The Brabant village Oisterwijk and Operation Market Garden
‘I was swinging violently from side to side, and as I had only hooked one strap on
to the pack, I felt I was slipping out of my harness to one side, and started to
try and climb up towards the bottom of the pack in an endeavour to hook on the other
strap. It was about four feet above my head, and I gave up the attempt, as a numbing
pain started in my right shoulder, which had been previously damaged in a plane crash.
The swinging was lessening, and I looked around. Below me the ground was plainly
visible in the glow of the fire, and I noticed I was drifting away from it. I judged
the ground to be about 300 feet below, and there came the thought, ’In all probability,
in a few seconds, I shall break my right leg, when I hit the ground.’ It was still
weak, having been broken twice in the mentioned accident, and I was unable to flex
the knee fully. I took a grip as high up the strap as I could reach, and held my
right leg out in front. As the ground started to rush upwards, I pulled on the strap,
and hit the ground fairly gently, landing on my left leg, and rolling over backwards.
I got up, ran around my parachute, collapsed it, and rolled it up in my arms. My
heart was thudding, and my breath coming in quick gasps, so I went over to a bush
and sat down to think things over, and give myself time to recover. I had plenty
to think about, and it took a few minutes for the situation to penetrate properly
into my brain. Everything seemed very still and quiet after the roar of engines in
my ears for so many hours, except for a steady drone high up above in the starry
sky, which was gradually lessening, as my luckier companions, the other 500-odd aircraft,
were winging their way home to bacon and eggs and a comfortable bed.
I looked back to where my plane was still burning about a mile away, like an enormous
red bonfire, sending sparks high into the sky, and with pyrotechnics, very lights
and ammunition, dancing around the flame. Who, besides High, were being cremated?
I had seen one, and only one other parachute floating down besides mine, but the
others could well have been lost in the darkness. I got up, buried my helmet, parachute,
and battledress blouse, and started out to look for the others. I soon gave this
up as being hopeless and, remembering all the escape lectures, started to run away
from the wreckage with the object in putting as much distance between me and any
German search party there might be. After about twenty minutes I stopped to review
the situation. Luckily, I had been wearing rubber soled shoes, which made travelling
fairly easy. I had Dutch, Belgian and French money, and enough food for about a week
or ten days in iron ration. My heavy white sweater I took off, and rubbed it in the
ground so that it was not so conspicuous in the darkness. My watch I found was smashed,
a bullet having passed through the side of it, and caused a slight flesh wound across
my hand, but the hour hand was still on, and showed a time of approximately 1.30
a.m. As near as I could judge, I was near the Dutch-German border, either in Germany
or Holland, so I took out my silk escape map, studied it, and reckoned that my safest
course would be to make for the north-west, in order to make sure of getting into
Holland before daybreak. The country appeared to be very flat marshy ground, with
small trees and bushes, divided by numerous small dykes, about four feet wide into
which I kept stumbling.
I made off at a fast walk, and travelled for about two hours, without seeing a house
or farm. I was using the stars for guidance; although I had an assortment of small
compasses, it was easier to glance at the Polaris every now and then, instead of
stopping all the time, and waiting for the oscillating compass needle to come to
rest. Somewhere ahead of me I heard a clock strike four times, and seemed to be approaching
a town or village, (Oisterwijk) as the houses on either side of the road became more
numerous. I left the road, and took to the fields, in an endeavour to bypass the
town, but to no avail, as I soon found myself in its outskirts, and unless I retraced
my steps, more or less had to go right through it. I thanked god for my crepe rubber
soles, as I padded noiselessly through the empty streets of a fair-sized town, which
showed not a single sign of life: no lights, no sound, no movement. I knew about
the curfew and was a bit scared at first of meeting police or patrols, and stopped
at every street corner to investigate before crossing. I came to the Cathedral square,
(St. Petrus church), and was so interested in the building that I walked right round
it, thinking all the time that I must be quite crazy to stop and take time to examine
architecture when I should be running for my life! After what seemed like hours,
the buildings started to thin out, and I was through the built-up area. The road
ran alongside a large dyke or canal, and I scrambled down the bank to fill my water-bottle.
The water tasted filthy, bitter and brackish. It started to get fairly light, and
I thought it was high time to start looking for a thick wood in which to hide through
the day. I now knew for certain that I was in Holland, much to my relief, as I found
a signpost and by peering close to it, managed to read Voor---which I knew could
not be a German name.
-Authors note: Trough Oisterwijk runs a stream called ‘Voortse stroom’ that in those
days was used to dump filthy water in from local factory’s located near this stream.
This explains the bad taste of the water and proves me right believing Hartnell-Beavis
came through my village Oisterwijk.
Eventually, in almost broad daylight, I found a wood, not as thick as I wood liked,
but I thought it would be unwise to travel further, and crawled into it and settled
down under some brambles. The clock struck five. I woke up stiff and aching all over,
and very cold. I heard the clock strike seven, which meant that I’d only had been
asleep for less than two hours. During the day an ME.110 circled the wood fairly
low, and I crawled under a bush, imagining that they were looking for me and my crew.
The day dragged on endlessly, and it wasn’t until the clock struck eleven, that it
became dark enough to start travelling. I had studied my silk map during the day,
and was appalled at the enormous distance which lay ahead trough Belgium, France
and Spain and I reckoned that the sooner I contacted the ‘organisation’ (the underground,
resistance) the better. I knew I was in Holland, but where in Holland I hadn’t an
idea. Anyway, I decided to travel south, and set off as fast as I could.
After walking for approximately 25 miles Hartnell-Beavis found a haystack to sleep
and hide in until the end of that following day. After leaving his hide-out to find
help he decided to knock at a farmer’s house to find nobody daring enough to help
him, so he continued on until he found a barn to sleep in. The following day he was
found by the farmer and taken in to his home where he was given a crust of bread
and some buttermilk. Sadly the farmer and his wife were too afraid to help him and
instead send him away. Hartnell-Beavis went on his way again and after stopping at
a number of farms he was able to provide himself a light blue jacket that he bought
from a farmer for 10 dinars to not be so conspicuous. He was still not able to contact
the organisation but luckily able to find his whereabouts on the map. He was some
30 miles west north west from Eindhoven. He passed the Eindhoven aerodrome en spent
the next night in a wood and the next day plucked up the courage to go into a village
and have a coffee at a café! He got away with it without arousing suspicion but decided
not to do this again. So far he had not seen a single German but was feeling rather
dirty for not having been able to wash properly in days and his beard was getting
rather long. He had a painful right shoulder and he was feeling rather depressed.
The following morning he went up to a large farm where he spoke to two French-speaking
Belgians. By talking to them in French he was able to have a good conversation. They
told him that the Belgium border was not very far away and that they crossed it each
day by foot to get to the farm. According to the Belgians the border was poorly guarded
so Hartnell-Beavis decided to cross in to Belgium at night. He continued on his way
to a nearby village where he decided to knock on the door of a house in the hope
that here he could have a shave and wash. The door was opened by some sort of official
in a green uniform and Hartnell-Beavis asked the man in German if he could borrow
his razor. When the man asked if he was English Hartnell-Beavis nodded yes. The man
then took him by the arm into the house and in the living room searched his pockets
to fish out his compass, map, food etc. The man left the room and came back with
his wife and in halting German said that they wanted to help him into Belgium on
the condition that he would never tell anyone afterwards and to keep utmost secrecy.
Hartnell-Beavis was filled with relief thinking he had finally struck the ‘organisation’.
The wife gave him a meal in the kitchen and after a friend of the host arrived during
the afternoon Hartnell-Beavis was taken away on the carrier of a push-bike. After
they arrived at a wood he was told to wait in the wood which he did. He waited for
about half an hour until another man came along on a bike. A conversation between
the two took place until he was beckoned to come out from his hiding place. Together
they went to another village where they stopped at a large house. There he was taken
into a room suspiciously looking like a cell and was told to wait. Thinking he would
now be fixed up with papers he sat down to wait. After about twenty minutes still
nothing had happened and as apprehensive grew he went to open the door of the room.
To his horror a German guard was standing outside with a rifle slung over his shoulder
that told him in German to go back in the room and wait for the Germans who would
be arriving in half an hour. Hartnell-Beavis was not planning to do this and after
realizing the whole thing in a flash he made a dash for it passing the guard in front
of the door and ran down the corridor. But after rounding the corner into the hall
he was confronted with yet another guard at the main door. Escaping was not possible
and because he was not planned of getting shot he went back into the room realizing
the room to be a cell. Hartnell-Beavis was caught and in German captivity. After
what seemed an endless wait two German Luftwaffe sergeants in grey field uniforms
entered the cell and took him away by car to Eindhoven for questioning. Again they
left in the car and drove to the Eindhoven aerodrome were he again underwent questioning.
The next day three armed guards took him by train to Amsterdam going third class.
Arriving in Amsterdam he was taken to a prison where he was put in solitary confinement
for six days with no books to read, very little food, the light on day and night
and no window but only a hard wooden bed and two bug infested blankets. Here he was
regularly questioned until two German guards and a German sergeant took him to the
Amsterdam train station and after waiting for two hours boarded a third-class train
carriage. This train brought Hartnell-Beavis and his guards to Cologne and further
down the bank of the river Rhine to Bonn and Coblenz. Eventually they arrived in
Frankfurt where he was taken by tram to his final destination, Dulag Luft in Ober
Ozel, about four miles away. After being held there and in the Stalags main camp
for more than a week Hartnell-Beavis was again transported by train to another camp.
This journey would last an exhausting three days until he arrived at Sagan Junction,
halfway between Berlin and Breslau. He was marched on food about a mile and a half
to his final destination, the centre compound of Stalag Luft III. Here Hartnell-Beavis
would stay a prisoner of war in German captivity until the end of the war.