Martin Maxwell present day.Martin Maxwell
Legion of Honour awarded in 2015
"And there one night, two SS officers came in and one said to the other one, tonight, we’re going to kill those bastards. But the other one says, you’re stupid because in six months time, they’ll be in Berlin and you’ll be a war criminal"
I was born in Vienna. And after Kristallnacht [Night of Broken Glass] , the Quakers, who were in England, persuaded the British government with the help of Mr. [Winston] Churchill, to have 10,000 children come to Great Britain on something that was called the Kindertransport, the children transport. And my brother and I were fortunate to be on that.
My parents were already dead, so a British Jewish couple adopted me ̶ the most wonderful people, sent me to school. And my stepbrother, who was a little older, joined the air force and I volunteered for the army. But because I was what is called an “enemy alien,” born in Vienna or Germany, or Czechoslovakia, I could only join what is called the [Royal] Pioneer Corps.
Now, when I finished my training, I went to one of the officers that I knew because he was the sports officer and I played soccer; and I said, look, I didn’t join the army to dig ditches or to build bridges, I want to go to a fighting unit. So he transferred me to the [Royal] Tank Corps. And there, one day, they got a request from the Glider Pilot Regiment to send two of their best, or maybe two of their worst, [laughs] to volunteer for the Glider Pilot Regiment. And a great friend of mine was not Jewish and I volunteered, and we passed.
And we both took part in the D-Day operation. In fact, not he, but I, went the night before, on the first six gliders. And the whole idea was to capture the bridges behind the enemy line so that the Germans couldn’t send reinforcements. I just carried those wonderful commandos; and they were out there, within 20 minutes, it was a big battle and the German garrisons were all dead. And we held the bridges until our paratroopers came in the night.
Then, of course, you know what happened next. General [Bernard] Montgomery decided that he wanted to end the war by Christmas 1944. So he had Operation Market Garden. Maybe you’ve seen the movie, A Bridge Too Far. And if not, you should see it. And that’s what it meant. He dropped 30,000 troops, combined troops into the Netherlands or Holland. We were the last ones and our general, [Lieutenant-]General [Frederick] Browning, said to Montgomery, how long will it take to relieve us? He said, two days; and Browning said to him, we only can a hold out three, maybe it is a bridge too far. That’s how it got the name, it was a bridge too far. Because we landed, the Dutch people went crazy. They thought we’ve come to liberate them, which we had.
And they threw things at us, flowers and kissed, and hugged us. But, unfortunately, there was the German tank division in the area. And I think Montgomery knew it, but, in spite of that, they sent us. So by the sixth or seventh day, we knew it was all over. Many of us were dead. I was asked to find out what’s happening to us. It was in the trench and the German tanks and the rockets killed 30 or 40 every time it happened. So I jumped out of the trench, I hadn’t gone far, when the tanks hit behind me where I just left. And I was actually thrown against the tree, broke my right hand, my right thigh, was lying there half the time unconscious and I heard two guys come over. And I heard him say, eh, this kid is still with us. And he gave me some sugar water and stuff; and they put pieces of wood along my thigh and pushed it in. And, eventually, there was an armistice for three hours, when they picked up the dead and the wounded. The Germans picked us up and they took us through the town of Arnhem where those nice people who’d helped to get water and food to us when we didn’t have any, were hanging on wires, strung across the street. That says, that’s what happens to collaborators or traitors.
We went to the hospital and eventually two or three days later, a doctor came and did the best they could. My right arm, well, it never healed up, right hand. And we were transferred to an SS [Schutzstaffel] barracks at Appledorn. And there one night, two SS officers came in and one said to the other one, tonight, we’re going to kill those bastards. But the other one says, you’re stupid because in six months time, they’ll be in Berlin and you’ll be a war criminal, and they’ll hunt you down. So the next day, we were sent on a train that eventually went to our prisoner of war camp in Fallingbostel near Hanover.