Lieutenant Harry Michael Ashbroke Cambier
Unit : Anti-Tank Platoon, Support Company, 156 Parachute Battalion
Army No. : 226876
Awards : Mentioned in Despatches
The following story, "The Murder of Lieutenant H. M. A. Cambier", was written and researched by Philip Reinders of the Arnhem Battle Research Group, and I am most grateful to him for allowing me to reproduce it on the site.
This is the story of Lieutenant Michael Cambier at Arnhem where he commanded the Anti Tank platoon of the 156 The Parachute Regiment. For some of the details I am indebted to his friend Ronnie Adams who commanded the Mortar platoon in the same Battalion as well as to some former members of the Dutch Resistance.
Michael was born into an Army family in Batavia on the 9th September 1921. He was the only child of Colonel and Mrs Valentine Cambier, his father being a regular soldier in the Indian Army. He was educated in England at Welbury Park Preparatory School and at Ampleforth College from where he gained an Open Exhibition to New College Oxford. He was up at Oxford in 1940 and took a shortened Degree Course in mathematics before being commissioned into the Royal Artillery.
He was posted abroad and reached Egypt in time to take part in the Battle of El Alamein. Shortly after, he volunteered for parachuting, did his training at the Middle East Parachute School and was posted to 156 Battalion which was then stationed at Jenin in Palestine in early 1943. He first commanded a platoon in B Company and was with them Tunisia and subsequently in Italy, when 4th Parachute Brigade took part in the sea landing at Taranto, in the subsequent fighting Michael was Mentioned in Despatches. On the Battalions return to England in December 1943 he took over command of the recently formed Anti Tank platoon in Support Company.
On the 18th September 1944, the second day of the Arnhem Operation, he was dropped with the rest of the 4th Parachute Brigade on Ginkel Heath. The next 24 hours the Battalion suffered very heavy losses in its attempt to reach Arnhem. It was during this action that Michael was slightly wounded in the foot on 19th September.
He refused to be evacuated and stayed with his platoon. The last that Ronnie Adams saw of him, he was busily engaged in attempting to withdraw his 6 pounder Anti Tank guns towards Oosterbeek which was South of the main railway line to Arnhem. Such a move was difficult because the only culvert under the railway embankment was partially obstructed by a supply container with a chute which had "roman candled" and come into the culvert with part of its roof. The railway was being swept by enemy fire and the only alternative route open to Michael and his guns was to retrace his steps along the embankment to Wolfheze where there was a level crossing. It would seem that like many others he did not get to Wolfheze and the next that we know of his progress is that he was taken with other wounded prisoners to the St Joseph Hospital in Apeldoorn some miles north of Arnhem.
On the 25th September he was put on a Hospital train bound for the Neurenberg Hospital camp, on this train he joined up with Lieutenant Raymond Bussell of A Company of the 3rd Parachute Battalion who had been wounded in the arm and they decided to try to escape. They made a hole in the carriage floor through which they dropped down when the opportunity presented itself. They made their escape when the train was approximately 10 miles from a village called Bathmen, just to the East of the Dutch town of Deventer which is situated on the river IJssel.
It was then the afternoon of the 26th September, they walked until they came to a farm. The woman who lived there was in the employ of a Mr Jansen and she took them to his large house in Bathmen which was called "The Menop". They were to stay in his house for 7 days during which they were given civilian clothes and had their wounds attended to by a local doctor. On the evening of the 1st October, which was a Sunday, they were put in the care of a student from Amsterdam who was a member of the local resistance. He told Mr Jansen that he would take them as far as the river IJssel which was only about 7 miles from Bathmen, he hoped they would be able to cross the river and eventually reach the Allied lines. To do so, however they would still have had to cross the Neder Rijn and the Waal (much more formidable obstacles than the IJssel). They were, of course now wearing civilian clothes having left their uniforms behind at "the Menop". They were not without Dutch money because Raymond Bussell had managed to exchange some of the money which had been issued to officers for use in the occupied territories for some Dutch guilders. They were first taken by their guide to a small place called T'Joppe which was near to Gorssel which was only a few miles from Bathmen but which was close by the IJssel.
They did not stop there however but were taken to another farm called "Braamkolk" in a small place called Eefde which was further to the South and nearer to Zutphen, this belonged to the same family as T'Joppe and was regarded as being safer. They reached there on 2nd October having passed some German soldiers on the way and it is probable that they spent the night there. On leaving the farm, they were challenged by a German soldier who asked them for their papers. German soldiers were very much in evidence in this area because they were busy building a defensive line to the East of the IJssel. The son of the farmer, who was very young at the time, says he can remember seeing three strangers walking round a shed. They were asked to produce their papers which only the Dutch guide could do. Michael and Raymond had been told to say "verloren" which is Dutch for "lost", if they were ever challenged and asked for their papers. The German had no idea that he was faced with 2 British Officers but he ordered them all into his vehicle and took them to the police station at Zutphen. Later they were transferred to the police station at Gorssel where a Dutch policeman released the student from the Resistance because he could find nothing wrong with his papers and in any event he was sympathetic to the cause.
Michael and Raymond had no reason at this stage to believe that they would be treated other than as Prisoners of War. Had they done so they might have contemplated another break, but clearly they had no idea of the immediate danger they were in. Unfortunately, whilst they were still in the police station a Dutch member of the SD (Sicherheidsdienst), the German Security Police, came into the station and when he discovered that the 2 men in civilian clothes were British officers he informed his superior who was Untersturmfuhrer Ludwig Heinneman. When Heinneman heard that the Dutch policeman had allowed the Dutch civilian to go free he was immediately arrested and sent to a Concentration Camp from which he returned after the War although by then he was a broken man.
On the 10th October Michael and Raymond were taken to the local SD Headquarters, this was Villa "T'Selsham" at Vorden a town a few miles to the South-East of Zutphen. Here they were duly interrogated by 2 members of the SD, one of whom spoke English. Both Michael and Raymond refused to give any other information than their name, rank and number. After their interrogation, they were taken downstairs and confronted by Heinneman who accused them of being spies and terrorists, their hands were tied behind their backs and they were told that they would be shot. They were taken outside and shot in the head by Heinneman himself using a captured Sten gun. The executions took place early in the afternoon of the 10th October and they were buried in the lawn at the front of the Villa together with three Jehovah's witnesses who were executed by Heinneman the same day, the lawn was then set on fire to remove any trace.
On the 9th June 1945, members of the War Crimes Commission, a former member of the Dutch Resistance and some local civilians exhumed the bodies of the 2 Officers and the Jehovah's witnesses. Raymond Bussell still had the money he had exchanged with Mr Jansen, 57 Guilders.
Before he left Michael had written a letter to his mother, which he had requested should be given to the first British Officer Mr Jansen met. Not aware of Michael's fate he wrote to Mrs Cambier after the war to enquire what happened to him and heard from her the terrible news.
Ludwig Heinneman was arrested on the 18th March 1946, after a trial he was executed by a firing squad at Arnhem on the 10th February 1947. He was found guilty of many War Crimes including the murder of some 70 people. He had nothing to say for himself except that he did what his superiors had told him to do - "Befehl ist Befehl" (orders are orders). Other members of the SD who were present at Vorden were also arrested and spent some time in prison but they were not long.
It has taken me 4 years to find out what happened at Vorden on that fateful day in October 1944, but I do not begrudge the time or money spent. Whenever I am around Vorden I make a point of laying flowers on Michael and Raymond's graves which are in the General Cemetery there, as though by some people they will never be forgotten there is nobody to remember them when September comes round.
Philip Reinders, 1999.
The following article was written by John Howes.
Harry Michael Ashbroke Cambier, normally known as Michael, was born at the Woodside Nursing Home, 405 Woodside, Plymouth, Devon, on 9 September 1921. He was the only child of Valentine and Hilda Doris Cambier. At the time of his birth his father was a Captain, serving in the Indian Army, with the 32nd Sikh Pioneers. His mother was the daughter of the Financial Commissioner for the Central Provinces in India.
Cambier was an extremely gifted academic, attending Ampleforth College, Yorkshire, from September 1935 to July 1940 after having obtained a scholarship from Wellbury Park Preparatory School, Offley, Hertfordshire, in April 1935. From Ampleforth he went up to New College, Oxford, in October 1940 with an ‘Exhibition in Mathematics’, a scholarship awarded on grounds of merit.
Having registered for military service under the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939, at Leeds on 10 October 1939, he was called up for military service on reaching the age of 20 and, on 6 November 1941 he was posted to 122nd OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit), a Royal Artillery Officer Training Unit at Larkhill, Wiltshire. On 28 February 1942 he was granted an Emergency Commission and posted to the 70th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery.
He was sent to North Africa, arriving on 1 October 1942 and was posted as a reinforcement for the 244th Anti-Tank Regiment, part of the 84th Anti-Tank Regiment, He joined this regiment on 15 November, on their return from the battle of El Alamein, and remained with them until 10 April 1943 when he joined the 156 Parachute Battalion then stationed at Jenin, Palestine.
He served with the 156 Battalion in Italy where he commanded no 6 Platoon, ‘B’ Company and was awarded a Mention in Despatches. On return to the UK he took command of the Anti-Tank platoon, part of Support Company.
He flew to Arnhem on 18 September and was wounded in the ankle on the morning of 19 September as 156 Battalion attempted to make headway against the strong German blocking line that had been established along the Dreijenseweg. Despite being wounded he remained with the Battalion and was last seen helping to get 6 pounder anti-tank guns across the level crossing in Wolfheze as they withdrew towards the Oosterbeek perimeter.
After receiving treatment for his wounds in Oosterbeek he was one of the lightly wounded that were transferred to St Elisabeths hospital during the temporary truce on 24 September.
From here he was soon moved on to the airborne medical hospital that had been established at the Koning Willem III Kazerne in Apeldoorn, remaining there only a short while before, on 26 September, he was amongst those lightly wounded that were selected for onward transfer to a prison camp in Germany.
He was put in a cattle wagon with a number of other officers and soon after their journey commenced attempts were being made to open a ventilation window on the side of the truck. This was successful, but only after having crossed the River IJssel at Deventer. Individually or in pairs six officers from this wagon were able to jump from the train through this window. Cambier teamed up with Raymond Bussell, from 3rd Parachute Battalion, and were amongst the last to jump, just before the train reached the small town of Holten.
On the morning of 27 September they sought help at the farm of the Roeterdink family in the village of Loo. Immediately recognising them as Allied soldiers but speaking little English the daughter, Hendrika, went to get help from her employer, Wicher Jansen, who lived in nearby Bathmen and whom she knew spoke English.
Jansen provided them with civilian clothing and took them to his house, De Menop, where he sheltered them and arranged for a local doctor to provide medical treatment for their wounds. They had expressed a desire to return to Allied lines and Jansen sought out a Dutch lad in hiding nearby, Albertus Huizer, who agreed to act as a guide.
At about 16:00 hours on the afternoon of Sunday 1 October the three set off and, at about 20:00 that evening, sought shelter for the night at a farm in ‘t Joppe, near Gorssel. The following morning they left this farm at about 07:00 and headed for a farm at Eefde which was owned by the farmer’s brother in law and who, it was said, would be able to assist them.
As they approached this farm they were overtaken by a German officer’s staff car, clearly heading for the same farm, so they quickly retraced their steps and headed to another farm nearby. The driver of the car, a German corporal, had clearly seen them and returned to challenge them. Only Huizer was able to produce identity papers so they were detained and taken to Gorssel where they were handed over to the local police, to make enquiries, with the driver saying that he would return later.
At the Police station Huizer confided in the senior officer on duty, Theodorus te Brake, that they were escaped prisoners of war that he was hoping to get across the IJsell. Knowing that Huizer would be shot if the Germans became aware of this he let him go. Te Brake was to pay a heavy price for this act of compassion as he was to spend the rest of the war in concentration camps.
The German duly returned and Bussell and Cambier were taken to Zutphen where they were held in a local Stalag. In the meantime details of their arrest had been passed to the Sicherheitsdienst office in Vorden and its second in command, Ludwig Heinemann, sent members of the SD to collect the prisoners for interrogation.
They were interviewed twice, first by Rottenführer Fischer, at his office in Zurphen, and then by Rottenführer Denner, at the SD office at Villa ‘t Seslham in Vorden. At the conclusion of the second interview Denner stated that he was in no doubt that they were escaped prisoners of war from the fighting in Arnhem and should be treated as PoWs but Fischer appears to have sown the seed in Heinemann’s mind that they had crossed the IJssel from the other side of the river and were spies.
Heinemann’s mind was made up and no matter what Denner said, shortly after the conclusion of the second interview, on the afternoon of 2nd October their hands were tied behind their backs and they were taken into the garden of the Villa ‘t Selsham and shot in the back, at close range, by Heinemann and Kurt Roters. Although German by birth Roters had lived in the Netherlands since 1926 and had taken Dutch Nationality. Heinemann delivered a coup de grace shot to the head to each and they were quickly placed into a prepared grave and their bodies covered with lime with all other traces of the execution being destroyed.
Before leaving Wicher Jansen’s house Cambier had left three letters to be handed to the liberating forces when they arrived. Jansen complied with this request and one of the letters reached Cambier’s mother in June 1945. Despite her son having been reported missing this clearly raised her hopes and she sent a letter to Colonel Hugh Saunders, Special Forces HQ, who was related to the Cambiers through his wife, asking for help. He in turn passed the enquiry to Airey Neave, then still working with IS9.
Neave’s enquiries discovered that there had been a previous investigation undertaken by a Captain Pilgrim from SHAEF, also apparently prompted by another letter from Mrs Cambier to family contacts in the War Office.
Captain Pilgrim discovered that the bodies of Bussell and Cambier had been exhumed from their grave at Villa ‘t Selsham following information provided by Antonius Wiebe, a Dutch Policemen who had worked with the SD at Vorden and had been present when the bodies were buried. He had been arrested at the end of the war and provided this information when being interviewed.
On 9 June 1945 Wiebe took officers to the Villa where he pointed out the location of the grave, together with the location of another grave where other victims of the SD brutality had been buried a few days later. The bodies of Bussell and Cambier were exhumed but, because of the effect of the lime, identification was impossible and they were taken to Vorden cemetery for burial as unknown British soldiers.
Pilgrim learned that remnants of the clothing from the bodies had been retained and this allowed the cemetery staff to be able to indicate which body had been placed in which grave.
Pilgrim then took this clothing to Wicher Jansen who was able to identify it as the same clothing that he had provided to Bussell and Cambier and therefore it was possible to establish which body was in which grave. Pilgrim sent badges and labels from the uniforms, which Jansen had retained, to the War Office and their deaths were officially recorded as occurring on 10 October 1944.
Airey Neave’s report was the catalyst for a War Crimes investigation and this was commenced in October 1945. Those responsible were quickly identified but as Heinemann had been able to adopt the identity of a Luftwaffe soldier and had since been released from captivity, and was still at large, a decision was made that no action against any of the others would be taken until he was apprehended.
Heinemann was finally caught in March 1946 but, in the meantime, an agreement had been made with the Dutch Government that, because of the large number of Dutch civilians that Heinemann was responsible for killing, they would conduct the trial with the cases of Bussell and Cambier being included.
Heinemann was tried before a Special Court, at Zutphen, on 10 December 1946 and was found guilty and sentenced to death. This sentence was carried out on a firing range at Galgenberg, north of Arnhem, on 10 February 1947.
Following examination of the War Crimes investigation and the interviews conducted by Dutch Police officers it became apparent that the date of death of 10 October was wrong and that Bussell and Cambier had met their deaths on the 2 October 1944. A report was submitted to CWGC and the headstones were changed to reflect that date in 2019.
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