whilst Cornelius Ryan was researching his book, A Bridge Too Far. 

 

Mr. H. Bennett,

7 Tulse House,

Tulse Hill Estate,

London S.W.2.

 

20th April, 1967.

 

Dear Mr. Bennett,

 

Your name appears in the records of those who may have taken part in the airborne assault on Holland in September, 1944. I am therefore writing to ask for your help with some research that we are doing on behalf of Mr. Cornelius Ryan, author of The Longest Day and, more recently, The Last Battle.

 

Would you be kind enough to answer the following questions in the spaces provided. Please return this letter to me as soon as possible so that Mr. Ryan may include your experiences in the account of the airborne invasion of Holland which he is planned to write. The book will include a chapter entitled "Where They Are Today", in which your name and occupation will be listed with full acknowledgment. Your assistance will be very much appreciated.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Michael Randolph

Editor, British Editions

 

1) Are your name and address on this letter correct? It not, please amend them. Yes.

 

2) If you can be reached by telephone, please give your number. 628 4444 Extn 203.

 

3) What is your present occupation? A messenger for stockbrokers in City of London.

 

4) What was your rank and unit in September 1944? Private. 'B' Company 3rd Batt. Paratroops. 1st Airborne Div.

 

5) What was your age in September 1944? 21.

 

6) Were you engaged or married then? To whom? If married, did you have any children at that time? No.

 

7) Where were you born? Nth. Kensington. London. W.10.

 

8) What previous action had you seen? South Coast of England on Heavy Ack Ack Battery R.A. Regt. 1st Army in North African Campaign.

 

9) When did you learn that you were going to take part in the operation in Holland? Roughly 12 hrs prior to operation.

 

10) What was your reaction? Were you, for example, anxious, resigned or relieved to be going into action? Resigned and relieved after various alerts to drop in Caen and Inner France.

 

11) What was the trip like into Holland? Did you see anything unusual? Do you remember any conversations you had, or how you passed the time on the journey? Pleasant trip, on a bright and sunny day, remarked about winning at cards during the night while waiting to emplane and having to give it away as we were not allowed English money on us.

 

12) How did you feel about a daylight operation? Do you recall any conversations with your friends about it? What was said? Rather pleased at a daylight drop. Because we knew we were to drop in the centre of a very heavy wooded area, we were debating who the last one to land would be and whether we would have any Roman candles in our stick.

 

13) What were the rumours? Had you heard, for example, that if the invasion of Holland was successful, the war would be over by the coming winter? We had heard that the success of the Arnhem operation would shorten the war by six months or more.

 

14) Did you keep a diary or notebook of what happened to you during any part of September, 1944? Do you still have it? Yes. I have a notebook which was scribbled up after being taken prisoner and removed to a Stalag in Germany.

 

15) Were any of your friends killed or wounded on the day of the drop or subsequent days? Yes.

 

16) Do you remember any conversations you had with them before they became casualties? Yes, after several boys had been killed someone called for a radio set, as there was only two of us left at the crossroad, my companion and I tossed a coin who would go up the road with it. Both of us knew there was a crossfire of machine guns on the road. I was the unlucky one.

 

17) Were you wounded or captured during the period? Can you give details? I ran up the road with the set and got the crossfire in my left leg, and lay in the gutter for about 12 hrs before being taken away by medics who found me.

 

18) Do you remember any significant dealings you may have had with Dutch civilians or members of the Dutch Underground? Please explain. After being wounded I remember being hid by a family in the cellar of their house, until our own troops cleared the area and removed us all to a large hospital set up at a crossroad in Wolfiesing.

 

19) What do you recall most vividly about the country of Holland? The civilians were very kind and helpful and with no thought of the risk and sacrifice they were taking if caught.

 

20) Do you recall any incidents with the Germans - fights, surrenders, truces or conversations you may have had with them afterwards? While in the house used as a hospital some German troops came in and put a machine gun across the top of an old piano to shoot us all, but a wounded German soldier lying near us said something to them and they went away.

 

21) Do you know of others who took part in the operation, to whom we might write? Please give their names and last-known addresses. A list of last known addresses I will attach for you.

 

22) Do you recall seeing or hearing anything that seems humorous now, even though it may not have seemed so at the time? On my return home late 1945 I was met by the chap I tossed the coin with (16) he remarked that when I was hit my Tommy gun went one way the wireless went the other and I went like a jack rabbit to the gutter which rather amused us both.

 

23) Do you recall any incident, sad or heroic or simply memorable, which struck you more than anything else? The Dutch people themselves, as they did everything possible to help us all at a great sacrifice to themselves and property, the humour and the great comradeship of all my pals which I have never found in civvy life since.

 

24) In times of crisis, people generally show great ingenuity or self-reliance; others sometimes do stupid things. Do you recall any examples of either? Stupid yes. While going through the village I and others picked some fruit from trees and put them inside our jumping jackets, later when I was cornered at a road junction, I put my hand in my jacket to get a grenade to throw and produced a pear instead and had to run hell for leather for cover.

 

 

The following second-hand account of Bennett's experiences was compiled from an interview for A Bridge Too Far on the 1st August 1967.

 

They were marched to a school, just around the corner from Spalding (Lincs.) Town Hall, on the morning of Saturday, September 16. There, in a room on the ground floor, with desks pushed up against the wall and large colored maps hanging down over the blackboards, they were told they were going to Holland after all.

 

Listening to the briefing given by B Co. CO, Major Peter Waddy (privately, they called him "Cowboy" because of his bandy legs and habit of wearing his .45 slung low on his hip), Pvt. "Terry" Bennett thought it sounded a bit more practical than the last operation planned in Holland. Practical or not, he decided, he was all in favor of going. Anything would be better than spending the rest of the war climbing in and out of airplanes every two weeks or so.

 

He half-heard Major Waddy going through the usual intelligence estimate of the Germans; there would be a few thousand "home guard" troops, weak and demoralized, and some beat-up armor that shouldn't cause them much trouble.

 

His ears pricked up, however, when the major ended the briefing by emphasizing how important the mission was and that, if successful, they could expect to see the war in Europe shortened by as much as six months. Bennett ticked off the six months in his mind and figured, with luck, they might all by home by Christmas.

 

Although he had never won a penny in his life and was superstitious enough to believe now would be a bad time to start, Pvt. Bennett, like most of the rest, could not sleep the night before they left. There were two Pontoon (Blackjack) games going down at the end of the barracks room and he got up and wandered down, joining a group of three others.

 

They played all night and at dawn, when the game finally broke up, Bennett was astounded to discover he had actually won 9. He was aware of the Cowboy's explicit orders, however: Nothing English, except ID tags, was to be taken into battle.

 

"Wouldn't you know it," he told Pvt. Alfred "Rocky" Small. "Spend half me life losin' and the day I finally win I can't take it with me." He tossed all except one penny out of the back of the lorry on the way to the airdrome an hour later. The penny he decided to keep - "For luck."

 

The talk on the way over that day was of what they would find and how long it would take to defeat whatever they did find. The major topic, however, was: Who pinched the cigarettes from NAAFI three days before? They had heard that several cartons had turned up missing and Bennett tried to remember if he had seen any of his chums smoking excessively the past couple of days. He had heard The Cowboy had launched a full-scale investigation and he thought whomever had pinched the fags was pretty lucky Arnhem had come along and taken the major's mind off the theft.

 

They had reached the crossroads near the center of Oosterbeek [on Sunday, 17th September], when firing again drove them off the road. It seemed to Bennett that it had taken them an awful long time to get that far. It was just beginning to get dark and they had been held up by sniper fire three or four times already that afternoon.

 

On one of these earlier occasions, Bennett and a few others had scampered into a back garden and helped themselves to dozens of ripe pears. He had eaten one and shoved three or four more into his smock alongside his grenades.

 

Major Waddy ordered them into the houses near the crossroads for the night and Bennett found himself in a large house on the corner. About an hour later, somebody told him to go outside and find out what the commotion was on the road, Evidently, something sounded suspicious. Bennett wiggled out of the back door, crawled through the garden and around to the front. He stole across the front lawn and over to the iron-railing fence that surrounded the house.

 

Peering out across the road, he could see that three Germans had set up a sand-bagged machine gun nest right in the corner of the crossroads. The gun was pointed up the street, in the direction they had just come from.

 

Bennett reached into his smock and got a grenade. He pulled the pin and lobbed it toward the machine gun nest 25 or 30 feet away. He heard the grenade bounce on the street. It did not explode.

 

The crew of the machine gun was alerted. Bennett saw the gun swivel back and forth. He reached hastily in his pocket for another grenade. He did not realize until he started to pull the pin and found only a thin, woody stem that he had grabbed a pear instead. He threw it at the Germans, anyway, and then got up and ran for the house, machine gun bullets kicking up dirt all around him.

 

They moved out towards Arnhem at about 4:30 a.m. [on Monday, 18th September]. Sniping and mortar fire was heavy. Bennett remembers the one constant order was "Move! Move! Move!" but he wondered how in hell they could move when "the whole bloody road is a carpet of bombs and bullets." He wondered if they would ever get to the bridge and he wondered, too, how they would ever hold it with what was left of the company.

 

It was late morning when someone shouted back for the wireless. Bennett and another private (?) had found one earlier that morning laying beside the road and they had picked it up, thinking it might be useful. The private had it on his back.

 

Lying in a shallow ditch alongside the road, Bennett reached in his pocket and took out the one penny he had saved from his card-game winnings. "Here, Jock," he shouted over the din of machine gun fire and mortar bombs, "I'll toss you for it. Heads, I go, tails, you do." The coin came down heads.

 

Bennett strapped the wireless on his back and ran. He crossed the road twice and had just stood to cross a third time when a German machine gun opened up. Bennett heard someone shout, "Jump!" and he jumped. The bullets tore into his left leg and he pitched headlong across the road and into the ditch. He heard a voice cry out, "How bad are you hit?" "I don't know," he answered. "I think it's my leg." The man called for him to take his morphia, squeeze the skin above the wound and give himself an injection. Bennett got the ampule of morphia from his collar, squeezed the skin somewhere above his knee and jammed the needle in. He felt no pain from the leg, only a numbness. Then, when the morphia took hold, only a dreamy drowsiness. Then blackness.

 

It was getting dark when he regained consciousness. He was still in the ditch. He saw someone had placed a field dressing around his knee. The leg still felt numb. He guessed he had been lying there alongside the road for at least five or six hours. He felt thirsty.

 

Two stretcher-bearers came along and stopped beside him. "You'll be all right, mate," one of them told him as they lifted him on the stretcher. The leg had now begun to throb. Pvt. Bennett was frightened for the first time. Suppose they had to take it off?

 

They took him back toward Oosterbeek, along the main road, and placed him in the cellar of a house along with six other wounded. There was a Dutch couple there. He judged them to be in their late 30's. The woman, who smiled and told him her name was "Margaret," had put two candles in the cellar. Later, she came down with a pot of warm soup and some biscuits.

 

They were carried the next day (Tuesday Sept 19) further back and into Oosterbeek, where they were taken to a large house with a green half-moon of lawn in front, cut off by a wide, gravel-gray circular drive, that ran past the main entranceway of the house.

 

There were dozens of wounded laying about in the large front room. Most of the furniture had been removed, but, near the doorway, was a large piano. Lying under it, Bennett saw, was a wounded German. His eyes stared straight up at the ceiling and at first Bennett thought he might be dead. Then he saw him blink.

 

By late afternoon, the shelling around the building had grown intense. Bennett remembers several of the badly wounded crying out in fear and pain. Suddenly, at the window, he saw a grimey, whiskered face. It was an airborne paratrooper, his red beret cocked jauntily over one eye. "Just want you blokes to know it's O.K.," he said with a wide grin. "We'll take care of you." His head disappeared from the window. Somebody in the room said they had just moved a 25-pounder into the front yard.

 

The next thing Bennett remembers was a horrible explosion outside. Just before that, he thought he caught the sound of tank treads. The 25-pounder had opened up then. The explosion came a few minutes later and he knew instinctively the gun in the front yard had been hit.

 

Now he could definitely hear the sound of a tank. It rumbled up outside and he heard heavy footsteps running across the yard and up the steps of the house.

 

Three Germans burst into the room and mounted a machine gun on the piano. Bennett watched horrified as they swivelled it back and forth across the room, its snout pointed downward at them as they lay helpless, staring up at it. Bennett was sure the Germans were going to kill them. He started to pray.

 

The German who was wounded and lying under the piano said something. One of the Germans on the machine gun answered him and Bennett saw them pick the gun up and leave the room.

 

Wednesday Sept 20, Bennett remembers the shelling near them went on almost without stop. Sometime during the day, he recalls that a padre (McGowan?) came down the stairs from the first floor and told them not to worry. "They won't hit this place," he said. "And I'll stake my life on that." A few minutes later, the house shook from a direct hit on the roof and someone came down and told them the padre had been wounded.

 

They were evacuated from the house and taken by jeep during a truce to the St. Elizabeth Hospital. There, Bennett was put in a bed in the main corridor of the hospital, from where he could look out that night and see the city of Arnhem burning down all around him.

 

There were several operations going in the operating room when they brought Pvt. Bennett in and lifted him off the stretcher and onto the operating table. The leg was paining him terribly now. He did not want to lose it, yet he could not help thinking that it would be almost worthwhile if only the pain would stop.

 

Someone wrapped a rubber tube around his left arm and injected a needle into a bulging vein. A voice said, "Count from one to ten," and he began counting slowly. "One.... two.... three.... four.... five...."

 

He opened his eyes and for a moment he had no idea where he was. Then he remembered. His leg still felt numb and he was too scared for several seconds to look and see if it was there. Finally, he picked his head up and braced himself with his elbows. There, before his eyes, was one of the most glorious sights he had ever seen in his life: his big toe. He wriggled it once, then recoiled in pain and lay back gratefully. He saw as he did that he had a huge white cast on the leg. It stretched from about the middle of his thigh to the middle of his calf.

 

Following the withdrawal, Bennett was evacuated to Apeldoorn. He spent a few weeks there and was then transported by train to a huge Roman Catholic Church in Freising (Res-Lazarrette), Germany, which had been converted to a military hospital. He arrived there in late October and was liberated by the Americans several months later.

 

 

My thanks to Gary Bennett for this biography.

 

Back to 3rd Parachute Battalion

Back to Biographies Menu