Private Wilfred Edwards Oldham

 

Unit : No.12 Platoon, "B" Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment

Army No. : 3391058

 

I was born in the city of Salford on the 28/8/1920. I was the second youngest of seven children, christened Wilfred Edward Oldham. We moved when I was a few months old to Bury, Lancashire, I started school at the age of four, left at the age of fourteen, and fortunately found a job for a few months in a rubber works, was out of work for a few months, at fifteen I got a job in a bleach works, hours 7.0am until 5.30pm, plus Saturday morning. War broke out and in 1940 I volunteered for the army, I became 3391058 Pte W. E. Oldham of the East Lancashire Regiment. I at that time only weighed 8 stone 4 pounds but with regular food and physical exercise I reached about 9 stone 7 lbs in one year. Served in the U.K. with various units, whilst with the King's (Liverpool) Regiment, early 1942, I volunteered for Airborne Forces, interviewed at Dorchester, a month later I was posted to the training company of the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment, a glider-borne battalion. After five weeks intensive training to prove ones full fitness I was accepted and posted to 12 Platoon B Company.

 

I will not at the present time relate my service in North Africa, Sicily and Italy but switch to 17 September 1944. This was Market Garden and the 1st Airborne Division was to land in the Arnhem bridge and surrounding area. History tells of the glorious failure of this epic battle, I would like to write of my first two days and the last day. The battle, well many books have been wrote about it, so this is my story, beginning and end of it.

 

On a sunny pleasant 1300 hrs of Sunday 17/9/1944 we had a perfect landing by glider on Ginkel Heath and after about two hours B Company, as already briefed, to march through Heelsum into a small town called Renkum to try to capture the ferry. After a couple of incidents we arrived at Renkum and dug slit trenches near the Neder Rhine, I had a L.M.G. (Bren) covering the ferry which was on the opposite side of the river. Our object was also to halt any German troop movements towards the L.Z. and Drop Zones. A couple of hours after digging I shouted to my platoon commander, Lt A Royall, that the ferry was moving over to our side of the river. It came to a halt and I think German soldiers raised their arms and gave themselves up. Later that evening our artillery and infantry attacked and about four o'clock on the 18th (Monday) when in great danger of being surrounded and being wiped out, Div HQ ordered us to get out and rejoin the Division at Oosterbeek.

 

The last few hours.

 

A mixture of various units including myself were dug in near the old church. Mr Royall told me early evening that what was left of the division was to try and cross the river with the gallant aid of the Canadian Engineers Boat unit. He gave a position though which our troops, what few were left, would under the cover of darkness, with the help of men like myself who would point in the right direction, also every few minutes two tracer artillery shells would be fired from over the river and so long as one kept to this lane, they were following the escape route. About 4-00 hrs Mr Royall gave me permission to get to the river and wished me the best of luck, he by the way was took prisoner. Under shelling and mortaring and M/G fire I reached the river, to my great dismay there appeared to be about four hundred men on this sand bank, only one boat by then was serviceable so the chances of escape seemed very very few. Then Corporal Nobby Clarke of 12 Platoon spotted me and asked if we swim to the side of the river, the river was in very fast flow and seemed miles wide, I didn't, I was certain I would drown. He then said we should walk down the river in the direction of the flow, and about a dozen set off to see what we could, just what we were supposed to be looking for none of us knew, anything's better than just doing nothing. Then we found a rowing boat with four oars. It must have been one of the diversion boats that a most gallant party had crossed in to make the Germans believe we were getting reinforced, but we didn't realise at the time we were in the middle of the German lines. I for one had an oar and although we washed down of a mile we finally reached the safe side. We struggled back on the wet and muddy banks towards safe lines. By this time it was breaking daylight. Out of the blue came this wonderful English, "Come on lads, you're in safe hands."

 

Later on we were taken by truck to Nijmegen. What a sorry state most of us were, no wash, no shave, no food, no rest, no respite from tanks, artillery, M/G's, mortars. Thereafter, I think, two days took to a place near Brussels overnight or maybe two, to an airfield and back to the U.K.

 

Wilf Oldham currently resides in Manchester, and he visits Arnhem every September.

 

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