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15 October 2014
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The Witches Cauldron - Arnhem

by cornwallcsv

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Frederick Hodges, Capt. Hodson; Lt. Green; Joe Walker; Stan Sears; Danny Fowler; Pte. Stripp.
Location of story: 
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Contributed on: 
11 July 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People's War site by CSV Storyteller Robin. D. Bailey on behalf of the author Frederick Hodges. They fully understand the terms and conditions of the site.

We flew to Arnhem in a Glider on 17/09/1944. I was in 20 Platoon, "D" Company, 1st Battalion, The Border Regiment.

As we crossed the coast of Holland we saw the ground had been flooded and could just see the roofs of houses above the water. As we reached the landing zone near Wolfheze, the tow rope was released. There was a silence, the Glider then dived to avoid losing air speed and I could see the ground rushing up towards us. The Glider then levelled out and shots came through the floor. One man was hit, Private Stripp.

Shortly after landing we saw hundreds of paratroopers landing in the next field.

When we had all arrived, Jeeps were coming out of the Gliders towing trailers or guns. I felt confident with all these men and equipment; How could we fail!

We then went to Heelsum and dug in. The next morning I saw Germans moving along behind a hedge. We opened fire and were eventually attacked. Two men in 20 Platoon were killed, Joe Walker and Stan Sears.

Later we moved in the dark to Itallian Weg; It was here that we met two Dutchmen from the Resistance, they nearly ran over our mines on their bikes. They told us where the Germans were.

The next day we moved to our final position, Van Borselen Weg. We came under mortar fire immediately as we dug in. Although there were hours when nothing happened, most of the time we were under mortar or rifle fire.

We took food for two days with us, then food dropped by parachute fell into German lines. It was difficult to sleep very long; I had a feeling of fear, hunger and tiredness. On one occasion, a hamper landed near us and three Germans tried to open it. They saw us take aim and ran into the woods. Eventually, we retrieved it but it contained petrol.

We did get artillery support from the south side of the River Rhine. Captain Hodson, our Company Commander, stood up directing it by radio (one of the few that worked). I believe some tanks were damaged.

It was probably on the 23rd, that "D" Company was attacked by tanks and infantry. They came down the road from Utrecht Weg. When they reached our position, one tank opened fire and I was badly wounded in the arm. It carried on around a bend and our anti-tank gun put 4 armour-piercing shells into it, killing the crew and setting it on fire.
The other tank retreated.

My wounds were treated by Danny Fowler and I was taken to a cellar under a house where I remained for 4 days until taken prisoner.

Lt. Green, 20 Platoon Commander, had the unpleasant job of surrendering the wounded. There were 30 or 40 of us in the cellar and
the first thing they did was give every man a cigarette. Captain Hodson was taken off the battlefield on a door and died 3 days later.

There were British and German dead lying around the area. Those who could walk had to march 3km to the German area.

I was in a poor state with 3 massive wounds. A German soldier noticed me and gave me water to drink and filled my water bottle before he gave anyone else water. I was taken in a German truck to Apeldoorn hospital, then to a school where I had something to eat and fell asleep exhausted.

A few days later we went by rail in cattle trucks to Stalag XIB in Folenbostal near Hanover.

After the bridge at Arnhem was lost, the 1st Airborne Division formed a perimeter around Oosterbeek, a town which joins onto Arnhem, including about a mile of river; Surrounded by German tanks, guns and infantry. The tanks came in and out of battalion positions, some of them had flame-throwers. The Germans called the perimeter "Der Hexenkessel" which means "Witches Cauldron".

10,000 men went to Arnhem, about 1,000 got back; Nearly 2,000 were killed. My battalion lost 125 killed; I can't remember how many got back.

For me the war was over.

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