Pictures

Michael Cambier

Lieutenant H. Michael A. Cambier

 

Unit : Anti-Tank Platoon, Support Company, 156th Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 226876

 

The following story, "The Murder of Lieutenant H. M. A. Cambier", was written and researched by Philip Reinders of the Arnhem Battle Research Group, and I am most grateful to him for allowing me to reproduce it on the site.

 

This is the story of Lieutenant Michael Cambier at Arnhem where he commanded the Anti Tank platoon of the 156 The Parachute Regiment. For some of the details I am indebted to his friend Ronnie Adams who commanded the Mortar platoon in the same Battalion as well as to some former members of the Dutch Resistance.

 

Michael was born into an Army family in Batavia on the 9th September 1921. He was the only child of Colonel and Mrs Valentine Cambier, his father being a regular soldier in the Indian Army. He was educated in England at Welbury Park Preparatory School and at Ampleforth College from where he gained an Open Exhibition to New College Oxford. He was up at Oxford in 1940 and took a shortened Degree Course in mathematics before being commissioned into the Royal Artillery.

 

He was posted abroad and reached Egypt in time to take part in the Battle of El Alamein. Shortly after, he volunteered for parachuting, did his training at the Middle East Parachute School and was posted to 156 Battalion which was then stationed at Jenin in Palestine in early 1943. He first commanded a platoon in B Company and was with them Tunisia and subsequently in Italy, when 4th Parachute Brigade took part in the sea landing at Taranto, in the subsequent fighting Michael was Mentioned in Despatches. On the Battalions return to England in December 1943 he took over command of the recently formed Anti Tank platoon in Support Company.

 

On the 18th September 1944, the second day of the Arnhem Operation, he was dropped with the rest of the 4th Parachute Brigade on Ginkel Heath. The next 24 hours the Battalion suffered very heavy losses in its attempt to reach Arnhem. It was during this action that Michael was slightly wounded in the foot on 19th September.

 

He refused to be evacuated and stayed with his platoon. The last that Ronnie Adams saw of him, he was busily engaged in attempting to withdraw his 6 pounder Anti Tank guns towards Oosterbeek which was South of the main railway line to Arnhem. Such a move was difficult because the only culvert under the railway embankment was partially obstructed by a supply container with a chute which had "roman candled" and come into the culvert with part of its roof. The railway was being swept by enemy fire and the only alternative route open to Michael and his guns was to retrace his steps along the embankment to Wolfheze where there was a level crossing. It would seem that like many others he did not get to Wolfheze and the next that we know of his progress is that he was taken with other wounded prisoners to the St Joseph Hospital in Apeldoorn some miles north of Arnhem.

 

On the 25th September he was put on a Hospital train bound for the Neurenberg Hospital camp, on this train he joined up with Lieutenant Raymond Bussell of A Company of the 3rd Parachute Battalion who had been wounded in the arm and they decided to try to escape. They made a hole in the carriage floor through which they dropped down when the opportunity presented itself. They made their escape when the train was approximately 10 miles from a village called Bathmen, just to the East of the Dutch town of Deventer which is situated on the river IJssel.

 

It was then the afternoon of the 26th September, they walked until they came to a farm. The woman who lived there was in the employ of a Mr Jansen and she took them to his large house in Bathmen which was called "The Menop". They were to stay in his house for 7 days during which they were given civilian clothes and had their wounds attended to by a local doctor. On the evening of the 1st October, which was a Sunday, they were put in the care of a student from Amsterdam who was a member of the local resistance. He told Mr Jansen that he would take them as far as the river IJssel which was only about 7 miles from Bathmen, he hoped they would be able to cross the river and eventually reach the Allied lines. To do so, however they would still have had to cross the Neder Rijn and the Waal (much more formidable obstacles than the IJssel). They were, of course now wearing civilian clothes having left their uniforms behind at "the Menop". They were not without Dutch money because Raymond Bussell had managed to exchange some of the money which had been issued to officers for use in the occupied territories for some Dutch guilders. They were first taken by their guide to a small place called T'Joppe which was near to Gorssel which was only a few miles from Bathmen but which was close by the IJssel.

 

They did not stop there however but were taken to another farm called "Braamkolk" in a small place called Eefde which was further to the South and nearer to Zutphen, this belonged to the same family as T'Joppe and was regarded as being safer. They reached there on 2nd October having passed some German soldiers on the way and it is probable that they spent the night there. On leaving the farm, they were challenged by a German soldier who asked them for their papers. German soldiers were very much in evidence in this area because they were busy building a defensive line to the East of the IJssel. The son of the farmer, who was very young at the time, says he can remember seeing three strangers walking round a shed. They were asked to produce their papers which only the Dutch guide could do. Michael and Raymond had been told to say "verloren" which is Dutch for "lost", if they were ever challenged and asked for their papers. The German had no idea that he was faced with 2 British Officers but he ordered them all into his vehicle and took them to the police station at Zutphen. Later they were transferred to the police station at Gorssel where a Dutch policeman released the student from the Resistance because he could find nothing wrong with his papers and in any event he was sympathetic to the cause.

 

Michael and Raymond had no reason at this stage to believe that they would be treated other than as Prisoners of War. Had they done so they might have contemplated another break, but clearly they had no idea of the immediate danger they were in. Unfortunately, whilst they were still in the police station a Dutch member of the SD (Sicherheidsdienst), the German Security Police, came into the station and when he discovered that the 2 men in civilian clothes were British officers he informed his superior who was Untersturmfuhrer Ludwig Heinneman. When Heinneman heard that the Dutch policeman had allowed the Dutch civilian to go free he was immediately arrested and sent to a Concentration Camp from which he returned after the War although by then he was a broken man.

 

On the 10th October Michael and Raymond were taken to the local SD Headquarters, this was Villa "T'Selsham" at Vorden a town a few miles to the South-East of Zutphen. Here they were duly interrogated by 2 members of the SD, one of whom spoke English. Both Michael and Raymond refused to give any other information than their name, rank and number. After their interrogation, they were taken downstairs and confronted by Heinneman who accused them of being spies and terrorists, their hands were tied behind their backs and they were told that they would be shot. They were taken outside and shot in the head by Heinneman himself using a captured Sten gun. The executions took place early in the afternoon of the 10th October and they were buried in the lawn at the front of the Villa together with three Jehovah's witnesses who were executed by Heinneman the same day, the lawn was then set on fire to remove any trace.

 

On the 9th June 1945, members of the War Crimes Commission, a former member of the Dutch Resistance and some local civilians exhumed the bodies of the 2 Officers and the Jehovah's witnesses. Raymond Bussell still had the money he had exchanged with Mr Jansen, 57 Guilders.

 

Before he left Michael had written a letter to his mother, which he had requested should be given to the first British Officer Mr Jansen met. Not aware of Michael's fate he wrote to Mrs Cambier after the war to enquire what happened to him and heard from her the terrible news.

 

Ludwig Heinneman was arrested on the 18th March 1946, after a trial he was executed by a firing squad at Arnhem on the 10th February 1947. He was found guilty of many War Crimes including the murder of some 70 people. He had nothing to say for himself except that he did what his superiors had told him to do - "Befehl ist Befehl" (orders are orders). Other members of the SD who were present at Vorden were also arrested and spent some time in prison but they were not long.

 

It has taken me 4 years to find out what happened at Vorden on that fateful day in October 1944, but I do not begrudge the time or money spent. Whenever I am around Vorden I make a point of laying flowers on Michael and Raymond's graves which are in the General Cemetery there, as though by some people they will never be forgotten there is nobody to remember them when September comes round.

 

Philip Reinders, 1999.

 

Back to 156th Parachute Battalion

Back to Biographies Menu