As it happened, on Day 5 of the battle, the last stick of Polish paratroopers were dropped under heavy German fire on the south side of the river at Driel, nearly opposite to where the main British forces were at Arnhem.
In September, 2002, exactly 58 years after the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade made their heroic drop near Driel, the Pathfinders commemorated the event with a jump into the same DZ. Following are two accounts of this memorable event by two of the Pathfinders.
The day before the 2002 jump a handful of us drive down from Oosterbeek to recce our Drop Zone. On a detailed map it's easy to identify the large,square-ish field amongst dozens of assorted shapes on the low ground beside the Rhine . The countryside has changed little since the war.
About half a mile outside Driel village, we park at the end of a farm track, cross a drainage dyke via a 'bailey bridge' and enter the corner of our tree-lined DZ. In case of overshoot, it is good to see that the surrounding fields are a mixture of low crops and grazing, but there are still plenty of hazards of a different kind. A new motorway now passes a few hundred yards away, behind a pylon-line bordering the field - and it will not be possible to switch off the power. Our DZ is only a fraction of the area used during the 1944 battle, but is almost 500 yards corner-to-corner in the expected wind direction. This is significant because we will be jumping from 2,000 feet - and you can travel a long way in two minutes under canopy.
Since it has been earmarked for building, the field is fallow with some grass, weeds and scattered uneven patches of bare earth. Although there's a crusty surface due to dry weather, Steve Jenkins finds a soft area of grass near the RV point and scribes a cross with his heel. "That's where I'm landing" he says "but we'd better avoid that compacted dirt road - it looks as hard as nails!"
I notice the odd, neat spadeful of turned earth, next to small holes containing shrapnel fragments. It looks like someone has been metal-detecting. Brord van der Maat, our Dutch Jumpmaster, explains that the area still has not been cleared of unexploded ordnance since the war and a pit has been dug in the corner, ready for controlled explosions. Also, apparently, the bodies of three Polish paras were found in a trench here a few weeks ago, while the builders were soil-sampling. They were identified by their dog-tags and are being reburied at the Airborne cemetery. On that thoughtful note... we leave, largely pleased with the DZ, but mindful of the power lines!
On the way back, we stop off at the memorial in Driel village square.
There is a thick-set, casually dressed old man intently running a finger down the long list of foreign names.
"Ah yes, this was my friend." he says, as if we were already in conversation. He seems to know instinctively who we are, so introductions are not necessary.
We ask where he landed, but he doesn't remember exactly, "It was chaos, horses running about...". Still a strong accent. After the war, he married an English woman that he met while training in the north of England. They had "two lads and two lasses", he told us, but they could not speak Polish.
When the decision was made to conduct the jump, it was agreed that, as a tribute, we would jump wearing WW2 Polish para uniforms.
When they heard about us, the Polish veterans requested we also wear the Polish Eagle emblem on the front of our steel helmets, which is a first and a great honour. There are two other items 'jumping' with us to mark the occasion: Roy is carrying a bottle of PolishVodka and Marc a polish flag signed by our jumpers, for presentation to the veterans after the jump. We
expect this to be popular! As the photo show, this we did following the jump. Roy Mobsby, Ian Marshall, Tony Clarke and Marc Hoedeman present a signed Polish flag and bottle of Polish vodka which had been carried on the jump to Capt Gazowski of the polish veterans.
On the sunny afternoon of 21st September, we are airborne - exactly 58 years
after the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade dropped near Driel. As then, the flight-path takes us east along the Rhine at 2,000ft, but where we are sitting on the floor, we can't see out of the portholes. My position is near the door at the head of the
Starboard stick. Five minutes before 'P-Hour', Brord gives a signal for the
Port stick of jumpers to "Stand up and hook up". As they start their final
equipment check, Brord and Ian Marshall open the door in the side of the
ageing aircraft. Light pours in and the engine noise grows to a din, but it's
not as windy as you would think more like opening a sunroof.
The bright countryside stretches out through the open door, and as the aircraft banks gently to the south, we catch sight of the distinctive arc of Arnhem bridge over the shining river. I take my pulse for a few seconds. 80 is higher than normal, but not surprising.
We have a guest in the cabin - a friend of Ian who is the pilot of the Red Devils' aircraft. They are making a display jump later in Oosterbeek and hes tagging along to take pictures of us 'exiting'. In the door" calls Brord. The first man stands ready with his right arm across his reserve and his left steady on the low door frame. Brord checks the 'spot' one last time, with his head out in the slipstream. The aircraft throttles back, slows noticeably and seems to pitch forward as we 'run in'.
"GO..." As each man reaches the door, "GO..." his left hand falls from the static-line strop, "GO..." he drives forward with his right foot and exits, "GO..." slightly hunched, into space. With the airspeed, a gap of one and a half seconds would space the chutes 180 metres apart. So, any more than four jumpers per pass and they could miss this DZ. Brord and Ian pull the flailing static lines back into the cabin and close the door, as we bank sharply for another run. A few minutes later I am standing in the same position. Behind me, Steve 'Fatboy' Jenkins, 'Sat' Parmar, and 'Septic' - Steve Greer from New York, is last man. A tap on the shoulder (...whoa, wait for it!). "Alright?" says Ian. "Yep." I look forward again, down at the fields. I'm not sure I can bear ... Brord shouts "GO!" and my world transfers into slow motion.
I duck to miss the door frame as I drive forward and make a good exit from the aircraft, closing my legs together while counting "One Thousand..." At the same time my body is turned rearwards, away from the door. (While not our aircraft, the photo here depicts exiting from an Anatov 2, used for military parachute training)
Falling at an increasing rate, I can feel the 'chute and rigging lines paying out of the deployment bag behind me. On "Two Thousand", there's more resistance as the chute is at full stretch and my legs rise up in front of me. Quite normal. "Three Thousand, Check Canopy!" Actually, I'm already checking and have been concerned to watch a number of twists going into the rigging lines. The canopy opens OK, but I give it a cursory glance as my priority is to kick-out the twists. Until then, I cannot steer and I haven't forgotten about the pylons! The aircraft noise is receding now. As I rotate, I glimpse a figure nearby - slightly above me, but not close enough to worry about. I have several twists to clear and, by the time I have finished, I'm a little annoyed because I was expecting to have time to look around. Now, where's that pylon line? There - hidden under my foot! Thankfully, I'm clear, but still assessing the wind drift rate, when I see two other chutes bumping together. I can hear them shouting "steer away" at each other. I'll keep clear.
I recalled that on 'GO', I had exited the door before Brord's hand struck me. Steve and Sat followed me so closely, that the three of us were out within 2 seconds (this is called a 'Foreign Legion' exit in the trade!). The 'Red Freds' pilot only got one photo. Septic looked up and we had gone, so he ran forward to catch up and forgot to duck at the door, bashing his head - but luckily missing his brain by six feet. Steve's deployment bag hit Sat in the face, giving him a bloody nose and tearing the watch off his wrist. He was OK, but a little disorientated and he and Steve were the ones bumping and trying to steer away from each other. These things happen of course.
Looking down, I see a few collapsed 'chutes on the ground from the previous stick, and the T-shaped wind direction indicator. I land in the middle of the field, feet and knees together, no problem. This patch of ground is not as hard as I expected. I roll, run around the 'chute to avoid getting dragged and gather it up to carry. Luxury - A Jeep turns up and gave two of us a lift to the RV, playing 'A Bridge Too Far' on the speaker! (In the photo are Stef Eicker with Ron Visser DZ OC at the RV point.)
Everyone arrived at the RV in good spirits, including the Vodka. Steve, of course, landed on the track, and as he rolled, bruised his backside on a stone! Sat mopped his nose with a rag, but seemed quite pleased with himself. Septic landed in some rubble, but was OK with just a few scratches on his helmet. Rob broke his leg, but stayed with the lads nearly all day, before going to hospital later. It could have been worse - they could have been shooting at us. Imagine what it must have been like for the old man we met in Drie.
In this photo, Sgt Roy Mobsby walks off the DZ with the modified PX chute sporting the Polish eagle on the "P" type helmet.
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6-30 am, alarm goes off, must get to the showers and toilets first. Well, at least the toilets. The nearest the front of the queue the fresher the toilets. After attending to my ablutions it was time to eat. Roy, Brord and Ron were having breakfast on the move, taking care of the last minute preparations for the jump.
8 am-after breakfast we all donned our battledress, checking each others kit and making sure everything was OK. Once we had got our kit on I looked around, and for all intense and purposes we were in a time warp. Everyone in WW2 kit, British, Canadian and Polish. All making their own preparations, looking like the real thing, it was quite an atmosphere. taking in to account the Willies jeeps, half-tracks, etc.
9am-Mustered on the field. Standing in line with our Parachute equipment in front of us, Roy and Brord carried out an equipment check and head count. They went through a brief for the DZ. wind direction, hazards to look out for, then about 10am we boarded the coach for the airfield.
A short while after arriving at the airfield we saw the Antonov coming in to land. (This is a photo of an Antonov rigged for military parachute training.) We all new the moment had come, the jump was on! The first time since 1944 and the last time this particular DZ. could ever be jumped. A shout of 'Gear up!' from Roy and we all began to put on our chutes. Once all on and in line, Roy, Brord and Ian carried out final safety checks and we, the first Chalkâ, boarded the aircraft. After being in the air for what seemed like ages, the door was opened and the order to stand up and hook up was given. A shiver ran down my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I looked out of the small window and saw the Drop Zone below. I felt so proud to be part of this, jumping as the Polish Paras had done in 1944 but without the fear of being shot.
Roy was put on standby in the door-first man out. I was fourth man, first stick. The word was given, Go! Go, go, go before I know it Im counting 4000 and checking canopy. Allâ€™s well. This is the first time Iv jumped my SET 10. I look around to get my bearings and see the three guys who have jumped before me, their chutes faster than mine...Tittering to my self,Im going to have a soft landing!! I alter my direction to face the wind, little as there is, and see the other three touch down safely. Knees bent, feet together,
I prepare to land-not as soft as I thought. I felt a sharp pain in my left leg, took off my chute and helmet and tried to stand up. The pain was intense as I sat up and tried to asses the damage. I managed to take off my boot and
realised my leg was broken. Help came quickly. Roy and Brord wanted to take
me to the hospital straight away, but that would have meant one of them
missing the service in Driel.
I refused adamantly so off we went to the service. Me in the back of a Willies trailer and the others marching. As Sgt Mobsby put it, "He refused to go to hospital until he had met the Polish veterans. That's what airborne is all about and Robert is one of our few civilians." In the photo, the jump party was about to get their Pathfinder wings presented to them on the Driel DZ. I stood in the ranks with the other lads, and I'm the second man from the left being supported because of my broken leg.
Towards the end of the service our party laid a wreath as a sign of our respect for the Polish paratroopers and then we were dismissed. I shook hands with the last surviving officer of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade who actually fought there in 1944, which for me was a great honour. Despite the broken leg I was proud and honoured to be part of this jump.
I would like to thank the following people. Roy for giving me the opportunity
to acquire my first serious parachute injury. Brord, for going out of his way
to see that I received attention at one of Arnhems finest medical
establishments, where they do not believe in wasting anaesthetic, just
straighten broken bones. Marc and Corinne, for feeding me and generally
looking after me after the event. Last but not least to Stef and Paul for all
their support literally.
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©2000 Herbert Holeman, Ph.D.