Private Leslie D. Saddler
Unit : No.9 Platoon, "C" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 14529484
Leslie Saddler, originally from the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, volunteered for the Airborne Forces in 1943. After completing his selection course at Hardwick Hall he was put on parachute course No.71, at R.A.F. Ringway, running from the 5th to 17th July 1943; his parachute jump instructor commented, "Good all round man - should do well". Upon completion of the course he was posted to the Holding Company and then to the 1st Airborne Division in North Africa, where he joined No.9 Platoon, "C" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion.
His first action was Operation Slapstick; the seaborne landing of the 1st Airborne Division at the port of Taranto, Southern Italy, in September 1943. The 1st Parachute Brigade formed the second wave and were tasked with clearing Altamura of enemy forces, and they halted here when they arrived and discovered that the Germans had already abandoned the town. They were moved to Barletta in late October before embarking for the UK in December.
From January to September 1944, "C" Company were billeted at Hungerton Hall, near Grantham, Lincolnshire. By September, Private Saddler was the batman to the platoon commander, Lieutenant "Peter" Barry. On Operation Market Garden, Sunday 17th September 1944, Saddler boarded a Dakota at Barkston Heath and flew to DZ-X near Heelsum, in Holland. It had been planned that "C" Company would advance along the Lion route with the remainder of the 2nd Battalion, but would separate as they passed through Oosterbeek and proceed to capture the railway bridge, secure the southern bank, and from there advance to attack Arnhem Bridge from the opposite end to the remainder of the Battalion. The Company began its move on the bridge in good order, but as Lieutenant Barry brought the leading section onto the structure it was demolished before they could reach the other side. Barry was wounded as he withdrew his men. He recalled:
"I was in front and the next thing I knew a bullet smashed into my right arm. It made a small hole in front and a large gash coming out. Of course I know today it fractured the humerus. I had no idea what it had done then, but my arm suddenly began going round and round in a circle. I wondered what the devil was causing it to do that. At any rate, we couldn't afford to remain where we were much longer. I stood up and shouted that we were going back and we retreated back across the bridge. Near the first pillar was a small ladder going down the side to the river. We went down that and I set the section to firing on the opposite bank. We still couldn't see anything, but apparently, we could still be seen. One of the section, a Pte. Sadler (n.b. unsure of spelling) was killed. About that time, a runner came up and told me we were ordered to move back. I was carried back on a stretcher, with my arm strapped to my side, and taken to a house in Oosterbeek [Breman house?], while the rest of the Company went on into Arnhem".
Private Leslie Saddler is officially recorded as having been killed on the 25th September 1944, yet his Company Commander, Major Victor Dover, remembers him in his book, The Silken Canopy, as having been shot in the head by a sniper as he was about to deliver a message to him after the Railway Bridge had been demolished. He writes:
"The Polderweg along which we made our way was little more than a track. There was no cover and we were exposed to fire from the far side of the river. Number 9 Platoon was in the lead, followed by Company H.Q. and 8 and 7 Platoons. The German positions in a brick kiln on the north side of the buildings had been demolished. The opposition to our approach was light and was quickly overrun. 9 Platoon continued its advance of the escarpment of the railway bridge without trouble until they reached the foot of the escarpment of the railway track itself. Here it came under heavy fire from a machine-gun and from snipers on the far side of the river. The remainder of the Company took up covering fire positions in the area of the wrecked buildings. Lieut. Peter Barry, the Platoon Commander, deployed two sections on the ground to give close covering fire while he with the third section climbed up to the bridge under cover of smoke. It was a model attack and all seemed to be going well. Our covering fire silenced the opposition on the far bank. Peter with his assaulting section reached the first span of the bridge and started to cross. When they were a third of the way over there was a yellow flash and a tremendous explosion. The Spreng-Kommando and his henchmen could be seen running from the far side of the bridge, and they only just made it before the centre span sank into the river with the railway lines draping down like reeds into the water. From my position at Company H.Q. I could see Peter's men on the bridge running back, dragging two of the section with them. There was no wireless communication, so I had to go forward on foot with my batman to find out how badly the section had been hit and if there was any chance of crossing the river by other means than the bridge. As we arrived at the escarpment, Private Saddler of 9 Platoon came down the embankment towards us. He did not deliver his message: he dropped dead from a sniper's bullet before he reached us. It was at this moment that I began to feel that fortune was not smiling on us although the sun was bright."
Leslie Saddler has no known grave and is commemorated on the Groesbeek Memorial, Holland.
My thanks to Bob Hilton and Keryl Holt for this account.
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