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With Recce At Arnhem - Recollections Of Trooper Des Evans - 1st Airborne Division Veteran

Mike Gallagher
Despite being in a reserved occupation Des Evans was determined “to do his bit“. Having left school at the age of 14 with no qualifications, he was placed on one of the many pre-war labour schemes and became a farm worker. His attempts to join up proved fruitless until he simply walked away from his job and told the recruiting officer that he was unemployed. He was accepted and sent to the Green Howards Depot at Richmond. Although he was now in the Army, where his soldierly qualities were recognised, after training he was kept back at the depot to become part of the Demonstration Squad to assist in the training of recruits - not exactly what he had joined up for!

Eventually he “escaped“ by volunteering for the newly formed Reconnaissance Corp and saw action in North Africa and Italy from where he was evacuated to the UK suffering from pneumonia. On his return to fitness he volunteered for the Airborne Forces and, despite a fear of heights, completed his training and was posted to Reserve Troop. Once again he seemed fated not to see action.

Literally hours before take-off for Arnhem Des was posted to C Troop 1st Airlanding Reconnaisance Squadron to replace a man who had broken his leg in an impromptu game of football. For three days he fought at Oosterbeek, unable to reach Arnhem due to the sheer intensity of the fighting. Wounded twice, he was finally captured whilst receiving medical treatment at the Home For The Blind at Wolfheze. He was taken to a hospital in Utrecht to receive further treatment and whilst there had his first of two encounters with Field Marshal Model; apparently the Field Marshal was far from amused by his chance meeting with Des!

Spending eight months in captivity, during which he saw the Field Marshal again, Des finally escaped whilst being moved to another camp and was able to reach American lines. Not content to sit around waiting his turn on the evacuation flight, he and three other POWs volunteered for counter-sniper duties to assist the Americans manning the airfield - they were successful.

It was not until the 40th Anniversary of Arnhem in 1984 that Des returned to Oosterbeek and Arnhem. At the age of 61 he simply put on his red beret and hitched from his home in Norfolk to Arnhem. It was indeed an overwhelming and emotional experience made all the more memorable by the tremendous hospitality of the Dutch people who have such enduring gratitude for the sacrifice made by those who fought at Arnhem. Needless to say there was no need to hitch back home.

During the course of the celebrations Des met Mike Gallagher, the author of this book, and they were to become lifelong friends. Des died in 2010 and left his diaries, medals and red beret to Mike. To honour Des and their friendship and also as a tribute to all those who fought at Arnhem, Mike Gallagher has written a marvellous account of Des' exploits and adventures centered around his time at Arnhem and thereafter. There is plenty of humour and sadness (and a surreal episode with a red car); no punches are pulled when describing the intensity of the fighting which was at times literally murderous; in contrast there were also many acts of kindness shown.

With Recce At Arnhem is an absolute must read, not only for those with an interest in Arnhem, but also because it affords an extraordinary insight into an apparently ordinary man.

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