WITH THE RED DEVILS AT ARNHEM
Personal Experiences with the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade 1944
By Marek Swiecicki
Translated from Polish by HC Stevens
Additional material and footnotes by Niall Cherry
Published by Helion & Company
Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online
From the time I first read A Bridge Too Far back in the Seventies I have always had a soft spot for the Polish airborne men who fought at Arnhem. Visiting their graves at Oosterbeek back in the April of this year is a special memory. The story of their burials is not a happy one. A quick look at the cemetery shows that the Poles are buried along a border and it transpires they were never intended to be there. Many of their dead were originally buried at Driel and at some point there was a plan to return them to Poland. Unfortunately the new Communist regime wouldn’t have them but this came to light after all the bodies had been exhumed. So, the men are now at Oosterbeek with the vast majority of British and Commonwealth casualties from the battle. The episode adding a further sad note to the fate of the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade who suffered from so many indignities at Arnhem due to the weather and a degree of indecision on the ground. In the aftermath they became something of a scapegoat. The brigade were deemed to have performed poorly, so Major-General Stanislav Sosabowski was sacked and the surviving elements of the brigade were sidelined at the behest of an unforgiving Montgomery.
The Battle for Arnhem will always invoke a mixture of pride and disappointment. Pride in the incredible feats of the men of the 1st Airborne Division and their supporting cast – the RAF and USAAF aircrews who got them there. Disappointment for all the obvious and increasingly well-known reasons. The story of the battle seems to grow with historians adding so much detail to the histriography. For all this, the first hand accounts of those days are enthralling and one of them is this book by the war correspondent Marek Swiecicki, who like so many, flew in expecting a great and relatively easy triumph but found himself in a small corner of hell.
This reissue of his account is coupled with detailed and very useful notes by the Market-Garden aficionado Niall Cherry. The book itself is not the longest, but it builds a colourful picture of life in the ever decreasing Airborne pocket with stories of the various drops and glider landings, dealing with snipers, meetings with important and lesser known personalities of the battle and the growing nightmare of the Poles. Mr Swiecicki, like the other correspondents involved in the battle, lived a very real and dangerous existence. he effectively became something more than an observer. In his own way he gives us a clear picture of all that went wrong with the plan and it’s inception and enforces those feelings of pride and disappointment..or should I say sadness?
I have no hesitation in recommending this book. You get a sense of the real Arnhem, albeit written at a time when self-censorship and the realities of control over the media were all embracing. The translation, if it is the original, might benefit from a little modern finessing, but this is not a criticism. First published in 1945, the book is very much of it’s time and is beyond reproach. The bond between the author and his comrades, both Britons and Poles, shines out of the pages.
I don’t read his language – but you will find a page for the author on the Polish edition of Wikipedia. From it you can see that he had a career in the United States during the post war period and he passed away in 1994. It is nice to know that he lived long enough to see Poland reborn as an independent nation. I would imagine his time as a war correspondent was a major feature of his life and as a true veteran of the battle for Arnhem he becomes someone very special to me. Let him do the same for you.