Private John J. Hall

 

Unit : No.1 Platoon, "R" Company, 1st Parachute Battalion

 

John Hall was a Bren gunner in Lieutenant Kilmartin's No.1 Platoon, part of R Company who led the 1st Battalion's advance on Sunday 17th, until they were grounded in a prolonged engagement in the woods south of the Amsterdamseweg. Moving through the woods, Hall's platoon approached a road and were about to cross when a German machinegun was fired, killing one man who fell down to the road, his body writhing as the bullets struck him. His comrades returned fire until the gunner was silenced. Such delaying engagements were typical of how the battle progressed on the first day, and several more of these skirmishes befell No.1 Platoon. John Hall recalled that on one such occasion, a German soldier emerged from the trees as if to offer his surrender. One of the platoon's NCO's went over to fetch him, but was killed as his did so by other Germans who fired from under cover. After the subsequent exchange of fire, No.1 Platoon decided that from this point on they would not be taking any prisoners.

 

Lieutenant Kilmartin deliberately led his men through the dense woodland at every opportunity, and this way they made good progress, but as they approached the Amsterdamseweg it wasn't long before the menacing rumble of engine noises were heard and the order was given to dig in. The slit trenches were easily made in the soft sandy soil, by which time the tanks were close by. Hall recalled that a sudden hell then broke out, with shells exploding in the woods, and bullets whistling by, cracking trees as they hit them. As R Company opened fire the flashes of gunfire revealed the silhouettes of the armoured vehicles, and Hall said that this was the one time he had said a prayer, and believed that it carried him through the engagement. Due to the difficult nature of the ground it took some time before the 1st Battalion's mortars could be brought into action, but when they were their accurate bombardment caused the Germans to withdraw in a hurry.

 

John Hall was with R Company as the 1st Battalion attempted its final attack at dawn on Tuesday 19th. Their brave charge was soon broken up by the impassable German blocking line, and when it became obvious that there was no hope of getting through one of the few remaining NCO's shouted the order "Every man for himself!". Hall decided to get to the river and then try to swim across. He threw his Bren gun into a bush and took off his pack and ammunition pouches before making a dash to the river bank, somehow reaching it through the dense volleys of fire that had destroyed the battalion. He continued to make his way over, taking shelter behind whatever cover was available, until he happened across a paratrooper who had been shot in the foot. The man asked for help, and so Hall paused to remove his boot, which revealed quite a mess. He administered a morphine injection before starting to bandage the wound, but moments later he heard a voice and looked up to see a German machinegun pointing at him. Hall expected himself to be killed at any moment, because paratroopers were not always ones for taking prisoners, but instead the German merely placed him under arrest and led him away. Hall thought that as he was not armed and presently tending a wounded man, the German could have mistook him for a medical orderly, but either way he didn't wish to take the trouble to find out.

 

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