Amica at London
Foreign Service – British Army – Served 5 years
George served in the British Army from 1941 to the end of 1946. He saw combat in half a dozen countries in the Middle East and Europe.
The most memorable battle was at Arnham, a Dutch city on the lower Rhine. George was part of 1st airborne division of 10,000. “When we were dropped, we were 60 miles behind the German frontline and the plan was that we should hold our position for 48 hours after which the British Army would come charging up the road, sweep across the bridge and into the Ruhr Valley. The War would then be over by Christmas! Things didn’t quite work out that way.
“The opening was good, the weather was perfect and we encountered no opposition en route or at the Dropping Zone. I was in one of the earlier planes. Once there, the intent was to get off the Dropping Zone and go to assembly areas where units would form and go off on their appointed tasks.
“We were only a few yards off of the drop zone when we noticed a house standing back from the road. As we approached, the occupants opened fire on us. After a couple of minutes, they held up a white flag, so another fellow and I went up the path to fetch them out. We were about half way down the path when they opened fire again. Not just an odd shot but real fuselage – you could hear the bullets whistling through the air. The other fellow went down and never moved again. I didn’t even get a scratch, I ran like hell up to the building.
“We had an established procedure for getting into an occupied house, so I fixed my bayonet and made for the door. It was too good and solid for me, so gripping my rifle, I set off to see if the back door was thinner. So I got to the second corner, there was a German coming the other way. There wasn’t time to think about it. It was a sheer reflex action. I had been carrying my rifle in front of me, so I just shoved it straight up under his chin. He died instantly – his weight on my bayonet almost tore the rifle from my hands.
“I continued on to the back of the house but had no more luck with the back door so I came back to the front. It seemed to me that the only chance open to me was to try to throw a grenade through the upstairs windows so I took a few steps away from the house to see if the prospects looked reasonable.
“It looked fairly good so I took a chance and tried to lob a grenade through the opening. A few seconds later there was a nice explosion and shortly afterwards noises from the back. I took a step to the side of the house and saw two Germans running away. So I shot them. They both went down but one struggled back to his feet so I shot him and this time he stayed down. I went back to the house and two of our men were coming out the door. ‘They’re all dead’ said one so we moved off to our assembly are. That was the end of my first 10 minutes in Arnham.
“Things didn’t go too badly at first but after the 5th day, we were reduced to holding a bridgehead based on the river and were entirely surrounded. The Germans bombarded us and from time to time attempted to break through our perimeter at different spots. These attempts produced some very heavy fighting but they were never able to break through anywhere.
“By the 9th day, our relief forces finally arrived but they decided that they couldn’t put enough troops across to move out the Germans and it would be best if we came back across the river to them. They did agree to provide flat bottomed collapsible boats so we didn’t have to swim!
“So on the evening of the 10th day, those of us who were able to walk crept out of our positions, down to the river into the boats and paddled frantically to the other side. Of the 10,000 troops who flew in, only 2,000 got out. To make these figures more meaningful – paratrooper planes hold 20 men. On average, in each platoon of 20 men, only 4 came back, 16 didn’t.”