Years before I started this website, I was the editor and primary writer for “Sons of Bellerophon”, the newsletter for the members and friends of the British 1st Airborne Division Living History Association. In late 2011, I was contacted by Evert Akkerman, who wrote for a Canadian newspaper for Dutch immigrants; he had conducted an interview with Dennis Cutting, a veteran of the Royal Army Service Corps who had jumped into Arnhem. Mr. Akkerman wanted to share his interview with those he knew would appreciate it, and asked me to publish it in our newsletter, which I did.
I recently learned that Mr. Cutting passed away on December 4, 2018, at the age of 95. I never met Mr. Cutting, but felt something of a personal connection because of this article. I wanted to pay tribute to his life and deeds, so I decided to reprint the interview on my website. Sadly, I have lost contact with Mr. Akkerman, but as he had previously shared this interview with me, I am sure he would not mind my publishing it here.
ARNHEM VETERAN DENNIS CUTTING:
“The Rhine was running with blood”
by Evert Akkerman
Since 2005, De Nederlandse COURANT [a newspaper for Dutch immigrants to Ontario, Canada – ed.] has interviewed a number of veterans who participated in the liberation of The Netherlands during World War II, as well a German veteran taken POW near Rotterdam in May of 1940 and a Dutch Navy veteran who fought in the Dutch East Indies. By publishing their stories, we acknowledge what they sacrificed by risking their lives and being away from home for years.
After the 11/11/11 Remembrance Day ceremony at the Newmarket [Ontario] cemetery, I met Arnhem veteran Dennis Cutting and his wife Greta. I interviewed him shortly after at their Newmarket home. As 88-year-old Dennis’ memory is not as good as it used to be, Greta assisted by reminding him of stories he shared with her over the years.
Dennis Cutting was part of the 4th Brigade of the 1st British Airborne Division under Major-General Roy Urquhart, first as a Corporal and later as a Platoon Sergeant. He fought in North Africa (1942) and Italy (1943) and was dropped over Oosterbeek, just west of Arnhem, on the second day of Operation Market Garden (September 17-25, 1944). Men from the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade under Brigadier General Stanisław Sosabowski were dropped on the third day as the Allied forces faced the German 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions.
With Operation Market Garden, Field Marshal Montgomery wanted to cross the Rhine as a prelude to an attack from the north on the Ruhr. Allied forces were to capture a number of bridges over the main rivers in The Netherlands. Although there were some successes, the British 1st Airborne Division and the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were facing strong German resistance and ran out of supplies. Of the 10,000 Brits parachuted at Arnhem, only 1,800 survived [or escaped capture – ed.]. The Poles suffered 590 casualties. The ultimate failure of Market Garden ended Allied hopes of finishing the war by Christmas 1944. In an unfortunate and undeserved slight, Montgomery made Sosabowski and his Polish forces the scapegoat.
EA: “What prompted you to enlist?”
DC: “In Britain, men and women 18 years and older had to enlist, so I did in June of 1941. I was sent to North Africa first and then to Italy. After that, we were sent home on leave and waited for D-Day. They said ‘Well boys, you were in North Africa, now you go get drunk a few times.’ We just hung on and hung on until September 17th, 1944.”
EA: “What instructions were you given before you were dropped over Arnhem?”
DC: “They told us, ‘OK guys, it’s going to be great, you’ll have a good landing, the KOSBies (the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, a regiment created in 1689 -EA) are going in with gliders before you and they’ll sweep the area clean.’ It was much worse than that. So many guys got knocked off.”
EA: “What happened when you landed?”
DC: “The operation was postponed a couple of times because it was foggy in Britain. We took off early in the morning on the 18th, with 20 guys in a plane. We were dropped over 2,000 acres of lovely green space, surrounded by forests. A perfect landing zone, but the Germans were shooting at us. You can’t imagine what it was like… I picked myself up, firing in all directions. I had a small British .303 rifle. Trouble was, it had one small magazine with 10 rounds. I fixed the bayonet… A German soldier was shooting at me and I couldn’t reload so I got him with my bayonet”.
EA: “Where did you go from there?”
DC: “We were running to a road that ran though the bushes. Some of our guys were in a building… You don’t know who was where.”
EA: “Did you get the chance to talk to German POWs?”
DC: “Yes, we took prisoners. I stopped one guy who wanted to shoot a German prisoner. I said ‘He’s just a human being.’ So he didn’t shoot him. The German soldiers were younger than we were, and we were 18 to 20 years old. You were an old guy at 22! These young Germans spoke some English. They were called ‘Werewolves’ and had much better equipment than we did, better camouflage… They were up in the trees firing at us. I got an anti-tank gun, which is fired from the shoulder. The little bugger was up in a tree. I crawled up as close as I could get and realized I can’t hit him, so I hit the base of the tree. The tree came down with him in it. He was killed.”
EA: “Other than at your landing, did you have close calls?”
DC: “Sure, during the street fighting, we fought in Dutch houses for quite a while… There was a hospital left of us, about a quarter of a mile, and we were looking at a huge field of Dutch allotments, small gardens, and in these gardens the Germans had dug trenches. You could see blue steel helmets. We went into a Dutch house, went upstairs and I got down on a beautiful table – imagine that – with a Bren gun, firing at them. I said to two guys, ‘I can see them moving in a bloody great gun half a mile away.’ Then BOOM! They’d spotted me and a shell came through the room and blew me off the table. We were stunned, but not injured. They wanted to take me to the hospital, but I said no. One guy got a bullet through his front teeth and the bullet was lodged in the roof of his mouth. We each got a morphine injection, in the left shoulder. And it worked. This was in the medical pack that each of us got. We were told ‘Don’t give your morphine to someone else.’
Another time, I was sent on a mission to deliver a message, ‘We’ve been shot to pieces,’ to a large house some two miles away. There was hell going on. It was a trip through the bush on my own, at night, in the rain. Germans were coming by, talking and laughing, so I lay in a ditch and covered myself. After they passed, I delivered the message. When I got back, a glider pilot sent me on another mission: ‘Go up this road here, you’ll come up to the Hartenstein Hotel, which is now Divisional Headquarters.’ The Brits had taken it over from the Germans. So I go house to house and see this Dutchman, tall and skinny. He beckoned and waved me over. He pointed to a little girl and said she was his granddaughter. He said, ‘Follow her, close behind her.’ That’s how I got up there. The street was ablaze and there was still firing going on.”
EA: “Did you have time for meals?”
DC: “No. We had rations for 48 hours and we were there for 10 days. We had nothing left. One of the guys caught a white hen and we ate it raw. The Dutch didn’t have any food. We found a jar of pickles in a cellar and we got some apples, as it was September. I also ran out of ammunition, so I grabbed a German machine gun and used that. 10,000 guys went in, only 1,800 came back!”
EA: “How did the Dutch population respond to your arrival?”
DC: “They were happy, but they had nothing to give us. We were not far from a hospital, which had a water tap on the outside. The hospital was in German hands, while the medics were British, taken prisoner. We drew straws who would sneak up and fill a water bottle. That was all the water we had.”
EA: “How did you make it out of there?”
DC: “We had to escape. At that point, the glider pilots took charge and sent messages. This was our biggest let-down: no radio communication. We had a couple of carrier pigeons, but somebody ate them. We each got hold of the parachute strap of the guy in front of us. It was dark and it was raining, it was horrible. The glider pilots got a message through towards the Rhine. At a given time, the 8th Army, which was 20 miles away, would open up with all the artillery to make it look like an attack. Along the way, we found a young guy, an English soldier. He was lost, badly wounded and crying ‘I want my Mum.’ We gave him a morphine shot. He died… We were taught: ‘You can’t carry someone out, you can’t do it, you look out for Number One.’ We made it to the Rhine and the 8th Army had sent little boats, 12-footers. Everyone wanted to get in, which would swamp the boats, so a Sergeant Major drew his pistol, put himself between us and the boats and yelled ‘Stand back, you bastards!’ The Rhine was running with blood. Guys drowned… I saw one guy dive in and he was whipped away by the current. There was so much rain. The 8th was bogged down, couldn’t move their tanks.” [8th Army was in Italy at the time; 2nd Army was supposed to relieve 1st Airborne at Arnhem but never arrived – ed.]
After the war, Dennis and Greta met the parents of the young English soldier who cried for his Mum. “We met the boy’s parents in Holland in 1956. We were all gathered around a monument. People were talking and Dennis made a bit of a speech,” said Greta. “The boy’s parents had been going back and could never find anyone that could tell them anything about their son until they met Dennis.”
EA: “So when you got across, did you get a dry bed and a shower?”
DC: “Are you kidding me? We get across and there’s the military police, ‘OK you guys, over there is a hut.’ It was 6 by 6 feet. We got a mug of tea and piece of bread, which we were bloody glad to have, and then ‘OK soldiers, see that road? 20 miles, get cracking!’ It was 20 miles to Nijmegen, on a narrow road. I’d walked quite a way, got rid of heavy equipment and tossed away the rifles, so I was light. Then I saw a British truck. I ran like hell and grabbed the end of it. I tumbled in and it was full of wounded. I landed on a package of some sort and wanted to throw it out to make room. ‘What the hell are you doing with that?’ yelled a guy. Turns out he was a war correspondent and I was about to throw his notes overboard. His name was Stanley Maxwell [possibly Stanley Maxted – ed.]. I got to Nijmegen and saw a policeman. I asked him where Airborne Headquarters was. He said ‘It’s in the big abbey.’ So I took off. I was at the bottom of the steps and this bloody big guy comes down, six foot two… It was my older brother Sonny! He lifted me up. We were so happy. We had both been on the other side of the river.”
EA: “Where did you go next?”
DC: “I was sent to Belgium, where I stayed in a monastery in Leuven. They gave me a straw bed and a crust of bread. From there, I went to London by plane. That was it. Kaput! A number of us were invited to Buckingham Palace, where we were presented to King George VI. On that occasion, the parents of Flight Lieutenant Lord, who had piloted supply planes to Arnhem, received the Victoria Cross for him, posthumously. His parents stood right next to me.”
EA: “How long did you stay in London?”
DC: “A number of months… and then we were sent to Norway. While we were on the plane, an announcement came over the blower, ‘The war has ended.’ So these guys (the Nazis -EA) have said ‘We’re capitulating’… Norway is mountainous, so the plane comes down and then ‘boom-boom-boom’ the Germans fired at us with anti-aircraft guns. Shrapnel came through the fuselage but none of the 20 guys and the crew were hurt. We took over from the Germans and were instructed to dismantle all German aircraft, Messerschmitts. We took the propellers and the guns off. We got hold of German jeeps and used them. At some point, we went to a German camp with army huts – long tents, twenty feet wide, rows and rows together. There was one big German guard. We sent one of our best guys with a knife to sneak up from behind. He grabbed the guard by the neck and killed him. Then we fired in the air and out of all those tents tumbled naked German soldiers and Norwegian women. These Norwegians were starving too, as the Germans had taken all their food. We took small boats out, brought a number of German grenades and tossed them overboard. We came back with a boat full of cod and haddock and the Norwegians were cheering on the dock.”
EA: “Where were you when you found out that Hitler was dead?”
DC: “I don’t recall that at all… On the plane to Norway, we heard that the war was over. We dismantled planes and took prisoners. Also, we found loot in caves. We took big German trucks and loaded them up with liquor that the Germans had brought from Europe and stashed away in caves… Champagne, cognacs, perfumes… I cleaned my teeth with champagne before we had a party with nurses who were stationed nearby”.
Dennis and Greta met during the war and were married in April 1945. After Dennis returned from Norway and while Greta was pregnant with their first child, he was sent to Palestine for 18 months, assisting European Jews settle in Israel. He was finally demobilized in November 1947. In 1957, the family moved to Canada and settled in Newmarket, where Dennis started a butcher shop.
EA: “Have you had reunions with your comrades?”
DC: “Yes, we visited Holland five times. When I was 71, we had the big celebration. I parachuted over Arnhem again, this time with my granddaughter.”
EA: “If you were young again, would you enlist again?”
DC: “Sure. I think it makes a man of everybody. I was from a small town, 1,600 people. My best friends had gone and I couldn’t wait to go.”
Greta: “These were the best years of our lives. Hard, but good. It didn’t hurt us. We had hard times, but we’re better people for it.”
EA: “Thank you for your service. It was an honour speaking with you.”
DC: “You’re very welcome.”