A post-war reunion of British Airborne medical officers

Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Trevor Marrable


Unit : 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance

Army No. : 67301


For the first twenty-four hours of Market Garden, the 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Marrable, was based in Wolfheze, half a mile to the east of LZ-Z. Now that the Division was fully assembled, however, the advance towards Arnhem began and so the Ambulance had to abandon Wolfheze or else be outside the Divisional area. Marrable, together with Colonel Warrack, the Assistant Director Medical Services, drove around Oosterbeek to look for a suitable building for the Ambulance to commandeer. In the end they settled upon the Schoonoord Hotel at the Utrechtseweg-Stationsweg crossroads. This was intended to be only a temporary move on the way to Arnhem, as it had been planned that once the town had been taken the Ambulance would take over the Municipal Hospital. The necessary arrangements were made and the near two hundred wounded were transferred from Wolfheze to Oosterbeek. Marrable left Major Fraser, his Second-in-Command, to oversee this whilst he himself took an advanced party to Oosterbeek to prepare the Schoonoord to receive casualties. He very quickly came to the conclusion that the Hotel was not large enough for his needs and so he also decided to take over the nearby De Tafelberg Hotel and base his two surgical teams there.


During the morning of the 20th September, the Germans attacked the area at the crossroads, which was practically undefended at that time, and took all medical staff and wounded prisoner. Marrable approached the first a senior German officer that he could find and explained to him that there were some four hundred wounded in the Hotel and that it was essential for their well-being that no medical staff were taken away. Unwilling at first, the officer agreed to this but made it clear to Marrable that he and everyone in the Hotel was now a prisoner of war, and furthermore he ordered one of his men to guard Marrable. Later in the day the British counterattacked and retook the area, and so both the Hotel and its occupants were liberated.


Later that afternoon, a self-propelled gun and a British anti-tank gun were taking it in turns to fire at each other and a few German shells were fired into upper storey of the Hotel, despite the fact that it was clearly marked with red crosses. Believing that there were wounded upstairs, Marrable asked that they be brought down.


On Sunday 24th, despite the truce to evacuate the wounded, a few shots were exchanged between both sides and this could easily have had terrible consequences for the casualties being brought out. In this particular area, members of the Polish Brigade, who had just arrived, were having difficulty in restraining themselves and, under fire, Marrable crossed a road to their position to explain the situation and he got them to stop firing.


When the Division withdrew, Marrable remained behind to oversee the care of the wounded. Thereafter he accompanied them to the hospital set up at Apeldoorn, where his main task was to take care of administrative matters. For his conduct during the Battle, Marrable was awarded the Distinguished Service Order:


Lieutenant-Colonel Marrable landed by glider with the unit he commanded, 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance, on 17th September near Arnhem. His unit was established at a dressing station in the Divisional perimeter. He had over a thousand wounded in his care during the battle. His position was finally overrun and patients, doctors and orderlies were all captured. In the counter attack which followed, this officer showed complete disregard for his own safety in his efforts to keep his hospital area free from danger - nevertheless the buildings were constantly hit by mortar fire. The splendid example and the firm leadership Lieutenant-Colonel Marrable displayed was an inspiration to the officers and men under his command. His courage was quite outstanding. When his unit was finally captured he declined to leave them after they had fought so well and accompanied his wounded and his men into captivity in Germany.


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