Private Luis DiMarco
Unit : Signals Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 14206503
Luis DiMarco, aged 21, served at Arnhem as the personal signalman to Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie. The following is his personal recollection, written in the late 1990's.
Day 1 - Sunday September 17th
Prior to landing, as we were making our descent flying over dense woodland, we could see in the clearings, groups of Dutch Resistance waving Dutch Flags, some Flags were very large.
The 1st Brigade was the first to land.
On landing at the Drop Zone, armed with a Colt 45 gun, I unpacked my Mark 18 Radio and we quickly headed for the woods to meet up with the rest of the Head Quarters Group. We moved off towards Arnhem through the woods. On route we walked through a built up area where lots of Dutch people greeted us and offered us apples amongst other things.
Later that evening we were moving parallel with a road about 50 yards inside the wood. Through the trees we could see the movement of German troops going in the opposite direction. They were marching in aircraft formation with vehicles, some light armoured and some motorcycles with sidecars mounted with machine guns, using the middle of the road. Lt. Col. Dobie asked me how many I thought there were, I said about a Battalion.
Ahead of us a light armoured vehicle, which entered the wood, challenged some of our troops; there was an exchange of fire, an explosion and a flash of light as if someone had thrown a phosphorous bomb, the vehicle then retreated back to the road.
Lt. Col. Dobie called an "O" Group and it was decided that R. Company would stay behind and cover the rear while we continued our advance towards Arnhem.
By early morning we had changed route due to an ambush. Moving along a metalled road, forward troops made contact with the enemy. There was a heavy exchange of fire with at least one casualty; I'm not sure, but his name may have been Sergeant Birmingham? I remember the sound of all the windows rattling around us caused by the ferocity of the gunfire.
Due to the gunfire we were held up at a right hand junction so Lt. Col. Dobie decided to disengage with the enemy and move south into the built up area. Machine gun shots were fired at us between the houses and from the direction of the River (which was on our right). The Adjutant, Captain. P.M. Groves, the CSM of HQ Coy, W.O.I. H.A. Eatwell and I all crossed a firing point but the firing became too intense and too risky, so it was decided that the rest of the column were to find a different route.
Day 2 - Morning Monday September 18th
We were halted at a dip in the road, sat on a steep grassy bank with Lt. Col. Dobie, the Adjutant, Mortar platoon Officer, Artillery Officer and others. On my radio Major Perrin-Brown said "T" Coy were pinned down and couldn't advance; he asked for mortar fire on a ridge and gave a map reference - which I passed on to Lt. Col. Dobie. However Lt. Col. Dobie couldn't find the map position and asked Major Perrin-Brown for the map reference again, but this time not in code. This was given but the position still couldn't be found. Minutes later Major Perrin-Brown "physically" came down the road into the dip and exchanged some words with Lt. Col. Dobie then went back. I heard later that he had got the mortar fire he needed from 3rd Battalion mortars.
I remember towards the top of the dip was a bungalow with a forecourt; some of us were moved to the side of the bungalow; an anti-tank gun was placed on the forecourt to cover the road. The gun was used to fire at a chimneystack in the distance as it was suspected that an enemy observer was using it as a vantage point to direct their fire. When the gun was fired the blast caused tiles to fall off the roof onto our heads. The advance went on.
Trying to Reach the Bridge
We occupied a large house on Utrechtseweg (river side), not far from the junction of Utrechtseweg and Hulkesteinseweg. Elderly civilian occupants were hurriedly helped down into the cellar. We smashed a window out and a Machine Gun was set up to fire across the river. Whilst there, a Machine Gunner (I since learned to be Private Frank P. Dobrozyski) was killed, having been shot by snipers from across the river; his gravestone lies in Oosterbeek War Cemetery. I also learned later that another Soldier, Private Andrew Milbourne was badly injured there also.
We then left this house and crossing the road moved a short way along in the direction of the Hospital (I remember noticing tramlines running along the centre of the road). Lt. Col. Dobie sent ahead an Officer in a Bren Gun Carrier to check if the road ahead was free of Germans; (I can't recall the Officers name other than I think it was French sounding?) we waited about 15-20 minutes for him to return, but he didn't return.
(While we were waiting there, a Signaller from my Battalion, "Topper" Brown shouted over to me from across the road "Hey Dimarco, I'm out of it", he said his hands had been burned from a phosphorous bomb and that Lance Corporal Webb had been wounded).
It was decided that rather than carry on up the road we would continue our advance to the bridge via the back gardens of the houses on Utrechtseweg. By climbing over the garden walls we made our way forward but it was an arduous route, some of the walls were 6 ft high or more and I needed help getting over some of them, carrying a heavy radio and trying as best I could to protect the long aerial.
I reached the last garden but one, some of the others ahead of me had started to turn back having been blocked by the high boundary wall west of St Elizabeth Hospital. Earlier I'd seen a dead Soldier (Para) in one of the gardens; he'd been shot through the eye.
I'd heard that Lt. Col. Dobie had decided we should split up into smaller groups and Corporal Kilner came up to me and Chippy Woods to tell us that we were to go back the way we came, that we were to join Lieutenant Lasenby, that Lieutenant Lasenby was going to try and meet up with the Signal Officer from the 3rd Battalion.
Chippy ran off with the others but before I could follow I had to stop to dismantle my radio set and then make my own way back through the gardens. I remember reaching the end of the gardens and having to enter someone's plushly furnished house, passing through a room that had a low light which gave a yellow glow and having to squeeze between a sideboard and settee to reach the front of the house and out onto a steeply sloping road; then having to run down the road as fast as I could to try and catch up with the others.
It was now getting dark; Lieutenant Lasenby, Private "Chippy" Woods, Corporal Kilner, I and a few other Signallers moved back to what I think was the main road and crossed it. As I'd been delayed I was told of our move after the rest had gone ahead; out of breath after running hard to catch up, I'd been the last to arrive and in doing so missed Lieutenant Lasenby's briefing, I just saw him swing his arms up gesturing to us to move into a wood.
We moved deeper into the wood. The wood looked as though it belonged to private grounds with a centre entrance drive/pathway. It consisted of one type of fir tree, densely planted so no light could penetrate; all the lower branches were dead. During this time there was shellfire exploding above the trees and then it fell silent.
It was now very dark and when Corporal Kilner said "that's far enough" we all settled down for a rest. No one spoke, Lieutenant Lasenby seemed to be away a long time; it went very quiet and the wait seemed ages. Exhausted, having had no sleep or food I fell into a deep sleep.
Early hours Tuesday September 19th
When I eventually woke, I found myself alone, everyone had gone, it was still very dark. Wanting to find the others I decided to make my way further down the pathway, through the steep sloping wood. As I walked I could see my way forward as there was an orange light ahead, which grew brighter as I reached the bottom of the slope.
From there I could see clearly a large square stone building with a flat roof, it looked something like a Castle Keep with windows, the flat roof was on fire - this could have been caused by the shell fire that was exploding above the trees earlier. The building was about 5 or 6 stories high with large windows all around and set in a clearing surrounded by lawns; however the grass was about a foot high. I could hear water falling, as if the plumbing had been damaged. From my angled position I could partly see a front porch and a mahogany door with a large brass knob; I thought the building might have been a private school or college. There was no one in sight.
I walked around to the back of the building and there was a door on which was written "RAP" [Regimental Aid Post] in large letters with coloured chalk. I looked inside but the room was empty (the room was set up but didn't look as if it had been used). Not knowing what to do next and worried whether I'd strayed into enemy lines I decided to make my way back up through the wood to the main road.
I eventually came to a low wall, which separated the wood from the road and as I crept closer I could hear lots of snoring. On looking over I saw Soldiers lying all over the place, fast asleep; I didn't know which unit they were from but I thought them to be an Air Landing Unit as there were guns and vehicles positioned nose to tail all along the road. (I've since learned they could have been from the South Staffs as they were travelling along Klingelbeekseweg/Hulkesteinseweg late Monday 18th/early Tuesday 19th)
By this time it was just starting to get light. I spotted a Sentry walking about and went over to him to ask him if there were any 1st Battalion personnel around. He said there were a few and pointed to the first house of a group of three houses, (I think they were terraced) which were beside the wood I'd just left. I found the house and went in.
To my surprise Private "Chippy" Woods from my platoon was there; I thought then that I'd caught up with our group but when I asked "Chippy" where they all were he said he didn't know and that there were Officers in the next room deciding what our next move should be.
An Officer came out of the room and told us we were to make for Oosterbeek as a bridgehead was being formed there. I went back onto the road ("Chippy" didn't come with me); by this time the Glider Unit Soldiers and vehicles had already left.
From that point, to my arrival on the outskirts of Oosterbeek, my memory is almost completely blank. I know it was a hasty, rather disorganised retreat. I remember running through an orchard, with others, amidst heavy shell and mortar fire. Back on the road, passing under the railway bridge I could see the road rose and at the top of the rise there were Soldiers and houses on both sides.
We were at the top of the rise on Benedendorps Weg. The Lieutenant in charge, I believe to be Lieutenant Williams was digging a deep trench on a sloping front garden. I was positioned on top of the slope. Opposite was an Anti Tank Gun in the front garden of the end house. Later, a tank approached with about 8 or 9 German soldiers running behind it. The Anti Tank Gun exchanged fire with the tank but was knocked out. The German Tank and Soldiers didn't continue its advance, but turned off the road.
Refer - Diagram (4) below.
Diagram (4) - Map circa 1944/45 (supplied by "Arnhem Battle Research Group")
Shortly after re-supply aircraft flew over. Lieutenant Williams threw me a canister; he said it was yellow smoke and that I was to throw it into the road. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to ignite the can and was trying to work out how when I was approached by an Officer who announced himself as Major, (he was wearing an Officers khaki uniform with sam brown, the brass buttons were painted over to camouflage). He said they were evacuating the area at once and we were to move down the road towards the Church. He then asked me what I was trying to do with the canister and I told him of Lieutenant William's orders; he took the canister from me, asked me where Lieutenant Williams was and went off to see him - but not before telling me to "get moving".
The road was filled with troops running down the hill and from the junction opposite; I believe they were mostly 10th or 11th Battalion men. We were waved on by NCO's standing at the side of the road and on reaching the bottom of the hill I was directed into a house, the last house before Weverstraat junction, close to the Church.
Private "Chippy" Woods and I occupied a trench in the back garden; there was shell and mortar fire from time to time. "Chippy" fired his revolver at the building that ran at right angles to the garage showroom next door, the bullet whistled past my ear. He said he saw some movement in one of the windows. He also got his helmet dented from a mortar blast but wasn't hurt. From our trench position we could see that the end house was occupied with our men, the garage next door was empty.
Between the end house and Weverstraat our men, manning 75 mm guns and mortars, occupied the ground. We couldn't see them from our trench, unless they came to the barrier that divided us. They suffered casualties from the German mortar and shellfire.
I could hear a metallic noise that sounded like a repeating clink, clank, clonk, coming from the road. I went down to the empty garage and walked through to the front to look out of the window. There I could see a gun in the road that looked like a small cannon. When it made the Clonk noise, it fired, and it seemed to work automatically, sounds crazy I know but that's what I saw. As I was leaving the garage along the passageway, a mortar bomb fell just outside the door and the force and noise of this blast left me deaf for ages.
During that night we crossed Benedendorps Weg onto the flat grassland opposite, we walked through some shrubbery and into a natural ditch, lined with trees and shrubs that ran parallel to the road, ending up facing the high ground we'd left earlier. Lieutenant Williams was in command. A Scottish Sergeant was killed by a grenade accident; although I wasn't close to the incident, I was told he was from the 1st Battalion.
We waited for the re-supply aircraft. When the re-supply aircraft eventually arrived Lieutenant Williams asked a Second Lieutenant to put up yellow smoke. The Second Lieutenant I learned later was 2nd Lieutenant Curtis. All hell broke loose.
The Germans now occupied the high ground and they opened fire with machine guns and mortars. Second Lieutenant Curtis was killed. Everyone was just firing aimlessly at the higher ground; we were being heavily shelled, mortared and machine-gunned, we were sitting ducks. One Soldier was hit in the neck, he asked me to take a look; there was a black hole in his neck about the size of a bullet, but no blood flowed. There were many wounded.
Above the din Lieutenant Williams called out the order "Every man for himself". If we had stayed we would have been wiped out in a matter of minutes. "Chippy" and I ran towards the Church along with everyone else who could move. We crossed a stream, which was almost waist deep, being chased by tracer fire all the way.
In the Church, which was badly damaged, we tried to dry our clothes, ate an apple or two then went back to our trench position behind the semi detached houses.
I was worried about the wounded men we'd left behind and asked about going back for them; we were told it would be carried out later. I don't know if this was done.
Note: Whilst I was at the trench position with "Chippy" Woods there were a few points of interest I felt worth mentioning, though I can't recall the actual sequence of events.
Lots of American fighter aircraft flew overhead, really low, approximately (150-200ft) and released rockets, we could smell their discharge.
Approximately thirty American medium sized bombers also flew over at 2000-3000 ft in line abreast, they released their bombs simultaneously; you could see the bombs in a black dotted line fall from the sky, a loud rattling explosion followed. Although I saw one aircraft waver I didn't actually see any aircraft shot down. I did witness several supply aircraft flying over and one in flames with its fuselage half gone.
We were promised that the relieving army, now at Nijmegen, would fire Long-range cannon for 10 minutes at 11 am. This did take place but only lasted about two minutes. We were told that their supply road had been cut and they had to conserve ammo. I was told later that a Mortar Platoon Soldier I knew had been killed by one our shells dropping short.
I was moved to a large house on Weverstraat, positioned on the right hand side about a quarter of the way up. Refer - Diagram (4) above. There were about 20 of us in there and we kept to the upstairs rooms. (I've since learned, through Arnhem Research Battle Group, that it wasn't a house it was a non denominational ULO school, the Principal having been Mr. Van Weenink). See Photographs A & B below.
Photograph "A" – ULO School & Bakery – Looking up Weverstraat
Photograph "B" – ULO School & Bakery – Looking down Weverstraat
During the first night German voices were heard outside. A Signaller from our Platoon, I can't remember his name, threw a grenade out the window, there was a scream and the sound of running feet, then it all went quiet and it remained that way for the rest of the night.
The following morning we were visited by a Glider Pilot Officer who told us he was in charge of the area but had no food for us as his jeep had been destroyed. (We had been without food now for several days). We told him about the incident during the night and he asked me to go with him to the room below to investigate.
The room below had a window, which faced the front of the house; the window was level with the ground outside, the floor of the room was about 2ft below ground level. Looking out of the window we saw a dead German Officer lying face down in the front garden, about 6ft from the window. He had a Lugar in his hand and wore a forage cap with a badge. The Glider Pilot Officer gave me his Sten gun and asked me to cover him while he retrieved the gun and cap.
Also in the garden was what looked like a short-range radio or a mine with a long orange flex?
We moved into the house next door, the ground floor was unfurnished but was furnished upstairs. It had a small Bakery at the rear and a lean-to greenhouse with some preserved vegetables in jars and tobacco leaves hanging up to dry from the glass roof. (Via Arnhem Research Battle Group I later learned the house had been a Bakery and had belonged to a family named Witkamp). Some of the men were moved elsewhere.
That night I stood by the door on guard but with sheer exhaustion fell asleep a few times, being woken when I hit the ground. Later one of the others came out of the cellar to give me a break; I didn't go down to the cellar but took the opportunity to get my head down in one of the rooms.
Private Dalton, (a Signaller from my platoon), got wounded by an anti-personnel grenade. We had a look at his injuries and his backside looked as if he'd had chicken pox. Someone said the grenade had been thrown over the 6ft high wall that separated the School from the Bakery - see photographs A/B.
Day 6 or 7
I was put onto a Bren gun situated in a trench in the front garden. About 200 yards up the road on the opposite side I could see explosions at the side of a house. Due to all the broken tree branches and debris covering the road it was difficult to make out what was happening there but by using some binoculars (which I'd found earlier) I could see two German Officers standing on a small balcony off the side of this same house; (both the Officers were wearing steel helmets with coloured badges on the side) and to the left of them I could see the top of a self-propelled gun.
I took aim at the Officers with the Bren gun but the gun failed to fire, I repeated the action and tried again, again it failed to fire. I took the gun into the house and asked a Sergeant (who was also from the 1st Battalion) if he could fix it. He tried the gun, it failed; he said the firing pin was broken and he didn't have any spares.
I went back to the trench having been given a Rifle (not British) with 5 rounds of rimless ammo. I again looked through the binoculars. This time I could see that the Germans were now pointing towards us. Below them was a greasy German soldier with head and shoulders poking out of the Tank; he was also pointing our way. He then disappeared into the tank and I saw the tracks of the Tank turn to swing the tank gun in our direction. There was one other soldier in the trench with me (I can't remember his name but he was of Polish decent and from the 1st Battalion Machine Gun Platoon).
Without time for explanation I just grabbed him and dragged him out whilst shouting into the house to tell everyone to get to the back of the Bakery as we were about to be shelled, and we were, the front of the Bakery took a pounding. After dark I went out to see the damage. The trench was filled with rubble; the front of the Bakery was severely damaged leaving a gaping hole revealing the upstairs bedroom walls. (Earlier that day - someone had found some flour and onions to make a crude form of onion and dumpling soup. Unfortunately when my turn came to eat the Bakery was being shelled and bits of plaster from the ceiling got into the soup, I still managed to eat some, it tasted sumptuous, and as it was the only food I'd had in days).
After this, about 5 of us, moved further down Weverstraat along the backs of the houses to what was, another, much larger School (called Klompen). At the rear was a large yard and in the right hand corner of the yard was a stable containing a large grey horse. The horse was released and immediately galloped away through an archway in the wall.
We then moved to the last house; here there was a Tank parked up at the front. One of our group had a PIAT gun. A Private, (I believe to be from a Glider Pilot Regiment) said he would take the PIAT along the side of the house and fire at the Tank. This he did but came back not having fired the PIAT, he said it wouldn't fire and set about examining it outside with its owner.
I warned them not to examine it outside to the rear of the house, as the Germans held the ground higher up and they were taking a chance at being seen and fired on. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened, a German machine gun opened up along the backs of the houses, you could see the tracers flying past and the Glider Private was shot and killed, no one else was hurt. (The Piat gun failure was due to the safety catch having being left on).
The rest had run off and only two of us remained.
With the Tank at the front of the house and a German machine gunner covering the back we were trapped in the house. Then another Tank started working its way slowly down Weverstraat, using a flame thrower to systematically set fire to the houses. Fortunately, smoke from the burning houses drifted across the back gardens, which gave us the cover we needed to make our escape. I ended up in a shallow trench on the high ground half way between the house I'd just left and the house where I'd left Private "Chippy" Woods earlier in the week.
From there I watched Major Robert Cain try to fire a two-inch mortar over the house onto a Tank. Whilst he was doing so, tracer fire from a German machine gun was flying about him. He then moved further back and with two others, using a shovel with a long handle, tried to position a Howitzer gun to fire on the Tank. This was abandoned, however the tracer fire was still flying past and the Major and the two soldiers disappeared from sight. (Major Cain was later awarded the Victoria Cross, the Citation included this episode).
We were now being heavily mortared on and one dropped at the edge of my trench deafening me again. This was most annoying, as I couldn't hear the pop pop of the mortars being fired so I couldn't prepare myself for their silent arrival. Lying across my trench was an empty re-supply canister and inside the trench lay a silver coloured shell, it looked like an armour piercing shell as it hadn't a fuse-cap; it had an Eagle and a Swastika and German writing on the sides.
Whilst there in the trench we heard the men shouting out a chorus of "Yoho Mohammed" it seemed to be coming from the direction of the allotments, which were situated at the junction of Weverstraat. There was some rapid firing but it just faded out. This turned out to be the last day of our battle, although at the time we had no way of knowing that.
Tired, hungry, stinking dirty and virtually out of ammunition we just waited for the end, which could have been at any moment. I heard a tank move down Weverstraat and turn left at the road junction with Benedendorps Weg and drive to the high ground, there was no exchange of fire.
I was now alone; I decided to go back to the house where I'd originally left "Chippy" Woods, which I believed to be the command post. As I approached I could see no sign of life; through the window I could see an empty armchair, the back door was wide open. I entered the house, sat in the armchair and with utter exhaustion, fell into a deep sleep.
I was woken in the darkness and told we were going into an attack; I was to follow the soldier in front of me by holding on to his "tail". We moved off in single file crossing the road, passing the Church onto the grassland behind. It was drizzling with rain.
White Parachute flairs were being fired up overhead from time to time and I could see a long queue stretching ahead of me; it was about 6 to 8 men wide.
I could see the tracer shells that later I found out marked the boundary of the captured river bank and could hear the noise of the continuous Allied machine gun fire. Eventually (after what seemed hours) my turn came to cross the River. Before getting on the boat I noticed two or three dead British soldiers, not Para's, lying on the River bank. I was last into the boat. Dawn was breaking.
Landing the other side we were moved from the River into the wood and were told to wait. It was still dark in the wood. Being last off the boat I somehow got parted from the others.
I asked someone why we were waiting and he said if I walked back through the wood I would come to a road, follow it to the end of the wood and on my right I would see a hut and if I went in there they would give me a tot of rum and some biscuits.
I reached the road and saw what I think was a Sherman Tank in a ditch. I walked to the end of the wood, it was now light and against the noise of the machine guns I sang at the top of my voice with elation.
I reached the hut; the hut was on stilts, there were just two people seated with a table in front of them with the tots of rum and biscuits. I drank my rum and took my packet of biscuits (I remember being amused at the label on the biscuits, it said, "Come to Breezy Blackpool") then started on the road to Nijmegen. Soldiers were dug-in the fields and one threw me an apple. I opened my emergency ration tin.
Occasionally an ambulance or truck would go by; there was warmth in the sun and I was very tired so I decided to thumb a lift and the next Army lorry to go by stopped and picked me up, they were Canadians. I don't recall any conversation taking place. They took me to their camp and after a short while transferred me, by Jeep, to Nijmegen.
When in Nijmegen I was dropped off at a School? The Germans had previously occupied it; there were piles of small arms stacked outside at the side of the front door. I went inside and was given a large bowl of soup. After eating my fill my memory fails me here.
I do remember being shown to a washroom in a different building; not having washed or shaved for 9 days I had grown a curly beard and on washing the water turned black. When the water got in my ears it caused me a great deal of pain. The Corporal Medic told me not to wash my ears again, but to wait a few days as we would be going back home to England soon.
That night the Germans bombed the Nijmegen Bridge, which shattered the windows of our building (I believe the building had been a Nunnery formerly used as a barracks by the Germans). I was stood making up my bed on the top bunk; luckily the windows were covered in black out material, which saved the glass from flying around the room onto us.
About September 29th
Within a day or two we were transported by Yankee truck to Louvain, Belgium, and even then as we travelled along the roads out of Nijmegen we were still being shelled; the roads were covered in deep craters and there were lots of burnt out trucks and other vehicles lining the sides of the road.
A Dutch resistance fighter was among our number. We stayed in Louvain a day or two then flew back to England.
Please Note: If anyone reading my notes can add any Soldiers names, place or road names I would be very pleased to hear from you [contact Angela DiMarco at email@example.com]. I would especially like to know if anyone can identify the position of the burning 5/6 story square stone building I mentioned in a clearing at the bottom of a wooded area with a room at the rear set up as a RAP Station, or a map reference where the Air Landing Unit (South Staffs?) rested up the night of 18th September / early hours of the 19th September?
After Arnhem, Luis DiMarco served in Palestine, where he was promoted to Sergeant.
My thanks to Luis and Angela DiMarco for this account.
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