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I was born in Amsterdam on September 23rd ,1926. My father was head of a sub-department of the municipal power company. Since my wartime memories are closely connected with something that happened before the war my story begins in 1936. In that year we spent the summer holidays in Germany at an inn situated on a river and a few miles away from the small German town of Werdohl. Halfway between the town and the inn a swimming pool had been built in the river. Its biggest attraction for my brother and me were the 4 or 5 rowing boats it had for the free use of those making use of the pool. One day we had just begun rowing when about a dozen uniformed members of the Hitler Youth arrived and shouted at us to come back at once because they needed our boat. I ignored them and kept on rowing. They immediately ordered two elderly couples to make their boats available and began chasing us. We got to the inn just before them. They also disembarked and on the command of their leader they all got their daggers out, ready to attack us. The innkeeper must have noticed something was wrong because he came running and after a lengthy discussion managed to get us free. All he said to me was "Um Gottes Willen mach dass nie wieder Nick!" ("For heaven's sake don't do that ever again Nick"). Funny how clearly you remember that after so many years. At the time I was not yet 10 years old, my brother nearly 6 and the Hitler Youth heroes just slightly older than me. It must have made a deep impression on the innkeeper - Paul Schrewe - as well. Years after my demob I drove through Germany on a business trip and rather unexpectedly passed the inn. There was a huge and very noisy party going on. I went in and there was Paul behind the bar. He instantly recognized me and said "Hallo Nick, wie geht`s?"("Hello Nick, how are you?"). He was kept so busy, however, that we never had the chance to discuss the bad old days. During the holidays my father had his favourite daily sent in from Holland. The locals were very much interested in what the Dutch newspapers had to say and every night a number of them gathered in the inn to listen to my father's translation of the latest news. Many years later my father told me that before such a session began one of the Germans would place a coaster on the drain of the washbasin in the room to make it more difficult to monitor the conversation.
Holland was occupied by the Nazis in May 1940. I was nearly 14 and working my way through High School. There was - and always had been - quite a large Jewish community in Amsterdam and the well-to-do among them mainly lived in the area around this school. Consequently a number of my teachers and classmates were Jewish. Towards the end of 1940 teachers as well as pupils had to report whether they were of Jewish origin or not. Considered to be Jewish were those who either had three or more Jewish grandparents or two Jewish grandparents with either themselves or their parents belonging to the Jewish church. The following year all teachers and pupils of Jewish origin were gone and never came back. We now know they starved or were gassed in German concentration camps. When the deportation of Jews started, early in 1941, a huge general strike broke out on the 25th of February. That day my father came home early. He told us that his staff had asked him whether they should join the strike or not and he had told them to go home straight away. He then burst into tears and said "My God, what have I done to you?" to which my mother replied "I would have been ashamed of you if you had told them to stay". On German orders my father was fired by the town council and not allowed to try and find work elsewhere. He was lucky: many in a similar position were arrested, sent to a concentration camp or simply shot. Within no time at all my dad was secretly engaged by an audit's business which in the end led to him becoming the director of a small dairy factory. This came in very handy during the so-called "hungry winter" of 1944 when many people in Amsterdam died of starvation. Immediately after the liberation in May 1945 the council reinstated him in his old job, raised his salary according to a scale applying only to him and promoted him. In 1947 he was paid a lump sum for the salary he had missed during the war and it was decided that the 4 years after he had been fired would count for his pension as if he had never been away.
In June 1943 I got my High School certificate. My father arranged for me go to a technical college in September. Because of my High School marks I only had to finish the 2nd and 3rd grade, followed by a practical year. From 1943 on, however, the Germans began picking up boys aged around 18 from the streets for forced labour in Germany. Consequently the technical college remained closed that year. My father had a discussion with the head of the college and the result was that I was allowed to do the practical year first. For a year I worked as an apprentice fitter and apprentice founder. I am still grateful for this experience because it taught me what the life of workmen was like. We worked as slowly as we could and fortunately there were regular air-raid warnings when we had to leave our place of work in a hurry. We always ran away as far as we could so that it took a long time before we got back after the all clear.
By this time virtually every night huge formations of bombers passed over Amsterdam. The Germans reacted by switching on their searchlights and shooting at them, causing a rain of shrapnel to fall on the roofs. In June 1944 a bomber was shot down just outside the city and I went to have a look at it. There wasn't much left because it had gone straight down, deep into the soft ground. There were quite a number of Dutchmen walking around the few remains and there was one German soldier to guard the place. Suddenly to my extreme horror I saw an undamaged but terribly white hand buried in the earth up to its wrist, its bent fingers reaching for the sky. Although I hated having to talk to a German I warned the guard and everybody had to leave. Only two bodies were found. In 1990 specialists of the Dutch Air Force began digging up the wreck of Halifax NA508 and on October 8, 1991 the remaining five members of the crew were laid to rest at the military cemetery of Bergen op Zoom with the two found earlier. The newspaper reports even mentioned that after the crash somebody had found a hand.
During the war there was hardly any entertainment for a boy of my age. Cinemas were taboo because they only showed Nazi films. Food was in short supply, sweets and cigarettes unavailable, pocket money for children an unheard of phenomenon. Early in the war all radios in Holland had to be handed in to the German authorities to prevent people from listening to British broadcasts. Many Dutchmen refused to do so or handed in something that vaguely resembled a radio. We had simply kept ours, hidden away behind the vacuum cleaner in a closet, and listened to the broadcasts in Dutch from London. At the end of my practical year the war still wasn't over and because I was now unemployed I wasn't allowed to leave the house to make sure I wouldn't become a forced labourer in Germany. Fortunately my best friends lived a few houses down the street and we met every day by climbing along the roofs. There was nothing to do for us but peel potatoes and make plans, mainly about how to leave Amsterdam and reach freedom. Naturally we did not discuss this subject with our parents. The oldest three of us (each one year older than the other three of which I was a member) claimed the right to be the first to try. They took off in the direction of Arnhem but soon came back because it was impossible to reach the area where the airborne landings had taken place. After we - the other - had left they tried again but were arrested and spent the terrible winter of 1944 in a concentration camp. On the ninth of October - two weeks after my 18th birthday - we sneaked out of Amsterdam while it was still dark and headed south because that was where the Allied forces were fighting. I left a note for my parents saying we had gone for a walk and didn't know when we would be back. We could only follow secondary roads because there was too much German traffic on the main ones. The first day was uneventful and we reached a village near Utrecht where a farmer allowed us to sleep in one of his sheds. Before we went to sleep a spitfire arrived and began shooting at German troops hidden in a small wood nearby. This resulted in a lot of shouting and a beautiful big fire.
On our way to the south we had to cross three rivers. At the first river there was a ferry solely for the use of German troops and forbidden for civilians. I asked the officer in charge if he could possibly make an exception for us because we intended to help dig potatoes in the south. He said he was sorry but had to say no. Why such a polite reply instead of arresting us? The answer is that no German was used to be approached politely by a Dutchman. Nevertheless we had a problem because it was getting late and we had not yet found a place to sleep. We were walking along the riverside when suddenly, out of the dark, a man turned up. He didn't tell us his name but said he was the town clerk of the nearby town of Vuren and wanted to know whether we intended to escape from the Germans. We said "yes". "Well", he said, "Nobody is allowed to have a boat here and there are Russians in German service patrolling the river, shooting at everybody who is trying to cross it. I have hidden a rowing boat in the reeds and although it leaks a bit you are welcome to use it. There is one condition: you must not tie it down on the other side but let it drift away so that it cannot be traced to my town or me." He then gave us a couple of oars, some blankets and a bottle of milk. Around midnight we landed safely on the other side, walked through a couple of meadows and reached a farm. We woke the farmer and asked him if he had a place for us to sleep. He did not believe us when we told him how we had reached him. "Impossible", he said, "You went through a couple of minefields on your way here."| The second river presented no problem and the third one - the Maas - also had a bridge but this time guarded by a lone German soldier. He wanted to see our papers and in my identity card found an ad for a pre-war film called "Nick. The Gentleman Detective." The guard wasn't too intelligent but knew he was looking at something in English. It took me a hell of a time to explain to him in German what it really was about before he allowed us to pass. It was eerie to walk across this very long bridge with no traffic about and the only living person apart from us a German with a rifle. We walked to the town of Tilburg and tried to find shelter for the night in a huge training centre for Roman Catholic missionaries. "No problem at all" we were told. "You can stay here as long as you like. We will even give you habits to wear in case the Germans want to carry out an inspection. But first of all a nice meal." And it was a nice meal indeed. Not belonging to the Roman Catholic church we did not cross ourselves before we began to eat and the priest asked us whether or not we belonged to his church.. We did not and immediately after having finished the meal we were kicked out and back in the street again. We really had nowhere to go and went to the local police station. That was very risky because the cop we talked to could have been a follower of the Nazis. Fortunately he was not and referred us to someone he said could help us. This meant another long walk to a wood in the vicinity of the town. Remember that at this time during the war there were no private cars and no public transport in occupied Holland. You had to walk or use a bicycle. The second option did not really count because there were hardly any cycles left in Holland since the Germans had the habit of commandeering them. Our nameless guide took us to a number of well-hidden small summer houses in the wood. There we were introduced to a resistance group led by an ex-sergeant of the Dutch Army. The real boss, however, was a former army-officer who was absent at the time. We were most welcome because the group was quite small and in one of the summer houses had locked up 9 German prisoners who had to be guarded night and day. I was immediately given a rifle and was asked to fire one shot to get used to it. One thing this test taught me was that it is wise to press the butt firmly against your shoulder before pulling the trigger. That night I was on guard and scared stiff because I heard noises everywhere. I finally got up to investigate and discovered it was the wind blowing through the trees. Since it was getting colder and colder we decided to join the prisoners in their hut. We had endless conversations because the Germans knew lots of interesting stories and jokes. The last thing they wanted to do was to escape and we became good friends. One day the former sergeant told us that the leader of the outfit - the ex-officer - had made friends with a number of German officers to make sure that whatever the outcome of the war would be he would be safe. It was decided to confront him with this rumour and if necessary shoot him. Straws were drawn to decide who would have to do this. We - the three from Amsterdam - had volunteered for the job but the straws decided against us.. When a few days later the officer appeared and was asked whether this rumour was true he pulled out a pistol and was shot before he could pull the trigger. He was then buried in the wood in a shallow grave. A few days later his wife arrived accompanied by her dog and ask whether we had seen her husband because he hadn't come home. Unbelievable as it is her mongrel supplied the answer by digging him up. I still have his funeral card which says that he died in hospital due to a very (sic!) fatal accident. If the real cause of his death had become known it would have meant the end of all of us. We had been under heavy artillery fire for a week or so. I remember that because of gastro-enteritis I often had to squat down outside in the snow in the middle of the icy night with grenades exploding all around me. Because of the continuing artillery fire we decided to find shelter in a huge hole we had dug, covered with a wooden roof with branches and leaves on top. After an uncomfortable night I lifted the roof slightly to have a look around. At exactly that moment two German soldiers passed us. I got my gun out but decided it would be too dangerous to try and shoot them because there could be others about.
Tanks were heard moving about in the distance and that is where we went. It was a Polish division and we were liberated. We handed in our prisoners and asked the Polish soldiers to take good care of them. The only unpleasant thing that happened was that one of the Poles pointed his Sten gun at me and threatened to shoot me if I didn't give him my pistol (a German Pistole 38). The Poles had a lot of prisoners and asked us to guard them. They were put in a shed and I started an enquiry by asking them whether they had ever believed in Hitler and victory. All but one declared he had always been an opponent of the regime. I gave the one exception a packet of cigarettes and told the others they were all bloody liars (the anagram of A.Hitler is The Liar). In the meantime many people from the town of Tilburg had arrived at the scene as well as a lot of German prisoners including a Dutch girl. Seeing her the Dutch audience began shouting that she was a known Hun Whore, the name the Dutch used for women who befriended Germans. A soldier asked me what was going on and I told him. He disappeared and came back with a rope in his hand. "I am going to string her up", he said. Luckily for her an officer prevented this. It was about this time that one of my friends quietly disappeared and never came back. When he later returned to Amsterdam he claimed that he had gone his own way because everything we were doing was too dangerous.
The two of us who were left decided that the only thing we could do was to return to Amsterdam although our home town hadn't been liberated yet. So we started walking again. After about 5 miles we passed a small town called Dongen and were arrested simply because we were strangers to them. After a couple of days a British security officer arrived to interrogate us. This went as follows: (officer:) "What the hell are you doing here?" - (us:) "We want to go home." - (officer:) "I myself have been wanting to go home for five years. You will have to wait. Goodbye". We found work at a farm. The town itself was also happy we were there because they had jobs for us to do. The first one was to bury a few dead German soldiers who should have been buried weeks before. That done we were asked to clear the surroundings of the town of war stuff. We loved it. Every morning we would go to work whistling and begin picking up hand-grenades, German Panzerfauste (a type of bazooka) and all sorts of unexploded mines. These we brought to the local nursery school in the centre of the town and carefully sorted them out according to type. I can still picture the row of tiny toilets, each neatly filled with one particular kind of explosive. After we had compiled quite a collection the council decided that perhaps it wasn't a good idea to keep all this in the middle of the town. We were dismissed and all we had collected was moved to a field a mile or so away, guarded by some locals. The next morning the whole lot blew up because the two guards had thrown some explosives into a fire they had made. We went around with buckets to collect their remains. The small heap that was found was put on a table in a pub. I remember how the local priest separated the heap in two parts and said "This was John and that was Peter" (I don't remember their actual names). We did not always behave as we should have. I remember that one dark night we set fire to a live aircraft flare we had found. This caused a panic in the town because people thought the war had started again. We were often called in by the local head of police and asked to explain things.
Every day and night a number of doodlebugs (German flying bombs) would pass overhead. Nothing to fear as long as you could hear its engine running. Sometimes it stopped and then started again. Sometimes it made a turn and then continued on its original course. Although we were not religious ourselves we always went to Sunday mass with the farmer and his wife. One Sunday morning I was early and on my own in front of the house looking at the weather. A doodlebug flew past, its engine stopped and it dropped straight into the ground about 50 yards away from me. The explosion wasn't too heavy but all the tiles on the roof came down. I wasn't hurt but it took weeks of hard work in very cold weather to get new tiles on the roof. A short time later a doodlebug exploded in a haystack some 20 yards away from me. I was extremely surprised to find that it carried not only explosive material but also a mass of propaganda leaflets in English! I have read a lot about doodlebugs since the war but nobody ever mentioned propaganda leaflets. Funny really: you want to kill your enemies first and then give them something to read.
In March 1945 it became possible to join the army, navy or air force. We voted against the navy (risk of seasickness) and the army (too much marching). Very reluctantly the local head of police gave us a document declaring that we had never misbehaved (when much later he met my parents he told them he had done so because it was the only way he could get rid of us). We joined the air force in Eindhoven on April 4th, 1945. The contract had to be signed by parents too, so I signed for my friend and he for me. The recruiting officer wanted an explanation but when we told him our parents were still in the occupied part of Holland he had no objections. Following a medical examination and a ridiculous test of our knowledge of the English language they sent my friend to Australia and me to Britain. He spent two useless years there becoming a military policeman but back in Holland he joined the Dutch Air Force as a regular and at the end of his career was a colonel-pilot.
I arrived in England on a Liberty ship filled with German prisoners of war. In June the Red Cross made it possible to contact my family and luckily all was well with them. In the first letter I sent them I mentioned that I had left a box filled with cigarettes, sweets, etc. at the farm for them to collect in case they should go there. A few months later they climbed on their bikes (due to the war there were still no trains or buses available) and pedalled the 60 miles to the farm. On the way back Dad put the unopened box on the carrier of his bike. Once at home they opened the box and found the cigarettes and sweets as promised. Unfortunately the etc. I had mentioned was a hand-grenade I had forgotten all about. Dad had to phone the police to get rid of out.
The effect the war had had on people can be judged by the following. In January 1945 - 8 months after the liberation of Holland - I had my first leave and together with another chap from Amsterdam was flown to an airfield near the Hague. From there on we had to hitchhike because there still wasn't any public transport. The first lift we got ended near a small village some 15 miles from Amsterdam. There were a lot of civilians about, also waiting for a lift. They began grouping together, obviously talking about us in our RAF uniform. The moment they began approaching us a car of the Jewish Army stopped and the driver shouted "Get in as fast as you can!" We did and he told us that although there was actually quite a difference between the colour of German and RAF uniforms the Dutch often believed they were looking at Germans and in many cases became very violent.
On Wednesday, 23rd October, 1946 I became an RAF sergeant-pilot, for two years flew Dakota's for the Dutch Naval Air Force in Indonesia, was demobbed and never flew a plane again. Sorry, there was one exception. Some years after my demob I went back to the Wolverhampton airfield where I had been stationed for a time during my training. It had become a civilian airfield again but the moment I entered a big man standing in the distance shouted "Hey Nick, how are you? Want to fly again?" He had been a warrant-officer and now had a similar job to what he had done when I was stationed there. I explained that I had not done any flying for years but he insisted. Together with the girl who accompanied me (a former pen-pal) we chose a plane and off we went. The landing was a bit bumpy but I didn't break anything.
The family Haenen who is living in LAAR in the south of the Netherlands wants to come in contact with the soldier in the photo or his family. He probably was with the royal artillery. He was billeted at their farmhouse in the fall of 1944.
I have a amateur film showing Brigadier Gerald Lathbury after his escape from the St. Elisabeth Hospital in Arnhem in sept.1944. This film was probably taken during his stay at the Joannahoeve, a farm just outside the town. There is also a another soldier with him named John Hock. Would it be possible to find some information about him?
The Family Stroeks who lives on the Leenderweg 31 in the place Heeze in the south of the Netherlands (near Eindhoven) are looking for these men in the photo. End 1944 or begin 1945 these English men stayed at their house. They can remember that one of the men was called Freddy. He is the man standing with the children in front of the tank. They stayed there for quite a while. They had very good contact with this family. After they left for probably Arnhem there were rumours that there tank was shot up at Arnhem But nobody could confirm that. The children would very much like to know what happened to them. They were probably from the 4th armoured brigade. If you have any info at all please send an e-mail.
HAMLETT, ERNEST, SIGNALLER
NO.4462122, P.O.W. No. 118075 BRITISH 1ST AIRBORNE DIVISION,
1ST BATTALION, BORDER REGIMENT,
19 PLATOON, D COMPANY
On June 23, at 2.00 p.m., at the Billy Bishop Legion in Vancouver, Canada, Ernest Hamlett was remembered by family, friends and veterans. He passed away at George Derby Centre, a long term care facility for veterans, located in Burnaby, British Columbia, on May 27, 2002 (Memorial Day U.S.A.).
In 1939, Ernest Hamlett was called up and posted to the Durham Light Infantry. He was based at Palace Barracks in Belfast for six months training and later transferred to the 1st Airborne Division, 1st Battalion, Border Regiment at Carlisle, on the border of England and Scotland. Here, he became a member of HQ Company's Signal Platoon and served as a signaler in 19 Platoon, D Company, serving in Italy, Sicily, North Africa and Arnhem in Holland from 1940 to 1945. He was one of the few remaining veterans of the historical "Arnhem Drop", as chronicled in Cornelius Ryan's, A Bridge Too Far.
At Arnhem, in September 1944, the 1st Airborne Division arrived by gliders. On Tuesday 19th, Lieutenant John Bainbridge was ordered to move his men to a crossroads north of Heveadorp to observe and report on any enemy movement heading eastwards towards lower Oosterbeek. Due to heavily wooded terrain, the number 18 wireless set did not operate properly, and Hamlett was unable to contact Company HQ, based a mile away, to confirm that they had arrived at the destination.
The next afternoon, a German armoured car, and infantry was observed moving towards No. 19 Platoon's position from a westerly direction along the Oosterbeekscheweg, unaware that British opposition was dug in ahead of them. Once within range a PIAT destroyed the armoured car with a single shot, while a Bren gun caused the infantry to disperse into the woods. As this action had exposed the Platoon, they could no longer observe enemy movements on the road, so Lieutenant Bainbridge divided his men into two groups and ordered a phased withdrawal back to D Company. Hamlett and Ron Graydon ran down the road together, eventually meeting up with C Company, before being able to return to D Company later that night.
Communications continued to be a problem for the signalers because of the terrain. When in a slit trench, Hamlett tried in vain to raise a signal and, wondering if there was something wrong with the batteries, he asked a corporal for a relief while he went in search of batteries. The corporal changed places with him himself. As soon as this happened, the corporal took a direct hit inside the trench and was killed. Hamlett carried him to the casualty station, but he died within the hour.This troubled Hamlett for the rest of his life, as he had met the man's children only a few weeks before, and remembered giving his little girl chocolate.
During the battle, a mortar bomb struck Hamlett's foot and broke his ankle but, fortunately, it did not explode. "It didn't explode, Ron!" he had exclaimed to his signaller partner, Ron Graydon. He was captured on September 26 and sent to Stalag XIB, at Fallingbostel, Germany, traveling in a crowded, dark cattle rail car in appalling conditions, the men becoming so thirsty that they resorted to drinking their own urine. His ankle received no treatment but, despite the injury, he was made to work down the Bad Grund lead mine for the next seven and a half months. The mortar bomb had blown the gaiter of Hamlett's ankle when he was hit, and he had to find an old boot to support his swollen broken ankle so that he could work. If the prisoners did not work, they were not fed. All they were given to eat was thin cabbage soup, but a few of the overseers in the mine took pity on the men and slipped them crusts of black bread. For their compassion, the prisoners gave them the coffee from their Red Cross parcels.
A gentleman and a soldier to the end, Hamlett will best be remembered for having survived these hardships with his honour and sense of humour still intact as, even in these harsh circumstances, he would not allow his cheerful side to desert him and he did his best to raise smiles from those around him. There was a record player in the hut at the prison camp. After finishing his shift at the mine he would always put on the only record they had, called "Hail Smiling Morn!", to awaken the next shift who, in return, pelted him with their boots. Hamlett was described by fellow signaller, Private Ron Graydon, as being as brave and as fine a fighting partner as a man could wish for, always doing his best to find a cheerful perspective, no matter what the situation.
With the war almost at an end and American forces nearing the area, the Germans evacuated the prisoners from the mine and forced them to join a column of other workers who were marched eastwards for the next three days. The men were very weak and struggled to walk, and those who collapsed were shot by the guards, as were those who tried to help them. The Americans, furious at news of this atrocity, caught up with the column shortly after and the atrocities were avenged. Since being posted missing at Arnhem, Hamlett's family had received no word of his fate until he arrived on the front doorstep one day, carrying a Red Cross parcel, and totally emaciated. He had been "missing in action" for seven and a half months.
Hamlett was born at 37 Buxton Street, Manchester, on the 17th June1914. He was schooled at St. Andrew's in Great Ancoats and, at the age of eleven joined the 27th Manchester Division of Boys Brigade, based at Jackson Street in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. It was here, under the tutelage of Dan Griffin, that his life long passion for music began, being particularly fond of military music, brass bands, and the pipes; he learned to play the cornet, euphonium, piano, and percussion. Hamlett would go camping with the Brigade and developed an interest in outdoor pursuits, such as hiking, cycling, and sports, especially cricket. Leaving St. Andrew's at fourteen years old, he furthered his education by taking several night school courses. He became an officer in the Boys Brigade and he remained with them until his call up came at the age of twenty-six.
After the war, Hamlett joined the Territorial Army in Manchester and went on a parachuting course in Oxfordshire, where he earned his wings as a paratrooper. He served nearly three years with the Territorials. After being demobbed, he took work as a warehouseman at Sutcliffe's, Manchester, before leaving to become a salesman at Langden's in Liverpool who, amongst other things supplied tents and uniforms to the British military. A member of the Commercial Travellers Association, he specialized in blue jeans and was the first commercial traveller to introduce them into Britain after the war. He worked for Coopers (later Lee Coopers, and now Lee), before moving on to H. Varley, with whom he won the top salesman award several years running. Hamlett was always immaculately turned out, and achieved success as a salesman by being polite and honest, as opposed to being intimidating and pushy.
In 1958, Hamlett moved to Heald Green, Cheshire, where he lived until the mid 70s when, at the age of 62, he moved to Canada to be near his family. He immediately found employment at Edward Chapman's, an exclusive menswear retailer in Vancouver. A British Columbia resident for over twenty-five years, he served with the Commissionaire Corps in Victoria for thirteen of them, during which time the Lieutenant Governor awarded him two medals. Hamlett returned to Arnhem with his wife in 1994 for the 50th Anniversary where they resided with a family at Velp. He was ever a great proponent of the Dutch people.
He is survived by Anne, his wife of 62 years; son, Christopher; daughter, Jean; and grandson, Dane. The family wishes to take this opportunity to extend its sincere appreciation to the wonderful staff at The George Derby Centre, Burnaby, British Columbia, where he spent his remaining days. Anyone who remembers Ernest is invited to contact Jean James at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Mark Hickman at www.extraplan.demon.co.uk for help with this biography, and the information obtained from When Dragons Flew, by Stuart Eastwood, Charles Gray and Alan Green - a history of the Border Regiment, in which Hamlett is mentioned on page 134.
Copyright 2002 Jean James.
Submitted by his daughter, Jean James.
16th September 1944
This particular Saturday my platoon, 12 platoon had to go in a nearby field potato picking, after an hour we had orders to go back to our billets for a church service and once again checking all the equipment, 24 rations etc. In my case I went over my Brengun, my magazines and all the rest of my gear that an Airborne soldier carries into battle. My platoon with many others was a Rifle platoon, further there was HQ, A,B,C and Support Company, each company had 2 medics. I believe at this date the Battalion was trained and fit as it is possible for any soldiers to be, probably in some cases nerves by now bad, had got a little strained with all this waiting, was this to be another false alarm?
Suddenly the long waiting was over and reveille had blown, wash, shave, last minute preparations, then Mr Royall, a well respected and liked platoon Officer gave the call. "Outside 12 platoon." Himself and Sergeant De Muyck our platoon Sergeant inspected us. I was Brengunner in Scout section, on count up, sadly to say 2 men had gone missing, these two men, whom I refer even after all these years not to name, had been trained as special snipers. I knew they were with us for breakfast but had gone absent. I believe they were the only two men in the Battalion who had disappeared, just how I never knew, just what had gone on in these people`s minds only they can give answer. These things happen sometimes without explanation.
17 September 1944
The flight and the first day of the landing I remember very well, also the next day and my escape are still in my memory, so I will try to put it down in writing.
We embussed at about 0800 hours, it was a lovely typical September morning, sunny and dry. Eventually we arrived at our take off drome, there the gliders were set out as if on military parade, two planes in position. After about an hour the order was given to get aboard, this was it, only part of the Battalion was to take part in the Sunday landings.
Now we were airborne and after getting into formation we then headed for the coast, it must have been a wonderful sight from the ground, wave after wave of tug planes and gliders and a huge army of fighter planes filling the sky to protect us from Ack Ack and German fighters. This they did in no uncertain terms.
My part of the flight was quite uneventful, we did hear ack ack burst but these were put out of action by the fighters. We next crossed the Dutch coast, a lot of land we flew over seemed to be flooded, this had been done by the Germans.
I should think the flight was about a few hours and about 1300hrs, word was passed from man to man that we had reached our landing zone. Suddenly all seemed to go quiet as we moved away from our tug plane, into a silent flight then a steep dive. We made a perfect landing, some gliders, sadly to say had made a crash landing, they hit trees causing a number of casualties, but looking round it had been a successful start to the operation.
Everyone at this time must have been in high spirits, it seemed too good to be true. Most of the glidermens job was to protect the landing zones ready for the huge parachute drop, shortly after the sky seemed to be full of parachutes. Whilst the rest of the Battalion dug slit trenches on the outer perimeter of the landing zone B Company as had already been briefed what to do, marched away to the west to capture Renkum, on the march we met very little opposition in the way of enemy, although our platoon shot up a German lorry with a number of soldiers aboard, most of them were wounded.
I gave a little girl a piece of soap, they had not had any proper soap for years and in in return she gave me a bottle of some sort of wine, a little incident that even to this day I wonder if this child remembers the exchange.
Our platoon dug in near the river not far from the brick works, the ferry was anchored at the opposite bank. Suddenly the ferry started up, I covered it with my Bren, it duly arrived at our side of the river and from it stepped 8 or 9 Germans with hands up in the air, surrendering. Nightfall came and we got a few shells dropped on us.
18 September 1944
During the morning the shelling and rifle fire plus mortars got much heavier and it seems that the enemy had surrounded us during the hours of darkness and cut us off from the Battalion.
By mid afternoon after a number of wounded and dead, the situation seemed rather desperate but I think about late afternoon, Major Armstrong the Company Commander got word to try to get back to the Battalion. I believe it was through the gallantry of Captain Joe Hardy and some of the signal platoon who managed to get word through to us, that they were responsible for B Company`s escape.
After about an hour we finally joined up with part of the Battalion, the only food we carried was what was known as an invasion pack and as far as I remember this was the only food available. I think the pack was meant to last 48 hours. Fortunately we managed to find a few apples and pears. On the subject of food, one incident I remember, feeling hungry, like most of us were, I`d gone on patrol down a lane when in the front garden of an unoccupied house I noticed some nice red tomatoes. Over the wall and when I reached for a couple, some jerry must have been watching me and a shot just went by my fingers and smashed the window. needless to say I didn`t bother trying to obtain any more toms.
Its now Monday, late afternoon and the 2nd lift that should have arrived early afternoon was delayed by adverse weather conditions and it would be late afternoon before they arrived and by now the enemy had brought up a lot more anti aircraft guns. They guessed that further landings and supplies would have to come in and they gave the Monday landings a real bad time.
B. Company then dug in near the gasworks and the area of Westerbouwing, shells mortars and machine gun fire was almost constant as well as SP Guns and a few tanks and we were moved from position to position until I personally lost track of most of the rest of the days.
By now we had lost a great part of B Company and the perimeter was getting smaller and smaller, the gallant band of men sent to capture and hold the bridge had now been overrun and things seemed to be going from bad to worse.
It seemed to myself that it was only a matter of time before by about day eight that we must surely be overrun. But fortunately about day five 21st Army group artillery was supporting us by laying down heavy barrages of shells on the German attacks, this was coming from British positions from the other side of the Rhine. It may seem strange that part of the time I can remember what happened but mostly its a blank.
As for air support, it was heart breaking to see aircraft flying over enemy territory as if they were on excerise and being shot down, most o of the supplies fell into German positions. Every pilot deserves a decoration for great gallantry. I ma led to believe that one aerodrome that was used for supplies in England that nearly all their planes were badly shot up.
As I said most of the mid days are very vague in my memory, I was dug in not far from the old church at Oosterbeek-low, under constant fire, on the second day there, my pack containing my razor, towels etc had been destroyed by a mortar bomb and I didn`t get a proper wash until getting over the river.
I clearly remember a few fast planes dropping supplies on the day of the same night of the withdrawal, this was to make the Germans believe that we were trying to hold out.
Each day of course we expected the 21st Army Group would be coming to rescue us, but little did we know what a terrible time they were having trying to reach us.
Mr Royall came to me and told me that Monday night, or was it Tuesday? that part of an infantry unit was to be ferried to our side as a diversion whilst we would withdraw over the river, not gold prospects for them was it?
Mr Royall took me to a position and gave me strict orders not to move from there and to be able to tell the troops the direction to make down the river, at the same time during the night, tracer shells would be fired from over the river and this trace of fire would be a guide as to the pathway to escape boats.
After what seemed a long long night, Mr Royall came and gave me the order to go to the river and try to get across, must have been half an hour before dawn, the river was being heavily fired on during this night, the Germans must have thought that troops were coming to help us, not us withdrawing. It rained most of this night and I think this helped us more than it hindered us. We were wet and hungry after about day two but by now all days and nights seemed to be welded into one.
I arrived at the riverbank and to my dismay there seemed to be about three or four hundred soldiers waiting on the river bank and it seemed only one boat was available, most had been destroyed with further loss of life, what to do now?
I saw Corporal "Nobby" Clark of my platoon and he suggested that we could try to swim across, but the river had a strong flood and although I could swim, I knew I never could make it. I suggested that we go down river to see if we could find anything to help get across. After a few minutes walk, by then there was a part of about 12 or 15 men, suddenly we saw a rowing boat, it had four oars, probably the diversion party`s. A scramble to get in the boat on reaching the otherside, we must have gone down stream about half a mile,#there must surely be German troops in this area, so we paddled back to where we hoped friendly troops were.
Suddenly we heard English Language, a Canadian soldier confronted us and when he realised who we were he directed us to more troops further back. By now it was daylight and another Canadian soldier took me to a shelter and although I hadn`t eaten for about 5 days, I couldn`t eat any food, but had a welcome cup of tea.
After about an hour, a truck loaded about 20 of us and took us back to Nijmegen. On arriving we were counted and name, rank and number noted, then taken I think to a school, there I joined up with "Nobby" Clark and we got down the corridor and had a sleep, still in wet and filthy clothes. We didn`t sleep long and as I woke up General Urquhart was walking towards us and he asked Nobby if there was anything he could do for us. Yes said Nobby, a razor, he told us shortly after we had dinner that we would be rekitted. This we got and that afternoon we went to hear General Browning tell us how badly things had gone but that the survivors of this so called Battle of Arnhem would be flown back to the UK in a couple of days.
The next day we went by trucks to a school just near Brussels, I think we stayed there two days then on to an airport, American C47`s were flying in supplies and one plane emptied its cargo and a number of us were loaded onto the plane to be flown back to Grantham in Lincs.
Instead of Grantham we landed near Woodhall Spa, and once more we were back in England, everyone was given two telegrams to send home, I sent one to my wife in Radcliffe and one to my mother in Bury, I think they were already typed out: "Back in the UK safe and sound", all we had to do was fill in the senders name and address they were going to. After a medical the next day we were sent home on leave.
Submitted by Philip Reinders, The Arnhem Battle Research Group.
Michael was born into an Army family in Batavia on the 9th September 1921, the only child of Colonel and Mrs Valentine Cambier, his father being a regular soldier in the Indian Army. He was educated in England and gained a Degree in Mathematics at Oxford before being commissioned into the Royal Artillery.
He was posted abroad and reached Egypt in time to take part in the battle of El Alamien. Shortly afterwards he volunteered for parachuting and did his training at the Middle East Pararchute School and was posted to 156 Battalion which was the stationed at Jenin in Palenstine in early 1943. He first commanded a platoon in B Company and was with them in Tunisia and then Italy when 4th Parachute Brigade took part in the sea landing at Taranto, in the subsequent fighting Michael was mentioned in dispatches. On the Battalions return to England in December 1943 he took over command of the recently formed Anti Tank platoon in Support Company.
On the 18th September 1944, the second day of the Arnhem Operation, he was dropped with the rest of the 4th Parachute Brigade on Ginkel Heath. In the next 24 hours the battalion suffered very heavy losses in the attempt to reach Arnhem. Michael was slightly wounded in the foot on the 19th September, he refused to be evacuated and stayed with his platoon.
The last that his friend Ronnie Adams saw of him, he was busily engage in attempting to withdraw his 6 pound Anti Tank guns towards Oosterbeek, which was south of the main railway line to Arnhem. Such a move was difficult because the only culvert under the railway line was obstructed by a supply container with a chute that had "roman candled" and come into the culvert with part of the roof. The railway as being swept by enemy fire, the only alternative route open to Michael and his guns was to retrace their steps along the embankment to Wolfheze where there was a level crossing.
It would seem that like so many others he did not get to Wolfheze and the next we know of his progress is that he was taken with other wounded prisoners to the St Joseph Hospital in Apeldoorn some miles north of Arnhem.
On the 25th of September he was put on a hospital train bound for the Meurenberg Hospital camp. On this train he joined up with Lt Raymond Busel of A-Company of the 3rd Parachute Battalion who had been wounded in the arm. They decided to escape.
They made a hole in the carriage floor through which they dropped when the opportunity presented itself. They made their escape when the train was approximately 10 miles from a village called Bathmen, just to the east of the Dutch town of Deventer.
It was then the afternoon of the 26th September, they walked until they came to a farm. The woman who lived there was in the employment of a Mr Jamsen and she took them to his large house in Bathmen called "The Menop". they were to stay at this house for seven days during which they were given civilian clothes and had their wounds attended to by a local doctor.
On the evening of the 1st October, which was a Sunday, they were put in the care of a student from Amsterdam who was a member of the local resistance. He told Mr Jansen he would take them as far as the river Ijssel which was about seven miles from Bathmen, he hoped they would be able to cross the river and eventually reach the Allied lines. To do so however they would still have to cross the Neder Rijn and the Waal (both much more formidable obstacles than the IJssel) They were of course wearing civilian clothes, having left their uniforms behind at The Menop. They were not without Dutch money because Raymond Busselll had managed to exchange some of the money which had been issued to officers for use in the occupied territories for some Dutch guilders.
They were first taken by their guide to a small place called T`Joppe which was close to the IJssel. They did not stop there however but were taken to another farm called "Braankolk" in a small place called Eede which was further to the south and nearer to Zutphen, It was owned by the same family and was regarded as being safer.
They reached there on the 2nd October, having passed some German soldier on the way. On leaving the farm the next day, they were challenged by a German soldier who asked they for their papers. German soldiers were very much in evidence because they were busy building a defensive line to the East of the IJssel. the son of the farmer who was very young at the time says he can only remember three strangers walking round a shed. They were asked to produce their papers, which only the Dutch guide could do.
Michael and Raymond had been told to say "Verloren" which is Dutch for lost, if they were ever challenged and asked for their papers. The German had no idea that he was faced with two British Officers but he ordered them all into his vehicle and took them to a police station at Zutphen. Later they were transferred to the police station at Gorssel where a Dutch policeman released the student because he could find nothing wrong with his papers and in any event he was sympathetic to the cause.
Michael and Raymond had no reason at this stage to believe that they would be treated other than as prisoners. Had they done so they might have contemplated another break.
While they were still in the police station a Dutch member of the SD (Sicherheidsdienst) The German Security Police came into the station and when he discovered that the two men in civilian clothes were British Officer he informed his superior who was Untersturmfuhrer Ludwig Heinneman. When Heinneman heard that a Dutch Policeman had allowed the Dutch civilian to go free, he was immediately arrested and sent to a concentration camp from which he returned after the war a broken man.
On the 10th October Michael and Raymond were taken to the local SD headquarters, this was Villa T`Selsham at Vorden. Here they were interrogated by two members of the SD, one of whom spoke English. Both Michael and Raymond refused to give any other information than their name, rank and number. After interrogation they were taken downstairs and confronted by Heinneman who accused them of being spies and terrorists, their hands were tied behind their backs and they were told that they would be shot.
They were taken outside and shot in the head by Heinneman himself using a captured Stengun. They were buried in the lawn at the front of the Villa along with three Jehovah`s Witnesses who were also executed on the same day. The lawn was then set on fire to remove any trace.
On the 9th June 1945 members of the War Crimes Commission a former member of the Dutch resistance and some local civilians exhumed the bodies, Raymond Bussell still had with him the money he had exchanged with Mr Jansen, 57 guilders. Michael and Raymond were reburied in the General Cemetery at Vorden.
Before he left, Michael had given a letter to Mr Jansen to pass to the first British Officer he met, it was addressed to his mother. After the war Mr Jansen, unaware of Michael`s fate wrote to Mrs Cambier to enquire what had happened to him and heard the terrible news.
Ludgwig Heinneman was arrested on the 18th March 1946 and after a trial was executed by a firing squad at Arnhem on the 10th Feb 1947. He was found guilty of many War Crimes including the murders of some 70 people. He had nothing to say for himself except that he what his superiors told him to to, orders were orders.
Submitted by Philip Reinders, The Arnhem Battle Research Group.
who is indebted to Michael`s friend Ronnie Adams and former members of the Dutch Resistance who helped piece this story together.
I live in the Netherlands , born just before the war in 1937.
I very well remember that our family had to evacuate to friends in a village some 10 km from home. Here we lived with some 40 others in a shed and in cellars - protecting us from bombs.
When we returned home after 6 weeks the German soldiers were exchanged in Tommies. At our farm with 12 poultry houses, many English soldiers were housed. Food was available in any quantity - what a luxury. The Tommies called me Tjeemy , a name was long time used after the war.
Since the war I have a black box with the inscription : LT.Col.R.C. Stockley. Also is mentioned : telegraphic equipment.
Via the War Graves Commission I found out that Stockley is buried at the Groesbeek War cemetery here in Holland. Some 40 Km from the place where I lived. He died at an age of 37 years on 30th.November 1944. He was son of Brigadier General Hugh Stockley , C.I.E., Royal Engineers and of Edith Beatrice (nee Capel) of Oaksey,Wiltshire, England. He was married with Pamela K. Stockley of Englefield Green , Egham,Surrey, England.
It is my wish to come in contact with relatives and if they are interested in such souvenir, I am willing to return this box. How can I find these relatives ? Who can help me ??
Update: The relatives of LT.Col.R.C. Stockley have now been found.Click here for details
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