Eric Milner

Eric Milner

  • 1 Air Landing Brigade
  • Glider
  • 17 September 1944
  • Following Pathfinders 21 Ind Para Coy
  • ‘S’ DZ – Between Arnhem/Utrecht Road & Railway NNE Arnhem
  • Role: Seize and hold road bridge over Rhine at Arnhem

From the moment of landing on the DZ, the guns were in constant action. The fighting was fierce, often hand-to-hand, taking on 50ton Tiger tanks with light weapons. The Arnhem Bridge was held for three days and, rather than the expected 48 hours, they held a defensive position north of the river for nine days against two SS Panzer Divisions. When all hope of victory had been lost the battery continued to fight on, hopelessly out gunned with many, including Eric, wounded. They regrouped and fought on as infantry.

Out of ammunition, Eric and others were taken prisoner. During a search, a stick of chewing gum was found in the pocket of Eric’s trousers; fortunately he got it back, as inside the stick was a hacksaw blade.

At a Med Aid Post Eric spotted an opportunity to escape and rejoined the battle. He was wounded again and taken to hospital where the wound was dressed although the bullets not extracted. Later he was moved to the Airborne hospital at Appledoorn, which was overflowing with wounded and had few medical supplies left. Again Eric became a prisoner. This time he hid a knife under his bandages. He was then moved on to Germany and Stalag 12a, Limburg, where he had his first taste of being a POW.

Eric was moved on again, transported across Germany in total darkness, by rail in a cattle truck. Fortunately a medical officer checking on the wounded, saw that Eric’s wound was serious and had him removed from the train and transferred to Cologne hospital where he was operated on – without anaesthetic! Next stop was to the harsh conditions and brutal treatment of Stalag 4B at Maulberg-on Elbe and a group plan was hatched, to escape using a forged key.

The men escaped into deep snow and, after walking for several days, approached a farm where they were given food. Later, on encountering a working party of French POWs, Eric and his companions took shelter with them in their billet for a few days. When moving on some of the French joined them and they headed for the Allied Lines.

There were many encounters along the way: with Russian guns attacking the village where they sheltered; passing unintentionally through German lines; with mounted Cossacks wearing German uniforms; with a guarded column of walking concentration camp victims; and finally with German engineers preparing to blow the bridge between them and the Allied side of the river – they took a chance and charged, unchallenged, across the bridge minutes before the explosion.

The group thought it safer to approach the Allied lines in daylight so sheltered in a farm house. On leaving a wood at first light they were challenged by two GIs who took them to the main force. The CO of the American unit informed the group that they were the first escapers to pass through the lines. Eric was allowed a two week recovery period then taken to an airport at Nuremburg, flown to Reims in France and then onwards to England where his welcome was a dousing in anti-louse powder!