Kenneth Taylor’s War Diary page 9
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Monday 25 September, 44
The news that road behind us has been cut again raises our spirits considerably! Also the fact that the Nijmegen bridge may disappear into the water at any moment leaving us marooned on the Island is most comforting. This stretch of land between the Waal and the Neder Rijn is known as the Island and it is just about the most depressing piece of country imaginable, being absolutely flat and netted with deep ditches, usually half full of water. Stayed put all day whilst Bemmel mopped up by 5EY.
Tuesday 26 September, 44
Moved forward in the afternoon to attack Haalderen and were met by heavy shelling and mortaring. Almost immediately I saw Capt Dimmer and Capt Semple killed in Bemmel by a shell about 50 yds from me. Also Cpl Moralee badly wounded. As I bandaged up his neck I did not think he had much chance but was later told he would probably be O.K. Lt Hammer also killed. Slight advance made but very difficult going.
Wednesday 27 September, 44
A and D Coys cut off. Maj Maxwell and Capt Franklyn killed! Lt Peters and Lt Jamieson missing. B and C relieved pressure on A who did not suffer very heavy casualties. A filthy wet day. Attack on Haalderen abandoned. A few of our tanks knocked out. Germans using a lot of Tigers here. Many cases of exhaustion amongst our chaps. Brian fainted but was soon OK again. A lot of shelling. Hear that Brit airborne at Arnhem cannot be relieved and has had to withdraw with heavy losses from North of Rijn after a marvellous stand. The enemy is very strong in these parts.
Thursday 28 September, 44
Hung on to our positions all day, but Bn was in a bad state and had to be relieved at night. Went back to Ressen in reserve during night.
Friday 29 September, 44
Woke up to find no sign of breakfast arriving. The reason for this soon became apparent when we found that both the bridges had been blown behind us. Fortunately we received 4 days reserve ration on the Island that night and there is plenty of food on the land, so we soon managed to cook some breakfast. A certain air of depression prevails at the moment, what with bridges being blown, the road from Eindhoven cut, and Arnhem abandoned. The railway bridge is completely finished but late in the day the road bridge became usable again after good work by the REs under heavy fire. The Adjutant had to be evacuated with nervous exhaustion in the afternoon, so as the I.O. has been killed I am quite busy – also Sgt Smith is in bed with Malaria.
Saturday 30 September, 44
Moved to defensive position near river bank just East of bridge, as enemy counter-attacks are very strong. He is trying to eliminate the bridgehead. A small amount of shelling. Saw Typhoons rocketing Haalderen – which is a good thing. Lovely day for a change.
Sunday 1 October, 44
7[th] Green Howards and our B Coy withstood terrific counter-attack North of Bemmel for which they received high congratulation by Corps Commander. We are waiting to be attacked hourly and to have to defend the bridge to the last man, but the 7th’s resistance seems to have checked them for the time being.
Monday 2 October, 44
Relieved during the day by 6DL1 and whole Bde returned to Nijmegen for a rest. Glad to leave the Island for a bit. One leaves the Island by a long pontoon bridge. There is terrific congestion of traffic and as we waited about 50 yds from the river a Jeep got stuck halfway across. The enemy chose this moment to do a little shelling and bombing of the bridge, but we suffered no casualties. Once one is over the bridge it is amazing to see the speed with which people move off into the town. The whole of the area just South of the bridge is a veritable no-man’s land of ruined buildings swept with shell fire, but it is good to see the main bridge still standing though a little battered. Occupied buildings to the South East of the town and began our rest very pleasantly by being bombed and then shelled during the night.
Tues 3 – Sun 8 October, 44
Having survived this the work started, but fortunately Sgt Smith has recovered now and can do a great deal of it. Everything is well organized and there are innumerable arrangements for baths, cinemas, theatres, EnSA etc. Also there is a soldiers club and an officers club in the town.
Nijmegen is a beautiful town with wide spacious streets and beautiful houses. Even the poorer parts of the town are very clean and the houses pleasant. There are a great many shattered roofs and a fair number of destroyed houses but life goes on.
On some days there is a general atmosphere of haste and uneasiness about the place and all one sees is a few scurrying pedestrians, some wild figures on bicycles, and the Jeeps tearing down the streets. On other days the sun shines and the people come out and throng the streets with the soldiers. It all seems to depend partly on the weather and partly on the amount of shelling the previous night. Our own guns of all sizes are sited all over the town and they make an enormous noise when they start firing, which rather frightens people. The enemy is only about 4 miles away to the East in the Reichswald and sometimes during the night the Spandaus sound to be coming from the next street. It is unpleasant being shelled during a night in a town as it is impossible to tell how near they are landing – and also one feels rather exposed in an upstairs bedroom. The civilians all sleep in cellars and if they have none often spend the night in someone else’s or else in an air-raid shelter.
People are very pleased to offer the hospitality of their houses and even to try to provide meals on occasions. They are not starving but there is not a great deal of food to be had. This is a pity because on the Island there is a lot of livestock and vegetables being wasted, especially in the forward areas.
I spent many an afternoon walking thro’ the suburbs and out towards the East of the town – and sometimes went further afield in a Jeep where the country is delightful. One does not choose, however, to spend much time in the neighbourhood of the BRIDGE.
There is a piano in the house where we have our mess, which I played sometimes, but about a quarter of the notes don’t work. I slept next door with the Plantenga family in a most comfortable bed.
On some evenings I visited another family called Vekemans who have a gramophone and some good records. It is strange listening to Beethoven with the guns firing and shells falling outside.
The people don’t really like the shelling but they pay little regard to it and one tells them that it is only our guns firing, which they seldom believe.
I visited another very large family called Stoopman with an enormous number of children who talk incessantly and provide a great deal of amusement. They are marvellous children and are gradually teaching me to speak Dutch. They all speak English and German but will not converse in the latter language.
Sunday 8 October, 44
I felt very sad to have to return to the Island again. The position has altered very little and all we have to do is occupy defensive positions. The traffic situation on the bridge seems to be a little more organised now and the vehicles are filtered up to its approaches in small numbers. From here there is a succession of large notices saying “GET MOBILE”, “THERE IS NO SPEED LIMIT”, “YOU ARE OVER THE BRIDGE NOW – GET CRACKING” etc. No-one is slow to act upon these injunctions and once one is over the awkward part of the bridge where it has been repaired the average speed of Jeeps is about 50 miles per hour for about the next half mile. Having got away from the immediate precincts of the bridge one heaves a sigh of relief and assumes a normal speed again. There is a smoke screen round the bridge now and a screen of canvas along the East side of it which prevents direct observation but not random shelling, which continues all day long. The REs working there and the AA gunners have a most unenviable job and I would hate to be one of the MPs who stand immaculate in their Red Hats and white gloves at both ends directing the traffic.
We relieve a Battalion of the 101st American Airborne Div and as most of the positions were under enemy observation this had to be carried out in the dark.