OPERATION MARKET GARDEN – ARNHEM
JOINING THE ARMY
On the 12th of February 1941, "Johnny" as he is better known to his friends volunteered to join the Army on his 18th birthday. He joined the 70th Battalion The Border Regiment, which was a young soldiers Battalion at the end of 1942.
He soon volunteered for the 1st Battalion which was the Airborne element who were part of the British 1st Airborne Division.
He soon saw service in North Africa, and took part in the invasion of Sicily and fought through Italy. On return to England his unit was billeted in Lincolnshire along with the Division in preparation for what they thought was an invasion of Europe. However, they did not take part in D DAY that followed
PREPARATION FOR OPERATION MARKET GARDEN
Johnny and his unit were instead sent to Burford in Oxford in August 1944 and the whole Battalion were billeted in pig sty’s on a farm close by. During this time 15 airborne operations were planned and subsequently postponed, with the final one, Operation Market Garden scheduled for the 17th of September.
Early that morning, they were transported to Broadwell Aerodrome. "Whilst there I was sent out with a Corporal Heaton to search for two of our company who had absconded during the night, needless to say our search was fruitless"
OPERATION MARKET GARDEN in Johnny’s words
"We boarded a Horsa Glider chalk number 161 and were introduced to the pilots Lt Colonel John Place and a Lt Ralph Maltby. Only 14 of our platoon emplaned , we crossed the North Sea and broke out into singing the hymn "Lead us Heavenly Father Lead us" possibly as a result of remembering those 300 glider troops who were drowned during the invasion of Sicily. At least we could look down below us and see the Air Sea Rescue boats in attendance which was a sobering thought.
Upon crossing the flooded part of Holland where there was no flak in evidence and being the leading glider in the armada, it was different. We reached drier ground where heavy ack ack fire was brought to bear on our glider. It was good to see the rocket firing Typhoons of the RAF bearing down in front of us and firing their rockets. Shortly after that a cry went up from the rear of the glider "The tails coming off" this was relayed to the pilot who sent Lt Maltby to investigate, who came back with a grin on his face as all he found was fabric flapping in the wind. We started to experience large accurate ack ack fire when a large explosion hit the cockpit. There was a smell of cordite, and unfortunately Lt Maltby was killed outright. The glider started to do all sorts of twists and turns.
My immediate thought, and that of the others was, what if the pilot should be killed or wounded, needless to say that on approach to our landing zone S, we were met with small arms fire, with bullets ripping through the floor of the Horsa, but miraculously only one soldier, a Private Hughes was hit in the leg. Lt Colonel John Place did a copybook landing and the glider chalk 161 was the first to land. (Confirmation of this fact is confirmed in Martin Middlebrooks book, ARNHEM 1944 page 100 and page 88)
LANDING ZONE "S"
As the remaining gliders were landing on the LZ, some were overshooting and crashing into the woods that were adjacent to the LZ causing deaths and serious injuries to the pilots and the glider troops. B Company took up immediate defensive positions on top of the railway embankment to guard the drop zone X, as we waited for the arrival of the Parachute troops. They landed and B Company under the command of Major T Armstrong proceeded along the road towards Renkum. We met no opposition, unitl we reached the outskirts where we bumped into a German armoured vehicle. It is hard to say who was the most surprised. After an exchange of fire we proceeded to our objective which was the local brickworks, which is still standing to this day"
"Fellow sniper Private Eric Borders and I dug in below some clay bogies which ran along the railway line and brewed up. During the night we heard foreign voices which we assumed could be Poles. At this time we were stood to. We heard the creaking of the barbed wire fence to our immediate front. Sgt Watson fired a vary pistol light and gave the order to open fire as there were German soldiers trying to get into our positions, possibly not knowing that we were in fact already there. We were ordered to vacate out trench and then take up positions behind some wheels of clay bogies as there was no time to further dig a slit trench.
GERMAN PATROL ENGAGEMENT
During stand to a German patrol was advancing along the road directly in front of our positions led by an officer who was obviously unaware of our position. He halted his patrol and checked his map and waved in our direction. Sgt Watson again gave the order to open fire, they were just like sitting ducks, and several perished under this unexpected fire. Those that escaped took up positions in houses alongside the road, where we engaged them all morning, suffering no casualties. They then shelled our positions and the ammunition was getting low. Worse was to follow. As we were told that now we were completely surrounded and no communication could be got to the Battalion HQ. Just after midday the order was given to breakout. We proceeded along the river bank leaving a rear guard to enable us to get away
We arrived with no further contacts with the enemy at a place called the Westerbowing. This was the highest point in the whole area and dominates the area of the Rhine and the south bank. It was a few hours later when the Germans finally found our location and a contact began which lasted for three days, with continuous shelling day and night. They probed our positions by using night patrols and we suffered a lot of casualties, added to the fact we had no rations, however we did manage to get some water.
The position for B Company again became undefendable and we were not that same fighting force who held the position three days earlier. The order was again given to withdraw, and the remnants were sent to different Companies as reinforcements. I went to A Company for a short while, it seemed that we were always digging in, not knowing where we were, no food, and we were always in the open. We watched the supplies being dropped by our own aircraft, but sadly straight into the Germans hands.
LOSS OF PLATOON FRIENDS
14 Platoon had several of its members killed during this time, notably Sergeant Tommy Watson, L/Cpl Holdsworth, Pte Eric Borders, Pte Norman Manchester, Cpl G. Howe and Pte Cranswick. Only 2 returned home……………. me and Pte Brooke having successfully escaped across the Rhine to safety, which was out of a total of 25".
I asked Johnny for some memories of Operation Market Garden so that his, and those of our comrades who fought at Arnhem could be immortalised in the Famous Faces section of Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces web pages. It was other units like the Border Regiment which made up this mighty Parachute assault force which today for good reason is called 16 Air Assault Brigade encompassing all Airborne Forces together under one shoulder flash.
I had the privilege to meet Johnny and asked him for his thoughts on a sad day, which was the funeral of a close friend to me and my family, that of L/Cpl Jay Bateman at Colchester on the 30th of June 2008. In true comradeship he worshipped together with past and present members of the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces for the loss of another Airborne Warrior in the fields of Afghanistan
My thanks go to Johnny for his story, of which I know he has many more stories covering this Operation and others. Sergeant Edward Johnny Peters shown on the right of the picture.
Compiled by Gil Boyd B.E.M Ex 2 PARA 2008