Staff-Sergeant George E. Redway
Unit : No.16 Flight, "F" Squadron, No.2 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment
Army No. : 6457896
Staff-Sergeant Redway participated in the invasions of Sicily and Normandy. During the latter, he and Sergeant J. Bennett flew a Horsa glider, carrying men of the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles, to LZ-N as part of Operation Mallard on the evening of the 6th June. The following is his account of Arnhem.
'D Day' now over 'squeaks' were abroad as to our next destination, some purporting to come from a higher echelon, others from the Squadron Officer, but most we adjudged from the 'shit-house' (invariably the source of the most reliable rumours). First it was to be the German rocket site at Peenemunde, then some bridges at Maastricht.
During this period I managed to 'snake-in' a 72 hour pass (courtesy of the RAF) later extended to seven wonderful days leave. On my return from leave a strong 'buzz' was on about a place called Arnhem. We were then promptly confined to the aerodrome, so this had to be right!
At first I was told that I would not be required for this operation (having been operational for both Sicily and D Day), so I left the Squadron Office half-glad but at the same time a touch sad at the thought of being left out. However this struggle with my conscience was not to be for long as the very next day I was summoned again to the Office to be told of another Staff Sgt., whose wife was due to produce their first baby, so would I mind taking his place, to which request I of course replied, 'Yes'. What a mad, wild, foolish idiot I was, had I only known what lay in store for me!
A concession was however permitted me, the landings were to be made in two lifts, the first to take place on 17th September, the second on the 18th. I was to be part of the latter, it being thought it would be the less hazardous of the two (God knows why!).
Next, the briefing. I had long decided most of this 'bull-shit' to be a bit superfluous, after all one could only go where the tow-plane took you and as through a telephonic communication between the glider and the tow-plane, the pilot of the tow-plane could always inform you of your proximity to the landing area. He even had a navigator to help him! After that it was really a matter of 'shit or bust' as to whether you could land several tons of matchwood in a totally unsuitable and invariably constricted area without too much damage to yourself or the poor bastards in the back. Having successfully achieved that one could look forward to yet another "nice, tidy little battle"!
On this occasion I discerned two points of note. One was that our landing was likely to be unopposed, there apparently being nothing more dangerous in the area than a harem of German Valkyries billeted in a nearby school or convent. This information was greeted with some ribaldry. As the laughter died away a more perturbing snippet was handed to us.
Waving his pointer over a large-scale map the Briefing Officer slapped it down roughly on the Dutch/Belgian frontier and announced that the British 2nd Army was around here and that tanks from 30 Corps would come and relieve us after two, or maybe, three days!
I left the briefing feeling that the briefing officer had not quite been 100% honest with us - or perhaps his peers had not been 100% with him? Tracked vehicles were notoriously unreliable when travelling long distances on metalled road, even when unopposed. This was a long distance and some opposition was at least likely.
Many of my fellow pilots felt the same - subsequent events were to prove us to be right.
Briefing over we returned to our huts and prepared for the departure of the first lift, early on the morning of the 17th September. This over, we loafed around until the evening, then over to the Mess for the customary few ales. On returning to my hut I found several of my compatriots engaged in a game of poker, whereupon I entered the game and proceeded to lose everything I owned, right down to a packet of razor-blades which His Majesty's government had thoughtfully provided to each and every man so that we could look nice and clean and smart on the triumphant march into the Fatherland - for depending on the success of this operation that was the intention. Over the bridge at Arnhem, and straight on into Germany through Holland. Nothing to it!!
Up at 'sparrows' on the 18th September with a splitting headache and raging thirst, which I quenched with an orange, also thoughtfully provided by H.M.G. Out on the airfield the usual pandemonium of ropes, tractors, tow-planes and gliders. Then up and away, picking up with the other plane/glider combinations and fighter escort en route.
Leaving the UK behind somewhere above the Suffolk coast we headed out over the North Sea, to pick up the Dutch coast between the islands of Schouwen and Overflakkee. I couldn't help thinking how appropriate the name of this latter island was when a German flak-ship hove-to in the waterways between the tangle of islands in the Scheldt delta and opened fire. The shell burst beneath us and wide, but close enough to cause comment between myself and the pilot of the tow-plane (I told him to "get a fucking move on") He was a South African and a good egg.
As we passed over the Dutch mainland it became apparent that large areas of it had been flooded. I watched a glider come off tow and circle slowly down to land on one small patch of green field in the middle of a huge area of flood water, and wondered laughingly whether the Germans would have to make a naval assault landing to capture its occupants?
Shortly after this incident the pilot of the tow-plane warned me of our approach to the landing zone. He need not have troubled, for just ahead I could see below a forested area, bitten into at one point by a large treeless tract upon which lay scattered dozens of pieces of gliders from the previous lift, some wrecked on landing, others having the tail section disconnected, as was necessary in order to drive out guns, vehicles, etc.
I would have wished for a lateral approach to the landing zone as it gave one more time to lose speed and pick a good area on which to land, unfortunately we approached directly from the front, which gave me little time to either. My garrulous South African pilot wished me good bye and good luck down the intercom, and would have said more (probably about what a delicious lunch he was looking forward to in the UK, or something equally fatuous), but I had to cut him short as I released the glider and his further conversation drifted away on the air with the rope.
Now free as the air (not really so free over the landing zone, a large part of it being taken up by other gliders and departing tow planes, and quite a bit of the rest by German light 'flak' and small-arms fire), I picked a reasonably unconstricted area close up to the woodland, which most other chaps had avoided as a line of fair-sized tree jutted out from the woods across the landing path. So, putting the nose down I went for it, hoping to be able to pull up before I reached this line of trees. This was not to be and I found myself going like a 'bat out of hell', still airborne and below the tree-tops, then pulling back on the control column I put my gallant old pile of matchwood into one final effort.
Like a tired old steeplechaser hitting Beechers for the second time, it half stalled and 'mushed' through the tree tops, landing with a terrible thud on the far side, and then, as though gaining strength from this effort, rushed on for a few hundred yards to end up amid a patch of allotments with a few yards of barbed wire and fence posts wrapped around it.
The troops all leant out from the back, completely undamaged despite the frightful landing. I always enjoyed the sickly smiles of relief that spread over their faces after a successful landing (i.e. one after which the survivors were not required to grub through the wreckage for the bodies of their comrades). The self-evident expression of relief on their faces seemed to say "Thank God, now that crazy bastard hasn't killed us, dealing with the Wehrmacht will be a picnic!".
As most of the anti-British activity seemed to be going on around the centre of the landing zone, I had time to gather up all my bits and pieces and leave the glider at leisure. Leaping down from the already open hatchway I stood among the cabbages feeling rather as I imagined Ruth must have felt when standing amidst "the alien corn"! At least 'Market Garden' now seemed an appropriate designation for the operation as far as I was concerned.
I now wandered back to where my glider had so nobly leapt over the tree-tops. Here another glider pilot, no doubt with the same intention as myself, had chosen to use the same landing path but, failing to clear the tree, had run nose first into the sturdy tree trunks. The cockpit was just a pulped mess of Perspex and wood splinters and both pilots were dead. The second pilot was unrecognisable. The pilot, or what was left of him, had been a young Scotsman barely twenty years of age. I had known him well and had often taken the "piss" out of him on account of his extreme youth and enthusiastic approach to flying.
Sickened, I left the scene without a thought for the poor unfortunates in the back. After all, what could I do? My job was now to rejoin my Squadron.
With this purpose in mind I again met up with my recent glider load of infanteers. They were lying in a menacing position along a hedgerow while one of their number was trying to raise their Company HQ by radio. Knowing there to be safety in numbers I got down beside them to study my map.
After bags of that "Sunray, Sunray, are you receiving me?" bullshit, it transpired that the object of their frantic attempt to make contact was standing the other side of the hedge. Shades of Pyramus and Thisbe! I left them to it, hoping to contact my own HQ more easily.
Easy it was indeed. Standing in the front garden of the house from the inside of which came the tinkling of a piano and the sound of raucous voices were several members of my Squadron with glasses of beer in their hands. On entering the house, I found the piano virtuoso to be a Dutchman, whose house it undoubtedly was. I accepted a beer but couldn't help feeling a bit guilty. After all, this was hardly the way to conduct a war? Out there on the landing zone people were fighting and dying.
However, the idyll was not to last long as our Sqn. Cdr. joined us and we set off in the direction of Oosterbeek. It was by now late evening and as the situation was very fluid we halted and 'dug-in' in a defensive position for the night. We also consumed the 'unexploded' portion of our day's ration, a bloody cheese sandwich we had all brought with us from Broadwell, washed down with water (also from Broadwell).
As night fell, sporadic firing from all directions died out and I got a good night's 'kip' on a pile of beech leaves beside my slit trench.
I always found it strange, the German Army's dislike for night-fighting and patrol work, even when in an advantageous position. Always at nightfall all firing ceased and never seemed to recommence until a good time had been allowed for breakfast the next morning!
We were up and away at 'sparrows' and arrived at Oosterbeek shortly after, where we cased out into the beech woods to defence the Divisional HQ, located in the Hartenstein Hotel.
First we had to ensure that the woods were clear of the enemy and then find suitable positions where we could dig in and still get some sort of field of fire, as in many places the spaces between the trees were overgrown by beech sapling, giving good cover to anyone approaching. Also many rides criss-crossing the woods had to be watched.
I found a nice slit-trench previously occupied by some home loving German, after digging the trench to prevent the sandy sides falling in, he had placed one of our parachutes over it, and had further dug a sort of fire-step upon which were placed a couple of empty shell-cases, with wild flowers therein. Cute! I hope he lived!
We had now been in Holland two and a half days, no word as to the approach of 30 Corps and things were really beginning to hot up. The hell of a battle was undoubtedly going on down at the bridge and probing attacks by the enemy were coming in from all sides. A patrol of ours caught a platoon of Germans napping in the woods and wiped them out to a man, our Sqn. Cmdr. being wounded in this action.
Then my Flt. Cmdr. foolishly went sniper-hunting among the beech saplings - two of us summoned a Bren carrier and fetched him back, riddled with bullets. He died as we transferred him onto a stretcher, a popular young officer and a good Rugger player.
Over towards the town a large house in the woods was being held by an Independent Coy of Paras. When I visited them they already had some eight of ten of their corpses stacked like faggots outside the back door and were busy blazing away at Germans in the garden.
On another occasion I found myself gazing across a wide gap between the woods and a row of houses. I had been warned that the gap was under fire and if I must cross to do so with caution. Suddenly General Urquhart appeared, together with several of his Staff Officers, and was given a similar warning. Now, amid the entourage of the mighty, one will always find one utter and complete 'tit'. In this instance I could not say who this was, I only know he justified this nomenclature by saying to me, "Just nip across there Staff Sgt., will you and see if they shoot at you?". Now, did this idiot really suppose that I was going to stride across at the dignified pace supposedly befitting a Commanding General? On reaching the safety of the houses on the far side, I looked back to see General Urquhart striding across at a dignified pace, and not a shot was fired!
My Flt. Cmdr. being dead, it now befell me as Flight Sgt. to maintain contact with and between our various positions, scattered around the woods. While thus engaged, not knowing whom I might encounter, I naturally carried my rifle at the trail.
Early one morning, when walking down one of the rides a lone German soldier suddenly appeared some 50 yds ahead, walking towards me on the same ride. We must have seen each other at the same time. I immediately dropped on one knee and fired. He, having his rifle slung, was still struggling to get it off his shoulder when my round must have struck him. He threw both hands in the air and appeared to dive for the undergrowth at the edge of the ride. Not being sure as to whether or not I had hit him, I was loath to approach any nearer in case he was still alive and prepared to take his revenge. So I continued my journey by a more circuitous route.
The incident forgotten, I found his body the following day, my shot had struck him dead centre. He was very young, only sixteen years old, this I discovered on going through his pockets and finding a birthday card from his mother. Sad, I thought, but then he might well have got me!
Food was becoming a bit of a problem, but our cooks up till now had generally managed some sort of hash once a day and there was the odd mouthful of food in some of the vacant houses. A small corner house, having received a direct hit from all five or six bombs from one of those multi-barrelled mortars had completely disintegrated, laying open a cellar absolutely crammed full with bottled fruit, which we disposed of rapidly!
There was now a third lift to come and re-supply drop by parachute. Our main hopes lay in the early arrival of 30 Corps. No one was unduly worried. German casualties must also have been heavy. There was a lull in the fighting about now when they brought up a truck with an amplifier on it and started broadcasting a lot of sobstuff: "Tommy, you have fought well, so now must lay down your arms and come over to us. We will give you a nice cup of tea!!". This naturally had a reverse effect and some unappreciative "Tommy" blew the truck up with the bomb from a PIAT gun.
When the third lift arrived it really got plastered, even worse than us, as the Germans were now in possession of some of the landing zone, if not all of it.
About this time the resupply arrived by air and we were to enjoy the spectacle of most of it falling into German hands, they now being in occupation of the dropping zone. The aircrews suffered badly as a result of this. I saw one huge Stirling bomber hit by flak, catch fire and plunge into the ground in one enormous fireball, and we stood with tears in our eyes to see a Dakota with one engine already on fire, fly twice over the zone to ensure that the containers were dropped in the right place. Before any of the crew could bale out this plane too came to the same horrible end as the Stirling. (Much later, I heard that the pilot received a posthumous VC).
The fate of such heroes was not entirely in vain. We did receive a minute part of the resupply. One container fell in our area and on opening it up we found it to be full of new red berets and webbing equipment! The only thing of any use was a snipers rifle complete with telescopic sight, this I purloined.
After those engaged in opening the container had expressed their disgust and departed, I grubbed around the red berets and found a newspaper only one day old. The headlines proclaimed something about "Grave concern for our airborne troops in Holland". Thinking this would have the same effect on the morale of others as it certainly did on me, I immediately destroyed it. I now zeroed my sniper rifle against a mark on a beech tree and being well satisfied with the result, prepared for the worst.
Hitherto I discerned the German troops used against us in the Oosterbeek area had not been of the best quality. Hence the youth I had shot, and even more importantly, some had given themselves up as prisoners. God knows why, as this was the last thing we wanted. Having nowhere better to put them they were locked in the tennis courts of the Hartenstein Hotel, and I heard later that some bloody, whining Kraut 'barrack room lawyer' had been complaining about having no food and that they should be kept in a place of safety (as the hotel was receiving its fair share of mortar and gunfire).
Perhaps because the bridge at Arnhem had by now fallen, or possibly because reinforcements had arrived, the German attacks now became more persistent, but what was even more menacing was the appearance of armoured vehicles in the woods and on the by-roads leading up from Arnhem to Oosterbeek.
These could be contained to some degree in the woods, as due to the density of the wooded areas they were more or less forced to use the rides, which could be covered by such anti-tank weapons as were available to us.
The by-roads were a different matter, and S.P. (self-propelled) guns were already taking the upper floors of houses occupied by our troops.
We were by now tired, hungry, dirty and dishevelled and, for the first time since the war began, I really hated the Germans. It was with joy in my heart that I remember seeing an Officer or NCO standing on a fallen tree-trunk shouting Teutonic oaths at his men. Through my telescopic sight he seemed so close I could almost touch him.
As I fired he dropped down behind the tree. Whether dead, wounded or just taking cover I could not tell, but I hoped I had killed him.
From now on events moved so fast that time stood still, only incidents remain in my memory. As, for instance, when visiting a section of my flight who had acquired a 6-pounder A/Tk gun and were handling it as though they were trained Gunners, caught a tank approaching down a ride. As they fired, scoring a direct hit on the front of the tank, the AP (armour-piercing) shell as it passed through heated the armour red-hot for about a yard all around the point of entry. The occupants were cut down by Bren fire on leaping from the interior.
Then, again, the lone Gunner in our forward area handling a 6-pdr. gun, the rest of his crew being casualties. Empty cases piled high behind the gun, wounded in the foot with the blood squelching out of his boot he would hobble back to grab a fresh round, then back again to slam it up the breech, aim and fire. Surely such behaviour should have merited the highest honour? I was never to know whether he lived or died.
All my memories were not to be of heroes, however. When casualties were reaching a peak I encountered two young soldiers in a slit trench that they had dug so deep it was impossible for them to fire from it. I threatened to shoot them if they did not get out and even then had to lower my rifle butt down into the trench in order to pull them out. God knows they would have had to dig steps in the side of the trench to get themselves out unaided. They were very young and this was probably their first action.
Meanwhile we were being forced to relinquish our positions in the woods and "withdraw" (again that convenient Army terminology for retreat!) to open ground behind the woods. We even managed to find some 'prepared positions' although God knows who had prepared them. I dropped into a slit trench and watched for anything disgorging from the woods.
I had not long to wait before a tank appeared, stopping just behind the fringe of trees some 300 yards away. I tried to point it out to the crew of the anti-tank gun some distance away to the left, but they appeared totally unaware of the tank, or my frantic signals and shouting from the slit trench.
Then, like a bloody fool I left the security of the slit trench and, lying flat on the ground, started to wave to attract their attention. This proved fatal, the gunner in the front of the tank saw me and let fly a burst from what I assumed to be a medium machine gun. I heard the crackle of bullets passing overhead, then something appeared to have tagged the back of my smock and my left arm collapsed. "Hell," I thought, "I've been hit." I called to a chap occupying the trench with me, "Give me a hand to get back, I've been hit!". "Fuck your rotten luck!", he replied as another longer burst of fire crackled overhead.
Slowly and laboriously I eased myself back in the trench and asked my 'comrade' to slap a field dressing on whatever kind of wound it was. After a brief examination he said, "Fucking hell, you don't need a field-dressing, you need a shell-dressing!". Only then did I realise that the wound was worse than I had at first realised. I began to shiver and could feel the cold blood running down my back.
I sat back against the wall of the trench wondering what to do next. The tank had withdrawn into the wood but the area was being heavily mortared. Shit, I thought, I can either stay here and bleed to death, or take a chance and make for the RAP (Regimental Aid Post), situated in the cellar of a nearby house. I wisely chose the latter. Some minutes later I found myself lying on the floor of a dark cellar amid a pile of dead, dying and wounded.
The 'quack' was busy administering to those requiring immediate treatment. My wound was becoming very painful so I gave myself a shot of DIY morphine (with which we had all been issued), but foolishly neglected to affix a label to myself to inform all and sundry that I had been injected. The 'quack', having taken a cursory glance at me, asked if I was spitting blood. He decided to pass me on to a Main Dressing Station nearer to Arnhem, together with other walking-wounded under cover of a Red Cross flag.
After a hazardous journey of about ¼ mile (the Germans were now mortaring and shelling the whole area at random), we arrived at a house, the outside and road in front of which were cluttered with stretcher-cases, both German and English. 'Quacks' of both nationalities flitted amongst them. An English MO looked at my shoulder and asked if I was spitting blood. He then told me to get into an ambulance, driven by a character dressed in field grey. I remonstrated with him, saying I would then be considered a prisoner of war. "Don't worry," he said, "the hospital in Arnhem is treating everyone, German and English alike."
We arrived at the hospital. I was by now so drowsy, through morphine and loss of blood, that I could barely walk. A Dutch nurse cut my clothing off and, as my smock was removed, there was a dull thud as two hand grenades in my pocket, that no one had troubled to relieve me of, fell to the ground. This caused a considerable stir! Had they been my testicles less fuss would have been made. The another injection (more morphine!) after which my recollections are hazy, to say the least! I don't know how long I was comatose, I only remember waking up in a hospital bed with a nun leaning over me. "God", I thought, "Is this how it is in Heaven?" Having ascertained that this was not the case, I noted that my shoulder had been dressed with cotton wool and a crepe bandage, and also that there was what felt like at least two pints of my precious blood under me!
A German MO doing the daily rounds muttered to me under his breath "Red Devils, Red Devils! Red bloody butchers more likely!" Here I sensed was a 'quack' struggling with his Hippocratic oath!
I was now to learn my chagrin that the very night of the day I was wounded what remained of the 1st Airborne Division was evacuated over the Rhine, and that I was to begin the worst and most degrading period of my whole military service.
Staff-Sergeant Redway spent the remainder of the war in Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel.
My thanks to Sally Redway for this account.
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