"B" Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion

Lieutenant James Arthur Stacey Cleminson


Unit : No.5 Platoon, "B" Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 189294

Awards : Military Cross, Mentioned in Despatches


Lieutenant Jimmy Cleminson commanded No.5 Platoon of "B" Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion. He was slightly concussed as a result of his landing on DZ-X, and for a time he required the assistance of someone in his platoon to check his map.


"It was an immense armada. A lovely day. Hardly any flak. No German fighters to upset us. So as a ride it was a dolly, as a drop it was perfect, and the whole Brigade was ready to move off in an hour. The first problem that I realised was that on both sides of this road was some fairly high wire fences. And I realised that if we ran into trouble we were going to have a very narrow front to organise ourselves on and we wouldn't be able to do anything about it."


No.5 Platoon led the 3rd Battalion's advance to Arnhem, scouting ahead of the main force, and made good progress for the first two hours. To the east of Wolfheze, as they approached Battalion Krafft's blocking line, a German Citroen staff car suddenly appeared at a junction in between the platoon's men, who immediately opened fire with rifles and sten guns, killing all inside. So enthusiastic had been the firing that both vehicle and passengers were riddled with bullets and it took Cleminson's intervention to get his men to cease fire. This action put the platoon on a high. Cleminson did not discover until after the war that his men had killed General Friedrich Kussin, the German commander of the Arnhem area, who had been visiting Krafft when he unwisely decided to return to his own headquarters in the town.


A few hundred yards beyond this incident, Cleminson and his men were nearing a crossroads when they came face to face with an enemy of Company strength supported by a self-propelled gun. The Battalion had not been warned to expect any armour, and so, without an anti-tank gun nearby and hampered by the wire fences which prevented their deployment off the road, No.5 Platoon took several casualties.


"We'd actually run into the main defence line that had been set up by the Germans to defend Arnhem. It was quite evident to all of us on the ground that we weren't going to get there by going forwards, so we'd either got to go left or right."


So unexpected was the presence of enemy armour that Cleminson noted that none of his men had primed their Gammon bombs and there was only had one PIAT, which was knocked out at an early stage. An anti-tank was later brought to bear but it too was quickly knocked out by the Self-Propelled gun.With no real way of tackling this menace, the paratroopers scattered and sheltered in nearby houses, where they exchanged fire with the German infantry. Jimmy Cleminson found himself in a building behind the enemy gun, and whilst here he fired his Sten gun at and killed a German soldier in the gardens below his position. Following the brief gunfight, the enemy infantry and their vehicle decided to retreat back down the road out of sight, and No.5 Platoon continued on their original course.


That night the 3rd Battalion arrived at the Hartenstein Hotel. It had been serving as the staff mess for Germany's Army Group B, all of whom's staff had fled upon hearing of the Airborne landings, leaving a full cold lunch on the table which Cleminson and a few of his men immediately tucked in to. Fighting was still going on outside however, and when the commander of "B" Company, Major Waddy, arrived at the Hartenstein soon after he ordered Cleminson and his men out. Waddy decided that further progress along the Utrechtseweg would be too slow to be satisfactory and so he and Cleminson considered the possibility of moving off it. They attempted to move through east of the Hartenstein but encountered German machine-gun positions and were compelled to retire.


At 07:00 on Monday 18th, No.5 Platoon were still leading the advance and making good progress, but when the 3rd Battalion's column was split in two by enemy interference, "B" Company was compelled to fall back to avoid becoming trapped. They were, however quickly pinned down and could do little else but hold their position until nightfall. Cleminson felt that if the remainder of the Battalion had been able to catch up, then they would have likely been able to reach the Bridge soon after, as it was only a mile away from where he was, and German opposition was still not substantial enough to check their progress.


"As soon as we poked our nose out we were shot at with machineguns. I'd just pulled back to decide what to do next when a great big chap turned up, who I didn't know, and Gerald Lathbury, and he said well this is General Urquhart."


"B" Company had the unenviable honour of sheltering both the Divisional and the Brigade Commanders. Urquhart, desperately needing to get back to Divisional HQ, decided to set off on foot at 16:00 with only Lathbury and Captain Willie Taylor for protection. Upon seeing the three heading in the wrong direction, Cleminson rushed off to join them.


"General Urquhart said, "Come on Gerald, we're going to have a look", and he set off straight across this road junction, all hell broke out from the left, but then I realised how much room there is around bullets because I was getting sprayed with bits of brick breaking away from the wall on my right and scratching me, and by some miracle Gerald Lathbury was the only one that was hit."


The men took Lathbury into a nearby house where they were forced to abandon him. Whilst they stood over him, "A German with a machinegun appeared in the door. Roy Urquhart told me afterwards that "You know I'm the only serving General to have shot a German with a pistol in a battle". I said to him you weren't the only one who did sir, we'd all shot him, he was riddled."


The three men pressed on but very little progress was made as German patrols and snipers were everywhere. They were offered shelter in the attic of a Dutch couples' house, directly outside of which a German self-propelled gun soon appeared and came to a halt. The men were surrounded, though their enemy had no idea that they were just yards from British soldiers. Urquhart was desperate to set out again and proposed that they knock out the gun with grenades. Cleminson agreed that this was definitely possible but feared that they would make no progress whatsoever thereafter and would almost certainly be captured or killed. Not wishing to give them an order on this matter, Urquhart suggested a free vote, both Cleminson and Taylor believed it more sensible to keep quiet and wait until friendly forces caught up with them. Not having much in the way of entertainment to pass the time for the next 24 hours, Urquhart became fixated and highly irritated by Cleminson's very large moustache, he regarded its handlebar-like appearance as "damned silly" and "one to make the RAF envious".


On Tuesday, the 2nd South Staffords arrived in the area and Urquhart made his way back to the Division, Cleminson meanwhile, once he had relocated what was left of the 3rd Battalion, resumed command of his Platoon and brought them back to Oosterbeek.


"Psychologically this {The Oosterbeek Perimeter} was a sea change, because until then we'd been fighting to get to the bridge and now we were going to be put into a defensive situation to hold a perimeter so as to enable the 2nd Army to come across the Rhine there and to hold this come what may. {Oosterbeek was...} a perfectly peaceful Dutch suburban, large village, absolute in apple pie order, as though nothing had ever happened. I had not expected to run into armour. I was certainly surprised at the resiliance that the Germans were showing, considering as all that we'd been told was that they were demoralised and that they were old men and boys and so on, in fact we had SS soldiers in front of us."


For his actions in the Oosterbeek Perimeter, Lieutenant Cleminson was Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:


From 23rd to 26th September Lt Cleminson commanded a mixed platoon of 3rd Battalion in the sector of 1st Parachute Brigade at Oosterbeek. His area during that time was heavily attacked on several occasions by tanks and infantry. At no time did Lt Cleminson allow the enemy to penetrate his position. He inspired his men with his offensive spirit and never was there any suggestion that the enemy would penetrate. With complete disregard for his own personal safety he led fighting patrols into the skeleton houses which bordered his position, both by day and night. Never for one moment did he allow his vigorous leadership to relax and was always found leading where danger seemed greatest. His defiance was primarily offensive, he never waited for the enemy but went out to meet him. In all he was attacked six times by day and twice by night, and each time he inflicted heavy damage on enemy infantry. His fearless courage was reflected in the actions of his men who fought with great gallantry until Lt Cleminson was wounded and evacuated on 26th September.


In truth though, Cleminson was not evacuated and became a Prisoner of War. Wounded in the arm, he sat out the remainder of the battle in the home of Kate ter Horst.


"She used to come round every morning and read from the 91st psalm and encourage people. She was the most marvellous example, fantastic woman, who kept everybody's courage up."


On the night of Monday 25th September, the 1st Airborne Division withdrew from its positions across the Rhine, leaving the wounded behind.


"A very eerie silence the following morning. None of knew what in fact had happened. One of our doctors came along and told us that our soldiers had withdrawn over the Rhine and that we would be taken to a German hospital. That was a horrible feeling because it was totally unexpected. But it was a very a lonely feeling when you were abandoned."


Together with John Frost, Cleminson was moved to the Prisoner of War hospital at Obermassfeldt, where he remained until men of General Patton's 6th US Army entered the area. Upon arriving in London, Cleminson and Frost had a meal in the West End with two other officers. The quartet looked very peculiar, wearing their ragged and torn battledress and each man sporting a wound of some kind. Cleminson had his poorly arm, Frost limped on his ankle, and both George Comper and Peter Clegg had wounds to their throat, through which food was prone to trickling through. 


In the summer of 1945, Major-General Urquhart was in need of a new aide-de-camp, and Jimmy Cleminson's name entered his head. He couldn't have been too offended by the large crop of hair on the young officer's upper lip after all.


See also: Maj Waddy.


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