Captain Clifford Alan Simmons

 

Unit : No.2 Section, 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance

Army No. : 250323

 

Clifford Alan Simmons was born in 1914. He was granted an emergency commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps on the 31st October 1942, and promoted to War Substantive Captain on the 31st October 1943. He joined 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance in late August 1943, as a Lieutenant, and was promoted to Captain on the 31st October 1943. By 1944, he was the Commander of No 2 Section, which was tasked with supporting the 2nd South Staffords.

 

On Sunday 17th September 1944, he took off from RAF Manston in a Horsa glider, chalk no.313, bound for L.Z. "S" near Wolfheze. Amongst the Section of 14 men they had two handcarts of medical supplies, and a jeep to help with the evacuation of casualties. Captain Simmons, like most of the Medical Officers, was taken prisoner during the ensuing battle, and was eventually sent to Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel. The following is his account of the Battle of Arnhem:

 

SUNDAY 17th September '44

It really is on this time, or it's the biggest exercise yet. No.2. Light Section emplane with jeep and handcart. Weather good - broken cumulus. Air warming up... It'll be bumpy. Three lines of Horsas each a mile long swing in turn behind their tugs and away into a West wind take off. Arnhem.. Rhine town of Holland. Remember the landing zone. Wood.. stubble land, bombed barracks and a farm, just where the electric railway running from the West divides outside the town itself. Should be easy to spot.

 

Time...? Flying West over Canterbury, a turn Northward 180 degrees and then due East back over Manston, Margate, turning slightly, a few degrees Northward and then out over the North sea with its bottom plainly visible from this height.

 

Dropping below the tug plane for height. The formation had grown magically... didn't notice the link up.

 

One glider in the sea with A.A. Rescue alongside.. Reassuring sight. Dutch coast low on the horizon. A few scattered islands on the Hook. Over the mainland which is very badly flooded. This is new we had not heard of this. (Should have been obvious really) The lashings on the jeep settle down with a loud crack. Obvious consternation covered by even more obvious sang froid.

 

Somebody must be shooting from this peaceful scene below.. a glider had just gone straight in. Funny but his doesn't seem like war to me. I had pictured it before but this is more like travelling to an important football fixture... with the same follows too. Crazy.. too peaceful. 6,000 feet I'd guess, still flying through light wisps of cloud.

 

Must be getting well inside Holland now. Two sunken barges in a canal. Two 'Spits' and a 'Tiffy' are hammering away at a third diving straight in and swinging away from the bottom of their dives up and over. Didn't see what happened we're past now. Terrific.

 

That's a warning from the pilot, must be near the L.Z. A few minutes yet. Peculiar whistling "zagging" noise. That's a hole somewhere, probably the wing fabric. Puffs of flack. Look harmless. The Rhine lower branch, No the Maas. Some more flack but still very light. Can't see the front of the formation now, probably breaking up to land. Another river.. the Waal I think. Packing this up must be near... A tug has just gone back past us with loose tow rope. We're there O.K. A river passed beneath, a large sized town.. tilting down Farm buildings. House burning... also barracks further over. Horsas running across the ground seemingly in every direction.

 

(I got this far with a fairly accurate 'running commentary' but events from now on were written at odd moments in the most unlikely places, and I definitely do not vouch for the accuracy of time or place from here on)

 

(Written Sunday evening in a barn on L.Z.) Made good landing after usual approach. Surface loose loam, ploughed. Mac's (Pte. McGowan's) seat collapsed with shock of landing. Left hanging in straps cussing horribly. Just what was needed to break the tension. I felt better at once. Tail had to be chopped away and finally fell on G.P's back. Our first casualty. Jeep out in good order but "Safety" split pins in "quick" release mechanism seemed to have got opened and folded down flat onto the release. After reporting at 'concentration' point and getting a stand down order we do a quick sweep of wrecked gliders. Occupants had either walked away or bought it. Mortar bursts 30 feet overhead, fairly concentrated but appear futile. Our lift is all down... we were pretty well the last.

 

Clean up glider that had the misfortune to land in front of M.G. site. 2 dead, 6 wounded - Capt? Fractured humerus right, clothing badly burned. Jeeped over the M.D.S. at Wofheze in good time. Wireless notification of further casualties on D.Z. south of the railway. Did not contact after wide sweep.

 

Large rubber tyred farm cart attached to rear of Jeep as extra rolling stock, definitely not successful. We needed a rigid all-purpose tow-bar. Mortar bomb lands on "trailer" and settles all further argument. We leave at double.

 

Back to farm and hang on with No.2 Light Section and assortment of R.E.'s and Sigs and a few Staffs.

 

(Written in emergency "staging" Aid post between ARNHEM and the M.D.S. Night , Monday)

 

Stayed at farm all that night (Sunday) an moved off at about midday. Little doing. Civilians brought in for questioning, a few dead to be attended to with the aid of the Padre. He asked for help just as if he wanted some hymn books given out at a Service. Still seems unreal. We discuss the tanks we heard moving in the night, sounded quite near but probably a long way off.

 

Hand cart loaded together with Jeep, and at about noon we moved off across country to the main road, taking tree cover.

 

First news that resistance in the town is greater than anticipated. Pass M.D.S. at Wolfheze, the village and station wrecked. Bombing.

 

Had our first taste of attention from above on this road to Oosterbeek. We were rather "concentrated", but there is plenty of foliage overhead. I have always liked trees... I loved them then. There were about ten bandits, an assortment of 190's, 109's and a captured Spit, also I think a 'jet'. These staged an effective shoot-up with a hell of a lot of noises off, but none of the lads gave experience of finding any casualties from this attack. S/Sgt. Cpl. And two Ptes detached from section to set up receiving station for casualties in a cottage just off this road just before it contacted the main road into Oosterbeek and Arnhem. [1] At this junction we found Jerry staff car shot to pieces, to say nothing of the occupants. All four were high ranking officers and we passed their papers over to the Padre. Several of our chaps had caught it here. One apparently carrying a mine which was detonated by a hit.

 

By 20:00 hrs, our station is full and the two Jerry prisoners we collected (about 20 yrs and 40 yrs old) gave willing help. They appear rather dazed, which does seem understandable. Evacuation going smoothly but shortage of jeeps felt occasionally.

 

The time of writing now is 24:00 (sorry.. 23:59) We are full up with un-evacuated casualties. The M.D.S. went past us towards Oosterbeek, late evening, and we have heard nothing from them since. This place is getting knocked to pieces by M.G. fire from all sides. Our chaps are dug in outside. Hell, what a row!

 

The second lift came in today (Monday) don't know time... about mid-afternoon. Much heavier flack. Found our way back to L.Z. and saw several Hamilcar gliders fail in the loose loam. Dug their noses in and went right over. L.Z. under M.G. fire. Did all possible in circs. But everybody seemed to be fighting everybody else. I am sure some Poles were shooting at us. One outstanding casualty. Paratrooper landed in gorse and was taken cross country by his chute because the release box was tangled in gorse vine. Skin dragged off hand to finger tips. Seemed to go back O.K. after a clean up. We are using A.G.G. serum on all casualties 'regardless' I am sick of the sight of rumps. The famous tyreless ambulance has paid us another visit, and eased the overcrowding, it is now merely three times normal.

 

The owner of this cottage has just returned and is living in the one back room. Quite co-operative. (Following written in Apeldoorn)

 

Tuesday 19th

Shipped all patients on to M.D.S. by commandeered transport. Visit by plain clothed Dutchman (just after finishing entry Monday Night) who claimed to have jumped with the 2nd Lift, asking shelter. We passed him on to owner of cottage who knew him personally as a local who had escaped to England. No contact with M.D.S. We seemed to have come adrift from our mob. But there was bags of equipment and plenty to do.

 

By 10:00 hrs infiltrating patrols had been pushed back and we were able to pack up and clear out as our line started to bend backwards onto the town. It was about 5 or 6 miles to Oosterbeek and the road was still under mortar fire. A/T was set up facing West along the road. Made Oosterbeek in record time and reported to M.D.S.

 

Were informed here that it would not be possible to contact rest of our light Section and instructed t report to Overflow "meeting" in hotel across the street.

 

Here we met one other member of our Section organising enthusiastic but amateurish, civilian stretcher bearers, to carry cases from main M.D.S. to the hotel.

 

By midnight we have the place as normal as it could ever be. Three fully equipped wards working quietly and efficiently. Patients comfortable.

 

Wednesday (20th)

Wards operating well with aid of Dutch nurse "Janie" (sorry to say I never had time to get her address) One patient died 08:00hrs. (This was the first of a total of three) for the whole time the M.D.S. held this building.

 

Thursday 21st

Cross roads outside under heavy mortar fire. Our glass covered corridor outside the front all of the building was wrecked within twenty minutes of being cleared of patients. Patients surrender what mattresses they possess to fix the front of windows. Casualty sweep produced large airborne rubber dingy which we inflated and filled with drinking water while the supply still held.

 

Another important collection during the same sweep was a German officer with splintered "fib and tib" because he stood us in good stead when later in the day an isolated German patrol moved in. We were joined at lunch time (the word lunch is obviously a misnomer) by the remains of the 16th Para F.A. section who had been occupying a nearby school which had been demolished by a nearby shell, killing all their patients and most of their personnel. One of their men a Cpl. Cooley, took over as senior N.C.O. most efficiently.

 

We used A.G.G. serum in each case. (It is worth mentioning that not a single case of gangrene developed as a result of this serum)

 

We now had the misfortune to get tangled up in a A/T v Tiger affray during a casualty sweep and lost trace of three of our precious staff who were not able to get back with us. As a compensation, we were able to collect from a house, 24 packets of 24hr. rations, a sack of tea, and a sack of sugar.

 

German patrol moved in during the late afternoon and were later pushed out again. During the occupation one of the invaders punctured our make shift reservoir but on our complaining, to their N.C.O. they patched and re-inflated it. Lights shortly afterwards gave up the unequal struggle, but there was a plentiful supply of torches.

 

Bomb landed just outside French doors. Patients were lying below blast line and were O.K. We patched up the holes and re-swung the door, and spent rest of night exhuming pieces from the orderly in the Ward at the time. He was not at all appreciative.

 

Had our first visit by a Medical Officer who set a dislocated shoulder and moved on. Everything else quite O.K.

 

Late that afternoon we found G.P. with what appeared at the time to be severe G.S.W. [Gun Shot Wound] of the abdomen. He refused to allow us to treat him and walked back with us. Later investigation showed that a heavy bullet had torn the flesh away in a 6" long furrow, uncovering the intestine which did not come out of position so we were able to clean and dress the wound which I now know to have healed well. During the whole time with us as a patient he refused to let go of his empty Sten gun which we were forced to put to bed with him. I consider that I have now seen everything.

 

Friday 22nd

Seemed to be surprisingly quiet and we spent most of the morning scouring the area for food, which was by now showing signs of shortage. Up until now, the patients had been given two hot meals each day. We noticed infantry digging in on the crossroads outside our hotel and did not feel too happy. It now being pretty evident that the Div was to stay just so long as it could hold out. Still no signs of M.O.s until Capt. Simmonds our Section Officer paid us a visit from the M.D.S., but on the whole, the lads seem to have the situation well in hand and what is more important, the patients seemed to have unlimited confidence in us.

 

By this time again, the opposition had taken over but did not at any time seem very certain just who was prisoner of whom. One serious incident occurred when a Mobile Gun team got the idea that a sniper was using one of the upstairs window. This was absurd for we had so many patients there just wasn't enough room for another body anywhere. Some of the sitting cases on the first floor had been moving the blinds to see what was going on outside and may have thus started the trouble. The already badly battered building was given a terrific pounding which was luckily confined to the upper story which again we had just cleared of patients. A further and more dangerous move by a patrol who entered the back yard, and again by jumping on the water supply, who were preparing to lob grenades into the first floor windows, was scotched by the German officer patient who this time came hopping out into the yard, complete with Thomas splint fixed to his game leg, and ordered them away. It later appeared that the shelling had loosed a brick from an overhead fanlight of the outhouse where he was laying, which had fallen directly on to him. This was a very lucky brick for us. The building we occupied was now completely useless as a shelter and late that day rain had soaked everything.

 

At midday it became apparent that we were well behind the German front line if there was such a thing because we were permanently occupied. Outside in the slit trenches two Bren gunners were causing havoc and held out completely surrounded for the rest of the day.

 

Saturday 23rd

Most of the surrounding thatches were burning Friday night and in view of the wide open state of our premises, a sharp fire lookout had to be posted because the air was full of drifting sparks. We lost our only two other cases that night too. Both were hopeless, but it was annoying. The chaps were walking about in a daze for lack of sleep but the food was holding and that was everything. The dingy held an amazing amount of water.

 

Later, we had the unhappy job of collecting one of the Bren gunners from the trench outside with a bad facial wound that ran downwards, leaving by the neck. We got him back and had the satisfaction of seeing the other Sgt. who had been with him use a sprightly bit of woodcraft and get clean away. Although by now there seemed to be nowhere that he could run to find friends. (However we later learned that he had connected and got back.)

 

Saw our first Jerry Medical Orderly today. Seemed to take orders from his patients. German officer came in. Later saw him with abdominal wound from a mortar burst nearby the front door. The exterior was no larger than 1/6th inch across, yet he died within 20 mins. Spent his last few minutes explaining in good English how careful his mortar men had been in straddling the two buildings of the M.D.S. (I have a shrewd suspicion that they weren't careful enough that time because there were none of our chaps about by then I am certain.)

 

Sunday 24th (Written Sunday)

Much more activity. Germans have taken their own casualties off our hands, and seem to be leaving. They have not interfered with us in any way and have not even used our food. They were pleased with the treatment their men had received. More casualties come in, some walking cases who had been misdirected, not knowing that we were in German hands. They didn't stay. (added later) 3 G.P.s came in and collected the small arsenal we had by this time.

 

Simmons' account ends here.

 

NOTES:

[1] The exact location of this cottage is not known. See also Dutch account, translated. 1983, about the Mekkink family.

 

Clifford Simmons died on the 15th March 2010.

 

Thanks to Bob Hilton, John Howes and the Medical Museum for this account.

 

Back to 181 Airlanding Field Ambulance

Back to Biographies Menu