"He almost got to the cover of the trees when something hit him in the right side, and felled him like a kick from a mule. A few yards away his former Batman, Sapper Billy Madden, lay dead"
Before dawn on Monday [18th September 1944] General Urquhart left his headquarters in the Park Hotel Hartenstein in Oosterbeek with Brigadier Lathbury to take command of the attempts during the night to reinforce Colonel Frost's 2nd Para Battalion in the Bridge area. Owing to the breakdown in Radio communications, Lathbury had lost touch with his 1st and 3rd Battalions entering Arnhem on their designated routes, and the General, despite having sent his Reconnaissance Squadron into Arnhem to find Frost and report back, no word had been forthcoming. Being a fine soldier who liked to lead from the front, Urquhart decided that he would have to go and find out what was happening for himself and make what dispositions were necessary on the spot. So handing over temporary command of the Division to Brigadier Hicks of the Airlanding Brigade, he and Lathbury set out together. But good fortune deserted them.
At about the same time, Peter Stainforth and his four Sappers, having searched the remaining spans of the Railway Bridge until midnight, emerged from their bivouac on the outskirts of Arnhem, and advanced carefully in the pre-dawn half-light into the town. On the way they picked up half a dozen stragglers, including a medical orderly, who had become isolated in the darkness by German infiltration, and at sunrise they had reached the St. Elizabeth hospital, where the 1st Brigade's Parachute Field Ambulance had set up 'shop' and were already treating casualties from the previous night.
There they were told that Frost's men had captured the northern end of the bridge; but the Germans held the south, and had blocked the mile of streets between the Railway Station and the river with a strong force of infantry, armoured cars and tanks. As if in confirmation of this sombre news, a tremendous bombardment began in the bridge area, artillery augmenting tank guns, 20mm Flak guns and continuous machine-gun fire. The way ahead was not an option. A large armoured car blocked the road a quarter of a mile away, and Germans seemed to be everywhere. There seemed to be no way forward, so prudently Stainforth decided to join up with the 3rd Battalion, which should have been advancing up the Utrecht Road. But, already, there had been a change of plan. Having encountered strong resistance from SS Panzer Grenadiers in Den Brink, a municipal park on the western outskirts, Brigadier Lathbury had switched the battalion onto the Lower Road used by the 2nd Battalion the previous night.
Moving cautiously through the back streets near the Prison, Peter and his party entered Den Brink, and running from tree to tree advanced up the slope towards the railway line. There had been no sign of the 3rd Battalion on the Utrecht Road, so their plan was now to find the 1st on the other side of the railway where parkland and residential housing would give good cover.
All of a sudden they were shot at by a German with an automatic weapon, the man jumping up and running away to their left. Without hesitation, the Sappers charged to clear the way, with Peter about twenty yards ahead. The next moment he found himself in the middle of SS Panzer Grenadiers digging fox-holes, and a short fire-fight ensued. Peter emptied a Sten magazine, as the Germans scattered. Several fell. Then clipping on a second magazine and, hosing the gun behind him, he bolted for the cover of the trees where the rest of his men lay. He almost got there when something hit him in the right side, and felled him like a kick from a mule. A few yards away his former Batman, Sapper Billy Madden, a fine, kindly, cheerful young soldier, lay dead. The others, so close to the German trenches, did not know what to do.
Attracted by the sound of shooting, a platoon of the 3rd Battalion, the flank guard perhaps of the missing column coming up on the Lower Road, appeared, so Peter sent the rest of his men off to join them. The medical orderly, however, stayed behind, and after a while when nothing stirred in the German trenches, the two squirmed towards a brick pavilion about twenty yards away, and rolled into a ditch beneath one of the walls, pulling ivy, as camouflage, down on top of them. The Panzer Grenadiers fired a couple of rifle-grenades at the spot where Madden's body lay then, satisfied that the British had gone, stayed quiet.
So the rest of the day passed. It was warm, the pain deadened by morphine, not great. All round the noise of battle raged, with tanks clattering back and forth on the main road not a hundred yards away. In the afternoon the Germans disappeared and, when dusk fell, Peter and the Orderly decided it was safe to move. So, hoisting Peter to his feet and draping his left arm round his neck, the two walked calmly away, crossed the road, and were taken by several Dutch civilians into one of the large houses close by. This turned out to be an old people's nursing home, 'The Hoogstede', run by a trained nursing sister, Aimee LeRoy, who had Peter carried down into a basement room and put to bed. There was nothing that could be done for the moment. The bullet had gone right through from back to front, and both entry and exit holes were clean.
Hope Stainforth had spent three weeks in a cargo ship on her way out to join Archie in Nigeria and, having sailed eight days before the 1st Airborne Division had taken off for Arnhem, had heard only the sketchiest of news about its fate. She was a bad sailor at the best of times, but as the fragments of information, sanitised for public consumption, were relayed to the passengers via the ship's radio, the combination of mental anguish and sea-sickness prevented her from eating anything solid for most of the voyage. The final account of the battle's end sent her into agonies of despair. Of the original force of over 10,000 dropped at Arnhem, only 2163 men had been withdrawn across the Rijn. The remainder were either killed, wounded or missing, mostly prisoners of war left behind in German hands.
Archie met the ship at Lagos, and Hope rushed at him, red-eyed and white as a sheet. 'What has happened to Peter?' she cried, weeping. Archie put his arms round her and said, 'I don't know. I just don't know!' The meeting that should have been so happy was miserable for them both.
Hope's brother, Colonel Hedley Glover, cabled them a few days later relaying the words of the official telegram that he had received that morning, the 7th October - 'Notification received from North West Europe that Lt. P.T. Stainforth, Royal Engineers, was reported missing, known to be wounded, believed prisoner of war on 17th September 1944.' That at least offered some small crumb of comfort.
Not Found Wanting, pp.457-8, 466
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