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Vincent Brimble

Sapper Vincent Brimble

 

Unit : Headquarters, Royal Engineers

Army No. : 1951439

 

Role: Clerk / Radio Operator - HQ Royal Engineers, 1st Airborne Division.

 

Commanding Officer: CRE - Lt Col. E C W Myers

 

Sapper V H Brimble departed for Operation Market Garden at 10.30 on 17th September (day one) from Fairford in Wiltshire. The journey was made in a Horsa Glider carrying a Jeep and trailer, motorcycle, and the CRE (Commander Royal Engineers) Lt.Col. E C W Myers. Also on board were intelligence Officer Lt. Sankey, Sgt Cooper, Driver Hill, a Dutch interpreter from No.10 Commando, and a medical orderly.

 

The journey was uneventful and the landing in a cabbage field near Wolfheze was good, and was later described by Sapper Brimble as like landing on Southampton Common.

 

The first task was to release the bolts on the tail of the Horsa glider to unload the motorcycles and jeep. This task was undertaken by Sgt. Cooper and Sapper Brimble. This was difficult and an axe was used to sever the control lines that were obstructing the process.

 

The ground was dry and fairly firm, however Sapper Brimble observed nearby a heavily loaded Hamilcar glider dig in the ground, trapping the pilot. After the gliders had landed the parachutes of 1st Parachute Brigade arrived nearby.

 

The first few hours were relatively quiet and cover was sought in the village of Wolfheze. The area had been softened up by RAF bombers prior to the raid and the their bombs had breached the walls of an asylum in Wolfheze. Sapper Brimble passed patients dressed in hospital clothing and behaving strangely.

 

HQRE moved to nearby woods and were up and running by 15.00. German rocket mortars attacked the area and the sappers were forced to dig in for safety. Fortunately the soil in that part of Holland was sandy and not too difficult to dig in.

 

During the night HQRE stayed in their defensive positions at the perimeter of the zone.

 

On the 18th (second day) there was a delay in the arrival of the second lift, which was scheduled to arrive at 10.00 but arrived at 15.00 due to fog. The HQRE element joined the main unit at 16.00. At 17.00 HQRE moved down to Oosterbeck, taking up position at the Hartenstein Hotel. This was to become Divisional HQ for Maj.Gen. R Urqhart. HQRE were given an area in the grounds about 130 metres from the hotel. Sapper Brimble and his unit dug in and found additional cover overhead by using four-inch logs that were found. HQRE remained there throughout the operation until the eventual evacuation.

 

On the morning of the 21st after the forces of John Frost were overrun at the bridge area of Arnhem, the Germans concentrated on the Oosterbeck area, mortaring the Hartenstein Hotel area. At about 10.00 the ammunition and petrol dumps at the Hartenstein were hit. Fires were started and these were put out between bursts of fixed trajectory mortaring. A jeep carrying small arms and some six-pounder ammunition were the next casualty causing bullets to shoot in all directions. Sapper Brimble, Sgt Cooper and Staff Sgt Brown all had a lucky escape when trying to get this under control by shoveling earth onto it. Incoming mortars were heard and the three jumped into the same trench, when the six-pounder ammunition blew up, completely destroying the jeep.

 

Later on the 21st the HQRE Intelligence Officer Lt Sankey left to command a platoon of the 10th Parachute Battalion. Lt Sankey was wounded in the chest by a sniper and died instantly.

 

German mortar fire and bullets from fixed-point machine gun fire bombarded the area frequently. The ground was very sandy which caused the magazines of the airborne troops Sten Guns to become blocked and need constant cleaning. During the morning of the 22nd, mortar fire destroyed one of the HQRE Jeeps, a motorcycle and much of the units equipment and stores. It also set fire to the fuel dump for a second time.

 

On the 23rd German 88mm shelling started at 04.00 hours, two hours earlier than normal. At 07.30 German mortars joined in. The second HQRE Jeep was blown up and the remainder of the stores and the radio set.

 

On the 24th the HQRE position was mortared continually during the night to about 03.00 and then Spandau MG fire trained on the hotel grounds. Another HQRE motorcycle was destroyed. The Hotel grounds were now a complete shambles.

 

During the period, there were several incidents, which are recalled by Sapper Brimble. He was ordered to accompany the CRE in two Jeeps from the 9th Field Company on a recon to investigate the possibility of using the ferry across the Neder Rijn near Driel. Due to the area not being fully secured the mission was aborted before reaching the river.

 

Later on in the period spent at the Hartenstein, Sapper Brimble was tasked with accompanying Driver Hill who was to take a message to the forces regrouping at Oosterbeek Church. The journey was hairy, going through the woods where trees were covered with phosphorous, which glowed eerily in the dark. At the church Sapper Brimble saw many dead airborne troops outside. He recalls the church being packed with both able and wounded airborne troops. The return journey was equally hairy but they arrived safely back at the Hartenstein.

 

On the 25th the evacuation order was received and troops were told to clean their weapons. Socks were ordered to be worn over their boots to reduce noise. Evasive action was to be taken rather than returning fire. Groups of soldiers were lead to the river by parachute cord attached to the leader and those following. The CRE Lt.Col. Myers was injured by shrapnel during the journey and required attention. Enroute the sound of heavy boots, thought to be those of a German patrol were heard close by, and the sappers of HQRE were forced to lay low until these had passed.

 

The river was reached safely, helped by heavy rainfall. Sapper Brimble managed to get in a boat and crossed to the south bank of the river, still with full kit including his Sten gun. The following morning Sapper Brimble met his former CRE Col. Hennecker who had transferred to the 43rd Wessex Div.

 

Col. Hennecker recognised Sapper Brimble’s voice and came over to speak to him. The evacuees were temporarily accommodated in a church hall at Driel. They were then taken to Nimegen by truck, and then onto Louvain in Belgium from where they were flown home to England.

 

Sapper Brimble who also served in Italy, Norway and North Africa still lives in Bitterne Park, Southampton.

 

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