Great beard-growing competition on in our unit, but no time to check up on the winner.

ARNHEM by Major General RE Urquhart

Since September 1944 Arnhem and the 1st Airborne division are tied close together and this book presents the view of the commanding General and, believe it or not, it presents some new insights into the battle.

The thing that has always made me wonder was why the 1st Airborne never took advantage of the completely intact phone system during the battle, but it seems they did. They called the Bridge from the perimeter in Oosterbeek and Freddy Gough (commanding the Recce squadron) and Urquhart discussed the situation. It also describes in detail the row Hicks and Hackett had over who was in command of the division in Urquhart’s absence, which did the division very little good. Urquhart is very honest about what he thought of the progress and speed mate by XXX Corps, which was most unsatisfactory; his narrative of the battle for Oosterhout (between Nijmegen and Arnhem) illustrates this quite clearly:

“The battle[for Oosterhout] is said to have yielded only 139 prisoners, one obsolete tank, five flak guns and an 88mm gun. And the casualties of the battalion of the 43rd Division in this action totalled nineteen wounded. Within the perimeter men were being killed and hundreds of soldiers were being wounded a second time as they lay in nine overcrowded buildings used by the medical services.”

But what makes this book stand out most are the maps which contain the troop dispositions during the battle. For me maps have always fascinated me and this book really feeds my appetite! The anecdotes Urquhart tells about the battle are sometimes quite hilarious, for instance:

“Have to release birds owing to shortage of food and water. About eight tanks lying about in sub-unit area, very untidy but not otherwise causing us any trouble. Now using as many German weapons as we have British. MGs most effective when aiming towards Germany. Dutch people grand but Dutch tobacco rather stringy. Great beard-growing competition on in our unit, but no time to check up on the winner. “

This was a message sent by carrier pigeon to VIII Corps.

The book is only 200 pages long with big letters that make for easy reading. It gives the casual reader an in-depth view of what happened in those fateful 9 days but it can be read in a couple of evenings.

Available from Amazon from £10.49

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.