Daniel McGowan burying a dead soldier after the Battle

Daniel McGowan burying a dead soldier after the Battle

The Reverend (Captain) Daniel McGowan


Unit : Headquarters, 4th Parachute Brigade

Army No. : 287572

Awards : Military Cross


On 18 September, Father McGOWAN jumped into action near ARNHEM with 4th Parachute Brigade. Under fire from the moment of arrival he went about his duties of succouring the wounded and burying the dead of either side with admirable coolness. On the 20th he was in a British Main Dressing Station which was captured, and when the Germans moved 40 wounded out into a school without medical officer or orderlies Father McGOWAN voluntarily went off with them and spent the next 24 hrs looking after them, with what assistance he could get from one or two stragglers  and the German guards themselves. He accompanied them to ARNHEM, and then when our troops had evacuated the OOSTERBEEK area from which he had come he returned there to bury the dead and bring in abandoned wounded. The area was not strongly occupied by the enemy but in a week Father McGOWAN moved freely round it accompanied by a Dutch Red Cross man but dressed himself as a British Airborne officer and with no protection but his clerical collar. At every step he took his life in his hands. He was repeatedly stopped, arrested, questioned. Occasionally he would get a safe conduct from a German officer. But mostly he relied upon a bold approach and the incredulity which his appearance caused in what was now becoming a heavily defended German zone. During this period 28th September to 6th October, he buried many dead and recorded the graves of others, brought in wounded to the small British hospital in ARNHEM, sought out comforts and kit for the wounded, these from scattered divisional stores, looked for and found many of their pay books in dressing stations and Regimental Aid Post's to avoid later confusion in their accounts and even contrived to make contact with unwounded members of the Division who were lying up and leave food and other necessities. He was frequently under fire from our own guns and aircraft while doing so.


The material services performed by this priest to the wounded were great. But far more important was the example he gave of cool calculated courage and devotion to what he saw to be his duty.


The above was written by Brigadier Hackett, who was helped to escape from the St Elizabeth Hospital with the assistance of Father McGowan. His efforts to assist those men who were on the run in the Arnhem area, as previously touched upon, are demonstrated by the following incident. In the Hospital, locked in the mortuary and in the care of the RAMC with only occasional German interest, was a weapons store. On the 3rd October, McGowan distracted the attention of the German guards whilst men went into the store and split twenty Sten guns, three Brens, a German Spandau, grenades and ammunition between two stretchers and laid a blanket over each to make them seem to be dead men. McGowan and his party, which included Captain Lipmann-Kessel, carried these stretchers outside and buried them with the usual religious ceremony, though anyone in the vicinity who had a grasp of Latin would have quickly understood that McGowan was reciting complete nonsense. Two weeks later, the Dutch Resistance exhumed these items.


In late evening on the 16th October, McGowan escaped from the Apeldoorn Hospital with Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Herford, a doctor attached to XXX Corps. The pair climbed through a small second floor window, the size of which did not at all suit McGowan's ample waist-line, and climbed down with the assistance of a blanket. It was raining that night, and these miserable conditions enabled the two men to crawl out of the camp without being spotted by the guards. Their intention was to make their way back to the Arnhem area, which McGowan knew very well due to his numerous wandering trips to look for the dead and wounded. They arrived at Wolfheze and found that German soldiers were still on the landing zones, nevertheless, after midnight on the 18th October, the two men turned their berets inside out to make them look like forage caps, placed their camouflaged capes around their shoulders, and boldly strode across the landing zone, speaking words of loose German to each other in the hope that nobody would stop them. The plan worked and by the end of the night they had made it to the Rhine. Herford departed to scout for a place to cross whilst McGowan remained behind. As he waited, a German soldier rose from a nearby slit trench and proceeded to urinate over the bush in which McGowan sat. Gradually realising that there was a shape before him, the German asked, "Karl?". "Nein", came the reply. McGowan drank the last of the whiskey that he had about him and was led away at bayonet point. He spent the remainder of the war in captivity. Herford returned to the spot where he had left McGowan and waited for an hour before concluding that some ill-fate had befallen him. Herford crossed the river safely and was collected by a patrol from the 101st Airborne Division on the following day.


After the war, to the shock of those who knew him, McGowan left the priesthood and married. In later life he was struck down with polio which completely paralysed him, but following a long and hard recovery he was able to continue his good work by helping the poor and needy.


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