Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen

Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen

Author:Robert Matzen
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: GoodKnight Books
Published: 2019-04-14T16:00:00+00:00


24

Aflame

“Arnhem was pretty much flattened” was the way Audrey described it. From her location in Velp, she couldn’t see it happening but everyone heard it all day and into the night. There were booms, booms, a pause, then more thundering blasts that rattled the ground. Bursts of machine-gun fire and the smaller explosions of grenades underscored the tympani.

Bittrich’s attack had raged so long that nothing remained in the area of Colonel Frost’s position. The van Limburg Stirum School lay a pile of useless rubble. On one side de Nijenburgh smoldered in a heap, and on the other the red school had been flattened. All that remained of the Muziekschool were half-standing walls. Hundreds of Dutch residents had been caught in the crossfire of battle, praying they could ride out the storm, until finally, with fires burning unchecked and the central city in ruins, those still alive, like Piet Hoefsloot and his family, rigged white flags and made their way out as best they could.

Frost received leg wounds and was captured, but for the remainder of his life, when anyone around him mentioned the word surrender, he would snap, “We did not surrender.” In his memoir he maintained, “No living enemy had beaten us. The battalion was unbeaten yet, but they could not have much chance with no ammunition, no rest and with no positions from which to fight.” His original orders in England had been to hold on for forty-eight hours until the relief column had arrived from the south. He held his position for twice that length of time, and he hurled curses at the relief column for letting obstacles get in their way—at the time that Arnhem burned, tanks of the British 2nd Army sat just a few miles south of the bridge waiting for the infantry to catch up. The American 82nd and 101st Airborne had done their jobs and captured or built bridges for the British relief column to use as it raced northward and fought its way toward Arnhem. But the grand plan for Operation Market Garden hadn’t been thought through well enough, and time had run out not only for Frost but also for the center of Arnhem.

Bodies of Dutch civilians lay everywhere. Thursday morning an old lady was found by an air-raid warden lying in the garden beside the smoldering wreck of her home, de Nijenburgh. The lady was grand old Cornelia, Countess van Limburg Stirum, Otto’s aunt. She lay scorched and covered in grime and ash. She had been dragged out of de Nijenburgh by her maid after the Germans had warned they were going to set a flamethrower on the villa as part of their operation to capture Frost. Cornelia clung to life by a thread. The air-raid warden and some of the Christian school students managed to get her up to the Diaconessenhuis, the hospital where Ella used to work. There the Countess died two days later.

Just across the way in Velp, the ongoing cacophony unnerved villagers who had lost their electricity that first day and then their water service, and neither had returned.



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