© WW2 Market Garden -
Born in Glasgow in 1916, Gordon Johnston Walker joined the army (Royal Signals) in 1934 at Catterick as a career soldier where he -
His first real posting was in India before the war, a place and a lifestyle he thoroughly enjoyed.
He came back to the United Kingdom when, as he put it; "the threat of war hung over the nation".
His first taste of war was at Dunkirk, being one of the lucky ones rescued from the beach. He was later sent to the desert seeing action with with the 8th Army.
There he got the opportunity to join the new parachute regiment seeing action in the Sicily before later joining the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) after seeing a notice which read “Parachutists required to volunteer as Cameramen.”.
With the AFPU he saw action at Falaise Gap, Arnhem and Germany, including the relief of the POW camp at Fallingbostel Number 14B and the concentration camps at Belsen and Sandbostel.
In 1946 he left the army to run his own camera shop but bad luck (and a not too honest partner in business) meant he decided to rejoin the army in time for the Suez crisis finally leaving the army at the end of the 1950’s.
He wrote his memoirs in 1978 at the request of his family. He died in 1992.
Contributed by Neil Walker -
Below you can read Gordon’s recollection of his ‘Operation Market Garden experience’, posted with kind permission of his son: Neil Walker. Gordon Johnston Walker’s full biography is available via the BBC: WW2 People’s War website.
The Unit was about to move out with the remainder of the 2nd Army in the great chase across Europe as, with their defeat at Falaise and the Americans success in the south, the Germans were in full-
We picked up a U.K. bound aircraft at a nearby landing strip and eventually arrived back at Pinewood, where we joined another one of our lads who was already there. We were just told that an airborne job was coming off, no details known, and would be briefed at the Airborne Forces H.Q. at Moor Park, and when we knew what the score was, we would be fitted out with whatever photographic kit we thought we would require, plus a jeep and trailer.
We were briefed three times, once for Paris and once for Maastrich in Holland, but the enemy was retreating too fast for these operations to be mounted, and eventually we were briefed on ‘Operation Market Garden’ which was the bridge across the Neder Rhine at Arnhem. On paper it was a doddle, maximum of only Brigade opposition and that would be composed of ‘clapped out’ tanks and second-
The lift was planned to take place in three successive days, Sunday first lift, Monday second lift and Tuesday the final one, all being combined Parachute and Glider landings. When we got to our departure airfield we were finally briefed, and shown our exact dropping and landing zones, and I must say that none of us were too happy about the distance these were from the Bridge itself, a matter of seven miles, and in completely unknown territory.
However, ours was not to reason why, so as two of us had to fly in a Glider with the jeep and trailer, plus two Royal Signals wireless operators. These weren’t parachutists or even airborne troops, but were two very newly called up, very young lads, who had never heard a shot fired in anger, and had been posted as wireless operators to the Army Public Relations team, which was also going with us (these lads were magnificent, and did their job in the highest ideals of the Signals and, incidentally, the Public Relations wireless link to the U.K. was the only one working during the whole of the action). One bloke was to accompany the parachutists and this was Sergeant Mike Lewis who was a veteran of the Tunisian campaigns and the most experienced parachutist of the three of us. My mate in the glider was Sergeant Dennis Smith.
At the airfield we filmed some ‘lead-
I am not a happy person in a military glider, the continuous sight of those two tow ropes, stretching from the glider wings to the tail of the tug, were our umbilical cords, cut them and we were useless as of course we had no power of our own; the silence too, broken only by the swishing of air past the fuselage, was a bit unnerving, but it had a serenity of its own, a feeling of being detached from the rest of the fleet and just sailing along on a mat of fleecy cotton wool.
At approximately 1400 hours we were told to stand by for the landing; the glider cast off the ropes and we went into a steep descent, which levelled out into a beautiful landing; quickly we jumped onto terra firma, and immediately started to film the Para drop, as by a nice bit of luck, we had landed before they arrived and so were able to put the 1st Parachute
Brigade and the 1st Airborne Brigade arriving for the bitter fight that was to follow.
After the landings and drop, we retrieved our jeep and trailer and swanned around to see what was happening and we found out that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Para had gone, hell for leather, for the bridge in their various directions, with the 2nd Battalion going directly through Osterbeek, the 1st Battalion via Ede and Arnhem Road and the 3rd Battalion via the Utrecht-
Youtube clip: Footage shot by Gordon Johnston Walker of the Army Film & Photographic Unit.
Divisional H.Q. who had set up shop in Hartenstein, and from them we discovered what had happened to the Para Battalions.
We added our bit of information, as every little helps to pinpoint the enemy; we had a bite to eat and drink and went to join the South Staffs for the night, so as to be ready to film the arrival of the second drop the next day, the significance of the cut roads to the bridge not having hit us yet.
We left the trailer at H.Q. only taking with us our arms, cameras, and what film we had left, telling the First Aid Post to take whatever blankets etc. they might need, as we had no real use for them.
The night was comparatively quiet and we managed a few hours sleep until dawn, and we set off for the second drop, which was over the railway line to Arnhem, and joined up with the Border Regiment and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, who were holding the landing zones, having been ordered to do so at all costs and with great ferocity had fought a pitched battle with the enemy, ending up by going in with the bayonet and scattering them like a burst bag of peas. They were well pleased with themselves, and rightly so too.
The landing was due at 1000 hours but it came, and went, and no aircraft, gliders or anything appeared, and the situation was decidedly ‘dodgy’ with sporadic shelling, mortaring and sniping. These snipers were the very devil and picked off more of our men than I care to think about. However, we waited and had a number of German fighters ‘strafe’ us also for good measure. By about 1500 hours the planes started to arrive, bang into a hail of anti-
This was the 4th Para with some more South Staffs, and what was left of them formed up and set off for Arnhem, but never got through to the bridge and, in point of fact, the 1st and 4th Para Brigades had almost ceased to exist as a fighting force; this was clear by the third day.
We had rejoined Divisional H.Q. as we had no more film left, and offered our services as required. We found out that the General had been missing for a day but had now turned up, after some hair-
With the terrible reverses that we had suffered and the enormous casualties the plan was to make a large defensive perimeter around the central point of the Hartenstein Hotel which was the divisional H.Q. and to withdraw what troops could be mustered to this perimeter and make a stand, until the 2nd Army could relieve us. By now we had gone 24 hours over the time we were told we should be relieved and hunger and thirst were beginning to bite very hard. The rations we carried for these capers were in the shape of two 24-
The third day dawned and by this time what was left alive and kicking of 10,000 men were defending the perimeter, the remnants of 1st and 3rd Battalions were down by the river, the 2nd was on the Osterbeek-
The German infantry were attacking meantime, but we gave them stick; the stupid bastards just ran into Vickers and sub-
The noise to me that stood out above all others was the very reassuring heavy thump, thump, thump of the Vickers, rising above the clash of the battle and the lads who played that particular instrument of death did it as if on a practice range; no panic, no wild bursts, just a steady burst, then another and so on.
The enemy broke, leaving the ground literally piled up with dead and wounded and the cries of ‘Wa Ho Mahomet’, the airborne battle cry resounded throughout. It was a notable victory but was just a taste of things to come during the following days until we retired. If only I’d had some film for my camera, but expecting only a two-
On the 21st it was impossible to leave the Hartenstein Hotel area, due to the fact that the enemy made a very determined attempt to break into the perimeter. What with this and the recommencement of the heavy mortaring and shelling it was a wonder any of us lived through it, but we did. Defending the perimeter, in addition to the Para and the South Staffs, there were elements of REs, RAs, Royal Signals, Glider Pilots, Pathfinders, RASC who fought as hard and viciously as the rest. It was a case of their life or yours and although airborne troops do not require to have their back to the wall in order to fight, this was literally a case of give an inch and we were all done.
The R.A.F. supply planes and their dispatchers were giants among brave men; whenever they came over with supplies (which unfortunately usually fell to the enemy) all the fury of the enemy was directed against them, but steadfastly they flew straight and level through the most fearful ‘flak’ -
That day, in an attempt to reinforce us, the Polish Para were dropped on the other side of the Rhine, opposite our perimeter but due apparently to lack of boats etc. they had to stay there until the next night, when they joined us, a very small batch of about 200; they too had been cut to ribbons.
Food and water was a definite problem, we managed to collect some apples and vegetables from time to time and at the end of the open space behind the Hartenstein there was a well but collecting water was very ‘dodgy’ due to these pestilential snipers. One of the Sergeants and his men, faked up a dummy soldier with a stick, pillow and tin hat, and exposed it every so often. It never failed to draw fire, thus showing where the sniper was and then he would get his ‘come-
If you were wounded it was certain captivity, as the British and German Red Cross agreed to work side by side, but the Germans controlled the hospital, so if you were taken there, into captivity you went. In fact the only jeep that was still running was the one that ferried the wounded to hospital, the enemy respected it and it was back and forth all day long, carrying the wounded to succour, safety and behind barbed wire.
It wasn’t all grim, square-
The answer of course was cat calls,
“Up yours from Wigan.”
“Get knotted,” and other military replies and when it came next day somebody fired a P.I.A.T. bomb right into it. They didn’t send another one! And if you were caught in the open during an enemy ‘stonk’ and dived into a slit trench you had usually to battle with squirrels for possession of it; they couldn’t live in the woods and very sensibly occupied slit trenches and were not at all keen on a human being there too. Sharp little teeth they’ve got.
The 22nd, 23rd and 24th were a repeat of the previous days, non-
Late that night it was our turn to go down to the river and with a guide at the front and with all our ‘tails’ undone so that each person could hold on to the bloke in front we went, in single file, It was very overcast and pouring with rain and we had our feet muffled with sacking or other rags, and so we reached the river bank.
The Second Army were banging shell after shell into the German lines to cover our withdrawa1 and as we lay in the mud we hoped that everyone found a target. Eventually we got on a boat, manned by REs and crossed over safely, notwithstanding a bit of mortaring by a suspicious enemy. Sergeant Smith had been wounded during the fighting but had absolutely refused to go to hospital as he didn’t want to be a POW, and wasn’t in too good shape when we got to the other side, so as we set off walking towards Nijmegen, carrying our cameras, film and arms. It became a bit of a strain, so the first house we came to, we forced an entry, found a bed and laid down and went to sleep; seemingly only minutes later I was awakened by a British corporal and two men, poking their bayonets at my rear; they thought we were Germans but were soon disabused of this idea and they took us to a First Aid Post where Sergeant Smith had his wound dressed and were given a lift in an ambulance to Nijmegen. From there into hospital for a day and the following one we flew back in a Dakota to England, as our pictorial record of part of the action was of paramount importance, and as we were the first survivors home, received a tremendous and most embarrassing welcome.
The pictures and film were processed and released to the news reels and newspapers, and were published world-
After a couple of days rest we were given a week’s leave, during which I paid one of my infrequent visits to my home and parents, who were pleased to see me and made quite a fuss which I must admit I didn’t feel displeased about and, at the end of the week, returned to Pinewood from where we rejoined our unit in Holland.
When we got to our port of departure, which was Newhaven, we reported to the Transport Officer, who rubbed his hands with glee and remarked that we were just what he had been praying for and signed us over in charge of a draft of 180 men who had been wounded in France, hospitalised and were being returned to action and who didn’t have a single N.C.O. amongst them, and thus were 180 individuals from a score of different regiments for whom we were now responsible until we handed them over to the Transport Officer on the other side. They had to be documented, hadn’t eaten for hours and the ship flatly refused to feed them as they were supposed to have their own food for 48 hours.
What a cock-
At this point the Transport Officer came along and, with a stunned look on his face, asked where we got the ‘goodies’ from and weren’t the troops in a good frame of mind? He was told that, in answer to the first question, we had had an airborne supply drop and to the second it was all a matter of Para personality. Poor bloke, I am sure he had never met anybody like us before and I expect he preferred not to in future.
So the boat sailed, and as we had also got loads of tea, sugar and tinned milk, we asked the galley crew to make us pots of tea for the lads and they turned a bit ‘stroppy’ and told us to get lost. So I informed the Chief Officer that he had 180 young men aboard who had all been wounded in action and were being denied some tea and was this the way to treat these young heroes? Adding that, of course, if they were further refused I wouldn’t be able to stop them taking over the galley for themselves.
He was a man of discernment and ordered the galley crew to keep the pot boiling all night, and the troops, who incidentally would never have dreamed of doing any such thing, were as happy as possible under the circumstances and, at the end of the journey, many of them thanked me, mostly saying that having to go back into the Line was bad enough but to be treated like a bunch of waifs and strays, whom nobody would be responsible for, was very morale-
After leaving the ship, and having handed our charges over for onward transmission to their various destinations, we hitchhiked our way to Holland, where our unit was now stationed and after meeting all the blokes, and having a celebratory evening, we commenced work the next day. At that period it was slow, rotten work for the infantry, clearing the enemy away from all the canals and, in our area, up to Maastricht across the Maas Canal. It was dangerous work for the P.B.I. all mines and booby-
About this time I heard about a Marine sniper, who had a novel way of dealing with the Wehrmacht, and got permission to go with him on one of his frolics to try to record it. It was only because I was a Para, well versed in the subtleties of silent movement that he would allow me to accompany him. So early one morning, before daybreak, we set out.
We crossed over our own lines and penetrated theirs until we came to a wooded part with a farm a few hundred yards away, worked our way round it until we were at the back and then waited -
"That’s it," he said, "there is always somebody has an early morning crap. We will just give him time to get his trousers down and nicely settled on the seat. He deserves that, as it will be his last one."
Then, taking very careful aim, put a shot straight through the bog door, which banged open, as the presumably dead German, fell against it, and there he was, lying halfway in and out of the doorway in all his glory. I wonder what his last thoughts were. What a sordid way to go.
Strangely enough, there wasn’t any rushing about at the farm; the shot must have been unnoticed amongst the general noise of a new day dawning. We slipped quickly away, quietly and completely unseen, and returned to our own lines. On the way back he told me that he had done this often, from the early days in Normandy onwards, and he reckoned that they never cottoned on to how it was done, thinking, perhaps, that their own people were settling old scores; but what an ingenious way of knocking off your enemy, catching him when least expected. After all, who expects to be shot when on the throne!
Eventually the Maas was crossed, and our section set up shop near to Maastricht, and, as Christmas was coming, we were making the usual preparations, and the front was fairly quiet and we were, more or less, at a loose end and short of money to buy the booze, and other odd bits for Christmas Day. We were also mixing very freely with the local Dutch population, after being invited into their homes and we would always supply the food to eat whilst there, which was acquired by devious means, plus a bit of barter with the Americans, who weren’t too far away. The things we could get for Iron Crosses, Luger pistols, even tins of corned beef had to be seen to be believed.
However, it struck Dennis and myself that the main theme of any conversation we had with the Dutch was that they hadn’t got the cooking-
So we about gathering a few orders for various goods and set out for a village in No-
Well, we sorted out the various items we had been asked to get, plus a few more, and returned to our village and promptly got rid of everything and gained quite a few guilders, and when the word went round the village that we had kept our promise, the orders came pouring in.
It was embarrassing to hear the pleadings of these people because what they were without was really the things we take for granted; they asked us for everything -
We managed to get them everything they required and we even set up one young couple, who were about to be married, with a complete home: tables, chairs, settee, pots and pans, knives and forks, etc., etc. These things we gave to them as a wedding-
The best run we did was quite funny; it was to get various things, including a mattress, and we passed through our lines as usual but with a notable exception; the Military Police were on duty at the particular road we were going to use and naturally they stopped us and asked us where we were going.
“To such and such a village” we said; “Why?”
“Oh didn’t you know, we are going to take it over to-
Observation Post, ready for the next push.”
“I suppose you want to be first to get some pictures as the blokes come in?”
To say we were shattered would be an understatement; we hadn’t reckoned on being pestered by local action whilst doing our bit for the Dutch, but if we didn’t go forward we would lose face and, possibly, our freedom as well. So I said
“That’s right, Corporal, you know the Army Film Unit -
“Cheerio. See you later” and off we went.
When well clear the driver said
“What the hell ate we going to do now?”
“Just drive to the village while we think” said Dennis, and think we did.
“Having come this far we can’t go back without the goods” said I.
“O.K.” said Dennis, “but how? What if we get shot-
Then one of those brilliant flashes came over me and I said
“We’ll never get away with it” said the driver, but Dennis agreed that, in the words of the S.A.S. motto: ‘Who Dares Wins’.
So we dared -
There had been no opposition to the occupation, other than a bit of shelling, which was the perfect excuse, and when we came to the check point we just said that the shelling was nasty, and we had a casualty, and were waved past with shouts of,
When we were well clear of the area, we stopped and fell about with laughter, interspersed with screeches from Dennis of “Get me off this bloody thing” which we eventually did and set off for our billet.
We had a good laugh about it afterwards, but we agreed that enough was enough and that would be the end of the help for our Dutch friends.
But it wasn’t the end at all. The villagers had been complaining about the lack of milk, and everything else that it would make. They knew where there was a herd of cows at an abandoned farm, but they were afraid of being shot that they wouldn’t go and get them. They were only a couple of miles away but they didn’t know how close the Germans were to the herd, they thought perhaps the Germans were looking after them for their own commissariat, but the challenge was too much, so we decided to investigate.
One of the local Dutch Underground offered to show us where these animals were, and we all went on foot to a vantage point, and, even without binoculars, they were clearly visible and with no sight of Jerry around at all, but the Dutch lad wouldn’t confirm this, so we contacted the nearest infantry for information and they said that, as far as they knew, Jerry was not in the immediate vicinity, so we decided to collect them that evening, and what a pantomime that turned out to be.
It was that period between light and darkness that, in Scotland, we call the ‘gloaming’ where movement isn’t easily noticed, that we set out and, without any mishap, reached the cows. With us were the underground lad and two Dutch farm hands, they were needed to get the cows moving, as our knowledge of cattle rustling was confined to the movies and we weren’t cowboys -
We were almost certain that there wasn’t any enemy about, as the Dutchmen pointed out, they wouldn’t have left them to roam, so we gave the signal to get them moving quickly just in case. By this time we were in amongst them, so as not to be seen, and they moved so did we, bent double, and the Dutch equivalent of ‘Giddup, Buttercup’ softly spoken out was supposed to start them off, but they just ‘mooed’ and shuffled a little, and then it happened.
The Driver who was behind one of them saw that it had lifted its tail and he was deluged. Cursing and swearing he un-
Photo: Sergeant Dennis Smith of the Army Film and Photograpic Unit (AFPU) took this photo of the other members of the AFPU in Oosterbeek. Sergeant Gordon Walker shares a cup of tea with a Dutch local while Sergeant Mike Lewis is enjoying a ration in the passenger seat of the jeep.