Private Robert Cojeen
Unit : No.12 Platoon, "B" Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment
Army No. : 14638737
Robert Cojeen was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man on the 4th July 1914, the son of Allan and Katie Cojeen. He was a plumber by trade and remained in this profession until he joined the Army eighteen months previous to Arnhem, and the 1st Border a year later. Posted to No.12 Platoon of B Company, he had the nickname of "Dad" because at the age of 30 he was considerably older than many of his peers, and smoking a pipe didn't help matters.
Arriving at Arnhem on Sunday 17th without much in the way of enemy interference, B Company moved in the direction of Renkum and on the way encountered and killed two Germans manning a railway signal box. The village had been abandoned by the Germans that morning, and when the Company arrived the residents greeted them with much enthusiasm.
"On the outskirts of the village we met a car with seven German S.S. men in it. At first our scouts thought they were Americans, but then the Germans opened up at us with a machine-gun mounted in the car. We replied with everything we had. Two of the S.S. men were killed - one had seven bullets in him when we picked him up - and all the others were wounded or taken prisoner."
B Company were charged with the task of entering Renkum, several miles from the nearest Airborne units, and setting up positions overlooking the Utrechtseweg to block any German reinforcements that may approach Arnhem from that direction. They chose to establish themselves in the brickworks, close to the riverbank.
"We dug in there, and Jerry left us quiet. At about four o'clock next morning we sent patrols out. Then Jerry opened up with his mortars and self-propelled guns (a deadly weapon) and he pinned us down right up until tea time. He blew up our ammunition with one shot and we were left with what ammunition we had in our pouches. It was so bad that we had to get our guns to cover our withdrawal, even though they had to shell our position to do it, so near was the Jerry, and we got out that night. We left practically everything behind, what remained of our rations, and much of our gear. I lost all mine, and we could have neither a shave nor a wash."
"From there we fell back to a place called Osterbeek, on the outskirts of Arnhem, and we dug in and took up a defensive position by a gasworks at a crossroads. We had to hold on to this until Jerry brought up his tanks. When the tanks came, one of our men with a P.I.A.T. knocked one out when it was only about 25 yards off. Then he got a bullet through his wrist, but he stuck to his job and knocked out another tank. We presumed that he was taken prisoner."
N.B. The man with the PIAT was most likely Private George Everington. What became of him after this attack is not known, but he died on Friday 22nd September.
"We held on at that position until tea time, and then we had to drop back still nearer Arnhem. We must have killed at least 100 Germans. We took up our next position in an orchard, and held on there for a day. Here we put in a counter-attack and managed to regain possession of the gasworks at Osterbeek. Actually it changed hands twice before we finally lost it."
"At Arnhem, Jerry strafed us with fighters which looked like Typhoons. It was pretty tough there, and we were told that we would be relieved next day. That went on until the finish. We got some of the supplies that were dropped for us but very little. The weather broke after a fine two days, and Jerry was never very far away, and you could hear them talking. When the supplies dropped in the open, Jerry had his guns trained on us straight away, and anyone who attempted to go for them took their lives in their hands. But we did go and some of the lads never came back. Another chap and I went out and brought in an ammunition crate. We were fired on, but we got away with it."
During the battle, Cojeen and others were sheltering in a farmhouse that was being watched by a sniper. In order to force him to give his position away by firing a shot, they tempted him by walking back and forth in front of a window. Eventually another German ran out in front of them and tried to throw a grenade through this window, but he was spotted and fired on, and having missed his target he retreated to cover, but was repeatedly shot at by the British and they heard nothing from him again.
"All the time we were being mortared and shelled. I had lost my watch with the rest of my belongings, and we lost all count of date and time. We had no rations worth speaking of, and lived on apples and pears. We got hardly any sleep with the continuous mortar and shell fire, but it was wonderful what an hour's sleep would do for you."
As well as apples and pears, the farmhouse also provided them with some strawberries and German black bread. However this bread had gone mouldy, so the effected parts were cut away and the remainder was eaten. The men had been so confident of receiving their supplies each day that when they arrived on Sunday 17th, they had handed out all their cigarettes to the Dutch civilians, but now they were left with none. Cojeen, however, managed to lay his hands upon some English cigarette tobacco, and using his pipe it was passed around from trench to trench so that everyone could have a smoke.
"It was just a case of fighting as best you could. If Jerry attacked, then we counter-attacked. We had a lot of casualties, but not nearly so many as Jerry. If only we had had tanks, we could have beaten him easily, although he had five divisions against us."
"The big majority of the Jerries were young fellows of 17 or 18, but all were frightened of the bayonet. I was only in one bayonet attack, the other companies made three or more. We attacked with the bayonet to clear the Jerries out of a wood into which they had infiltrated."
"People were coming out of Arnhem carrying as much as they could pile on their bicycles. Sometimes they carried white flags, sometimes they had none. The Dutch people were grand to us, and their underground organisations helped us a lot with information. One of our chaps was left behind when we counter-attacked about the Wednesday and some Dutch people signed to him to get in behind a house. They got him inside, gave him civilian clothes, put his uniform in an old sack with some cabbage leaves on top. He waited till everything was quiet, then he walked right through the German lines."
"When at last the order came for us to pull out, I was one of the guides. I was posted to a small footbridge over a big ditch about ten feet wide, and had to show our men where this bridge was, about 300 yards from the River Lek. I was there from eight o'clock on Monday night until four o'clock next morning. Fellows who were wounded but could walk were helped down to the river. It was grand to see the spirit of these men and of those who were really badly wounded, yet refused to stay at the first aid post, but came back to us."
Shortly after 4am, Cojeen proceeded to the riverbank and was taken across in a small flat-bottomed boat with an outboard engine. Back in liberated territory, the men then had to walk four miles to a reception centre where they received a hot drink, blankets if they were lucky, and a ride on the back of a lorry to Nijmegen. Arriving at 10am, they got fresh clothes, had a chance have a wash and rid themselves of nine days of beard growth, were issued with 10 cigarettes each, and given a meal. "It was only stew, but it seemed the finest meal in all my life". As they were led to their billets, men were about to get into bed when a German anti-personnel mine went off alongside the building and set it on fire, but this was quickly dealt with and the exhausted airborne men got their first proper sleep for over a week.
Robert Cojeen died in 1982. My thanks to his granddaughter, Sandy Jones, for his story.
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