Tag Archives: Battle of Arnhem

Private Fred Lee

From the Mitcham News & Mercury, 13th October 1944, page 1

South London Too Quiet

Pte. Lee from Arnhem

Narrow Escape in Wood

Wants to Return to the Front

Pte. Fred Lee, man of Arnhem, only son of Mr and Mrs F.J. Lee, Dinton Road, Colliers Wood, made his first airplane landing when he arrived in this country from Holland.

He has been airborne scores of times, but each time his descent was made by parachute. First it opened over English fields, then over enemy territory in Italy; on D-Day it flowered over Normandy, and a few weeks later was among the first to open over Holland for the attack at Arnhem. So the journey home held a new experience for Skyman Lee, who is now spending seven days leave at home. Airborne operations and leaping into space from a racing airplane is all in the day’s work to Pte. Lee, who is now spending denying that, says he is only one of many carrying out a job he has been trying to do.

His one desire to return to the front for more fighting, for he finds life in South London too quiet. Too quiet in all ways but one. There are too many visitors to his house, too many people who wish to call him hero. Much of his life has been spent in avoiding them. On Sunday he went to early Mass to avoid the crowds. He does not wear his uniform, and one day, wearing a dressing gown, himself told a caller that Pte. Lee was not at home!

THREE DAYS IN THAT TRENCH

Last week the “News” told how Pte. Lee’s photograph, taken in a slit trench at Arnhem, had appeared in almost every national newspaper. Pte. Lee spent three days without a break in a trench, but was, he told a friend fairly comfortable, for when our planes dropped supplies by parachute he was able to secure three canisters with their parachutes. These he used to cover in the trench so that he and his companions managed to keep fairly dry.

He collected enough water in containers to have a shave each of the three days.

GERMANS SLOW AND BADLY CLOTHED

Many of the German soldiers fighting against them were badly clothed, and, unlike our own men, who are trained to think quickly and act on their own initiative, the Germans were slow to act when separated from their leaders. As usual, they played foul, and used hospital grounds, which were supposed to be neutral.

Pte. Lee had a narrow escape when he came on a group of Germans in a wood. Seeing their figures creeping through the trees towards him, he stepped, quick as lightning behind a tree, and shot at them. One of them fell, but the others, instead of taking cover, looked around to see where the bullets were coming from. The poor spirit of some of the men was indicated by the behaviour of a bunch of 300 prisoners who were guarded by a handful of our men with a few Sten guns, most of which were out of order.

Pte. Lee was in a Dutch house, where he found quantities of luxury foods and wines. A German officer had been living there. The paratroopers had a good meal, and to the question of the Dutch who lived in the house, as to when Dempsey’s men were to arrive, they replied “Tomorrow.”

WANT TO HAVE ANOTHER CRACK

“We kept hoping that reliefs would succeed in getting through to us.

Now all we want is to get back to have another crack at those Germans,” he said.

For more on Fred Lee, see his entry on the ParaData website.

Note that, at the time, Dinton Road, Colliers Wood, was part of the Borough of Mitcham.

C.Q.M.S. Herbert William Evans R.A.M.C.

Norwood News – Friday 20 October 1944
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Norwood News – Friday 20 October 1944

HE STAYED AT ARNHEM
To Look after Our Wounded

MR. AND MRS. EVANS, Newlands-road, who have lived in Norbury for over 30 years, received news last week that their son, C.Q.M.S. Herbert William Evans (aged 26) had been posted missing from Arnhem.

C.Q.M.S. Evans went into a Norwood estate agent’s office when he left Norbury Manor School at the age of fifteen. Joining up at the beginning of the war, he served in the R.A.M.C. in North Africa and Italy before taking a part in the Invasion of Holland. He was in Montgomery’s Division in Italy, so when “Monty” came back for the invasion, he came, too.

C.Q.M.S. Evans was attached to the airborne troops, and played his part in the heroic stand at Arnhem. When the troops were being evacuated, volunteers from the R.A.M.C. were asked to remain behind to care for the wounded, and amongst that group of tired but valiant volunteers was our Norbury hero. Our men moved out and the Germans moved in, to find our medical orderlies busy with the wounded.

C.Q.M.S. Evans is at present “missing,” but it is hoped soon to hear that he is a prisoner-of-war.

Note that Q.M.S. meant Quartermaster Sergeant.

The 1939 Register shows him living with his parents at 5, Newlands Road, Croydon:

William Evans, born 15th February 1874, privately employed gardener
Phoebe E. Evans, born 20th September 1878, housewife
Herbert W. Evans, born 10th February 1918, assistant to Surveyor, Valuer & Estate Agent

Schedule Number: 170
Sub Schedule Number: 3
Enumeration District: CLDD
Registration district: 39-1

Source: The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/1282H

Thanks go to the comment made on this post by the Half Muffled blog, that there are more details on the Find My Past website:

British Army Casualty Lists 1939-1945

Previously reported Missing believed Prisoner of War
now reported Prisoner of War in German hands (Germany)

Royal Army Medical Corps

Service No. 7364544 EVANS H.W.
Rank A/W.O.II (Q.M.S.)
H.Q.1 Airborne Div.

Previous List No. 1581
Date of Missing Casualty : 25.09.44

England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007

Herbert William Evans, born 10th February 1918, died second quarter of 1994

District Isle of Wight
District number 5561B
Register number B56A
Entry number 271
Date of registration 05/1994

Battle of Arnhem Battlefield Tour

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.

The Tour

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

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

  1. An Airmobile 6 pounder Anti Tank gun
  2. Radio container
  3. Hooks to connect material to parachutes
  4. Guide channels to unload vehicles and guns from gliders
  5. Paratrooper helmets
  6. Parachute supply containers
  7. 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.”


Day 3

Wednesday 18th September 2019

We went to Ginkel Heath, the dropping zones for the paratroopers, marked by this stone, ‘Luchtlanding’:

“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.

Day 4

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.


Day 5

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.

Lance Corporal Frederick Rexstrew

Frderick Rexstrew, was born 19 May 1914.

He married, aged 26, on 13th June 1940 to Gladys Ayling, 24, of 7 Ravensbury Cottages, Morden Road, Mitcham, at the parish church of Beddington. He was a soldier living at 47 Bute Gardens West in Beddington. His father, Henry Marshall Rexstrew, was deceased. Gladys Ayling’s father, Albert William Ayling, was a cowman. Source: Ancestry.com. Sutton, Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1940, London Borough of Sutton; Sutton, London, England; Reference Number: 2813/1/5.

The 1939 register shows Frederick Rexstrew as a Motor Driver, Baker’s Roundsman, and he lived with his mother Alice, housewife, and brother George R., born 29 Sept 1918, foreman stock keeper, munitions. Source: The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/1318E

The 1939 register shows Gladys Ayling as working as a newsagent assistant, her mother Katie was listed as a housewife. Source: The National Archives; Kew, London, England; 1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/1374B

The Ravensbury Cottages were on a part of the road called Ravensbury Grove, which later was renamed Hatfeild Close, as shown in this 1953 OS map.

1953 OS map

Hatfeild Close was named after Gilliat Hatfeild, the owner of the nearby Morden Hall (house and gardens now owned by the National Trust).

Frederick Rexstrew was a Lance Corporal, service number 179420 with the 253 (Airborne) Composite Company Royal Army Service Corps.

He died on 20th September, 1944, and was re-interred at Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery, grave 29. C. 8. Source: Commonwealth War Grave Commission.

He was an air dispatcher on a Stirling IV LJ829 aircraft with RAF Squadron 190. All crewmembers were killed when the aircraft crashed in Doorwerth. Source : Harrington Museum – Aircraft lost on Allied Force’s Special Duty Operations & Associated Roll of Honour, page 382. Note that this pdf is 3 megabytes and has 583 pages.

A memorial to all the RAF crew and air despatchers like Frederick Rexstrew is in a side street in Doorwerth:

“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.”

In his will, his address was 7 Ravensbury Cottages, Mitcham, Surrey and he left £215 5s. to his widow Gladys. Source: Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995

See also the ParaData website.


Maps are reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.