Private Len Hoare
Unit : Mortar Platoon, Support Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 6351050
I myself was in the Mortar Platoon HQ, consisting of Lt. Woods, Sgt. Jackman, Pte. Bob Pope (Rangefinder), Pte. Lou Taylor (Lt. Woods's batman & runner) and myself Pte. Len Hoare on the radio between the O.P. (Lt. Woods) and the Mortar Platoon.
We landed with no trouble, joined the Platoon and headed for the Bridge, stopping to have our photo taken. The photo is in the Museum at Oosterbeek [Hartenstein]. Soon after we hit the road two lorry loads of Germans came by. We hid behind the tree's as our orders were to get to the bridge, no fighting, if possible.
Our route along the river wasn't too bad, although the rail bridge was blown as C-Company tried to cross. We were greeted with hundreds of people and I thought as we had been told "Piece Of Cake". As we approached Arnhem a machine-gun opened up from our left, Den Brink I believe, Pte. Taylor who was on [the] left received a burst through his chest. I received two bullets through my right arm and through my equipment, spilling Bren gun mag's out. We were walking behind a hedge and for some reason the gunfire lifted and was hitting the houses behind us. This enabled our platoon to get up from where we had dropped and run past the hedge. My wounds turned out to be only flesh, no bones hit.
We then proceeded towards Arnhem, not much trouble for us, although the Company in front had a bit of trouble. We reached the bridge all very quiet and peaceful, knocked on the door, no answer, went in and surveyed the house, no one there. In the kitchen on the table were dinner [plates] of meat and mash, still warm, which we thought we better eat, to save waste! We went upstairs, knocked the glass out of the windows and tore the curtains down. We pulled the bed up to the window, which looked straight down the bridge and relaxed, thinking once again "Piece Of Cake".
As I was not a member of a Mortars Team I had nothing to do. Although the teams were digging mortar pits on the grass by the bridge. Lt. Woods was in the top of the house and the radio was useless. I became his runner, Pte. Taylor being badly wounded. I thought he must have died, but the Dutch people rescued him and patched him up. I found this out forty years later.
I had quite a restful night. Nothing doing our end. Monday morning Sgt. Jackman told me to go and relieve my mate Pte. Crew on the mortars, to give him a rest. He was sitting on the edge of the mortar pit, feet up, drinking a bottle of wine. I said to the Sgt, "he looks as if he wants a rest, he looks happy enough!". Anyway I relieved him not knowing that was the last time I would see him. A few hours later he was dead doing my job. I hadn't been in the pit long before the Germans attacked over the bridge. I had a grandstand view.
There was an anti-tank gun just behind us and the crew were enjoying themselves, just like shooting ducks, they must have done a lot of damage on the bridge. The shooting stopped and we settled down again, but after a while we heard a tank coming under the bridge, (which covered a couple of roads as well as the river). It appeared then, about fifty feet away and started firing at the anti-tank gun directly behind us. With the gun firing back I crouched in the mortar pit. I swear I could see the shells passing overhead. Eventually the gun was knocked out and the tank began to withdraw. The machine-gunner must have seen our pit with the bombs stacked around [the edge]. He opened up, setting the primary charges alight.
I was crouched as low as possible with my head on my hands. Suddenly I felt warm blood over my face, I knew I had been hit, but didn't know where. The tank withdrew and Sgt. Kalikoff called for me to come in the house. I then discovered I had a bullet in my left wrist, which was broken and that's where the blood came from.
I was taken by Sgt. Jackman to the medics next door, bandaged up and sent to the cellars. Wounded in both arms, twice in two days, I thought I wouldn't be so lucky on the third.
On Wednesday the wounded were surrendered and we were taken to the nearby church for the night and treated as well as could be expected. Next day the walking wounded were marched to the hospital, all very cheerful, singing "Lili Marlene" with the German guards joining in and the Dutch women clapping. That is until an S.S. Officer appeared with a camera team. He threatened to shoot the guards as well as us if we didn't stop. He was greeted with raspberries and two fingers from those that could. We reached the hospital and joined a queue, hundreds of yards long. Eventually reached a temporary operating theatre with about six tables, it was like a barbers shop. Six on the tables being put out with ether by British Doctors, German and Dutch Doctors doing the operating, British Medical Orderlies doing the dressing and the next six customers sitting on chairs waiting their turn. It was a gruesome sight as some of the wounded had gangrene and had to have a lot of flesh cut away.
When it was my turn I was examined by the medics who enquired about my wounds. I convinced them the bullets had gone straight through, so I had the wounds redressed and on my way to Stalag 12A, Limburg. We were put in tents, it was pouring with rain and everywhere was thick mud. Next day I was given my prison number, 90672, and to my relief put in a building owing to my wounds. After a while I ended up in Stalag 4B.
My wrist was beginning to hurt more, so I reported sick and the Doctor informed me that the bullet was still in my wrist. I was told to sit in a chair look out of the window and think of home. I felt a needle go in my arm and I thought he had screwed it to the table. After a while I felt warm blood at the tips of my fingers and the Doctor handed me the bullet. I had my wounds dressed and returned to the hut where I had met friends taken prisoner in Sicily and Italy.
I was told I was going on a 'Work Party', although I was wounded. Some of the prisoners had been there years. I heard from some of my friends how they had fared working down the mines and on the railways. There were four of us on the detail with two guards. We went by train through Cologne and the Black Forest to the other side of Germany near Dresden. We reached our destination, which was a leather factory, I immediately went sick to have my stitches removed. I was then put on light duties helping in different departments. There were about forty of us. The food wasn't too bad considering. The camp we were in was called 4F.
When the Americans were getting near we were marched out and after a few days ended in the middle of the Russians and Germans who were still fighting. After a while we found ourselves in another prison camp where we were advised to stay. This I did until I was shipped to Brussels and then flown home.
My thanks to Bob Hilton for this account. Len Hoare passed away on the 5th June 2014. He will be sadly missed by the Maidstone Branch of the Parachute Regimental Association, of which he was a popular and highly respected member.
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