Pictures

Ken Smyth during an inspection by George VI

Lieutenant-Colonel Kenneth B. I. Smyth

 

Unit : Headquarters, 10th Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 36876

Awards : Officer of the British Empire, Twice Mentioned in Despatches

 

Formerly of the South Wales Borderers, the quiet Ken Smyth was the 10th Battalion's first and only commander, having led them in Italy, where they were involved in several minor actions.

 

In their attempt to support the left flank of the 156th Battalion on Tuesday 19th, it was expected that the 10th Battalion would not meet very heavy opposition on their advance along the Amsterdamseweg. However, near the pumping station on the junction with the Dreijenseweg, D Company were pinned down by heavy gun and mortar fire, and as per usual the ensuing attempt by one of the Company's platoons to flank this opposition failed. The 156th had earlier been caught in a similar situation and tried to break through it with a bayonet charge that resulted in half of their number becoming casualties. Lt-Colonel Smyth however chose to be a little more cautious with his approach, and ordered D Company to hold their positions while the Battalion's Mortar Platoon subdued the German defences. This move was successful, but the mortar ammunition eventually ran dry.

 

During the same action, a column of German vehicles approached the positions of HQ Company from the direction of Arnhem. Smyth ordered the men to lie on either side of the road and ambush the convoy at close range, however the vehicles did not take the bait and instead battered the Company's positions with every weapon at their disposal. During the fight, the pumping station was hit and exploded, scattering its tiled roof into the sky and it took about a minute for all of them to return to earth. Smyth drily commented "The landlord won't like that".

 

The 10th Battalion was ordered to retreat from the pumping station, just before the Polish gliders came in to land on LZ-L, half a mile away from the area. Captain Nick Hanmer, the Adjutant, was with Headquarters when the order came through over one of their radio sets. He told his Colonel that they couldn't do that as it was always said to never disengage while under attack. Smyth replied that they would do as they were "bloody well told". Orders were sent out to each of the Battalion's companies, and the withdrawal got underway without serious loss.

 

As the 4th Para Brigade's vehicles and equipment were slowly passed through a tunnel underneath the railway line, the 10th Battalion were charged with holding the ground west of the area. Now with only 100 men, Smyth began to fortify his men inside Wolfheze, and also made use of some glider pilots present and a large force of men separated from the 156th Battalion. However the expected German attack on Wolfheze did not come during the night.

 

The Brigade began to move towards the comparative safety of the Oosterbeek Perimeter on Wednesday morning, with what remained of the 10th Battalion leading their way. German infantry and tanks harassed the Brigade every step of the way, though the fast moving 10th Battalion was not as severely effected by this as the 156th. Sometime during the morning, Smyth was wounded when a bullet hit his right arm, but with a final determined charge, he led his men into the Divisional area at 13:10. Major-General Urquhart saw the men as they arrived at the Hartenstein, and noted that they were exhausted, filthy, and bleeding, though their discipline was immaculate. Smyth, now with a bandage around his arm, reported to the General without drawing breath "We have been heavily taken on, sir. I have sixty men left". Aside from himself, the only other remaining officer of the 10th Battalion was his Second-in-Command, Major Peter Warr. Urquhart ordered him to take his men to the Utrechtseweg-Stationsweg road junction and occupy the houses there, just in front of one of the Main Dressing Stations.

 

On the morning of Thursday 21st, the Germans made a determined attempt to remove the 10th Battalion from their positions. The initial assaults were all repelled, but a self-propelled gun was later placed where it could not be attack, and it proceeded to blow the occupied buildings apart, sometimes using phosphorus shells to set them alight. During this assault, Smyth was severely wounded in the stomach. Unconscious, he was brought down into the cellar of No.2 Annastraat with the other wounded. Upon waking it became clear that he was utterly disorientated and kept on asking "Where am I?". As he drifted in and out of consciousness, the owner of the house Mrs Bertje Voskuil tried to explain that he was in Holland, at Oosterbeek, but he didn't understand.

 

Soon after, German troops moved into the buildings and captured most of those inside. A rather stereotypical German officer entered the cellar; a seemingly hideous man, with a centre parting and a monocle on a ribbon. Ken Smyth regained consciousness and asked to see a commanding German officer. The man spoke no English and asked Mrs Voskuil what "that man" wanted. She was quite outraged and abruptly said that "The Colonel" needed a doctor. He left and returned several minutes later with a German doctor. He briefly examined Smyth's stomach wound and asked Mrs Voskuil to "Tell the officer I am sorry I have to hurt him but I must look at his wound. Tell him to grit his teeth." As the doctor began to pull back the clothing around the wound, Smyth fell unconscious once more.

 

The wound was fatal and it left Smyth paralysed from the waist down. His suffering ended one month later on the 26th October.

 

See also: Lt Glover.

 

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