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Harold Padfield shortly after being made a prisoner at Arnhem Bridge

Harold Padfield shortly after being made a prisoner at Arnhem Bridge

Lance-Sergeant Harold Padfield

 

Unit : B Troop, 1st Parachute Squadron, RE; 1st Airborne Division.

Served : North Africa, Sicily, Italy, North-West Europe (captured).

Army No. : 1873564 

Prison Camps : Stalag XIIA, XVIIIC

 

Harold Padfield was a Royal Engineer with the 1st Parachute Squadron, a part of the 1st Airborne Division which fought for the control of the bridges at Arnhem in September 1944. The Squadron was one of the few units to reach the main Arnhem road bridge, and despite their small numbers and dwindling supplies, they were able to hold their positions, in a school overlooking the bridge, for four days of the constant, bitter street fighting that raged about their small perimeter. Padfield's story begins on Wednesday 20th September 1944, as British resistance is beginning to break. To read the remainder of Padfield's story, go to http://www.pegasusarchive.org/arnhem/harold_padfield.htm

 

 

Two German tanks were brought up onto the bridge and started to blast away with their 88mm guns. They had a direct hit on the front of the school and the roof was set alight. Joe Simpson and Paddy Neville were killed, the rest of us were ok and we went into the basement. It was becoming obvious that we should move out. Twiggy Hazelwood was getting worse by the hour, and sure enough another direct hit, and the school was well alight. We got the wounded downstairs and I went round all the rooms to be sure everyone was out. Joe and Paddy were limbless bodies, otherwise everyone was out. We tore down doors to put the wounded on, and went out the way we had come in. As we made across to a wall we came under fire. John Bretherton was killed as he was getting over it. Twiggy got a machine gun burst up the side of his body as we were lifting him over the wall, but he was still clinging on to life. We were all eventually over and the bank gave a little protection. One of the wounded was a Major Lewis; he must have come into the school with the signaller on the first night. I don't know when he got wounded but he was the company commander of 'C' Company 3 Battalion.

 

The next 20 minutes were phenomenal! We were caught in an enfilade of fire and airbursts. A stray bullet hit Charlie Grier; it made a hole in his helmet but didn't mark his head. Billy Marr had his pack severed from his back but with no injury.

 

Major Lewis told us that we should surrender, and that we should all take pride in our performance. We took the bolts out of our weapons and threw them away; we left the weapons where we were. Sapper Butterworth put a white handkerchief on the end of his rifle and went forward waving it. As he was walking forward a machine gunner opened up and hit him in the legs, his German officer drew his pistol and shot the machine gunner. He then told us to come forward, saying, "You are very brave, but very foolish". We considered we were unfortunate.

 

We were then led off, with our hands up, through the streets of Arnhem and held in the basement of some house. We were prisoners of war. Our wounded had been taken away from us when we were captured. That night we had a few snatches of sleep. I say snatches because just as you were nicely off, they wanted you to move to another room or another house, just to be bloody-minded.

 

The next morning all prisoners were formed up, I was surprised and pleased to see Norman Swift, a friend of mine from A Troop so we fell in together. We marched off singing all the old songs, Tipperary, Pack up you troubles etc., until about a mile up the road we came to a halt at a memorial. To our amazement it had 17th September 1944, emblazoned in beautiful flowers, it was really something. The reason for the halt wasn't to admire the memorial, but to be loaded onto lorries and transported to Appledoor. Here we were herded into a big railway shed, told to take our boots off, tie them together and mark them. We were then given a black loaf of bread between five of us, the date indentation on it was 16th September. I got my knife out of my haversack and tried to cut it into equal portions, but the blade snapped. Anyway we did eventually get it cut and that was all we were getting. As time went on more and more were arriving, including familiar faces from the Squadron who had their own stories to tell. It appeared that it had been gruesome everywhere.

 

As dusk fell we were marched for about a mile up the railway line in our stockinged feet. The first cattle truck we came to we had to throw in our boots. We were then herded fifty to a cattle truck, the door closed to within three inches and the gap was intertwined with barbed wire. Fifty to a truck meant that you were sat shoulder to shoulder, it was most uncomfortable.

 

We moved off during the night and were shunted about all over the Ruhr, for about 5 days. Relieving oneself was degrading because you had to use one half of your mess tin for bowel movements, and nothing to clean yourself or the tin with. On the third day a loaf was handed in to be cut into fifty slices. Poor old Les Ellis was the unfortunate who had to do it, as he was the most senior rank in the party. The only luck we had during this miserable period was that it rained continuously for the whole journey. We took advantage of this by taking it in turns to hold the other half of our mess tins outside the gap to catch the rain drops from the roof of the train, so eventually we all had a drink of water.

 

When we were at last ordered to "Get out", we had to find our boots. It would have been hilarious if we had been watching on film, but we weren't in that frame of mind. I suppose it took about an hour before we were all ready for our next episode. They formed us up in ranks of five and we marched off, we found the place was Limburg. We marched and marched and with no real food inside us for over a week, it felt as though we had gone about twenty miles, later it was discovered that it was only four.

 

The camp we arrived at was Stalag 12 A. We were taken to shower rooms, where we had to strip off and hand over our clothing, go under a shower, come out the other side, pick up our clothing and get dressed. We were then put into a compound with thousands of other troops. Drinking water was from a standpipe that was on for one hour three times a day, so you queued for evermore. The new arrivals had to report to a hut where we were given a postcard to send home. What you had to put on the card was written on a blackboard, ending 'yours faithfully'. I put 'lots of love' and my card was torn up, but I was given another with a ticking off to write what was on the blackboard.

 

Next day we were marched back to Limburg, and put to work clearing up bomb damage in the town. At midday we were marched out of the town and a skilly (soup) wagon came up. We were given something that at home we wouldn't have given to the pigs, but when you are ravenous you will eat anything. I found some apples in someone's back garden and stuffed some in my shirt. I had a couple of days like this and then had to go for interrogation. They fire questions at you, - what is your job in your unit? Where have you been? Anything to get a picture of your unit I suppose and always with the threat of a pistol on the table. The stock answer was always '1873564 Lance Sergeant Harold Padfield" it gets boring after an hour, but they let me go. The next day I was in the queue for water when I suddenly went down with dysentery, I was ill for 4 days. The trouble with getting ill in these circumstances is that you don't get fully fit again.

 

It was during this period at Stalag 12A that members of my stick got together, and with the poetic rhythm of Billy Marr, made up the poem "Arnheim Bridge", which on his return to England, Billy had printed but not published.

 

After 10 days at this camp we were all on the move again. As L/Sgt. I was given the option of going to a non-working camp, which I took, so I was sent to Stalag 18C. We were marched to the station and I was put in a cattle truck with 25 others. This time barbed wire was stretched across the carriage, we had one third and the German guards had two thirds. The journey was of four days duration and once again all we had was one fifth of a loaf for the whole journey. To get ourselves sorted out thirteen a side we lined up one behind the other, you then laid down on your side. If you wanted to turn over you stood up and lay down on the other side. If your hips were too sore you just stood up.

 

One of the party was a L/Cpl from my own Troop, Wally Hirst, he was badly wounded in his left arm and was finding things very difficult. I asked if it would be possible to give him extra room so that his arm would be out of the perimeter of the barbed wire. This they reluctantly accepted, but only if we sang "Lillie Marlene" no problem we would sing "Lillie Marlene". What I hadn't bargained for was that we had to sing it any time they wanted it sung, and I got quite resentful about it. Today I cannot stay in the same room if it comes on the radio or the TV, the whole episode wells up inside me, and it takes a little while for me to calm down.

 

We arrived at Stalag 18C, which was near Markt Pongau, between Innsbruck and Salzburg. The nearest railway station was Bishopshofen. The camp itself was large, but it was split up into nationalities, British, Poles, Indians, and Russians. Our enclave was quite small. The perimeter fence was electrified and there were two searchlight towers that covered our exercise yard. The hut was about 75yds by 10yds and contained two tier beds to house 200 prisoners. Water, for drinking and washing was drawn from a well. The outside exercise yard had an area for the toilets, which was a deep trench about 15yds long with a horizontal pole, supported at intervals, to sit on and another pole slightly higher to support your back and stop you falling in. the whole structure was covered with a corrugated roof and sides, the remainder of the yard provided a walking area with a circumference of about 100yds. We used to walk round in twos or threes for probably an hour at a time some three or four times a day.

 

Tuesdays we were given a quarter loaf of bread, a handful of mint tea and a dessertspoon of sugar. Thursday we had a quarter of a loaf, a dessertspoon of coffee and a dessertspoon of jam.

 

Skilly was at 1130 daily.

 

We had a rota for collecting the skilly. This entailed taking the container up to the cookhouse, which was in a different compound, at 7.30 in the morning. By then all the boilers were boiling potatoes. During the morning either Sauerkraut, or some other veg was put in and sometimes you detected a piece of meat.

 

Whenever I ate a slice of bread, I always scraped the crumbs into a tin. When the tin was full I used to make a bread pudding, but not the type mother made!

 

Friday afternoons we all paraded for a march to the showers, after a month I could see myself getting thinner and thinner.

 

Every night at 8 o'clock when the lights went down, one of the prisoners who had a crystal set (radio) hidden away, would come out with news of the battle fronts and draw diagrams on a blackboard to explain what was going on. This event was very much looked forward to, and whilst it was going on some of the prisoners would position themselves around the doors, at any sign of the guards approaching a cry of "Bandits" would go up, everything would disappear and we would go back to what we were doing previously. It became a habit.

 

Saturday nights were entertainment nights, and it was always amazing at what talents there were among the prisoners. Cornet players, comedians and some would get together and perform a short play, all very much appreciated. One chap was a Police Sergeant in London before the war, and he would sometimes give us a talk on his experiences. He knew London like the back of his hand.

 

With the lack of food and the absence of Red Cross food parcels, about 20 of us volunteered to go out on a commando, in other words to work. It was obvious that we were never going to be fit enough to escape, unless we got more food. Working camps got more food than we did and also got regular food parcels. No sooner had we done this than a Red Cross delegation arrived, I thought they were Gestapo.

 

It was during January 1945 when the parcels arrived, our first and last, and with them a real visit from the Gestapo. They searched our belongings, even our food. I still had my army issue watch, so I dug a hole in my piece of bread, put the watch in, pushed the rest of the bread down on it and then cut a very thin slice so that it looked normal. We all new they were looking for bigger things and they literally pulled the place to pieces, but they didn't find the wireless. In a fit of pique they had all the tins in the parcels pierced.

 

We eventually went out as a working commando and were around Linz. At first we were put to unloading rubble from railway carriages. One night the RAF had a raid and bombed the area. Next morning we found that the station and sidings had taken a pasting. In the area were a lot of political prisoners, doing various work and we, and them were detailed to get this railway line working again. This was very much against our principles and we started chiding the political prisoners about doing the Germans' dirty work. As this was going on, some of our chaps distracted the guards while we filled in a crater. We put the buffers and points at the bottom of this crater and hastily filled it in. when it came to re laying the rails, of course some were missing. The political prisoners were getting the blame, but after a few days it apparently came to light that we were responsible. No one would own up, so we were eventually returned to Stalag to charged by the commandant. We all got seven days solitary confinement with just bread and water.

 

In March we had to dig a new trench for our toilet and fill in the other. No sooner was it finished than I went down with another bout of dysentery.

 

At the beginning of April, we had an influx of prisoners from another Stalag because the British were advancing towards their area, so Jerry moved them out. Among these prisoners was Ted Oliver, our Squadron Chief Clerk. As the days passed we knew the Germans were on the run by the relaxed attitudes of the guards.

 

On 28th April and Ted and myself decided to take our kit, go to the gate and ask if we could go for a shower and to our amazement we were allowed out. We walked and walked in the direction of Salzburg, to get distance from the Stalag. There was still a lot of snow on the hills and much too deep to try getting to Switzerland. We had some rough nights, but it was lovely to be free, even for a few hours.

 

One afternoon we came across a building and on investigation we found it to be empty. We decided to move on a bit and come back later for a really good rest. At the top of this building there were three double bunks, so we decided to lie on the top bunks. Around midnight the warmth of our bodies started up the bugs in the bed and we were in trouble. Then about 2 o'clock footsteps on the stairs and talking in German. It was obviously German soldiers, we held our breath and daren't move to scratch, they seemed convinced no one was in, so we were safe once again. That was to be our last night "under cover".

 

Next morning we moved towards Salzburg, we eventually found ourselves at a place called Wem Wem. About a mile further on we seemed to come to the end of the road. Ahead of us we saw a road block, with the road and hills going up on the left and no room on the right, so we moved back and in amongst some houses. We were moving fast now, and then we heard some shouts and some shooting. There was obviously no follow up because we got to Wem Wem station with no further trouble. We mingled with passengers and at this time decided we should try the other way and go down through the Brenner Pass into Italy.

 

We found a train going to Innsbruck at 4.30pm, so we duly boarded. All was well until the train stopped at Bishopshofen, which was next to the Stalag we had left a week or so before! Guards boarded so we got under the seats, they soon disappeared and the train moved on. The next stop was Zell-am-Zee, and we noticed that everyone was getting off. We lingered for a while before getting off the train ourselves and then noticed a Frenchman driving a train up and down. Ted could speak French so we went over to him and asked him if he knew when a train was going to Innsbruck. Apparently one was due about midnight and as the time was now only 7.30pm we decided to chance going through the town to the hills beyond. As we were making our way through the town I had a tap on my shoulder and I went cold. The interceptor was not who I expected it to be and he was explaining that Americans were in the hotel at the bottom of the hill, to which we replied, "Danke shun".

 

We went down to the hotel and told the Americans who we were and what we had been doing to get there. We were introduced to the General who was waiting to take the German surrender from Kesselring. It was arranged for us to be escorted in three jeeps through German lines to Salzburg, where we arrived at about 6am on 8th May 1945. After breakfast in the American camp, it was announced that the war in Europe was over.

 

 

Harold Padfield was posted to 20 Bomb Disposal Squadron towards the end of 1945, but returned to the 1st Parachute Squadron in February 1946 and served with them in Palestine. Promoted to Sergeant, Padfield became Troop Sergeant with C Troop, but temporarily left the Squadron to become a Drill Instructor. Having been Mentioned in Despatches for his work in Palestine, Padfield, upon returning to the UK in mid 1948, was posted to the newly formed 9 Independent Parachute Squadron RE, with whom he served in Germany as Platoon Sergeant of 3 Troop. In September 1950, he married Beryl Joy Edwards. In 1952, Padfield was promoted to Staff-Sergeant and, in June 1953, was posted to 25 Engineer Regiment, stationed in Egypt. This move saw the end of his days as a parachutist.

 

Thanks to Harold and Dave Padfield, his son, for this story.

 

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