Pictures

Leo Heaps with men of HQ Coy, 1st Battalion, waiting to take off on Sunday 17th

Leo Heaps with Charles Labouchère, 1974

Lieutenant Leo Jack Heaps

 

Unit : Headquarters, 1st Parachute Battalion

Army No. : CDN/415

Awards : Military Cross

 

Leo Heaps, a 21 year old Canadian, born in 1923, the son of Arthur Heaps, a founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner of the New Democratic Party. He was raised in Winnipeg and received an education at Queen's University, the University of California, and McGill University. During the Second World War, Heaps was seconded to the British Army and found himself commanding the 1st Battalion's Transport, even though he was not officially a member of the 1st Airborne Division and had never before made a parachute jump.

 

'I floated down gently from heaven at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 17th. It could not be more delightful, I said to myself. No one fired at me and I could see no enemy. The sun shone, the fields of Wolfheze were bathed in warm light and the green meadow bloomed with large bursts of yellow sunflowers. The only sound was the steady drone of the clumsy grey Dakotas trailing long lines of statachutes like streamers of confetti.'

 

    Feet together

    Shoulders round,

    Elbows in

    And watch the ground.

 

'I chanted the little verse that Eric Davies taught me as the breeze carried me away from the dropping zone. Below, I saw my kit bag, which had broken loose from my leg, showering all my belongings over the countryside as it exploded on the ground.'

 

'By rights I should not be here - not that I needed an invitation, but I had come only because the Canadian Army was so anxious to see the last of me. I quickly pulled on one of the shroud lines to avoid a threatening dark wood of pointed pine trees. Successive commanders had branded me "not of officer caliber, no initiative, not aggressive enough," and I tended to agree. When the Canadian Army finally decided to discharge me and recall me as a private under the Mobilisation Act, I thought this was going a bit too far. My father said that since all my commanders had unanimously agreed I was not officer material, I should take their word for it and go to work as a labourer on my fat aunt Rosie's farm near Toronto. There I would be exempt from military service and could safely help the war effort. I rebelled at the idea of working in the manure and dirt. Even when a kindly brigadier took pity on me and gave me one more chance to qualify in the infantry, I failed. No one had ever failed before to qualify for the infantry. I should definitely not be here. When the British Army desperately needed junior officers to fill its depleted ranks, naturally I quickly volunteered along with several hundred other disgruntled Canadian subalterns. Already I had been thrown as cannon fodder onto the Normandy beaches. Fortunately I survived a slight wound and the aftermath of being mistakenly evacuated to England. Now the tough, kind veterans of the 1st Parachute Battalion had adopted me. I was very much a novice in their midst. Only Eric Davies knew this was my first jump.'

 

'Much to my amazement I crashed through the pine trees unscratched and landed gently on my feet on the mossy floor of the forest. Lieutenant-Colonel David Dobie, my commander, had asked me to gather up transport and then to find him, since every other job in the battalion was filled. He would be somewhere on the river road on the way to the main Arnhem bridge waiting for me. I wondered whether I could find my friend Lieutenant Eric Davies, the ballet dancer. He would be with Dobie marching into the town. I would have been much more of a novice paratrooper without his many helpful explanations. After all the fuss and excitement, it seemed like a quiet war. Private William Watts, the batman allocated to help me gather up German transport, dangled from a bough of a tree. I threw him a knife and he cut himself loose. I went north with Watts to the main Arnhem-Amersfoort highway, wondering whether I really would find any vehicles for my battalion. I had no platoon to command, no important job to perform and no illusions about my role. I had the feeling I was meant to keep out of the way while my battalion got on with the serious business of fighting a war.'

 

'My commander could not understand why a strange Canadian lieutenant should join his battalion a few weeks before they left for Holland. I did not bother to elaborate to Colonel Dobie how I had marched one day to the office of Major General K. C. Crawford, in command of airborne training at the War Office in London, and put my case. I had suffered from acute boredom in an infantry holding unit after being discharged from hospital upon my return from the Normandy beachhead, and I explained that I would like a quick and painless way into battle. I had chosen the paratroops. The General, who was over fifty, said he had parachuted into Normandy unbeknown to his superiors on D-Day. If he could do it, there was no reason why someone thirty years his junior could not do the same. I shook hands with Crawford and he said he would take care of the details. We had struck a perfect understanding. A week later the florid-faced colonel at my holding unit who had threatened to court-martial me for conduct unbecoming to an officer (I had on occasion disappeared when wanted for orderly duty), handed me my transfer. He was glad to get rid of me. I knew he would never court-martial me since it would bring attention to a comfortable job with as much good food, liquor and women as he had appetite for. He would do nothing to jeopardize his safety. That was how I found myself that evening looking for nonexistent transport in a strange land, searching for a commanding officer I never expected to meet again.'

 

'As darkness fell, Watts and I stumbled onto the grounds of the beautiful Wolfheze Hotel. The proprietor and his daughter opened a pre-War bottle of cold wine for dinner to celebrate their liberation and we decided to settle down to a peaceful, comfortable evening. Late that night the hotel proprietor graciously led me to a four-poster bed made with clean, white linen. Within hours I was awakened to the distant clatter of Bren guns answered by the sudden burps of Germans Spandaus. But that was not what had awakened me. My Dutch host shook my shoulder fearfully, bidding me to dress quickly and quietly. He pointed nervously outside my window where the silhouette of a long column of German infantry passed by burdened with guns and equipment. Watts and I waited until the last enemy vanished and then with a quick handshake and hurried good-bye, we made our sad departure into the starless night.'

 

'In the early morning of September 18, the second day of the battle, I had worked my way south with Watts over a railway track, through a meadow into the town of Oosterbeek. While last night there seemed to be Germans everywhere, today I could find none. I chose a well-tended garden in one of the luxurious villas facing the Arnhem-Oosterbeek road and stretched out on a canvas deck chair in the sun. No sooner had I made myself comfortable and sent Watts off to find some food, when the GSO2 Intelligence, Major Hugh P. Maguire, came over and said he had a job for me. Earlier I had made my presence known to him and told him where I could be found.'

 

'The job seemed quite straightforward. I had to take a jeep piled several feet high with ammunition, food and a #22 wireless set, a wireless operator and reach the Arnhem bridge. All I had to do was head straight down the road until I came to the town and then ask someone for the whereabouts of a Lieutenant Colonel Frost. According to the map Maguire spread out, the town was less than eight miles away. I went back into the garden and asked the thin, hungry-looking Dutchman in the golfing plus fours and chequered socks whether he would like to be my guide and interpreter. Unknowingly, I had made the best of all possible choices. I had chosen Charles Labouchère, an Intelligence agent who lived in Velp, a small town east of Arnhem. Labouchère spoke impeccable English. Maguire mentioned that the defenders at the bridge had been notified by wireless that relief would be on the way. In other words, I was expected. Before we left, Maguire ominously handed me a bullet-proof vest. I gave it to the Dutchman, who had meanwhile produced a World War I steel helmet and the orange armband of the Resistance. Watts, hollow-cheeked and unworried, straddled the spare tire on the rear. Labouchère sat on a box of compo rations. He held onto a Sten gun and tucked a spare magazine into his tweed jacket pocket. Squeezed in between the crates of food and ammunition, the wireless operator squatted with his head phones in position, trying to tune his set. I sat beside our driver, Martin. Maguire's last words to me were, "When you reach the bridge, don't forget to let me know."'

 

'We sped down the Utrechtse Weg for about ten minutes unhindered and then stopped before the railroad bridge that led into the western sector of Arnhem. A major from the South Staffordshire glider-borne regiment rose excitedly from a ditch and flagged us down. He asked me "Where in the hell did I think I was going." I told him. He looked incredulously at Labouchère in his plus fours, tweed jacket, and night-pot helmet. I never did recollect the major's final advice, but it had something to do with notifying my next of kin. I told him I acted under divisional orders. He asked my name, smiled, bowed slightly and then politely, quietly bade me continue. As I went under the railroad bridge he quickly jumped back into the ditch. I noticed several dozen other men flattened out alongside the road looking strangely at us as we roared by. From the high ground to the north, short, sharp cracks of German Spandaus could be heard. Several feet away, alongside me on the meadow that sloped to the Rhine, it seemed someone with a large invisible rake drew long furrows along the earth. Under the embankment we had a certain amount of protection. But I could not understand why all along the Utrechtse Weg not a person could be seen.'

 

'Suddenly a paratrooper leapt out from the bushes and frantically held up his hands to stop and directed me between two small houses. My harassed battalion commander, David Dobie, stepped out of one of the houses to greet me. He asked how I arrived and why. He had forgotten all about the transport. He had no need for it. He said emphatically that the road ahead was blocked by the enemy. All of his officers except three were dead or wounded that morning from machine-gun fire that came from the high ground to the north. Eric Davies was among the wounded, some of whom lay by the side of the road. I went forward on foot to Dobie's most advanced position, about fifty feet further up the road to Arnhem. Three hundred yards south, barges were moored along the river bank. When I returned to the jeep from the reconnaissance, Labouchère and the radio operator waited for me. Martin and Watts had meanwhile vanished.'

 

'The Dutchman and I went down to the river searching for an alternative route to the bridge. The Spandau up in the wooded, high ground to the north found us again. For an hour we did not move from behind a small mound of earth that offered protection. Finally we made a quick dash to our vehicle and gained the road before the German machine gun could fix its sights. When I took the wheel of the jeep, I impulsively made my decision. I started the engine and turned east towards Arnhem instead of back towards where Dobie waited. I pushed the accelerator all the way down to the floor and the jeep leapt past our forward positions. Then, without warning, the steering wheel came off in my hands and the vehicle smashed uncontrollably into the embankment, hurtling us onto the grass and scattering all our supplies. About ten feet in front a steady, deadly stream of machine-gun bullets lashed the stretch of road where I would have been had I continued. Labouchère had cut his leg, but not seriously. The wireless operator and myself were shaken but unhurt as we crawled out of the ditch back onto the asphalt. I bandaged the Dutchman's wound and we collected the equipment. The jeep lay on its side on the edge of the ditch without a steering wheel and I decided to leave it there. I thought then my mission had ended when a Bren gun carrier suddenly came out from behind a narrow hedgerow and slid down onto the road. It stopped beside me, as if somehow the driver knew I wanted him. The Bren driver had nowhere particular to go, so I asked him if he would care to take me to the bridge less than a mile away. He calmly nodded his agreement and we transferred our supplies to the carrier.'

 

'Labouchère carefully, cautiously directed us north and eastward through a maze of small back streets toward the bridge. The scene now dramatically changed in a matter of minutes. Shattered buildings, overturned tram cars, dangling cables, and broken telephone poles dominated the landscape. The splintering explosions of shell and mortars tore through the air, landing all around us. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of limp bodies sprawled over bushes or lying awkwardly on the littered road. The Bren gun carrier, strangely immune to the destruction that surrounded it, kept going ahead. From clear daylight near the river, the midafternoon turned into a deep, grey twilight filled with the smoky sour stench of continuous explosions of 88mm shells. About two hundred yards straight up Alexander Straat a long, slender gun mounted on a half track blazed away at some houses on my left and then swiveled in our direction. We turned quickly into a driveway where I had earlier seen some red berets, and stopped between two houses near the heart of the city behind the St. Elizabeth Hospital. Captain G. C. Roberts, the General's aide-de-camp, came out of one of the buildings off Zwarte Weg and asked me to follow him quickly inside.'

 

'General Roy Urquhart and Brigadier Lathbury were preparing to leave the house together through a back entrance when we met. Both men were anxious to move out from the catwalk of streets into more open territory where they were less vulnerable. Barrel-chested, with hulking shoulders and a square tough face, all Urquhart's features and movements suggested great physical strength and determination. Lathbury - tall, stoop-shouldered and spare, mournful with sad, bloodhound eyes - gave the impression of nervousness, sensitivity, and immense restlessness. The General tried to reach his headquarters on our wireless set but it refused to work. He gave me several messages to give to the acting Divisional Commander, Brigadier P. H. "Pip" Hicks and his GSO 1 Operations, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Mackenzie. I, in turn, informed him of conditions elsewhere. The General ordered me, with apparent good reason, not to proceed to the bridge. His messages to Division now had priority. Urquhart carefully stepped over the dead body of Major Peter Waddy lying on the back stairs and joined the impatient Lathbury and his aide, Roberts. The three men set off through the tangled garden to the north. The Bren gun carrier swiveled about. The day was almost spent as we started off in the approaching dust hoping to find the route back to Divisional Headquarters.'

 

'In the late night of the third day I lay down to sleep beneath some towering pine trees in the grounds of the Hartenstein Hotel, Divisional Headquarters. An orderly came out of the hotel shouting my name in the dark and said the General wished to see me immediately. I had acquired some notoriety in failing to reach the bridge and instead finding the General. Since then I had been typed as a man suitable for odd jobs or employment others were less inclined to undertake. In this highly improvised, improbable and most informal atmosphere my mobile patrol would report from time to time at Divisional Headquarters and take refuge there.'

 

'The same night I returned from my chance meeting with the General, Brigadier Hicks, the acting commander, had sent me back almost immediately into Arnhem to find Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie and the commanders of the 2nd Battalion and the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. I was to order them to attack the bridge immediately. This was a terrible message to give. It became an order of annihilation, of self-destruction for the remains of the three battalions that were to advance while exposed to the levelled antiaircraft guns of the Germans from across the Rhine. Labouchère, Martin and I went in on the attack in the dawn mist. We were able to extricate ourselves and limp back to the Hartenstein with three flat tires to report on the carnage. That morning, Lieutenant Lloyd McKenna, the other Canadian paratrooper at Arnhem, disappeared in the attack with almost all of the 3rd Battalion. I never discovered what happened to him. We had exchanged a brief, sad greeting in the morning mist before clouds of air-bursting shells drove us to cover. The General had worked his way out of Arnhem on the previous day with his aide, Captain Roberts. Now as I mounted the stairs into the hotel, I could see flames from burning buildings on the shores of the Rhine. Great banks of smoky clouds drifted back towards Hartenstein.'

 

'The General looked tired. I waited until he carefully finished examining the map on the table. He removed his earphones on which he had just picked up some faint signal from Frost's force in Arnhem and then quietly said, "How would you like to try and take supplies through to the men at the bridge? They can't hold on much longer." The General was a compassionate man, kind and composed under the most austere conditions. He pointed out with an almost paternal tenderness that he could not order me to go. I had to accept with my own free will. I welcomed the opportunity to escape the python-like coil of German steel trying to squeeze the life out of the last defenders of Hartenstein. Whatever transportation and supplies I required would be provided from the dwindling vehicle pool and supply dump. In the darkened room, lit only by the stabbing beams of flashlights, I stood silently for a minute or two across the table from the General and his GSO 1, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Mackenzie. Then I left. As I went back out into the night, for some inexplicable reason I felt extraordinarily elated and flattered.'

 

'My little patrol, if successful, could hardly alter the course of the battle. The General knew that. What had already happened at the bridge could not be changed; Frost and his men were doomed. But some troops still held on. And the General owed it to his men to help them if he could. The once beautiful garden of Hartenstein had become barren, moon-cratered. The hotel itself had been hit many times and was windowless, with large, jagged holes in the walls and roof. Casualties were mounting rapidly and the small cellar of the hotel was filled to overflowing with wounded and dying. The scene everywhere was one of monumental confusion, weariness and despondency. But in the heart of that confusion new men rose to calmly assume control as their superiors fell, so that somehow or other at every isolated engagement in every part of the Hartenstein front, leadership passed on down a chain of natural command.'

 

'The General offered no plan and gave no advice as I left him, but I knew no one could survive a mad frontal dash into Arnhem. A solid wall of German armour blocked every passage eastward to the town. The Heveadorp ferry on the Rhine might still be working. It offered a faint hope. My Dutch guide, Labouchère, had unfortunately left that night to seek shelter in a nearby house. His capture in my company would mean certain death. I had loaned him a fur-lined, leather jacket that once belonged to a Luftwaffe officer. In his plus fours and thin cotton coat he froze in the chilly nights of Oosterbeek. (When Labouchère came back the next morning to Hartenstein, I was gone. Twenty-five years later he offered to return the jacket.)'

 

'Captain Martin Knottenbelt, a commando and paratrooper of the Netherlands Army who had dropped on the first day, agreed to accompany me. His role until now had been to organize the Resistance forces after the airborne landing. But it had become too hazardous to formally mobilize them, although for several days he had been in contact with Piet Kruyff and Harry Montfroy at Arnhem as well as Bill Wildeboer in Ede. He had supplied those men with arms and a plan for immediate sabotage. Also, Knottenbelt had been informed of the existence of a telephone link from the PGEM power station near Arnhem connecting with the Nijmegen terminal. He was a man who could be of great help if we succeeded in penetrating the enemy lines. Knottenbelt had played a quiet but highly important role in the battle, creating a steady flow of intelligence from his Dutch contacts into Division Headquarters. Lieutenant Johnny Johnson, the American liaison officer of the American 8th Air Force, also joined me. We had been operating together for several days. All his radar and radio equipment had been destroyed by mortars on the first day. I awakened two sleepy glider pilots from a neighbouring slit trench and asked them to join the force. Each had a Thompson submachine gun that could be useful. Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General Lieutenant-Colonel P. H. Preston found two jeeps that had not been immobilized by shrapnel. Food and ammunition were loaded onto the vehicles and on top sat the glider pilots. At midnight I was ready to go.'

 

'My second attempt to reach the bridge at Arnhem ended in dismal failure. The disaster would have been more complete had the Germans been less lethargic and the hour not so late. My two jeeps had roared out of Hartenstein shortly after midnight down the dirt road to the Rhine. The tall Knottenbelt sat discontentedly beside me pouting, squinting through his thick-lensed, rimless spectacles into the cold mist. More than slightly skeptical of the whole scheme, Knottenbelt had rejected every plan I had offered but one - southward over the Driel ferry and then east along the south shore to Arnhem. We did not plan beyond that. His face, smooth and ruddy like a child's, showed no emotion.  Although an Oxford graduate and highly Anglicized, Knottenbelt still spoke fluent Dutch. A successful commando in France, he had only recently parachute behind the lines in Holland and returned to England a few months ago.'

 

'I had thought a mad dash down one of the roads to the north or east would have a better chance of success. A single jeep might crash through the ill-defined defenses. But it would have been impossible we later learned, and probably suicidal. On the map by the lamplight of Colonel's Mackenzie's desk in Hartenstein, it all looked quite possible. He told me the enemy was disinclined to fight in the dark. I would have liked to believe him. On the night of September 20, there appeared to be incalculable confusion at the Heveadorp ferry - equal to our own. The scarred beech trees that lined the way down to the river cast giant shadows across our path. Only the shattering roar of our jeeps broke the silence, announcing our presence to all who were interested.'

 

'We stopped about fifty feet short of the Rhine on the narrow asphalt road that sloped down to the ferry. Johnson thought he heard Welsh being spoken. In error he switched on the headlights and the beams shattered against the impenetrable mist. We could barely see the outline of the ferry. It listed at an awkward angle about fifty feet from shore. Some weird shouts came from the undergrowth on the side of the road and the two glider pilots disappeared into the brush to investigate. I never saw them again. The Heveadorp ferry lay beyond our reach. A thick wire cable extending across the river controlled the movements of the boat through a system of wheels and gears attached to the deck. In the cold, squally night the swift-moving river looked decidedly unfriendly. If we succeeded in pulling the ferry to shore and putting the jeeps aboard we would then have to winch ourselves three hundred yards across the river to the south shore. A ramp on either end of the ferry could be lowered to load the vehicles. If we were to cross the river that night we would have to act quickly. However, I was puzzled by the absence of a small band of our engineers and paratroops who were supposed to be guarding the Heveadorp crossing. Slit trenches on the side of the road were abandoned. A few Sten guns with empty magazines lay in the ditches. The mist on the road had become so dense I could barely see the jeep parked a few feet behind. Without warning a sapper from the engineering platoon stumbled out of the woods, dazed and lost, looking, he said, for some wounded companions. He told us of a German column that had attacked the crossing half an hour ago and was beaten back by hand grenades. The defenders of Heveadorp had withdrawn to the Hartenstein Hotel. We were by ourselves in the fog.'

 

'I decided to board the ferry and see whether it could be moved. I tucked my revolver into my jacket and swung out into the river along the steel cable. After a few feet the cable sagged from my weight into the icy water and I went under in the current, bobbed up again and continued. With my ballooning trousers dripping water I hauled myself aboard the steel deck. The mist completely obscured both Knottenbelt and Johnson waiting for me on shore. I took a good look at the thick steel wire that wound around a great steel drum that operated a series of gears. The winding and unwinding of the cable winched the ferry between the two shores. I released the lever that locked the drum and it spun wildly, uncontrolled, and the boat slipped further into the stream before I could wedge the lever into place again. For several minutes I struggled unsuccessfully with the mechanism, attempting to wind the jammed drum. I shouted to Johnson for help and in a few minutes, more agile and acrobatic than myself, he rose out of the mist and lightly pulled himself aboard. Both of us were incapable of turning the drum. By the shaded light of Johnson's flashlight we discovered the reason. The gears had been smashed. The ferry was destined to remained in the river for many more months. (However my knowledge of the ferry's location would later prove important as well as being the cause of personal disaster.) Nothing more could be accomplished. We slid back down the cable to the shore and mounted our jeeps. Knottenbelt and Johnson felt as dejected as I did. The Germans rustling beside us through the underbrush kept a respectful distance, shouting and calling to each other. I reported my failure to Lieutenant Colonel Mackenzie at the Hartenstein, standing before him in a puddle of dripping water. He nodded sympathetically and told me to change my clothes. Nowhere in that dark, tense room could I see the General. It was just as well.'

 

'The sickening thud of mortars awakened me punctually at 9:00 a.m. on the attic floor of the Hartenstein Hotel the next morning. Mortars dropped by the thousands from every conceivable direction. In the attic, where I had been drying out, shrapnel flew in from all angles through the partially demolished room. I ran down the stairs with Johnson and discovered the Operations room had moved into the basement. Knottenbelt had vanished with his Dutchmen. All guides and local helpers were ordered to leave the division for their own safety. Labouchère, my guide, faded that morning into the anonymity from which he had been plucked. In the cellar one had to tread carefully between the wounded who occupied all the available space. Morphine was being freely injected and many of the wounded lay in silent comas. That peculiar, decaying smell of septic wounds mixed with the putrescent odour of excrement became overpowering. Mackenzie ordered me to go around the perimeter with my jeep patrol plugging up holes in the defenses with as much firepower as I could muster. Only one jeep worked. Mortar fragments had immobilized the engine of the other. Johnson and I took the two Bren guns, ammunition and rations, and left the compound as mortars continued to blast through the grounds.'

 

'We drove south to the river to the Lonsdale force. This decimated band of survivors constituted the remains of the three battalions which had failed to reach the bridge. They had retreated to the shattered Oosterbeek church, a modestly constructed building overlooking a large grassy plain that extended to the shore of the Rhine. The ragged force was all that protected Hartenstein from the east and guarded the escape route for the division down to the river. If anyone had asked why I went to the river I could only answer by saying we were curious as to what lay on the other side. The mystery of what lay beyond the water would determine our fate. Major Dickie Lonsdale, second-in-command of the 11th Battalion, dropped at Ginkel Heath on the second day of the battle in the early afternoon. The Dakota that carried Lonsdale was struck by antiaircraft fire countless times. It received 287 punctures in the wings and fuselage. Lonsdale, hit in his right hand by a piece of shrapnel, lost his precious signet ring that had been handed down from his great-uncle, Lord Araghdale. He considered this a bad omen. When I saw him in the Oosterbeek church, the wound in his hand that kept him for two days at Divisional Headquarters was still bandaged. In addition, Lonsdale had a bloody bandage wrapped around his head as he was moving among his 175 men, who were all that remained after a particularly brutal German attack earlier that morning, which had thrown the force back to the church. Lonsdale and his men had retreated to the uncertain safety of the churchyard. That morning the major stood in the pulpit of the church and lectured to his troops on how to defend themselves while they cleaned their weapons in the pews. Lonsdale, always a brash, boisterous, outgoing character, had the independence and grim sense of humour that allowed him to rise to the occasion. For a few minutes Johnson and I sat and listened in amazement to his abusive, fighting sermon. When it ended the men in the pews wrung out their soaked clothes, picked up their guns and took up their positions around the church. We passed through the last of the Lonsdale force in the afternoon, explaining we would be returning the same way within twenty-four hours.'

 

'From our hiding place in the tall grass by the Rhine I could see no sign of our advancing troops across the river. The land looked silent. When Johnson and I retraced our steps at dusk, we took up quarters in one of the large deserted villas in Oosterbeek where the gardens blazed with brilliantly coloured flowers during the day. Our jeep was parked in an empty garage. The house, like all the other silent, deserted homes with their shuttered windows and half-finished meals upon the kitchen table, increased the sense of desolation. We walked back towards Hartenstein through a small, dark forest, whose latticework of pathways had become familiar ground. The Germans were less furtive now, more aggressive, and their snipers had advanced to the immediate vicinity of the hotel itself. An enemy sniper in green camouflage jacket dangled by one foot from a rope attached to a tree branch. When the wind blew the dead man swung slowly like a pendulum.'

 

'Martin, my driver, was left with the jeep in the garage. If we did not show up within twenty-four hours Martin had instructions to return to Hartenstein and, if necessary, abandon the vehicle. I intended to cross the river that night to contact the forward element of advancing XXX Corps and show them the way to the division. It is true no one asked me to go, but on the other hand I hardly expected anyone to stop me. When I broached the idea to Lieutenant Colonel Mackenzie, he raised no objections. He had become accustomed to my bizarre requests and wished me well in my self-appointed task. In the evening of September 21, Johnson and I started for the Rhine in the direction of the Oosterbeek church. Now and then we stopped and listened to the German broadcasts from loud speaker vans somewhere on the nearby streets. Showers of leaflets fell from the sky enumerating in alphabetical order the benefits of surrender, punctuated by depressing swing music on badly scratched records. Oosterbeek church had gaping holes torn in the roof since our last visit. All the windows were blown out. The ashen-faced defenders looked as battered as the building itself. In some trenches dead men shared space with the living. A tired machine gunner waved good-bye as we departed from the lonely outpost by the narrow path over the meadow. A Dutch commando named C. P. Gobers, who had been part of Knottenbelt's team, joined us at the church and asked to come as our interpreter. At dusk we reached a long hedgerow about fifty feet before the Rhine. I asked Gobers to wait by the hedgerow to provide covering fire while Johnson and I slid on our stomachs over the remaining distance, dragging along two life preservers we had brought with us from the Hartenstein Hotel. Several dull, grey shapes began to take form on the river as we watched and waited. Soon we heard the splash of paddles as some of the Polish Airborne Brigade under Major-General Stanislaw Sosabowski appeared in rubber dinghys out of the mist. Then came excited arguments and loud shouts in Polish as Sosabowski's warriors stormed by without paying the slightest attention to us. Eventually I found the officer in charge and told him to contact Gobers, who would lead them to our troops, otherwise his men might not survive the walk into Oosterbeek. (Gobers never met the Poles, all of whom became casualties or prisoners. He told me this when we met some days later at the prison camp at Stroe, where he was threatened with execution as a spy.)'

 

'In an empty dinghy we paddled across the Rhine in the company of two Poles, colliding with another dinghy in midstream going in the opposite direction. We apologized and continued to the shore. In the middle of a nearby field about a hundred men surrounded the figure of Lieutenant Colonel E. C. Myers, the Chief Divisional Engineer. Unbeknown to me he had been sent across to organize the Poles and ferry them over to support the defenders at the Hartenstein. In the center of what looked like a football scrimmage in the dark, Myers swayed back and forth. A kind of debate was in progress. Myers had difficulty in making himself understood. I interrupted briefly to inform him of my plan to contact our tanks and infantry and lead them back. He nodded and returned to the scrimmage. That night Johnson and I slept on a pile of apples in a barn near Driel, to be awakened in the dawn by a Dutch farmer in clogs bearing hot cups of coffee. Later we waded on munching apples through the endless orchards in thick dew that rose steaming from the earth. Several hundred feet ahead infantry from the Dorset Regiment returned our friendly greeting from their slit trenches when at last we stepped out from the smoky apple trees into our own lines.'

 

'Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Tilly, commander of the 4th Dorset Infantry Battalion, stood with his hands on his hips under a sullen sky surveying the Rhine. Dark smoke bloomed like flower petals and then fragmented. A drab curtain of bursting antiaircraft shells hung over Oosterbeek. The lumbering Dakotas ploughed through this field of flak, following orders, descending to eight hundred feet, and jettisoned their containers miles from the airborne troops. We stood mute, silenced by this brave, useless sacrifice of British and American lives. Communications had failed. Casualties had grown so frightening on the supply drops that volunteers were now flying these sorrowful missions.'

 

'I showed Tilly the location of our forces, for he awaited orders on the exact hour of his assault over the river. It would take place within twenty-four hours. Johnson meanwhile reported to his rear headquarters near Nijmegen but would come back to meet me at noon for our return to Hartenstein that night. He came back exactly on time from Nijmegen and at dusk we went down to the river where I met Lieutenant Colonel Mackenzie. The General had sent him on a mission to the Second Army to explain our critical position and he was looking for someone to take him across the water. I asked if he would care to join me in my rubber dinghy still hidden behind the dike. Mackenzie gladly accepted the invitation and as soon as darkness fell the three of us launched out and crossed the river easily without incident. Since we saw no Germans on either side of the Rhine, we could not help but wonder why the waiting troops of the Second Army had failed to move forward with more speed to the rescue. The way seemed open.'

 

'Mackenzie took the path to Hartenstein while Johnson and I attempted to make our way silently through the deserted streets of Oosterbeek to the villa where we left Martin with the jeep. As we walked that night my hatred for the men responsible for issuing the hobnailed boot intensified. As standard equipment this boot must have caused the death of many men. Hobnails clattering on the cobblestones of Oosterbeek sounded like cow bells in that unearthly silence. Soldiers were forced to bind their boots with rags and pieces of clothing to deaden the ugly noise. A quick search in the villa and adjoining houses failed to find our jeep or driver. During the previous day a Dutch youth reported the presence of German tanks not far down the road. The jeep and driver were gone and the garage door shut. Martin now joined that growing list of men who seemed to disappear without a trace at Oosterbeek. Back at Hartenstein the weary and dazed defenders waited hopefully for some sign of the relieving forces. The crowded corridors of wounded, the derelict grounds, and shattered equipment conveyed the unmistakable feeling that the end was near. I wondered whether my luck would desert me. There seemed nothing more for me to do. I spoke to Mackenzie and he granted me permission to recross the river and assist the assault of the 1st Dorsets under Tilly. The defensive square was now more like a squeezed, narrow wedge. If someone did not show the assaulting infantry where to go they would miss Hartenstein altogether. For the last time we followed our own secret path through the weary Lonsdale force. No one challenged us this time. The defenders around the church stared at us with glazed eyes hoping we had some news, but there was none to give.'

 

'Across the Rhine in the town of Driel, we entered a house with a large feather bed conveniently prepared with white sheets. Johnson and I undressed, sank peacefully into the great feather mattress and instantly fell asleep. At daylight Johnson, my constant companion for four days, said good-bye and set off for the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division near Nijmegen. I would not see him again. Someone once asked me who was Johnny Johnson and I said someone I bumped into at an hotel in Oosterbeek. That is all I know about Johnson. There was no need to know more. And when I inquired if anyone knew about an American at Arnhem called Johnson, no one did.'

 

'Later that day I met Lieutenant Colonel Myers conferring with Lieutenant Colonel Tilly of the 4th Dorsets. We discussed the assault across the Rhine planned for midnight, September 24. I was to go with the first assault boat to show the men the way to Hartenstein. Then at a given signal on my flashlight, two great amphibian DUKWs laden with food and ammunition would be launched on the river to the ferry road at Heveadorp. No one asked what the vehicles would do once they arrived on the north shore or how they were expected to reach Hartenstein. The objectives of the infantry were equally obscure. We followed orders. About an hour before midnight I located the leading assault boat hidden beside the dike and sat down beside it. Private Fokes, who had escaped from the bridge at Arnhem by swimming the river two days ago, volunteered to come with me. Then I curled up alone in the deep, damp grass beside the craft and waited for midnight, wondering what lay ahead.'

 

'My eyes were wide open but I must have been sleeping as I gazed at a few stars buried deep in the clouded sky. Midnight had come. I walked down to the assault boat where the Dorset infantry lieutenant huddled nervously. The other boats with quiet, helmeted figures hunched alongside waited for me to push off. I did not feel melancholy, I did not feel unhappy: I was thinking of all the things I had to do when I touched down on the far shore. The feeble force that was poised to cross could hardly shift the balance of power. I yawned and boarded the canvas assault craft, crouching at the bow as we launched out into the inky river. I passed the sunken Heveadorp ferry whose bow jutted from the swirling water. Lieutenant Colonel Myers had been shown the exact position of the ferry on the map. I considered this information important. If the DUKWs bringing the supplies were not to be swept against the sunken boat and wrecked in the night, Myers should know its position. The assault craft touched bottom gently at the Heveadorp road and I disembarked, pointing the way to Hartenstein. A fat infantry lieutenant leapt past me to shore and with a weird screech, scrambled up the bank and was swallowed by the dark. Further downriver other boats landed and men were scrambling up the slippery bank blindly searching for the airborne troops they were meant to reinforce. In the chaos and darkness it would be impossible for anyone unfamiliar with the terrain to find his way through the narrow, twisting paths to Division Headquarters. Twelve men had landed in my assault craft, now on its way back over the river. An artillery officer lay beside me on the small patch of road to direct the medium guns of XXX Corps.'

 

'Fokes, the survivor from the 2nd Battalion, waited at my side, listening. Unmistakable German voices drifted down the road. While three nights ago I had quite easily driven to the Heveadorp ferry with Johnson and Knottenbelt, tonight it would not have been possible. Not far ahead logs had been pulled across the road, barricading the access to Division. If I thought the road safe for the DUKWs I would signal to Myers with my flashlight and the three, large amphibian vehicles laden with supplies would then be launched. Under the most favourable conditions these clumsy amphibians would have difficulty mounting the muddy embankment. If I had any doubt about the plan, the Germans quickly made my mind up for me. A deadly, intermittent stream of machine-gun bullets forced us back into the water to our knees. I lay there not moving, the lower half of my body in the river and the upped half pressed down hard into the earth. The artillery officer beside me calmly called for support without response. When I looked again, the artillery officer had vanished. Fokes undressed, preparing to swim back to the far shore. I asked him to give Myers a message that on no account should any vehicle be sent over. The Germans had mistakenly concentrated their main fire around the ferry road. If they had only known their opposition was a single Canadian soldier who should not have been there in the first place, perhaps they would have left me alone. I threw away my Sten gun and stuck my Colt .45 automatic in my belt. Slowly, inexorably the machine-gun fire, then the mortars forced me down, further back into the river. The bullets were clawing the earth inches above me. When the mortars began to crunch down twenty or thirty feet away, I knew it was time to depart. In a few seconds I would be perfectly ranged. I threw away my flashlight, removed my boots and trousers and slid away down into the unexpectedly warm water. Fragments of mortars screeched through the air over the little bridgehead where I had once been.'

 

'The water of the Rhine felt warm as I drifted easily far out into the swift stream. At the ferry crossing the Germans continued to aim an unending barrage of mortars at me which crashed down on the landing road. Factories flamed along the banks of the Rhine like burning pyres, and the river reflected the yellow smoky clouds. I swam westward with the current. A piece of driftwood struck me in the back and I reached out and held on. Perhaps half an hour later my feet touched bottom as I came back to the north shore. Unmistakable German voices and marching boots crushed the earth above me. A column of troops was going east. I crawled onto the grass and waited. German machine guns arced long beads of red tracers overhead. The prospect of becoming a prisoner was not very appealing and I chose to push out again into the water. I suppose I thought if I stayed in the river long enough I would float out through Moerdijk to the sea. The idea was quite preposterous, but this is what I thought would happen. I do not know how many hours I floated in the Rhine, but I passed burning factories and houses on boat shores. When the current deposited me again on the north bank I was many miles west of the Oosterbeek perimeter. The sky to the east had a tiny touch of pink that shone through the murk and smoke that obscured Arnhem.'

 

Captured

 

'Clothed only in my underwear, caked in mud, I rose dripping from the deep river like some prehistoric monster and slowly dragged myself up the slippery bank. My teeth chattered as I trotted up and down the shore to warm up. I felt I would freeze to death or die of pneumonia in some enemy hospital if I stopped running. Before long I heard the summons I expected. A guttural voice of an older Wehrmacht soldier beckoned me towards him. Behind strode a pimply-faced youth from the SS with a cocked Schmeisser pointing at me. I could see he meant business. I went along quietly to the headquarters of the battle group a few hundred yards north where I was exhibited before several German officers, barefoot, shaking in my underwear and dripping water. A soldier finally offered me a blanket and a bed, and paralyzed with cold and fatigue, I fell asleep.'

 

'Early on the morning of September 25 an Intelligence officer shook me rudely awake and quickly began to question me. My dog tag with my number, name and religion was gone. I really had nothing to say. Shortly afterwards the officer returned with underwear, a civilian shirt, trousers and a pair of grey woollen stockings. About an hour later a German quartermaster, plump, officious and angry, arrived, poked a large Luger pistol into my back and ordered me to follow him out into the grey, sunless morning. As I limped north down a pebbly road in my stockings, encouraged by frequent jabs from the quartermaster's pistol, my feet became cut and bleeding. Still he excitedly poked me on, urging me for no apparent reason to hurry. On either side of the road columns of indifferent, weary infantry moving up to the river watched the spectacle without comment. The puffing quartermaster waved down a car and sweating from the exertion, commanded the driver to turn about.'

 

'At Wageningen, a few miles north of the Rhine, I was signed for by an orderly sergeant on September 25 in the late morning. Then the fat, sweating quartermaster who seemed to regard me as his personal property deposited me in a barrack room occupied by an SS colonel. Barefoot in a chair in the corner of the command post, sipping a cup of coffee, I watched the quartermaster heil Hitler and briefly vanish. The colonel surveyed a map on the table as three well-dressed, highly proficient company commanders entered, heiled Hitler and with barely a glance in my direction began their meeting. Shortly the quartermaster came back and took me away with him. We travelled north by Kubelwagen through Ede until at sundown we arrived at a large army barracks outside Harskamp, encircled by a high barbed-wire fence. Beyond the barracks lay green and pleasant countryside and narrow cart tracks that dwindled into a dark forest. A hundred and twenty prisoners, mostly airborne and Dorset infantry, shared my captivity. After many arguments and protests about my cut feet, a Dutch SS guard brought me a pair of rubber boats. They were ill-fitting, but they had one enormous advantage. They made no noise when I walked.'

 

'I dreaded the idea of spending any length of time in captivity. Above all, the odious effects of heavy, black German pumpernickel became intolerable. Suddenly in the middle of that first night, the Germans emptied out the prisoner camp and we trekked four miles further north to the warehouse at Stroe next to a rail siding. Bleak cattle coaches waited on the single track pointing east to Germany. As dusk fell on that second day, the German camp commandant singled me out and asked why I wore civilian clothes. My explanations were unacceptable. Henceforth I would be considered a partisan. Next morning three grey, camouflaged Spitfires, hopping low over the hedges, flew across our prison and then roared away. One by one they returned from a greater height, swooping like eagles upon the locomotive and blowing off the wheels with rockets. Most of the officers and men were weary of war and some were actually looking forward to what they thought would be the peace and tranquility of prison camp. One Oxford philosophy graduate praised the advantages of continuing his studies deep in the heart of Germany. Another in whom I had confided my plans to escape looked around at the double rows of barbed wire, the Alsatian dogs and guards and told me not to try if I valued my life. The truth was, I think that even then I valued my life less than my personal freedom. I found no recruits among the few officers I had met. Walking around the barbed-wire perimeter that afternoon I noticed two sergeants coming from the opposite direction, obviously examining the fence with a more than casual interest. One was Tex Banwell and the other was Alan Kettley. These two men were immediately willing and ready to escape.'

 

'In the evening of September 26 my own plan was ready. Our escape equipment had been carefully preserved and well hidden by the meticulous Kettley. It consisted of a useless silk escape map of Western Europe too small to read, a small box of matches, a button compass, a tin of chocolate, a grey German Army blanket that hung over my arm like a toreador's, and Kettley's nail clippers. By good luck I was not at first missed in the dismal prison yard of the warehouse at Stroe as the officers were counted in the dark. I stood between Kettley and Banwell, waiting to be taken aboard the cattle coach on the rail siding. Before me I imagined the thousands of Jews and slave labourers who had stood neatly in line in yards like this prepared to leave for their helpless slaughter in concentration camps, perhaps as demoralized and defeated as many of the men who stood here. The Germans were counting the number of officers once again. Presently they came and ordered me under escort towards the front of the train. I just had time to watch Kettley and Banwell being pushed into one of the rear cattle cars already jammed full with prisoners. The cattle coach in front of me had been divided into two. About thirty officers stood, squeezed behind a paddock normally used for horses. On the other side, in a larger space, sat about ten SS guards with Schmeissers on their knees, warming themselves around a small, coal stove, eating thick wurst sandwiches. At the prospect of yet another prisoner being wedged in the already overcrowded space, the prisoners let out a howl of protest. I quickly nudged the guard. Another howl of protest erupted. Then the German rudely pushed me away with the butt of his rifle towards the wagon where the two sergeants had vanished.'

 

Escape

 

'In the dark interior I saw both Kettley and Banwell. A thin shaft of light entered from a single tiny porthole at the far end of the car. Sleeping, huddled figures littered the floor, unmoving. Most slept the deep sleep of the totally exhausted and wounded. They could have been dead. I stumbled towards my friends over the mass of bodies. Some of the prisoners awakened briefly, cursing my violently as they came alive. The train lurched forward and gathered speed as it rolled towards Apeldoorn. In a few hours we would be across the German border where escape would be difficult among a hostile population. Kettley began prying with his nail clippers around the edge of the porthole. No one paid any attention to his industrious activity. No one seemed to care. Kettley had pried out the glass in a few minutes and he handed it back carefully to Banwell. The porthole opening was about eight inches in diameter and crisscrossed on the outside with many loose strands of barbed wire. I saw that we rolled along the top of a high rail embankment which sloped steeply down into the wide treeless meadows. Overhead stars shone hard and crystalline. There was no moon. I felt now nothing could stop our escape. I grabbed the edge of the opening, braced my foot against the side and pulled with all the strength I possessed. At first nothing happened. Then a rotten board pulled loose in my hands and I tumbled back over the sleeping forms who swore, shouted, and flayed out in anger. For a second time I repeated the performance. This time suddenly and without warning a section of wood about three feet wide and eighteen inches high unhinged. Cool night air rushed through the stuffy, fetid interior. We became feverish with haste. Kettley with his clippers quickly sawed through the last strands of rotten barbed wire. When I asked for the last time if anyone wanted to come along only a single man responded. But badly wounded in the leg, he would not be able to walk unassisted. Regretfully, we could not take him. We had to put as much distance as possible between the Germans and ourselves that night and a wounded man who would have to jump fifteen feet down a steep embankment would be a considerable hindrance. I crawled through the opening and stood briefly at the swaying juncture of the two cattle cars. Kettley and Banwell were to follow as soon as they saw me jump. The train rounded a wide curve as I leapt into the dark.'

 

'Tumbling down the steep embankment I came to rest out of sight in the deep, cool grass. Another figure leapt a few minutes later followed by a second as the car clattered on towards Apeldoorn. The long swaying train seemed to go on forever. The last coach finally swept away into the night trailing a red light that blinked weakly in the blackness. A few of the guards sand "Lily Marlene." And their voices trailed over the fields long after the train vanished and only the distant throb echoed along the tracks. From the wet grass my two companions rose and came towards me. We were exhilarated, triumphant. We clasped hands warmly in the moonless night and repeated an oath I used to make in Canada before a basketball game. It was the only one I knew. We would win. My plan was to head west and north, marching always towards the coast from where we hoped to steal a boat to cross the North Sea to England. I placed Kettley's two small metal buttons on top of one another and the luminous dots pointed north. With my German army blanket wrapped over my arm, Kettley and Banwell without a word fell in behind as we crossed over the embankment. Later, when I could locate Polaris in the luminous sky, we were able to steer our course by the stars. Before dawn we had to cover over twenty miles. However, we soon found our progress slowed in the deep dunes of the Stroeërzand, a small unexpected desert in the middle of Holland. Wadis and dry scrub surrounded us as we slowly waded on. But the dunes were safe, an unlikely place for a German patrol. Banwell, who was used to the sandy terrain of North Africa, silently brought up the rear, walking casually with his hands in his pockets. Several hours later we arrived at the main Amersfoort-Apeldoorn road, where we watched a heavily loaded convoy of canvas-covered trucks lumbering eastwards to Germany. When dawn came we sheltered in a small wood, covering ourselves with my army blanket. In the early morning the rain fell.'

 

'We had made progress. In the early morning hours of September 30, clouds of heavy mist hung unmoving above the ground. I awoke in a damp patch of woods several hundred yards square surrounded on three sides by fields and on the fourth by a narrow dirt road. Beside me were the dirty, ugly, unshaven faces of Kettley and Banwell. At the end of the road smoke rose from the chimney of a small wooden cottage into a black sky. My companions were awake, shivering in the penetrating cold. Our bones ached as we gazed longingly at the warm house where a fire must be burning on the hearth. Carefully I folded my blanket, which had kept us from freezing during the night. Then we watched the woodsman's cottage for some sign of life. But nothing moved in this early hour. Buckets and a few logs were scattered in the yard where a couple of scrawny hens pecked away at the earth. Presently the front door opened and an old lady in a black dress, a black shawl draped around her shoulders, chased the hens with surprising agility. She caught them all and took them inside. Cautiously we approached the house and knocked softly on the door. After a few minutes a child whimpered, then silence. Some women were whispering to each other but no one moved. Presently, the door parted an inch or two and through the opening the old lady looked without astonishment at me and my companions. The interior of the shack was squalid and smelled of boiled milk that simmered on the stove. The door opened all the way and we were quickly beckoned within. Two half-dressed children and an older boy about twelve curiously examined us. Banwell tried with sign language to explain we had floated down from the sky near Arnhem and escaped the Germans. The lady smiled and nodded and we thought she understood. Taking the boiled milk from the stove she poured us each a small cupful. The children looked on as we gratefully drank. She spoke quickly to the boy who put on a pair of heavy clogs and trousers and ran out of the house down the road. After a few more minutes I decided we had to move. We had a long way to go to reach the North Sea. We embraced the little old lady and Banwell kissed her on the cheek as we set off down the road into the empty countryside.'

 

'A man in clogs wearing a peaked cap overtook us on his bicycle. We followed him, trudging wearily in the early morning several miles around the edge of a muddy turnip field until we came to a preposterous looking farmhouse. Inside two matronly women waited, smiling, gesturing to the kitchen table where they had prepared a large quantity of food. We restrained ourselves only with great difficulty. After a week without a solid meal we fell finally with thanks upon the plates of fried eggs, stacks of bread and mounds of cheese our hosts kindly provided. It would be some days before we could really be sate our deep and gnawing hunger. Civilian clothes were brought out and the grandmother who governed this house, singularly absent of menfolk, buried the uniforms in the garden. I still clung to my rubber boots; although too small for my large feet, they seemed particular well-suited to the muddy Dutch countryside.'

 

'Piet Oosterbroek entered the household and stood looking over us as we consumed the last of our meal. This burly, unsmiling Dutchman nodded, shook our hands in turn and said he had known of our presence since dawn. Mistakenly, we had been identified as German deserters by the little old lady in black at the woodsman's cottage. But Oosterbroek did not doubt where we came from. Some weeks ago the Germans had shot Oosterbroek in the back when he escaped from a routine roundup of Dutchmen in a nearby village. The wound had not healed properly and had affected his left leg. He walked with a pronounced limp. A dedicated member of the Communist Party, the Resistance man asked us to follow him to his own farm a few miles away. It would be more secure at his home. Teams of Germans were searching for evaders with Alsatian dogs in the meadows north of Barneveld according to Oosterbroek. It would not be long before the farmhouses around Putten were also searched.'

 

'Late morning we followed the square, powerful, limping figure of Oosterbroek to his farmhouse just outside the village of Putten. A cobblestone courtyard separated the two-storey farmhouse from the barn, well stocked with hay. Although Oosterbroek understood hardly any English, out objective was clear. We wanted to find the quickest way back to our own lines. Banwell and Kettley were very easy, agreeable companions, perfect for a dangerous undertaking. Unhurried, calm, both men showed little anxiety during our days together. After we were fed once more by the charming Mrs. Oosterbroek, she led us to the barn. We climbed the ladder into the hayloft, pulled it up after us and fell asleep in the warm, prickly straw. Darkness came early and we slept soundly with a feeling of protection. I awoke to the quiet, persistent calls of Mrs. Oosterbroek, hastening us to rise and come down from the hayloft immediately. In her hand she held three silver coins of Phillip II dug from her garden. A small souvenir. She handed one to myself, Banwell and Kettley and the bond between us was sealed for all time. Mrs. Oosterbroek then led us over a field of ripening wheat that rose as high as my waist. We waded on through ploughed ground until in the darkness we stumbled onto a cottage where two men on motorcycles expected us. One was Oosterbroek, the other a local policeman named Witvoet. We asked no questions. Oosterbroek quickly motioned me to mount the rear seat of his 1934 Harley-Davidson. Kettley and Banwell squeezed together behind the policeman. Oosterbroek kicked down the starter pedal and we set out, leading the way.'

 

'The engines of the two old machines pounded thunderously in the dead silence of the night. We bounced and skidded across the turnip patches, cut deep swaths through barley fields, roared up muddy embankments and raced over narrow bicycle paths at full throttle. I could see nothing, but I held on grimly and was immensely relieved when we finally stopped about half an hour later outside an unpainted chicken coop in a deserted field. A thin man in a worn tweed jacket and plus fours stood waiting by the door. The chicken coop belonged to young Henk Pouw's farm at Ennyshoeve - a well-known stopover for evaders. Pouw loaned his farm to the Resistance while he attended to his banking business in Amsterdam, where his father still played an important role in the Dutch banking system. The Ennyshoeve was an isolated, seldom-visited place. Otherwise the shocking noise of our motorcycles would have awakened every German for miles.'

 

'When the door of the chicken coop closed behind me I saw a single candle flickering on a table surrounded by four silent men. The slim, dark-haired individual in golfing pants introduced himself as Rengers Hora Sikkama, a Dutch baronet who came from an old family in Frisia. Once he had been a cavalry officer. His father, a professor at Utrecht University and married to a German woman, was pro-German. When Sikkama's fellow officers became prisoners in 1940, he had gone into hiding at Putten and joined the Resistance. He had not seen his father for four years. (Before spring came, Sikkama and Pouw would both be killed by the Germans.) Van Geen, another one of the group, was the farmer son of the Burgomaster of the village of Putten. The third man, dressed in dirty blue jeans, taught mathematics at Apeldoorn while the fourth, clothed in a thick black business suit, was a counsellor in a nearby village.'

 

'Sikkama showed me two Dutch SS soldiers, imprisoned in a tiny adjoining room, who had been taken a week ago in a raid on a police station to free a number of Resistance men. Then the baronet brought out a Bren gun and put it on the table. It had arrived on an RAF drop two nights ago and Sikkama wanted to know how it worked. Banwell, a former instructor, proudly went through the drill of dismantling and putting the weapon together again in the prescribed time of two minutes, to the amazement of the four Resistance men. Late that night Sikkama took me aside and asked if it might be possible for Banwell to remain and fight with them. They desperately needed someone experienced in weapons and explosives to help. Banwell, a professional soldier since 1931, would undoubtedly be a greater asset to the Putten group than Kettley or myself. (Banwell's choice initiated the disastrous chain of events that led him eventually to Auschwitz concentration camp.) That evening I expected Banwell to follow me in a few weeks.'

 

'On the morning of October 1 Roelof van Valkenburg arrived to guide me and Kettley further south. I left Banwell that day with a certain amount of unconscious anxiety. We followed the Dutchman on bicycles at a swift pace through the small villages of Terschuur and Achterveld. Van Valkenburg never slackened speed as we plunged from main thoroughfares crowded with Germans back into wooded paths and out again into open countryside. The relentless giant, who long legs pedalled on, pistonlike, worked for the RD, or Radio Dienst, the Resistance communication network under command of Jan Tijssen, Lange Jan of Hilversum. Although we followed our guide with great difficulty, van Valkenburg was really very tired. His legs pumped automatically. All the previous night he had waited at the secret dropping zone known as Bertus, outside the little village of Voorthuizen, for the RAF Stirling to appear. But the plane did not come. At dawn van Valkenburg and his men left the field and returned to the Wuf Langerwey farm to report to Kirschen {a Belgian SAS Captain}. Then the Dutchman cycled fifteen more miles to the Ennyshoeve to fetch Kettley and myself. Now he was taking us another fifteen miles back to the Langerwey Farm, where I had been summoned by his superior. Van Valkenburg had been on his bicycle for almost twenty-four hours.'

 

'In the late morning of October 2 we arrived at our destination at the farm of Langerwey, about three miles to the west of Barneveld. Van Valkenburg pointed to the middle one of three unpainted chicken coops that appeared unattended in the overgrown grass. We hid our vehicles on the field and walked over the last hundred feet to our destination and knocked several times on the door. From within I could hear a faint tapping sound, like a woodpecker at work. The door opened and a small, athletic man in uniform, Corporal Jean Moyse, motioned us to enter quickly. Moyse's companion, signaller René Pietquin, also in uniform, had just tapped out a message to London on the new Jedburgh wireless set. A hand-powered generator lay on the floor with two Thompson submachine guns, ammunition and an opened box of food stacked beside it. The interior of the building had a dazzling effect on me. The walls were finished in bright, freshly painted acoustic panelling. The living quarters looked exceptionally orderly, clean, immaculate. Gilbert Sadi-Kirschen entered neatly dressed from an adjoining room and shook my hand heartily. Through the doorway to his room I observed a large bed covered with an eiderdown quilt.'

 

'We exchanged news and gossip. I told Kirschen that Kettley and I would like to reach the Allied lines without delay. He said so would everyone else. A large traffic jam of evaders was building up with which he did not feel equipped to deal. (However he agreed to facilitate my departure after some persistent persuasion.) Then Kirschen looked at my feet as I fidgetted uncomfortably in my undersized rubber boots. I explained walking had been difficult and the Dutch had no shoes to fit me. The Belgian said he would ask the RAF to send me a pair of civilian boots on the next drop. With new boots I would be capable once again of walking in comfort. We sipped coffee over the kitchen table and talked about the battle. Fortunately I could give him considerable information. Kirschen said I was the second evader he had met from Arnhem. The first, a doctor, Donald Olliff, had been found wandering in circles about the forest with twenty-nine unarmed medical orderlies. I politely declined Kirschen's persistent invitation to remain in Holland for more than a few days. If no arrangements could be made with the Resistance, Kettley and I intended to make our own way out. Kirschen listened patiently and said he understood. In a few days he hoped preparations would be ready. If they were not, then no one could stop me from leaving - although the Belgian did not think I would go far alone. On the other hand, he thought, maybe I would serve a useful function. If I was willing, I could test the route out for others who, he hoped, would be following.'

 

'Bep Labouchère came for me at the Termaten farmhouse. By bicycle she guided me to Kirschen's chicken coop. My boots had arrived. They were dropped the previous night by a Stirling bomber at Bertus a week before its discovery. They fitted perfectly and were carefully broken in and sufficiently soiled so as not to appear too new. In addition to the boots, Kirschen handed me a detailed map, elaborately prepared by Piet Rombout, the local Resistance cartographer, showing German troop concentrations in a wide area of northern Holland. A second document gave the routes of enemy troop movements eastward across the country. I tucked them both safely into my new boots and said farewell. Kirschen had become a friend. We had forged a deep, life-long association. As I left, Moyse tapped out a message to Moor Park announcing my departure.'

 

'We picked up Kettley at the farm. After a sentimental goodbye with our generous hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Termaten, we cycled southward towards the Rhine. The red-faced farmer Termaten had insisted I become a fellow countryman. He had grown fond and offered to adopt me. I said one day I would be back to give him my decision. Bep, riding a hundred feet ahead, led us on towards our rendezvous in the woods eight miles away near the village of Maarn. Between tall beech trees, on narrow, wooded paths spongy with pine cones and moss, we rode on until a meadow appeared which faced the Utrecht-Arnhem route. German troops and transport almost crowded us off the road as we followed Bep, threading her way through the massive column of infantry going eastward. Half an hour later we were at our rendezvous stop, a small knoll in the woods at a crossroads near Maarn. A smiling, blond-haired man and a girl stood by their bicycles watching. Mies, Bep's sister, would accompany her back the way she came. The blond Dutchman, Jan de Bloois, known to his friends only as Piet de Springer (the parachutist), would take us to the next post. (De Bloois, a peasant from Maasland, had escaped to England in 1941 and joined the Free Netherlands Forces. He had been parachuted near Breda in May 1944. He had been very active as a radio operator. Now he was a guide, one of the best.)'

 

'De Bloois spoke no English but we understood each other. He would lead Kettley and me south to the north bank of the Rhine at the Maurik crossing. We shook hands with the girls in the middle of the pine forest as the charming Labouchère sisters took their leave. De Bloois made it clear we had to hurry. We were late for our next meeting. Suddenly, a few minutes later, quite breathless from the exertion, the sisters overtook us. Bep thrust two presents at me. One was the woollen, chequered scarf she wore over her blonde hair, the other a small Dutch-English dictionary. Then the laughing girls were off, as suddenly as they came, driving hard around the curving path, disappearing in the woods.'

 

'De Bloois allowed us to break our journey at the farmhouse of van Kleef, where a hot meal had been prepared. While we lunched our guide left without explanation. In his absence a tall, quiet Dutchman took his place at the table. E. Preys spoke fluent English and introduced himself as an agent from the Special Forces. Out of his stocking he produced a map giving us an up-to-date summary of German positions along the Rhine and Waal. Apparently the way down to the river was free. We listened to what he had to say suspiciously in de Bloois's absence. A few minutes later our guide burst into the room and saw the stranger. His hand rested nervously on the gun stuck to his belt beneath his coat. He would not have hesitated to kill if he thought we were in danger. But the stranger explained his identity. The tension eased. De Bloois then presented Kettley and myself with a .38 pistol which he had just removed from a local arms cache. We stuck the guns in our trousers feeling a little more secure.'

 

'An hour later we came to the winter dike and walked our bicycles across several hundred yards of deserted fields to the Rhine. All land within a mile of the river was out of bounds to civilians. At three o'clock that afternoon we finally reached the water's edge without incident. On the far shore two boys sat on the grass idly looking at us. Then a Dutch peasant in clogs, dirty blue denims and smoking a small clay pipe suddenly appeared from behind a tree and told us to follow him to his row boat hidden among the reeds. We cast off for the village of Maurik. The blond de Bloois waved good-bye for the last time as he climbed back up the river bank, disappearing into the fields. At Maurik, Henk Kok - who was waiting for us on the south bank - took us to the house of the widow Kok, a large bosomy woman with twelve devoted children. We would stay with this friendly widow until the route to Tiel was ready.'

 

'I did not know at the time, but Kirschen shadowed me all the way out. His second message, sent to Moor Park on October 2, read: "Lieutenant Heaps will cross Rhine at Wijk bringing sketch of German positions North of Rhine." Lieutenant Colonel Collins optimistically expected to meet me in his office at Airborne Headquarters in Moor Park on October 5. At the house of the widow Kok at Maurik, we met some of her twelve children. Koos Meijer, who had been freed by the Resistance from the concentration camp at Amersfoort several weeks ago, joined us later in the afternoon. I asked him what he thought of our chances of crossing the lines. He drew a nervous finger across his throat and said, in broken English, "It is like killing self dead." I became further concerned when the widow shook me awake in my chair, trembling with fear. The Germans were coming. One of the daughters led us out to the back fields, where Kettley and I burrowed under a pile of apples. A few minutes later the widow, her huge body shaking with helpless laughter, dug us out. The Germans wanted eggs, not Englishmen. I was not too sure. The farmer Termaten and his wife, who had sheltered us a few days ago, had been shot and their farm burned to the ground. I wanted to move quickly.'

 

n.b. The "Termaten" family was Cornelis ter Maaten and his wife, Klaasje Meerveld, who were farmers at the Voskuilerweg in Woudenberg/Scherpenzeel. On Friday 29th December 1944, the Germans arrested him and brought to a prison in Apeldoorn. A few days later his wife was also arrested, leaving the farm to their six children. No information was extracted by the Germans. After some days Klaasje was allowed to go home, however Cornelis was sent to the Neuegamme
concentration camp (near Hamburg, in Germany). On 24 March 1944, the family received a message that he had died there. In 1983, Queen Beatrix honoured the family with the national resistance cross (initiated in 1980) for both Cornelis (postume) and for Klaasje. Thanks to Jan ter Maten for these details.

 

'A student, Leo Lamers, and Anton van t'Hart, a former sergeant in the Dutch Artillery, came to dinner. After the meal these two men would take us to the home of a fruit farmer near Tiel. From here we had to reach the Waal. On the other side of the river, Major David De Volpie's squadron of the 7th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment patrolled the south bank after dark. But Tiel was supposedly a heavily defended barrier. Van t'Hart said that when the moon went down one of the best men of the Betuwe district would be my guide and take me across. Before dark we followed the Resistance men on bicycles southward as the widow Kok standing in her doorway blew me kisses.'

 

'Kettley and I cycled between van t'Hart and Lamers. If the leading rider ran into trouble he would signal back and the others would immediately turn off and make for the fields. We soon left behind a long German convoy parked by the roadside. The fresh fields of the Betuwe smelled of cold, unpicked apples. Two hours later we arrived at the house of Ebbens, our host. The house, set well back in the orchards near the pleasant little village of Drumpt, fortunately could not be seen from the road. The fruit farmer introduced us to his wife and mother-in-law. They were moderately happy to meet us, but did not share Ebbens's dutiful conviction that he had a moral obligation to oppose the Germans. Their privacy had long since been crudely violated by too many strangers. In the living room, comfortably settled in an easy chair, I saw Private Ted Bachenheimer, a brash paratrooper from the 101st Airborne Division. Bachenheimer operated a kind of freelance one-man patrol out of Driel, but this time had wandered a considerable distance outside his territory. With him was Captain Peter Baker of IS9, who would shortly be captured and transported to Germany. A British paratrooper captain whose name I never recalled sat immobilized with a fractured leg propped up on a footstool. In the basement Ebbens had stored boxes of ammunition and arms. Outside in the wood half a dozen local men were in hiding from a forced labour call-up. This was not a place to linger.'

 

'In the early hours of the morning I awakened. The sound of light, delicate footsteps could be heard outside my door. I went to investigate and saw two frightened, chalk-faced men quietly descending an attic ladder. Each carried a brown paper bag in his hand. Ebbens, in addition to all his other boarders, sheltered a Jewish family. Two of the men tip-toed by me, carrying their shaven whiskers. I smiled at these sad-faced people as they crept down the stairs into new hiding quarters. (When the fatal knock on the door came for Ebbens it would also come for the Jewish familt, who would perish with him.)'

 

'In the morning Piet Oosterlee waited quietly downstairs in the living room. This thin, blond boy, a former medical student at the University of Groningen, offered me his hand. When Jews were no longer permitted to attend his University, as a personal protest he went underground like many of his fellow students. That was 1941. Today was October 4, 1944, and in two days at the most I wanted to be on my way out of occupied Holland. Oosterlee agreed to help. He would immediately make a reconnaissance of the river around Tiel and arrange for a rowboat. He would be back to fetch me tomorrow. In the afternoon the smiling, stocky Franz de Vilder, the famous swimmer of the Waal, made his appearance. He immediately suggested I swim the river with him after dark. Politely, I declined the invitation. Instead I gave him Kirschen's maps which he would take that night and hand over to Allied headquarters in Nijmegen. I also sent a message saying I would follow the next evening, one way or another. (I later learned that the army reacted to my message generously. They sent out a wide alarm along the whole Allied front.)'

 

'Next morning Oosterlee returned from his reconnaissance of the river. Arrangements were complete. We would leave tonight as planned. Flight Sergeant Wood, an aerial gunner, newly arrived from Kirschen, joined me. On September 18 he had been one of the two survivors of a Stirling bomber shot down near Barnevald. Two people were the maximum that Oosterlee could take. Under the circumstances Kettley agreed to remain and would attempt to make Ebbens's house a more secure place for future evaders. I told him under no circumstances should he stay more than a week. After the period of the next full moon he must leave. The luck of Ebbens could not last much longer. We left by bicycle in late morning.'

 

'An unusual number of Germans were relaxing in the cafes, strolling along the roads with their girls or gathered in small groups on the streets of Tiel. Suddenly in the center of the town I heard a loud report like a pistol shot. My rear tire went flat and I came to a halt. My companions left me far behind, unaware I no longer followed. Several Germans were taking photographs, blocking the route as I walked my vehicle. When one of the soldiers laid a hand upon my shoulder, I leapt onto the bike and with strength borne of fear pedalled away on the flat tire with a burst of speed that surprised the Germans and myself. I caught up with Oosterlee about a mile ahead. The Dutchman looked white and nervous. I think he received that day a flash of premonition that comes to men who flirt constantly with danger. Oosterlee knew his luck was running out.'

 

'The family Noordzij lived under the shadow of the river dike. My guide always stopped at the house to obtain the latest information. Here we met the bargeman, Geurt van der Zand, a rough-hewn character in a blue peaked hat, peasant tunic and clogs. Van der Zand would take us the last mile along the river to his barge, hide us and return after dark with a rowboat. The bargeman seemed as tense, and uncertain of the outcome, as Oosterlee. He too felt something would occur to interrupt our passage. I could understand why Franz de Vilder preferred to swim the Waal alone and keep his own company. In some ways it might be preferable. The route we took appeared too vulnerable to last for any length of time. The danger point was the footbridge over the lock, a hundred yards west. A German machine-gun post guarded the approach. If we were challenged and stopped I intended to shoot my way out. I was too close to the end of the journey to be defeated now.'

 

'In an hour it would be dusk. Beyond the lock lay the wide summer dike and the river. We set out for the barge of Van der Zand, Oosterlee leading the way, Wood following and myself bringing up the rear. At the footbridge a German guard spoke to me and I smiled back as I chewed viciously one of the several apples I carried in my pocket for these occasions. With a mouthful of apple, anything I said sounded incomprehensible. Meanwhile Oosterlee, the bargeman and Wood were over the bridge waiting nervously in the shelter of the dike for me to appear. The Germans were in fact warning me to stay off the top where I would make an easy target for British snipers. They urged me to hurry. It became quite simple now as we strolled casually the last hundred yards to the barge and clambered aboard unseen into the dark, deep hold. One of the Germans began firing wild over the river while another dallied with a Dutch girl by the entrance to the footbridge.'

 

'After dark Van der Zand came with a little man, crippled in one leg, carrying a heavy briefcase. He had bought his passage across and was not a welcome addition. Then the bargeman left. In a few minutes he unexpectedly returned and excitedly dropped into the hold. A German patrol had suddenly appeared on the river bank and was coming out way. (Whoever informed the Germans of our presence that night would also be responsible for the death of Oosterlee.) Quickly we clambered onto the deck and lowered ourselves over the side into a waiting rowboat. It took a few minutes longer to help down the cripple. He asked if I could save him if we sank. He could not swim. I thought this was a bad time to discuss the matter. Besides, I assured him, I would have considerable trouble saving myself. The bargeman cast off and we drifted off into the current out into the cold darkness of the Waal. I could hear soldiers now climbing aboard the barge, searching the boat. The Germans shouted hoarsely, as they smashed their way into the empty cabin looking for us. Oosterlee rode with powerful strokes into the middle of the stream. Several Spandau bursts sprayed blindly over the river. Far off red tracers fanned across the water. In the bottom of the boat the crippled fearfully crouched beneath my seat, desperately clutching his briefcase. A flare suddenly lit the night like daylight. But I did not care anymore. The boat touched bottom and slid over the long reeds and stopped. We got out and pulled it up the mud flats to the top of the summer dike. I gazed thankfully at the long column of tall poplar trees on either side of the road, standing like sentinels. Then that mysterious sense of exaltation that one can feel at twenty, gripped me, held me motionless. A deep sense of rapture, mystical and mysterious, overcame me. I had learned. Strangers had given me their bed, their food, their friendship and risked their lives for my safety. What more could a man ask of a fellow human.'

 

MI9

 

'I had been in my quaint, thatch-roofed cottage on the marshes for a week before Lieutenant Colonel David Dobie arrived. But before I met Dobie I met Major Airey Neave of IS9, Major Hugh Fraser of the SAS and Captain Maurice MacMillan, a communications officer from Phantom. They seemed to work together. On my first introduction to Neave at Nijmegen the night after I returned, he asked whether I would care to work for IS9 in Holland. The idea appealed to me. Also, I had nothing else to do. On my way back to London I caught my first glimpse of the headquarters of the rescue organisation and its charming, one-armed Lieutenant Colonel, Jimmy Langley, dining in his luxurious apartment in Brussels. Champagne and oysters were being consumed in quantity by the chief for breakfast when I dropped in shortly before noon. Langley, between oysters, agreed I could serve a useful purpose in bringing back airborne survivors and establishing escape routes over the rivers of northern Holland. I did not know much about IS9 but I was certainly willing to learn. The languorous, affluent life-style impressed me. I would not be fighting the grubby, filthy, tedious war of the masses but the elite, sophisticated war of the few who ate with clean cutlery. I did not anticipate there would be objections to working for IS9 from my commander. There was not really very much of a battalion to go back to. Two officers out of forty and ten men from eight hundred were all that remained.'

 

'At Airborne Headquarters in Moor Park I paid my respects to the elegant Lieutenant Colonel Ian Collins and reported on the state of the Belgian SAS Captain Kirschen. Evidently Kirschen had fled his chicken coop but his daily messages failed to come in on time. Collins told me that the General expected to see me at the War Office and a car waited outside to take me to Urquhart. At the war office the General greeted me with his usual warmth. He seemed genuinely glad to have me back. However, he did explain that he never expected to me again alive. Reports had circulated several times that I had been killed. When we met the last time at Hartenstein he thought I would never reappear. I assured the General that the reports of my death were highly exaggerated. However, I was the first evader to come back. I told Urquhart that I might be only one of many who would follow. When I asked permission to return to Holland the General gave me his consent, but I never thought I would see Dobie again or that we would be working together to bring back our comrades. There would be other occasions when I would report to the General in England on my progress, but he always seemed too polite to ask the one question which constantly perplexed him. (Thirty years later in a request for information I asked whether he remembered me. He replied by saying, "Of course, I remember you well. But I still don't know what you were doing in the First Airborne Division.") I returned to Brussels, reported to Neave and took up residence in the duck shoot.'

 

Pegasus I

 

'A pig squealed. The hands of my watch stood at exactly five minutes to midnight. The shrill, almost human, cry pierced the unnatural silence. Lieutenant Colonel Dobie had put me in charge of the twenty-four assault boats that were in position a little distance back from the river in the shadow of the summer dike. The sappers from the engineers of the Forty-Third Wessex Division, who manned the boats, waited for my signal. Colonel Bob Sink and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Strayer stood on the road above the dike looking through their night binoculars at the far shore. They saw nothing. In five minutes the Bofers, two miles back from the Rhine, would fire a string of tracers directly over their heads across to Wageningen. That same day General Brian Horrocks had come himself to the river to put his approval personally on the plan. The 101st U.S. Airborne Division had prepared the evaders' reception with great care. Rows of white tennis tape ran back from the shore to an emergency medical aid station and a temporary canteen which would serve hot drinks and food. Lorries and jeeps were parked just over the dike to transport the men to the army base hospital at Nijmegen. Paratroop orderlies stood by with stretchers to carry those unable to walk. Dobie and the Moose were crouched near the river with a radio operator ready to go as soon as they saw the red "V" signal. Two machine gunners would come with me to protect the flanks. An artillery observation officer from XXX Corps stood nearby with a map talking to his rear gunner who controlled the fire of the medium artillery. I hoped it would not be necessary to use it.'

 

'All day Dobie had been in a mood of nervous anticipation, of high tension and purpose. If devotion to friends could bring the men back, they would return. As midnight approached the tension mounted. Everyone's gaze was riveted on the far shore directly across the river in the direction of Wageningen. Near the forward slopes of the dike, the Majors Airey Neave and Hugh Fraser, wrapped in long greatcoats, quietly observed the operation. The river current ran east from Arnhem and consequently the boats would be set in that direction. The assault craft were positioned in a rank along the shore to allow for the swift flow of the river. If the operation was to be successful I thought the evaders should by now be making their way over the last few hundred feet down to crossing point at Digby. Several salvos of German rockets flamed up from their firing pods in the Renkum woods and screeched down a few hundred yards to our rear. A flare soared up over the water, lit the river with a terrible brightness, then died. The tension grew unbearable. Dobie and I synchronised watches with the Moose's and waited the remaining seconds for zero hour.'

 

'Midnight came unexpectedly. The Bofors cracked out ten times. The gun seemed very close. Ten red balls of tracers, one after the other, spun above the river and dwindled into the blackness of enemy territory. Automatically our gaze followed the line of shells, expecting some immediate response from that direction. But none came. At ten minutes after midnight the far shore still seemed deserted. From hope my mood changed to one of fear as if something had definitely gone wrong. No one for a moment thought the timing of the evaders could be less exacting than the precision-organized reception prepared by the 101st Airborne Division.'

 

'West of Arnhem the Rhine curves north and south in a series of bends. From our sector of shoreline on the south an advancing column of men could easily be lost from view if they hugged the far bank. No one had thought of this possibility, nor did anyone anticipate it. Nor did Tatham-Warter realized the poor visibility of his signal light. By chance, about half an hour after midnight, I looked in the direction of the bridge for the first time. I thought I saw a tiny light flicker on and off. I raced down to Dobie to tell him. We watched again together. After a few minutes a faint, red pinpoint of light signalled the "V" for victory symbol. No one could possibly judge the distance. But it seemed several miles east of the prearranged rendezvous. Dobie did not wait any longer. He and the Moose excitedly pushed off and with a weird cry vanished from sight on the river. I shouted to the sappers to drag their boats along the shore another hundred yards east. Every yard would count. The closer we landed to the evaders the less distance they would have to walk. Ten minutes later all the boats were launched.'

 

'The current seemed to carry me several hundred yards further eastward than I planned. Other boats had already landed with their crews who rested under the protection of the embankment, ready to quickly push back out again into the stream at a moment's notice. The American machine gunners under Lieutenant Frank Reese had taken up their covering positions on the flank in the long grass of the meadow. With Sergeant Linwood Belisle, one of Heyliger's men, I went searching eastward for the evaders. Several hundred feet further up the river, I found Dobie under the embankment with Heyliger, where he had set up his headquarters. Dobie was already in radio communication with the 2nd Battalion link on the south shore. I left him and with Belisle continued east in the direction of Arnhem towards the place I thought I saw the red light. A flare shot up from behind the trees a few hundred yards north, illuminating the water. We stopped. Then in a few seconds, enveloped again by the darkness, we went on. After a little while I heard a strange sound like wind rustling through the meadow. But there was no wind. We advanced a few feet further, listened and waited. The distant rustle of grass changed slowly, imperceptibly to a multitude of shuffling feet. But I saw no one. Belisle set up his light machine gun. The sound started and stopped several times and then gradually became louder. The origin was now unmistakable. A gray, amorphous column took shape in the dark, shuffling slowly over the meadow. The column seemed to have no end. We let the first few men pass. And then I saw they were the evaders.'

 

'I rose with a shout and ran to the front. The leader, a tall, thin man with the rank of major, held up his hand for the tired line of men to halt. Beside the major stood a stoop-shouldered brigadier with a gaunt, sorrowful face. He asked wearily where the boats were. I told him the exact place where the assault craft waited under the embankment with Dobie. The ragged file surged on, possessed with new energy. At half past one that morning, the last of the stragglers and wounded were boarded onto the last of the boats. Not a shot had been fired during the entire time I wandered over enemy territory. I do not know definitely whether I was the last man who went back across the Rhine that night, but I would like to think so. As I went down to the river I looked with Belisle both ways over the silent meadow for some sign of life. I could see none. Below me the urging sappers held the last boat in readiness as I stepped aboard.'

 

'The exuberance of the returning soldiers was considerable. The mournful-looking Heyliger, not known among his fellows as a particularly handsome man, was hugged by the doctor Olliff and kissed gratefully on both cheeks. Olliff thought Heyliger "the most beautiful man he had ever seen." The only casualty that night was Hibbert. He rode joyfully to the reception area on the bumper of an overcrowded jeep from which he accidentally fell, breaking both legs. On October 28 on the 9:00 P.M. British Home Service, which could be heard in occupied Holland, the broadcaster prefaced the evening news with a prosaic announcement: "Message for Bill. Everything is well. All our thanks." Lathbury had sent his promised communication to Bill Wildeboer.'

 

'Some people have asked if the war ended for me and some of my friends when John Hackett returned to the Allied lines, and the De Nooy sisters received the news of the brigadier's escape. I will tell you. It did not. I still travelled on, this time into northern Holland to witness an ambush of a long, plodding column of German infantry trying to flee into Germany. My friend, Major Henry Druce, who headed the ambush with his six SAS jeeps each mounted with four Vickers machine guns, was dressed in corduroy trousers and a black silk top hat for the occasion. He had picked up the top hat in some deserted house. In one terrible moment of slaughter, the several hundred Germans in the ambush were all killed and wounded. Then I went east into Germany with my jeep driver, Stimson, a dry, old, gnarled western Canadian of twenty-four. We were among the first people to enter Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Here I saw another kind of horror, more profound and incomprehensible than the first. I only mention these events because I think they must have had a lasting effect upon me. If often takes a while for the meaning of these experiences to settle below the numbed conscience of a soldier - sometimes decades. When I went home to Canada it was difficult to return like many others to the kind of youthful innocence which I left behind. Some years later a strange thought came to me and it gave me a feeling of hope. I do not know its significance. But I realized suddenly that I had never killed a man.'

 

Leo Heaps was awarded the Military Cross for his work with the Dutch Resistance. His brother, David, had also achieved the same distinction, thereby making them the only Jewish brothers during the Second World War to win the decoration. After the war, Heaps went to Israel and aided their army in the establishment of mobile striking units. Whilst here, he met his wife-to-be. During the Hungarian Revolution he led a special rescue team to bring refugees out and across the border. In the mid-1960's he returned to Britain where he dabbled in various entrepreneurial projects as well as writing several books, notably "The Grey Goose of Arnhem", telling his own story of Arnhem (as repeated in this biography), the aftermath of the battle, and also the stories of other Arnhem evaders and their dealings with the Resistance.

 

Leo Heaps spent most of his life in Toronto, Canada, and was amongst the forty Canadian veterans who returned to Arnhem in 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary. He died in 1995.

 

Thanks to Adrian Heaps for his help with this account.

 

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