John Frost Bridge, Arnhem (Image ©Stephen Berridge)
On this day 21st September 1944
1ST AIRBORNE DIVISION – ARNHEM
By 21st September 1944, the 1st Airborne Division’s perimeter is holding firm on all sides, but is under pressure from tanks and assault guns, supporting S.S. Panzer Grenadiers. They are backed up by ferocious barrages from mortars and artillery of all calibres from 20mm to 150mm.
The artillery is around the Old Church near the Rhine. The eastern side is defended by the 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions (remnants), the 2nd South Staffords, divisional troops, the 21st Independent Parachute Company (the pathfinders), remnants of the 4th Parachute Brigade, the 7th King's Own Scottish Borderers and the troops from the 156th and 10th Parachute Battalions.
The western edge is held by the 1st Battalion the Border Regiment, engineers and Glider Pilots.
Movement in some of the forward positions is becoming difficult during daylight.
In the afternoon part of the 1st (Independent) Polish Parachute Brigade drop on the southern side of the Lower Rhine, near the village of Driel, and attempt to link up with the Division north of the River.
1st British Airbone Divisional HQ Defence and Employment Platoon
Men of the Campaign:
1st Airborne Divisional Defence Platoon
Originally the 52nd (2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry) had formed part of 1st Airlanding Brigade of the 1st British Airborne Division, and at that time were tasked with providing the Divisional Defence Platoon. This they continued to do when the 52nd were transferred to the 6th Airlanding Brigade on the formation of the 6th British Airborne Division in 1943.
By the time of the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944 the Divisional Defence Platoon, although by now slightly 'watered down' by the inclusion of men of other units and commanded by a Parachute Regiment officer, was still in the main made up of men of the 52nd.
During the defence of the Oosterbeek perimeter, where 1st Airborne Division withdrew to after it had been cut to pieces trying to get to the famous “Bridge Too far”, the Divisional Defence Platoon was engaged in the defence of the Hartenstein Hotel which had become the Divisional Headquarters. Eventually after fighting solidly for nine days the remnants of the Division were withdrawn across the Rhine.
During the nine day action six 52nd soldiers of the Divisional Defence Platoon were killed in action, three of them have No Known Grave but are commemorated on The Groesbeek Memorial, Netherlands, Panel 5.
These men were:
Private Frederick George Matthieu
Private Wilfred Gordon John Smith
Private James Arthur Toes
Grave of Private L. J. Barton.
Grave of Private R. A. F. Lansdowne
Grave of Private R. J. Bass
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.