Bruce Cox is pictured here in 1994 at the grave of his friend who lost his life in Arnhem, The Netherlands.Bruce Cox
Portrait of Bruce Cox in 1942.Bruce Cox
The day after Bruce Cox (on left) was liberated from the Prisoner of War Camp, he and fellow prisoners used this car to make their way to Frankfurt, Germany, April 1945.Bruce Cox
"And all you can see is a pair of army boots beneath you and it’s all quiet."
We were glad when the Arnhem Operation eventually became a fact. And I can remember the day well. It was a Sunday morning, early, the buses took us out to the airfield and we got all our equipment together. I don’t know, we were carrying about 60 to 70 pounds of equipment. And they had to help us into the aircraft. We got our jump positions and I was number 14. And as we took our positions, an Irishman said to me, Bruce, would you change places with me, I’m number 13? So I said, sure. So we changed position and I jumped number 13. And ever since, I’ve always tried to jump number 13.
We took off, it was a beautiful summer’s day and everybody who was everybody was at church. In the film, A Bridge Too Far, there’s a very, very good shot of the church people coming out when they hear all the aircraft going over. There was a stream of aircraft, a 1,400 aircraft in the air at one time. A magnificent sight. Layer on layer of black and white stripes flying across the North Sea.
And then the coast of Holland coming up and we had the order, stand up and hook up. That was when you hook your parachute static line onto the line which runs the length of the aircraft. We were just so ready. There was some flack; aircraft was steady. They weren’t taking evasive action; like in Sicily they did and a lot of them got lost. This was a daylight raid. And we went in, in perfect formation and then the order came through, stand to the door. And the first man took up his position and we all shuffled up. We checked each other’s chutes and we were ready to go.
The exit was good. It’s wonderful to parachute because one minute you’re in the slipstream, the blast of the engines and the noise of everybody shouting, go, go, go, go and then all of a sudden, it’s dead quiet and you’re hanging in the air. And all you can see is a pair of army boots beneath you and it’s all quiet. And you can talk to your fellow guys in the air, but you have a job to do. Locate your smoke. Each battalion had a certain coloured smoke on the corner of the dropping zones. And your job is to get rid of your chute, get your equipment and get to the rendezvous point, which we did.
And in short time, we were on the road into Arnhem. Now, when I say on the road, we were dropped eight miles from Arnhem, from the bridge, which was a mistake. The Germans reacted very quickly. What we didn’t know at the time, that the Dutch Underground knew and some of the intelligence services knew, that there was two Waffen SS divisions [paramilitary arm of the Schutzstaffel] refitted just north of Arnhem. And as soon as they got the word, they moved their tanks into straightforward thrust to the river. Each battalion of the German tanks had a section and so they sectioned off, and headed for the river, cutting all the British airborne troops into small groups.
Some of us got to the bridge. I was about 400 yards from the bridge when there was so many tanks and German infantry in between us and behind us, that we just had to street fight. We traveled south toward Nijmegen, where the American paratroopers were.
We got down at 4:00 in the morning into a ditch and pulled the reeds over us, because we couldn’t travel during the day. And we woke up 9:00 the next morning. This was the first sleep we’d had since jumping. We’d eaten our rations; we’d drunk our water ̶ we were using ditch water. I woke up to the sound of can rattling and a German soldier walking upon a path about five feet away from us, to what appeared to be a Dutch farmhouse. And he was going for coffee. This was the cookhouse. And I looked around and discovered we were in the centre of a German marine battalion’s position. We had come right through their positions that night. The sentries must have been asleep or we were very quiet, one of the two.
And as he came back with the coffee, I put it to the other guys, what do you think we should do, how many rounds have we got? We were about five rounds each, couldn’t make much of a stand with that. So we buried our weapons and stood up as he came along the path and said, Hände auf, you know, put your hands up. We said it in German. And, and immediately, he dropped two cans of coffee all over the place and then in his hurry to get his rifle off his shoulder, he dropped his rifle into the hot scalding coffee and it was like a comedy in slow motion. And even when I think of it today, I have to smile and laugh. He was just like a slapstick.
And so he called the sergeant, the sergeant major, over and the sergeant major said, how did you get in here. And we told him how. And he went over and blasted his troops. He said, you realize you’re in the centre of a German marine battalion’s position. I said, well, you know, is that good? [laughs] So he said, no, it’s not good, he said, but for you, the war is over.
We went out on working parties in the POW camp, so we weren’t so badly treated. We got heavy workers’ rations for working for the Germans. Nineteen paratroopers and one little French Canadian. We took him as a mascot. It was near Czechoslovakia, but we knew it was pretty useless trying to escape because we knew the war was just about over.
We were released by Patton’s 3rd Army and the next day we were released. We went into town to the Gestapo headquarters where we came up to the garage and said to the mechanics there, we need a car. Well, they’re all kaput, all finished, no good. So drawing an automatic I had in my holster, I put it to his temple and started to count. And within 10 seconds, we had a car. Perfectly workable car. And so we joined two American trucks going back to Frankfurt am Main and halfway there, we let them go and went further south into Germany, into the farmland and did a couple of nights in farmhouses and enjoyed them. We gave them cigarettes and coffee, and different stuff. We weren’t bombasted with them at all, these German farmers.
And so we got back to Brussels and they flew us back to England. And we arrived there in the evening, welcomed by four lady nurses to each man. [laughs] Real English nurses, which was wonderful. And they looked after us and deloused us for about the fifth time and gave us a bath and gave us new uniforms and fed us. And the next morning we woke up and they gave us money, and new uniforms and packed us off home.