Major John L. C. Waddy

 

Unit : "B" Company, 156th Parachute Battalion

 

John Waddy commanded the 156th Battalion's B Company, having been amongst the Battalion's original officers at the time of its formation in India in October 1941. In February 1942, as a Lieutenant and the Intelligence Officer, he was badly injured after a practice drop and was in a coma for three days, suffering from severe concussion. Promoted to Captain, he was transferred to the 4th Para Brigade's HQ as Brigade Intelligence Officer, and he acted in this capacity in the Middle East and Italy. In the latter of these arenas he helped thwart a German armoured attack upon the 156th Battalion when he stumbled upon an abandoned 179mm Italian howitzer. Though the Germans had been content to merely fight a stalling rearguard action up until this point, they had observed that the 4th Para Brigade was overstretched and so began to contemplate an advance. However their nerve was broken when the gun was brought to bear upon a large building that was central to their position. In the absence of an artillery crew the gun was aimed by simply opening the breech, looking up the barrel, and sighting the target through it. The first shot flew over the building, but the second demolished it and the enemy withdrew.

 

Taking off at about noon on Monday 18th, the Second Lift passed over the North Sea and Waddy witnessed a few gliders cast off prematurely to make forced landings in the sea, from where they were quickly attended to by the rescue boats lining the route. On the approach to DZ-Y, approximately 12 miles short, he was standing in the open doorway of his C-47, which was towards the front of the formation, when German anti-aircraft fire began to pour up at the planes. They were flying at about 700 feet and were so low that Waddy could see the whites of the gunners faces as they looked upwards. The lead aircraft in his three-plane 'vic' formation received a direct hit and exploded in a ball of flame. Waddy watched it as it went down, passing beneath his aircraft until its port wing hit the ground, causing it to roll over and explode once more. The plane had been carrying half of the 156th Battalion's Machine Gun Platoon, and all 24 onboard, 18 paratroopers and 6 aircrew, were killed. Waddy observed that the fighter escort was very effective, and following behind the aforementioned C-47 were two RAF Typhoons which fired several volleys of rockets at German positions on the ground. He also praised the American aircrews who maintained a tight formation in spite of being subjected to a heavy barrage for half an hour.

 

Major Waddy had been most surprised to hear the distinctive sound of German machinegun fire ringing out as he jumped over Ginkel Heath, as, like all others in the 4th Para Brigade, he had been told that the Germans were in disarray and that the very few of them who were actually in Arnhem were of little concern and would be subdued by the time of their arrival. However, the area where the 156th Battalion landed was largely under German control and there was a good deal of small arms fire coming at the paratroopers as they came down. The ground below Waddy's feet appeared to be almost completely masked in smoke from the fires raging across the drop zone. Upon landing, he began to make his way over to the rendezvous area, encountering many dead and wounded men on the way, and he saw that mortars were exploding everywhere and the sky appeared to be shrouded in flames. Once he had made it to the rallying point he was greeted by a very angry Captain of the 156th Battalion's HQ, who had arrived in Arnhem on the previous day as part of their advance party. He shouted "You're bloody late. Do you realize we've been waiting here for four hours?". The Captain proceeded to brief Waddy on the situation; the grimness of which came as quite a shock to him. Immediately after he set about organizing B Company and making them ready to move off.

 

On the following morning, the 4th Para Brigade attempted to break through the German blocking line on the Dreijenseweg with the 156th Battalion leading the way. C Company moved first to capture an area of high ground that would enable A and B Companies to press on. Meanwhile B Company provided covering fire for this move, positioned in houses south of the rail line, and it was from here that they spotted a number of enemy troops and armoured vehicles in the vicinity, and so obligingly shot them up. A Company then took the lead whilst B Company held their left flank. However, A Company met very heavy opposition and were cut to pieces as they tried to force their way through. Unfortunately, news of this failure did not filter back to Battalion HQ, and so at 09:00 B Company began their advance. Lt-Colonel Des Voeux had told Waddy that A Company had reached the Dreijenseweg and had passed it after only encountering a few snipers, but as his men marched forward it became very clear that this was far from the truth. A heavy fire fight was heard up ahead, while several Bren carriers drove by loaded with A Company's wounded. The sides of the road were littered with their dead, and Waddy passed a complete platoon headquarters who had all been killed.

 

As they neared the Dreijenseweg, B Company encountered a well formed defence. With German infantry occupying prime defensive positions in the trees and the worrying sound of armoured vehicles clattering up and down the road, the order was given to advance at the double. B Company pressed on for 500 yards before their advance was stalled and they were compelled to fall back. A twin-barrelled 20mm anti-aircraft gun was brought to bear and it had a devastating effect on the paratroopers in the woods; its shells exploded upon contact with the trees, and this sent lethal splinters flying in every direction. Waddy, who was following up behind the two leading platoons, took a small party of men, including the commander of Support Company, Captain Tom Wainwright, and dashed over to the gun across a clearing, under the cover of an aircraft that had passed low overhead. They made it to within 10 yards of the gun when Waddy ordered a man on his right to lob a phosphorus grenade at it, and he was about to do so when he was shot through the head, directly from above. Waddy, who was used to carrying a captured German Schmeisser about his person but had left it at his HQ, saw that a sniper was in the tree above their heads, and he immediately drew his pistol and discharged half the magazine at the man, to no effect, until the sniper fired once more and hit him in the groin. He fell to the ground and began to crawl away as another shot was fired at him. Luckily for Waddy, the 6'4" Ben Diedricks, one of B Company's Rhodesian soldiers, rushed through the bushes and carried him clear, saying "Come on, Sir, let's get you out of here". Though his first thought had been to take out the gun that was doing so much damage to his men, he later reflected that when a Major becomes involved in such an action he is not doing his duty as a company commander and he would have been better advised to stay back and form a plan to overcome the obstacle that lay before them.

 

Waddy made it into the Oosterbeek Perimeter and spent the remainder of the battle inside one of its Dressing Stations. On Sunday 24th, Waddy was wounded once more when a mortar struck the window sill of a large bay window and exploded, sending a fragment of shrapnel into his foot. Shortly after the room in which he lay was hit again, and he received deep cuts to his face, chin, and right shoulder from wood splinters were propelled in his direction and from bricks that fell on him. At this point the 1st Airborne's senior medical officer, Colonel Graeme Warrack, rushed outside. As Waddy hauled himself up, he could see Warrack standing in the street and yelling at the Germans "You bloody bastards! Can't anybody recognize a Red Cross?".

 

John Waddy recovered from his wounds and saw active service after the war in Palestine, Malaya, and Egypt. He then joined the Canadian Air Training Centre as an instructor during an exchange, attended staff college in 1950, and was promoted to the rank of a full Colonel and given command of the Depot The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces. He was later to become Colonel of the SAS. Returning to Arnhem in 1954, he was presented with a blackened and severely battered silver cigarette case, bearing the inscription "Waddy". Upon returning home, he had the case repaired by a jeweller and it became clear that the case had belonged to Colonel Hilaro Barlow, who had been killed at Arnhem. It had been presented in the mid-1930's by John Waddy's father (then Commander of the 2nd Somerset Light Infantry) to the then Captain Barlow as reward for winning a point-to-point race. The case was found 150 yards from where Barlow had been killed. Waddy later wrote a book, A Tour of the Arnhem Battlefields. In 2000 he made a television appearance on the Channel 4 series, Great Military Blunders, of which the Battle of Arnhem formed a part.

 

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