A graphic word-picture of conditions at Arnhem has been given to the Evening Telegraph by one of the gallant 8,000 airborne men, a Raunds glider-pilot, Sergt. R. Clarke, of Butts Road, who is now home on leave.
“We took off,” said Sergt. Clarke, “from our aerodrome and circled around over England for about an hour before heading across the sea. The journey across the Dutch coast was lovely and calm, but inland ‘flak’ started to come up. About 20 miles from the landing zone we hit cloud and incidentally the glider was hit by flak under a wing. Coming out of the cloud we found ourselves in the middle of another formation of aircraft and could not get out of it until we reached the landing zone. The landing zone was marked out by a coloured smoke. As we were going in to land another glider cut across in front of us and we had to bank steeply only 30 feet from the ground. When we touched down the nose wheel came up through the cockpit, but fortunately no one was injured. We unloaded the glider and went into the woods near Oosterbeck, where we were subjected to mortar fire.
Then we moved on to Arnhem. We found a bren carrier with one of its tracks off, but fitting this on, we loaded our equipment on to the carrier, and used it as a lorry. All the next day was spent in advancing on Arnhem, and we saw lots of Jerry equipment by the roadside – flame throwers and such like.
At midnight we reached the outskirts of Arnhem and found all the houses and factories burning. However, we had to withdraw through Wolfheze, back in the direction of Oosterbeck. We reached Divisional Headquarters the next day, but were machine gunned in a house by Messerchmitts before moving to D.H.Q. in the woods, where we dug in.
We were watching some crossroads, but owing to heavy mortar fire we had to move back into another wood where we dug in afresh. For the most part of the time we stayed in the wood, which was under 88mm gun and mortar fire. However we had several smacks at snipers and small bands of the enemy, whom we drove back.
We could not get water half the time because of the snipers, and when it rained we collected it in jam jars and tins.
The R.A.F. came supply dropping, but we only got a small part of these for the area was so small and most of them fell in enemy held country. The R.A.F. planes were subjected to terrific anti-aircraft fire, and several of them caught on fire.
At 7 o’clock one morning a message came through to move out. All the food had run out, and each of us had only two biscuits and a cube of meat. We went through the woods between enemy positions and reached the river about 11 o’clock in the evening, after dodging mortar fire all the way there. We paddled across in boats belonging to the British 2nd Army and climbed up the other bank and after a walk of four or five miles we had a marvellous meal – the first decent meal for days.”
In SS Barracks
Continuing his narrative, Sergt. Clarke said they were taken farther back in transports, each man being issued with blankets, for they were all saturated to the skin. They crossed Nijmegen and spent the night in the suburbs – in a former SS barracks.
“We spent the day in Nijmegen,” said Sergt. Clarke, “ sleeping most of the time. German aircraft were attacking the bridge, but there was an excellent fighter cover, and few of the Nazis got through. We went up the road, through the Nijmegen corridor, and along to Eindhoven, and then we crossed the frontier, but we were subjected to mortaring all the way down.
Crossing the River Escaut and the Elbe Canal we went to a place near Brussels, whence we flew back in transport aircraft and landed at our own ‘drome. Here we were kitted up and sent home on 14 days leave,” concluded the glider pilot.
Sergt. Clarke joined the Northamptonshire Regiment in September 1939 and transferred to the Airborne Regiment in January this year.