John Frost Bridge, Arnhem (Image ©Stephen Berridge)
On this day 19th September 1944
1ST AIRBORNE DIVISION – ARNHEM
The attempts, in the town of Arnhem, to fight through to the British Force holding the northern end of the main road bridge had failed, and the survivors fell back to the little village of Oosterbeek. The units which had been defending the DZ’ s and LZ’s had now moved towards Oosterbeek as well, having been almost overrun trying to defend Landing Zone ‘L’ for the Polish Glider Lift. The first of the many brave attempts by the Royal Air Force to resupply the 1st Airborne Division now took place, flying through an ever increasing anti-aircraft defence that the Germans were moving into position.
Men of the Campaign:
Major David William WALLIS - 2nd Parachute Battalion, Battalion Second in Command.
Commissioned into the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Regiment in July 1939, he was mobilised and served with the Battalion in France and Belgium in 1940.
Returning to the UK he continued to serve with the 4th Battalion until April 1944 when he transferred to the Parachute Regiment. Eventually he was posted to the 2nd Parachute Battalion as its Second in Command.
He had been good friends with Lt-Colonel John Frost, Commanding the 2nd Parachute Battalion, since before the war, and his new commander was delighted to have him as his deputy. Frost regarded Wallis as very gifted and ideal for the post; having set about licking Battalion HQ into shape, while also relieving the Colonel of the worries of parachute and weapons training. At Arnhem Bridge, once Brigadier Lathbury had been declared missing, Frost was asked to assume command of the 1st Parachute Brigade at the Bridge, and so command of the 2nd Battalion was passed to David Wallis.
Wallis was killed on the night of 18th September 1944. German troops had overrun two of A Company's outlying positions, and Wallis visited their HQ to see what could be done. As he left the house he was hit in the chest by machine gun fire and died instantly. The shots came from a building defended by sappers of the 9th Field Company. A fellow officer said that Major Wallis was quietly spoken and was not always comprehensible, and so when he was challenged by a sentry, his answer was not heard and he was fired on. Command of the 2nd Battalion passed to Major Tatham Warter.
Stephen Berridge has long been a volunteer at Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Oxf & Bucks Light Infantry - his knowledge has helped us put together a number of our exhibits - most recently a new Battles display featuring stories from Arnhem..