In addition to my father, there were other men from Mitcham at the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944.
These men are buried at the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery:
Corporal Peter Pushman, whose father was a chimney sweep who lived in Love Lane, Mitcham.
Lance Corporal Frederick Rexstrew, who lived in Ravensbury Cottages.
I went on a Battlefield Tour organised by Leger Holidays.
The tour was 5 days by coach, with 4 nights in a hotel. The first and last days were taken up in travelling to/from Arnhem in Holland. The second day, 17th September, coincided with the start of Operation Market Garden.
Day 1 : Monday 16th September
Day 2 : Tuesday 17th September
Day 3 : Wednesday 18th September
Day 4 : Thursday 19th September
Day 5 : Friday 20th September
Monday 16th September 2019
Tram to Croydon for a taxi to Clacket Lane Services on the M25. The three other passengers had all been on battlefield tours before.
At the service station we waited for a transfer coach. The taxi driver was supposed to wait for the coach to make sure he handed us over, but he said that it’s on its way and he left. I learned afterwards that some on the coach had started their journey as far away as Lancashire, some 5 hours before us. Suitcase with the tour coach number on it was put in the hold. This would be moved by baggage handlers at the next stop, the Stop 24 Folkestone Services interchange. Here the suitcase was loaded onto the tour coach.
Next stop Dover, and passport checks were made while seated on the coach. Once on the ferry, we got off, and I made it straight to the food court for some fish and chips.
Back on the coach, off the ferry at Calais and we went towards Arnhem.
On the way the Tour Guide explained the tour and showed us a BBC documentary, which only mentioned the parachutists, and a war film called Theirs is the Glory which was realistic due to the use of veterans from the battle.
We arrived at the Van Der Valk hotel in Tiel by 9.30pm ish. About 12 hours travel door to door.
Tuesday 17th September 2019
Started early so as to catch the 9 a.m. wreath laying service at The Needle Airborne Monument, opposite the Hartenstein Museuem, Oosterbeek.
The service was in Dutch, after the first speaker explained in English that it was for the children’s benefit as it was for them to carry on the memory.
The Needle Airborne Monument. Photo taken on Day 3, when the weather was brighter and it wasn’t surrounded by crowds.
After the ceremony we walked across the road and went round the back of the Hartenstein Museum, and the Tour Guide explained, with the use of a map drawn on a white cloth sheet, the layout of the areas we would cover that day.
Next we went by coach to an Airborne Monument which had been renovated in 1994. This is a clever design as it incorporates parts from the airborne landings and paratroop drops, such as hooks and containers, see below.
- An Airmobile 6 pounder Anti Tank gun
- Radio container
- Hooks to connect material to parachutes
- Guide channels to unload vehicles and guns from gliders
- Paratrooper helmets
- Parachute supply containers
- Container cradle
The numbers are shown on this diagram,
and these photos show where the parts are used in the monument:
1. An Airmobile 6 pounder Anti Tank gun
2. Radio container
3. Hooks to connect material to parachutes (on pillars)
5. Paratrooper helmets
6. Parachute supply containers (the tubes of the frame)
4. Guide channels to unload vehicles and guns from gliders
The bench next to the monument was donated by Rotary Clubs from the Isle of Wight.
Next we went to the fields near Wolfheze, which were used as glider landing zones and drop zones for paratroopers.
The Tour Guide used another map drawn on a cloth sheet to show the landing zones (‘LZ-x’) and drop zones (‘DZ-x’). Landing zone ‘S’ (LZ-S on the map) was where the gliders landed.
Horsa glider memorial
On our way towards the landing/drop zones we had seen some transport aircraft flying low and the Tour Guide told us that there would be a paratroop drop nearby at 12.40. It was to deliver to Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery the ashes of two paratroopers who had been in the battle and survived to old age. They were Dennis Collier, 95, and Steve Morgan, 93. See also this online news report.
My video of the drop:
Lunch in Oosterbeek (for me) was at La Maison.
After lunch we visited the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, where I saw Peter Pushman‘s grave. His father was a chimney sweep in Love Lane, Mitcham.
The Commonwealth War Grave Commission have produced a video about this cemetery:
Next, in a suburban back street in Doorwerth, we went to an RAF memorial for the Stirling aircraft, LJ928, that crashed there.
The inscription read: “Here, during the Battle of Arnhem, Stirling LJ928 crashed on 21 September 1944, after having been hit by fire from enemy fighters, killing the crew and the air despatchers. This memorial is not only to commemorate these men, but to remember all those of the Royal Air Force who flew between 17th and 25th September 1944 over this area. Flying on low level through German anti aircraft fire and attacking enemy fighters, they towed gliders and dropped supplies for the men of the 1st British Airborne Division.
During those days 229 crew members and air despatchers from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa lost their lives in a brave attempt to help the men on the ground.”
Wednesday 18th September 2019
We went to Ginkel Heath, the dropping zones for the paratroopers, marked by this stone, ‘Luchtlanding’:
17, 18 SEPT 1944″
A newer monument included information panels at its base:
Next the Tour Guide took us into the woods at the edges of the landing and drop zones to see some trenches that still remain, dug-outs used by the 2nd Btn South Staffs.
a trench can be seen in the foreground
We then went to where the 21st independent parachute company HQ was at a house called Dreyeroord.
Afterwards we looked at The Hollow. I didn’t take any photos.
Back at Oosterbeek for lunch, I had a look at the Horsa glider on display in the hangar opposite the Hartenstein Museum.
Lunch again at La Maison, with the Canadian couple who were on the tour.
After lunch, we went to the Old Church.
The Old Church
bench outside the church with regimental badges carved on it
We then went past the Jack Baskeyfield Tree.
John ‘Jack’ Baskeyfield was awarded the Victoria Cross. This is from The London Gazette
Publication date: 21 November 1944 Supplement: 36807 Page: 5375:
No. 5057916 Lance-Sergeant John Daniel Baskeyfield, The South Staffordshire Regiment (1st Airborne Division) (Stoke-on-Trent).
On 20th September, 1944, during the battle of Arnhem, Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield was the N.C.O. in charge of a 6-pounder anti-tank gun at Oosterbeek. The enemy developed a major attack on this sector with infantry, tanks and self-propelled guns with the obvious intent to break into and overrun the Battalion position. During the early stage of the action the crew commanded by this N.C.O. was responsible for the destruction of two Tiger tanks and at least one self-propelled gun, thanks to the coolness and daring of this N.C.O., who, with complete disregard for his own safety, allowed each tank to come well within 100 yards of his gun before opening fire.
In the course of this preliminary engagement Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield was badly wounded in the leg and the remainder of his crew were either killed or badly wounded. During the brief respite after this engagement Lance-Sergeant refused to be carried to the Regimental Aid Post and spent his time attending to his gun and shouting encouragement to his comrades in neighbouring trenches.
After a short interval the enemy renewed the attack with even greater ferocity than (before, under cover of intense mortar and shell fire. Manning his gun quite alone Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield continued to fire round after round at the enemy until his gun was put out of action. By this time his activity was the main factor in keeping the enemy tanks at bay. The fact that the surviving men in his vicinity were held together and kept in action was undoubtedly due to his magnificent example and outstanding courage. Time after time enemy attacks were launched and driven off. Finally, when his gun was knocked out, Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield crawled, under intense enemy fire, to another 6-pounder gun nearby, the crew of which had been killed, and proceeded to man it single-handed. With this gun he engaged an enemy self-propelled gun which was approaching to attack. Another soldier crawled across the open ground to assist him but was killed almost at once. Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield succeeded in firing two rounds at the self-propelled gun, scoring one direct hit which rendered it ineffective. Whilst preparing to fire a third shot, however, he was killed by a shell from a supporting enemy tank.
The superb gallantry of this N.C.O. is beyond praise. During the remaining days at Arnhem stories of his valour were a constant inspiration to all ranks. He spurned danger, ignored pain and, by his supreme fighting spirit, infected all who witnessed his conduct with the same aggressiveness and dogged devotion to duty which characterised his actions throughout.
Next we went into Arnhem and stopped at the St Elisabeth Hospital, which is now an apartment building. My father, with a bullet wound in his right shoulder, was able to walk into the hospital. He was captured by the Germans while being treated there.
A re-enactment group outside the hospital
The coach then went past the Airborne House, the nearest to the bridge that the 2nd Btn South Staffs reached. My father is likely to have been wounded in this area as he walked into the hospital.
And so on to the Arnhem Bridge, renamed the John Frost Bridge.
Thursday 19th September 2019
Today we went to the Grave Bridge, near Nijmegen.
Over the river near the Gemaal van Sasse was a re-enactment group of of US army soldiers, mostly Dutchmen.
We passed a new monument and stopped to look at it.
Then stopped at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery
And then a quarter of an hour to the west, we went to the Jonkerbos War Cemetery.
Lunch was in Nijmegen.
After lunch we looked at the Nijmegen Bridge.
Below, in the park was a gun.
We then went the where 504th of 82nd Airborne crossed the river Waal.
Later in the afternoon we went to Driel, where there is a monument to the Polish Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski.
Church at Driel
Thursday evening at the hotel, the Skybar on the 16th floor was open, and here are some of the views towards Tiel.
Friday 20th September 2019
The return home. Early breakfast at 6am, to get bags onboard by 6.30am, for a 7am departure. Normally the Van Der Valk Hotel in Tiel has breakfast from 7am, but the coach driver managed to get them to open up earlier. Okay, the choice of heated food was low at that time, but there was plenty of bread, cheese, ham and scrambled eggs available.
Here are some photos of the hotel early in the morning:
We stopped off at a place to buy some stuff. The toilets had one sit-down, and three urinals.
On the journey we were shown the film A Bridge Too Far, knowing now, as the Tour Guide put it, where the inaccuracies and falsehoods were!
Then before Calais port, we stopped at a transfer station, to get the next coach, which turned out to be a Luxuria Leger coach. Very nice. This took us to Calais where we got off and walked through French border control, and then queued in a long snaking line for UK Border Control before rejoining the coach, and on to the ferry. At Dover we got back on the coach and it headed back to Clacket Lane Services.
Again we were left without making the connection to the taxi or minibus. The coach driver fobbed us off by saying that the taxi must be on the other side of the services building, so like fools we walked off with our suitcases. One of our group rang the Leger support line and was told that the minibus was waiting for us back where the coach had dropped us off. “He shouldn’t have left you,” said the minibus driver, referring to the coach driver.