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Louis Hagen

Louis Hagen with a mixed party of Independent Company men and glider pilots, at a house near the Stationsweg

Sergeant Louis Edmund Hagen

 

Unit : No.22 Flight, "D" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment

Army No. : 14623984

Awards : Military Medal

 

Louis Hagen, whose real family name was Levy, was born in Potsdam, Germany, on the 30th May 1916, the second son of five children (1). His mother and father, a banker, moved in high circles and this brought them into close contact with various members of the social elite, including friends of Prince Bernhard (2). The young Louis, known to most as Büdi (abbr. Brüderlein - little brother), practiced boxing in the family's own ring and was privately educated, later attending high school but had little to show for the experience for he was, as he freely admitted, a dunce. At school Hagen befriended Claus Fuhrmann and their relationship proved to be mutually beneficial; Claus helped Louis with his school work, whilst Louis acted as his minder. In 1934 the effects of Nazism were felt in the Hagen household when a joke which Louis had written on a postcard, concerning Hitler's brownshirts, the Sturm Abteilung, was discovered and as consequence he was sent to the Schloss Lichtenburg Concentration Camp at Torgau (3). Fortunately his friend Claus successfully appealed for his release to his father, a judge and party member, and Louis was freed six weeks after his imprisonment. Following this event the Hagen family began the process of leaving Germany. Karl, the elder brother, departed that year, Louis himself left for England in 1936, the other children made their way out later, and in 1941 his mother and father made use of the Trans-Siberian railway and reached the USA via Japan. In Britain, Hagen was employed in various positions before deciding to enlist in the Army, and like so many other Jewish refugees he served in the Pioneer Corps. All soldiers of German and Austrian origin were obliged to serve under a pseudonym so as to ensure that they would not be mistreated in the event of their capture, and so it was that Louis Hagen became Lewis Haig (4). He was accepted into the Glider Pilot Regiment at the end of 1943, and joined No.22 Flight, of D Squadron, No.1 Wing, and Arnhem was to be his first battle.

 

Hagen's Horsa was amongst the first to take off from Keevil on Monday 18th; he was flying as second pilot to S/Sgt R. A. "Mac" Wheldon, carrying three men from the 156th Battalion, a Jeep, and a trailer loaded with petrol. Having made a safe landing on LZ-X, they took the Jeep to the Glider Pilots rallying point at Wolfheze Station. Dutch civilians greeted them with open arms at the Asylum, and in an effort to breach the language gap Hagen found himself acting as an interpreter. In the confusion he is suddenly hailed as prince Bernhard. The misunderstanding can probably be explained by the fact that everyone was eager for news of the prince and that Hagen’s understanding of the Dutch language was poor.

 

In the evening, No.22 Flight were acting as the rearguard to the 156th Battalion's advance towards the high ground known as Lichtenbeek, but when the paratroopers encountered resistance on the edge of the landing zone they fell back to prepare for a dawn attack. Having spent the night dug in close to the railway line, Hagen was amongst a group of thirty glider pilots, led by his commanding officer, Captain Iain Muir, that was attached to A Company of the 156th Battalion. A Company were to lead the resumed attack, but as one of their platoons was still on the 4th Para Brigade's drop zone, guarding the wounded, they needed a replacement which came in the form of this composite glider pilot platoon. As they approached the Dreyenseweg the leading platoon was halted by heavy fire, and in spite of a desperate bayonet charge the defence proved to be almost impenetrable. Unfortunately the glider pilots were not able to fully support the advance of the paratroopers as they were pinned down at an early stage due to fire that swept across their left flank from a forward machine-gun post, sited in a dell on the western side of the road. Hagen was nearest to this gun, and upon realizing the threat he attempted to destroy the position single handedly, and managed to run to within 20 metres of it before he was forced to take cover and shelter for a while. After the battle Hagen wrote "I swore that if ever I got out of this hopeless position I would never be such a bloody fool again... I wondered if I wanted to pray; that is what everybody is supposed to do in a position like this; but I just did not feel like it, and to calm and steady myself I watched a colony of ants go about their well-planned and systematic business." The Germans manning the post knew that Hagen was there but were not inclined to leave the safety of their position to dig him out, however they were unaware that Hagen could understand every word of their bickering and he knew how low their morale was. When he tried to run back towards friendly troops he was fired on by both sides, but after a while he bumped into men from B Company of the 156th Battalion, emerging from the woods with his hands up. He told them that there were only young and dispirited Germans from where he had just come and that they could easily round them up, but in spite of Hagen's glider pilot clothing and perfect English accent the paratroopers had reason to suspect that he was a German trying to lure them into a trap, nevertheless they let him go, though their suspicions were reinforced when they refused to help him and he ran back alone to where he said the Germans were. Hagen, however, was finally able to report his information to an officer of the Battalion and thereafter occupied a position at the edge of the wood.


At about 16:00 on Tuesday 19th, he was in the process of making a cup of tea when the Polish gliders approached LZ-L. German anti-aircraft fire opened up on them as they descended: "They were so helpless: I have never seen anything to illustrate the word 'helpless' more horribly." As the 4th Para Brigade, with the Poles and 7th KOSB in tow, began to transfer their strength south of the railway line whilst being constantly harassed by the Germans, Hagen reached the Wolfheze crossing and witnessed the messy process. Deciding that this was not the way to proceed, he took it upon himself to take 20 other men across and down to the Rhine where they would be safe from enemy action, although he realised that this was probably not the correct thing to do. Of his group, all but his friend Dodd decided to return to Wolfheze and Hagen never saw them again, but as night began to fall the two men were discovered by Jeeps of A Troop of the Reconnaissance Squadron. Separated from their unit, they returned to the Squadron's HQ, opposite the Hartenstein, and spent the night in a trench outside.

 

At 06:30 on Wednesday 20th, Hagen and Dodd accompanied A Troop's No.3 Section on a patrol towards the Oosterbeek Hoog railway station. Moving north through the woods along the eastern side of the Stationsweg they encountered a self-propelled gun accompanied by infantry. Hagen wrote "A tank advancing firing shells is the most frightening thing imaginable, and of all the experiences I had later on I was never more frightened than now. I believe that this is what makes a tank such a formidable weapon." Some of the men on the patrol were able to withdraw in a Jeep, but Hagen and Dodd were cut off in the woods. Trying to make their own way back, they hid in a manure pit in the garden of a house on the north-eastern corner of the Utrechtseweg-Stationsweg junction until they made contact with another patrol coming forward. The pair were then taken towards the Hartenstein and the Glider Pilot Regiment HQ, where Hagen rejoined D Squadron and found 6 men from No.22 Flight.

 

On Thursday morning Hagen volunteered to go on a fighting patrol to clear a block of houses opposite the Hartenstein. Following this, D Squadron, now consisting of 5 officers and 50 other ranks, were ordered to take up positions in houses along the Stationsweg, south of those held by the 156th Battalion and the Reconnaissance Squadron, and here they stayed until the Division was ordered to withdraw. They occupied and barricaded every one in two houses, with trenches dug to allow unseen movement from one to the other, but they had barely stepped foot inside the buildings before they were fired on from the other side of the road. For the moment Hagen based himself in the corner house on the Utrechtseweg-Stationsweg.

 

On Friday, reinforcements of Independent Company origin arrived on the Stationsweg, which allowed the Glider pilots to tighten their positions, and Hagen relocated himself to Stationsweg 18, the second house from the corner of Stationsweg-Paul Krugerstraat where he stayed for most of the time. In the morning a self-propelled gun made a cautious challenge to the British lines, in what became a regular event each morning over the coming days, and on this occasion it was discouraged by Lieutenant Strathern and Hagen, who took a PIAT up to the loft where they were able to return fire through a hole in the roof without being spotted. Later in the day, during a lull, the thoughts of the men turned to finding food, and Hagen with Sergeant Stan Graham foraged for whatever was going along the length of the street. On this occasion they called at the the house of the Kremer family, Stationsweg 8. Mrs Kremner invited two glider pilots and men of the Independent Company to sign her guestbook and pose for a few photographs (see top). Hagen wrote in the book "I do hope & beleave that the mess we made of your lovely house was worth while + good luck for a happier future.", signed Lewis Haig.

 

As supper was served, Captain Ogilvie, the kilted commander of D Squadron, received orders from Brigadier Hackett first to discover where the Germans were withdrawing their men and equipment to, and also to find out if they occupied the houses on the Paul Krugerstraat. Twice on Friday night, Hagen and Sergeant Graham went out to find answers to these questions. They succeeded in locating their primary objective and described it as a large open area which formed part of a country house, containing a hill and two very large oak trees with benches around their base. Returning to Hackett's HQ at the Hartenstein, where Hagen angered the Brigadier by placing a dirty finger on his map, he recommended that an artillery bombardment be laid down upon the Dennenkamp woods where the base seemed to be fed from, the position itself being too close to the British lines to fire on.

 

On Sunday 24th, Hagen received a wound to his hand during the routine morning attack when a splinter severed a vein as he manned a Bren gun, but he refused to leave the front line. Another assault came in the evening, and during the confusion Hagen threw all of his grenades into a house neighbouring his own on the Paul Krugerstraat, not realizing until it was too late that there were no Germans in the house, only British. Fortunately he had been too quick to throw the grenades in and so his comrades were able to throw them out again just in time. Hagen wrote "I was never more grateful for being a fool!".

 

Hagen and Captain Ogilvie, who grew very close during the battle, travelled to the Hartenstein on Sunday night to report their position. On Monday afternoon they learned that the Division was going to pull out. At about 22:15 the troops in their part of the perimeter began to make their way to the riverbank in the rain, but once they arrived it became clear that the prospects of being evacuated were fading as the embarkation point was being fired on and no boats could be seen moving across the river. Hagen and Ogilvie decided to risk swimming across, but once halfway Hagen got into difficulty and in panic abandoned his personal possessions and any excess weight he was carrying. He reached the other side safely but could not see Ogilvie anywhere; it was not until he reached England that he discovered that Captain Ogilvie had drowned, hampered by a wounded arm and weighed down by his kilt. After travelling to Nijmegen in an ambulance, Hagen and three other men were returned to their barracks at Keevil airfield on the 29th September, where they found their quarters exactly as they had left them; 18 beds were now without owners. Reflecting on his experiences, Hagen wrote "Then I knew that I had a complete picture of myself. The seven days had given me seven years of experience and confidence; I knew what I was like..... Then I went to sleep." For his actions in these seven days, Hagen was awarded the Military Medal, recommended by Captain Ogilvie. The citation reads: "Through the action at Arnhem, 19th to 25th September 1944, Sergeant Haig showed outstanding leadership and example to the men. He volunteered continuously for patrolling and after hard fighting each day carried ammunition through enemy fire during the hours of darkness. In spite of being injured whilst firing a bren gun he refused to leave his post. At all times he was a fine example by his complete disregard for his personal safety. He instilled great confidence in the other ranks and was in large measure responsible for keeping the enemy away from the positions held."

 

Towards the end of 1944 Hagen, with other Glider Pilots, was sent to India, where after six months of waiting they trained intensively in preparation for an assault upon Japan by the Airborne elements of the 14th British Army, but fortunately for all concerned Japan surrendered before an invasion became necessary. Despite a fervent belief in his own lack of intelligence this did not prevent Hagen from embarking on a journalistic career. As he had grown tired of repeating his story time and time again, encouraged by his girlfriend, Dido Milroy, he had written a book of his experiences at Arnhem before he left for India. It was completed in a single fortnight, under the title of Arnhem Lift. The book is written from his perspective and is very much a tale of the ordinary soldier's battle, but it also includes a few of his opinions on the wider objective, including criticisms of the training regime of the Glider Pilot Regiment. Needless to say when he passed the manuscript on to the commander of No.1 Wing, Lt-Colonel Iain Murray, he received the strongest rebuke, "No Britisher would ever have let his comrades down by writing stuff like this. It lets down the whole regiment!" (5). While Hagen was in India, and without his knowledge, his girlfriend sent the manuscript to the War Office and obtained permission to publish, which followed in January 1945; believed to be the first book published about Arnhem. It was said of Hagen: "He became an author almost by accident, but his unforced gift for descriptive writing, as unusual as it is refreshing, gained him a tremendous ovation from the reviewers."

 

Hagen worked at length for Phoenix, a forces newspaper in South-East Asia, and his travels took him to India, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Siam, and Indo-China, where he was the first western journalist to interview Ho Chi Minh. Utilising the many articles he had written as a journalist, his second book, India Route March, analysing the country from the perspective of a soldier, was published, and he was not in the least afraid to speak openly and be critical of a number of cultural or political questions. He returned to England in February 1946 but yearned to go back to Germany at the earliest opportunity, and so he took a job with the Sunday Express in Berlin, also working for Country Life and John Bull. Hagen was most fascinated by life in his native country under Nazi rule, and in Follow My Leader (1951) wrote about the era through the eyes of nine ordinary Germans, all of whom were known to him, four Nazis, three non-Nazis, and two anti-Nazis. Following this he published biographies of Joseph Goebbels (1953) and of the head of the Foreign Political Information Service of the Sicherheitsdienst, Walter Schellenberg (1956). On other topics, in 1958 he wrote an account of his journey through South America, and in 1968 published an investigation into spying in Germany during the Cold War. In 1950, Hagen married Anne Mie, a Norwegian artist, with whom he had two daughters, Siri and Caroline. Dividing his time between London and Norway, Hagen also established Primrose Film Productions, which created 25 children's films. He returned to Arnhem twice, first in 1948 to show his fiancée where he had fought, and again in 1994 for the 50th Anniversary. He had not planned to attend as he felt "the idea of parading with hundreds of old veterans like myself wearing rows of medals and red berets did not appeal to me." (6) At the age of 84, Louis Hagen died on the 17th August 2000; he rests at Asker in Oslo, Norway (7).

 

This biography could not have been written without the help and research of Ruurd Kok (Leiden, the Netherlands) and the use of his incisive investigation of Louis Hagen's life and character, In The Footsteps of Louis Hagen, as published in the Friends of the Airborne Museum Newsletter No.85, February 2002.

 

References in the Text

 

1. The personal information comes from the obituary in The Guardian (McFadyean 2000), the reissue of 1993 and from the introductions to the interviews in Follow my Leader. Details of his military career can also be taken from Arnhem Lift and Indian Route March.

 

2. Van Wijnen 1994, Chapter 4, note 1. Hagen visited the Prince again in 1994 (see Hagen 1995).

 

3. In Saksen-Anhalt on the Elbe, a good 100 km south of Berlin.

 

4. "The army thought it was a great name because of the famous First World War general - and my friends because of the even more famous whiskey" (1993, p.12).

 

5. Hagen suspects that the Commander of No.1 Wing The Glider Pilot Regiment, Lt-Col Iain Murray, sent him to India because of the writing of Arnhem Lift (1993, p.114).

 

6. A typescript of this article can be found in the archive of the Airborne Museum "Hartenstein", in the G Squadron dossier.

 

7. Under "Deceased" in the April 2001 issue of The Eagle, the Glider Pilot Regimental Association magazine, is simply noted: "L Hagen MM, London late 2000."

 

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