John Frost Bridge, Arnhem (Image ©Stephen Berridge)
On this day 24th September 1944
1ST AIRBORNE DIVISION – ARNHEM
Since the formation of the Oosterbeek Perimeter, the 1st Airborne had accumulated an enormous quantity of wounded, both British and German, and by the morning of Sunday 24th September, the medical staff had approximately one thousand two hundred men in their care.
On Sunday 24th, Colonel Graeme Warrack, the 1st Airborne Division's senior medical officer, obtained permission to arrange a truce with the Germans, generously complied with by Obergruppenführer Bittrich, commander of the II SS Panzer Korps, in order to evacuate as many of the wounded as possible into German care, where, although they would become prisoners of war, they would at least be sure of appropriate medical attention. German vehicles entered the Perimeter during the truce and removed approximately two hundred and fifty stretcher-bound men, whilst a further two hundred walking wounded were marched to the St Elizabeth Hospital.
Extract from 1st Airlanding Brigade War Diary:
Days of continuous mortaring and shelling which resulted in a steady drain of men. Reports from units showed a rapid decrease in numbers caused by this and continuous attacks by infantry, tanks, including flame throwers and SP guns. All attacks were repulsed with the assistance of the Medium guns from 30 Corps. Nevertheless snipers and SP guns succeeded in infiltrating behind most units and even established themselves in a position 100 yds from Brigade HQ from which they could not be dislodged. Lieut. Austin, Brigade JLO and a number of valuable NCOs of Brigade HQ were killed on 24 Sep trying to drive them back. The Brigade Commander received from the Divisional Commander a warning of what action was to be taken in the event of the Division being overrun.
Men of the Campaign:
Major John Frederick Bernard BLATCH - Glider Pilot Regiment, Second in Command Number 2 Wing
Commissioned into the Territorial Buckinghamshire Battalion of the Regiment in August 1939. He served with the Battalion in France and Belgium in 1940. He was wounded during the withdrawal to Dunkirk and after evacuation rejoined the Battalion in July 1940 as Regimental Signals Officer. In February 1942 he transferred to the Glider Pilot Regiment and by the time of Arnhem was Second in Command of its Number 2 Wing.
After Operation Market Garden he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross:
“Major Blatch took off on 17th September 1944 from Broadwell, but owing to very bad weather was compelled to land in England, this he succeeded in doing safely; the next day he again took off in his glider and over Holland the tug aircraft was hit by flak and Major Blatch's glider had the whole of one aileron shot away, thereby causing him to force land, this he succeeded in doing successfully just inside the British lines near the Albert Canal. Major Blatch then succeeded in contacting HQ Airborne Forces at Nijmegen and made determined efforts to rejoin the Wing in the Arnhem area; but failed to do so. Had it not been for his flying skill, it is certain that the load he was carrying in his glider, which included senior officers, would have suffered serious injury.”
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.