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Eight Days in Arnhem - part 5

by wolfy262

Contributed by 
wolfy262
People in story: 
Leonard Derek Moss
Location of story: 
Anrhem, Holland
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A1979869
Contributed on: 
06 November 2003

Back at the FARMHOUSE.

The Tiger tank is still belching flames into the building and machine-gunning it. But it's now drawing fire from British troops so it starts to move away and manoeuvre.

The KING TIGER TANK.

It turns and crashes through a low hedge as it wasn't there, churning up the ground and spewing a rod of dripping fire across an area of trenches.

The clinking squeaking wheels drive the tank onwards towards a half-buried Hawkins anti-tank mine.

The tank rolls over the mine which explodes blowing off a large section of the caterpillar track. Pretty soon the armoured vehicle has ground to a halt and is under fire.

Back with Moss IN THE COPSE

Away to the left some one hundred and fifty yards, a small troop of Germans are running down the lane partially shielded by a hedge. They're trying to relieve the tank.

The Gunner looks around. Moss grabs his shoulder and points angrily.

The Bren Gunner is slow to react and fires off a burst of tracer rounds at the last German as he dodges behind a hedge. Missed. A German MACHINE GUNNER attempts to run up the same path used a short while earlier by Moss.

The Bren Gunner, in his eagerness to readjust his weapon and take aim, drops it on the floor. He fumbles.

The German gets closer, sees Moss and the Bren Gunner and deliberately drops his own MG 34.

The German steps behind a tree and pulls out a grenade, unscrewing the base as a prelude to throwing it.

"Shoot the bastard!" Moss screams at the Bren Gunner in desperation.

The Bren Gunner, still fumbling, maybe in panic or fatigue, aims his weapon.

The German draws back his arm and throws...

In desperation Moss draws his own Colt pistol and fires several rounds. At the same moment the Bren Gunner comes to his senses and unleashes a barrage of bullets that explode all around the German, cutting into his tree cover.

...the grenade. It's on its way through the air.

Moss and the Bren Gunner duck down in the trench as the grenade lands nearby and explodes.

When they look up again, they can see the German running away to rejoin his comrades.

Back at the FARMHOUSE.

TWO PARATROOPERS carrying a PIAT scurry behind the building which is blackened and on fire. From around one side of the building comes the sound of machine gun fire, men shouting and screams.

Peering around the side of the building they can see the King Tiger tank, its rear towards them. Bullets ricochet off the turret and metal bodywork. It replies with machine gun fire and the flame thrower.

One man kneels, places the PIAT to his shoulder and the other loads a bomb in the back. He taps his colleague on the shoulder and steps backwards.

Taking several deep breaths the PIAT man swings around the corner, takes aim and fires at the tank. The bomb flies true and explodes against the engine compartment, rupturing the fuel tanks and causing an explosion.

KERBOOM! The Tank is wrecked and a large part of it explodes outwards in a maelstrom of hot metal fragments.

Slowly the sound of small arms fire recedes, fading away to the occasional rifle crack.

The Germans retreat leaving the British to count their dead and wounded.

FARMHOUSE - NIGHT

It's late, dark and raining hard. For once there are no flares illuminating the sky and there's no sound of gunfire.

Rain hammers down on what's left of the farmhouse roof and a few sorry looking Paratroopers stand on guard while water collects in large muddy pools around them.

CELLAR - FARMHOUSE - NIGHT

The large cellar under the farmhouse has been converted into an H.Q, hospital and store room. The dead and dying lie all around and there's hardly any room to move. The few senior Officers left in charge try to make themselves heard while a dirty RADIO OPERATOR sits hunched over a radio transmitter.

Everyone quietens down. The order has been given that they’re to move out in something called Operation Berlin. A few soldiers think it’s a code word for an allied push, a counter-attack but then they realise it’s the code name for retreat.

A murmur of disquiet and confusion goes through the room.

A skeleton crew will keep up radio transmissions and some level of fire while the main force retreats to the Rhine. By the time Jerry knows what's happened it'll be too late.

Wounded men unable to travel will stay behind to man the positions as will doctors and orderlies. They are told that when they leave no man is to fire unless fired upon. Secrecy is vital. Their guides will mainly be glider pilots following their own white tape paths which are already in place. They should be able to get everyone down to the river where the Beach-Masters will load everyone into powered assault boats which have been brought up by some Canadian engineers.

DISSOLVE:

Later...

Moss rests like a boxer slumped on a stool staring into space while holding a mug of tea. He looks tired.

A man approaches and taps him on the shoulder. A PRIVATE in his early 20's. He asks if Moss is coming with them. Moss stares blankly into space. He explains that they’re moving out tonight. He advises Moss to pair up with someone wounded and offer to help them escape — unattached able bodied men will be asked to stay behind.

Moss follows him across the room, stepping over the dead and dying. He quickly finds himself a walking wounded soldier to help evacuate.

FARMHOUSE - NIGHT

In driving wind and rain, columns of men start to leave snaking out in huge lines. Men are holding onto the one in front. Visibility is down to just four feet.

Artillery fire goes on in the distance. Red tracers can be seen in the sky to the south. White tape on the trees and rubble to shows the retreating Paratroopers where to go.

It's a slow and sombre retreat, made all the more eerie by the strange silence. No one utters a word unless necessary.

FARMHOUSE - NIGHT

A column of about forty or fifty men, with the fit helping the wounded, are marching slowly into the night away from the farmhouse. It’s raining.

They have old socks and material wrapped around their boots in an attempt to keep the noise down. Those that have them wear waterproof smocks.

The badly wounded are left manning radio and machine gun posts resigned to their fate, watching their comrades go. Two bandaged Paratroopers occupy a Bren gun position under a tarpaulin, sheltering from the rain.

Moss and the wounded soldier he’s helping, are at the rear of their column and pass by. Soon they're out of sight. Rain continues to drive down.

The first hurdle presents itself very soon - a near solid five foot hedge which Moss has to push his wounded groaning colleague over.He rolls onto the top and falls over the other side into the mud, groaning as he hits his wounds. Moss climbs over the top and falls awkwardly too, causing him to groan even louder.

He helps the man up but it's hard to tell who's in a worse way. Hurrying on they catch up with the rest of the column.

In the darkness, off the path, someone calls out. It's a YOUNG PARATROOPER, badly wounded by the sound of it. He's in great pain, weeping in fear and panic.

The continuous pitiful cries make the marching column uneasy, but most men just put their head down and try to ignore it.

When Moss passes by the cries, he starts to break off from the column and wants to investigate. He can just make out the prone shape of a Paratrooper lying in a ditch, reaching out, when a hand lands upon his shoulder.

It belongs to A SERGEANT , a hard-looking soldier who hasn't shaved or washed in days.

Reluctantly, Moss does as he's told and rejoins the column supporting Jenkins. The pitiful cries of the Young Paratrooper are soon blotted out by the rain.

Later...

The rain pours down and the column has come to a halt. Moss and Jenkins are still at the back, soaked to the skin and shivering.

Up ahead at the front of the column they can hear the sounds of vociferous arguing. A torch goes on and off and it soon becomes clear that whoever is map reading isn't making a very good job of it.

Up front.

The Sergeant and several other soldiers gather around a map, trying to shield it from the rain while using a torch to illuminate it. The hushed and muffled arguments suddenly get louder, more boisterous. He seems to be talking mainly to a PRIVATE.

Momentarily anyway the arguments cease and the column starts moving again off into the night.

FARMHOUSE PERIMETER TRENCH - NIGHT

It's stopped raining.

Two Privates nestle in their covered Bren Gun position on the perimeter of the farmhouse. They look wet and pretty sorry for themselves, muttering occasionally as they scan the surrounding area.

Distantly two British Bofors guns fire into the night sky so that the trajectories of the tracer rounds cross high in the night sky.

They both squint, peering into the night. They can see movement.

Rashly, The soldiers quickly cock the Brenn Gun and lets off a short burst before being restrained. The two soldiers look at each other nervously, before one of them shouts for the shapes to identify themselves.

Back with the column...

The men in the column have thrown themselves to the ground or taken cover behind anything they can. The Sergeant crawls up towards the Brenn gun, anger written all over his face. They’ve been led in a circle back to their own perimeter.

Some of the other Paratroopers gather round, including Moss.

Stout, bug-eyed with rage, the Sergeant snatches the map and torch off him and strides away. The column sets off again in to the night.

COUNTRYSIDE - NIGHT

Raining again.

The British BOFORS guns are still firing tracer rounds into the night sky.

The Sergeant is at the head of the column pauses and signals for everyone to hold up. Moss and his wounded comrade have moved up the column and are now near the front.

The Sergeant turns on his torch to study the map. His face is illuminated. Nearby from some trees there comes the distinct sound of a machine gun being cocked and a German voice calls out.

Stout turns the torch off and everyone either scatters or crouches down to hide behind something.

Quiet.

The Paratroopers talk in a whisper.

Moss suggests they throw five or six grenades and make a run for it. They know where the river is and they need to make as much ground as they can tonight before the mortars start up in the morning. The Sergeant thinks about it for a moment. He seems unsure of what to do. Then, he agrees. Word goes down the line and people pass up grenades.

The men look at each other, nod and pull the pins at the same time. Then, with a quick lob, six grenades are hurled in the direction of the German voice.

The men take cover.

Seconds later the grenades all explode and the Paratroopers are up and running.

Moss takes good hold of his wounded colleague and supporting him they slip and slide along the muddy path.

They pass a sandbagged German machine gun post, now burning, with a corpse draped over the top.

Off in the woods German voices can now be heard rising in intensity. Small arms fire breaks the air and bullets whizz by. A couple of British soldiers are hit and scream out.

HEDGED LANE - NIGHT

It's stopped raining, although water drip, drip, drips down from leaves and branches. The moon peers out through a small break in the clouds silhouetting the hedges, lanes and trees all around.

All that remains of the group is twelve men including the Sergeant, Moss and his wounded friend. The men huddle for shelter under some trees looking pretty despondent.

Those Bofors guns are still firing tracer rounds. Moss stares intently at them. The Sergeant is examining the map and looking worried. He's losing it. The Sergeant turns the map around in his hands not sure which way up it should be.

Moss says that for quite a while now those two Bofors guns have been firing tracers, the trajectories of which are crossing high up in the night sky. He suggests they head for that. The Sergeant dismisses this idea as stupid.

Moss says that’s the way he’s going. The Sergeant orders everyone to stay together. The Sergeant tries to stop him — Moss pulls a pistol. He says, "Listen you bastard, I've just about had enough of you. I'm going to walk towards those guns and if you try and stop me I'll shoot you right now. I think I'm right and even if none of you care for the idea I'm going on my own."

The Sergeant glances at the rest of the men who are looking for leadership. A couple of them step forwards to follow Moss. Pretty soon the Sergeant is isolated and he looks defeated.

DISSOLVE

Later...

Led by Moss, the small column of men march silently in single file silently down a narrow lane. Only their boots make any kind of noise - a trudge, trudge, trudge in the mud.

Pistol in hand, Moss leads, his eyes darting all over the place. The moon appears through the clouds and glints on something stretched across the road just beside Moss' feet.

He raises an arm. Stop! Trip wire. The column halts immediately and taking a closer look he can see a metal trip wire extending six inches above the ground into the hedge either side of the road.

Carefully he steps over it.

They carry on marching down the road before is starts to lead away from the tracer fire.

Moss signals to the column to halt.

He opens a field gate and the men walk into it. Distantly they can hear mortar and machine gun fire.

Halfway across some parachute flares are launched into the sky and start to drift down illuminating the whole area.

Everyone hits the floor and lies still until the flares die and fade. The men then get up and trudge on their weary way again

Approaching a hedge, a short burst of Sten gun fire and the illuminating muzzle flash, brings the men to a halt.

A BRITISH SOLDIER steps out of the shadows, looks them up and down and then melts back into the gloom.

The column walks on, out of the field and onto a small lane, towards the Bofors guns, which still fire at regular intervals.

There's another burst of Sten gun fire from the hedge and another disembodied voice.

As they walk on down the lane, their pace quickening. The mortar and machine gun fire we heard earlier is getting louder.

They trudge on to the end of the lane and through a gate into...

...A WIDE FIELD.

German mortar fire whooshes overhead either exploding in the field or dropping into the River Rhine.

There are soldiers everywhere, some on guard, marshalling the queues of Allied servicemen waiting to leave. They stretch off into the distance, snaking all over the place down towards the river where boats are ferrying them across. Hundreds of them extend backwards in loose lines through meadows and woodland.

Germans attempt to fire on the area but generally the incoming mortar and artillery rounds are inaccurate. They're hopeful more than anything else.

As Moss and his men appear on the scene a TIRED-LOOKING OFFICER strides over. He tells them to make their way down to the bank and start a new line.

By the RIVERBANK.

They make their way down the river where large launches are heading for the shore. The ferrying takes place under mortar and machine gun fire from German positions, which is becoming increasingly accurate.

One large wooden launch is hit by a mortar shell in mid-stream and explodes like match wood before sinking with everyone on board.

Men wait in lines for the boats to return from the far bank - they're large wooden boats powered by motors or oars, manned by big Canadian engineers who look like lumberjacks.

Along the banks hundreds of men wait under threat from the enemy. In the dark, with machine guns chattering in the distance, many decide to swim for it.

Hundreds of men are here. The enemy fire is intensifying. Flares almost permanently illuminate the night sky.

Moss and his men stand in line patiently, crouching down to keep warm and present a small target to any opportunist German.

Mortar shells continue to scream overhead, splashing into the water which is filled with increasing numbers of men attempting to swim to freedom. As soon as the boats unload on the far bank they set off back to pick up more men. Each time they're soon overloaded with the wounded and men desperate to escape.

At last it looks as if a boat is going to pick up Moss and the men queuing behind him. The rowers have shipped oars vertically but the boat has lost its way and momentum just a few yards from the shore. Soaked to the skin anyway and without hesitation Moss jumps into the water and strides out into the river up to his neck.

Choking on a mouthful of water Moss grabs the gunwale on the boat and starts to pull it back towards shore. The river bottom has shelved quite deeply and he struggles to make progress but eventually the boat meets the steep river bank. He tries to scramble up the bank and a pair of hands come down from the boat and pull him up on board.

A big CANADIAN ENGINEER puts a blanket around him.

The Canadian Engineers help other soldiers aboard while Moss sits at the back of the boat shivering like a small child under a blanket.

From his position Moss can see the lines of troops waiting to be rescued, the lost, lonely, cold faces. Machine gun fire continues to rake the water. Dead soldiers float past face down,carried on the current.

"I have nothing but admiration for those Canadian Engineers as they ferried soldiers across the river all night. It never occurred to me that I couldn't swim and I felt a little guilty at having jumped the queue, but what the hell."

Soon the Canadian's are rowing the big boat across the river and Moss, crammed in with his colleagues, starts to relax.

"For the first time in eight days I felt relatively safe. If any of the Canadian Engineers who were in that boat that carried me across the river remember the incident and happen to see this, I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart."

EXT. SOUTHERN BANK - RHINE - NIGHT

It's organised chaos. As soon as the boats land, teams of men help the Paratroopers disembark. They're herded away by Medic's, men with blankets and Officers trying to make sense of the whole scene.

Shivering against the cold night air, a blanket around his shoulders, Moss goes with the flow and soon finds that the sound of mortar and machine gun fire is receding.

Over an earthen bank, down onto a road and towards the nearby village of Driel, columns or tired weary Paratroopers make their way to safety.

EXT. STREET - DRIEL - DAWN

An eerie silence hangs over the small village of Driel, a few miles from the Rhine. Smoke rises on the horizon.

Soldiers are all around, sitting and resting, or marching on to some new place. Only the crunch, crunch, crunch of their booted feet on the gravel breaks the quiet.

No one says anything. They're all too tired.

Moss breaks away from the main marching column and approaches several mud-caked Paratroopers sharing a cigarette by the roadside. He sees one wearing the beret of the 11th Parachute Battalion.

"As I looked around I saw tired faces everywhere, grimy, proud, undefeated faces and I wanted to cry. I didn't recognise anybody and I had no idea how many others had made it. We had all been through so much together. Everywhere I looked I saw the eyes of men who had seen too much, given too much. Everywhere I looked I saw a hero. But for every man that had escaped many more had died, been wounded or captured and they had no one to tell their story. My experiences in those eight days would remain with me for the rest of my life."

Len Moss survived Arnhem relatively unscathed despite a compressed rib cage, bruised back and leg. He later married and had three children. In 1994 he joined the Arnhem Veteran's Club, a team set up to jump for charity. To date he has managed twenty four jumps and has dropped twice on the original Drop Zone at Ginkel Heath.

Bill Kent was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp. He sent a postcard home to Len Moss' mother commiserating with her on her son's death at Arnhem. By that time Len Moss had actually been home six months. Bill Kent emigrated to Canada in 1956.

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