Harry Holder, Royal Scots Fusiliers

[After the crossing of the Rhine] we began our trek to force a crossing of the River Issel. As we advanced it became clear why the German guns had fallen silent the previous day. The paratroops had, in some cases, dropped right on to the German gun positions and wiped them out. At one point we came across a group of Paratroopers who had obviously been disarmed, lined up and shot. They lay in a line, still and silent, limbs distorted in their final agony. If we had encountered any Germans in the next hour or so, I am sure we would not have taken any prisoners.

We pressed forward to the sound of the pipes as Col Mackenzie had ordered the pipers to play to let the Paratroops know that help was on the way. Red Berets popped up out of the ground and from various farms and cottages. You can imagine how pleased they were to see us so quickly after their drop …

I think our original objective was the bridge over the Issel which the airborne had not reached. The Royal Scots had tried but had encountered heavy opposition … in any event the Germans had blown the bridge. The 6th Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers were ordered to force the river crossing on foot. We were briefed that our objective was a wood on the far side of the river … between us and the Issel was open ground of between 100 and 200 yards, then the river and then more open ground before we reached [the wood] …

Tank on fire

We moved off in Kangaroos[1] … Just as we reached the start line, my tank was hit and set on fire. I ordered the section out but I had trouble with one of the lads who was trying to free the driver. The driver looked dead to me and I had to beat my comrade with my rifle butt to get him out of the Kangaroo. We jumped straight into the ditch which was full of Germans. Some were waving white flags and some were shooting. The ditch was soon cleared and Major D M Gray gave the order to attack. We were out of that ditch like a shot and went hell for leather for the river, firing as we went. Major Gray led the charge from the front and he was first to the river. I was right behind him and I remember pausing to let him jump in first so I could see how deep it was … Men were dropping all the time and we waded the river (which came up to my chest) out over the other side and into the woods…

By now Major Gray had assessed the situation and I think there were only 27 of us left. We had lost our signaller and his set so we were virtually cut off from Battalion. Ammunition was low and Jerry was quite active. Major Gray asked for two volunteers to take a message back and L/Cpl Mitchell and Fusilier Johnson volunteered. At this point it was clear that we were under fire from all three sides because as Major Gray and I stood on the edge of the wood looking back to the river, the bullets were whizzing overhead and clipping foliage off the trees.

The two volunteers set off taking different headings and running like mad. L/Cpl Mitchell didn’t get far … and Fusilier Johnson went down soon after. Major Gray looked at me and said “There’s nothing for it Holder, you’ll have to have a go”. I stripped off my small pack and webbing, keeping only my rifle and a bandolier. I took several deep breaths and ran like hell for the river. I slid down the bank into the water and rested with my back to the bank … I started to wade across the river when I was immediately picked up by a Spandau who put a burst two or three feet in front of me. I flung myself backwards to the bank and luckily for me, a small bend in the river prevented him from drawing a bead on me.

Miracle of rain

Every time I moved he had a go and I was just about to have a go at swimming underwater when the miracle happened. It started to rain and soon there was such a terrific downpour that visibility was reduced to about 20 yards. I was off like a scared rabbit through the river and over the field to where I thought we had started from … Suddenly jerry put a stonk down and several air bursts seemed to be aimed at me personally. I dived into a ditch right on top of three Germans who were sheltering from their own artillery. They were more surprised than me so I was able to deal with the situation very quickly.

I did eventually find B.H.Q. and gave my message to Lt. Col. Mackenzie. He sent for the Royal Artillery Officer who asked me to point out our positions together with the known German positions on an aerial photograph he produced …

Whilst I was talking to Col. Mackenzie who should turn up but Fusilier Johnson. He was amazed to see me because he didn’t know that I had been sent out after him because we thought him dead. He too had taken cover from Spandau fire but L/Cpl Mitchell had been killed.

[1] Tanks, minus their turret and gun, used to transport infantry close to the enemy while protected from small arms fire.

Back to reminiscences