Of the approximately 8,000 casualties of the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, not all were killed during the battle or taken prisoner by the Germans: quite a number of men evaded capture. At least 300 of these “evaders” eventually managed to return to the Allied lines with help from the Dutch resistance. One such attempt to reach friendly forces was operation 'Pegasus 1' on the night of 22nd October 1944, when Major Allison Digby Tatham Warter successfully led 138, mainly British Airborne men (including Brigadier Gerald Lathbury) safely across the Lower Rhine in collaboration with MI9, 30th British Corps with E Coy 506 PIR US 101st Airborne Division of “Band of Brothers” fame under command for the Operation.
Major Allison Digby Tatham Warter was a Regular pre war officer with the 52nd and stayed with it when it went Airborne. He later transferred to the Parachute Regiment and served at Arnhem as the Company Commander of A Company of the 2nd Parachute Battalion. When Lt Col Frost assumed command of the 1st Parachute Brigade Group at the bridge and the battalion second in command was killed command of the battalion passed to Major Tatham Warter.
When the defenders at the bridge were overrun the wounded Tatham Warter along with the rest of the wounded were taken to a hospital on the outskirts of Arnhem from where he along with his company 2ic promptly escaped and became "evaders". Subsequently they contacted the Dutch Resistance who made Tatham Warter responsible for organising the large number of Airborne evaders in the Arnhem area following the withdrawal of the 1st Airborne Division at the end of September 1944.
In the 1946 Regimental Chronicle he published his experiences for the first time in an article entitled "Escape from Arnhem". This article is quoted below.
He later published his experiences in a privately published booklet entitled "Dutch Courage and Pegasus" in 1991.
In 1999 this booklets was republished and expanded to include Pegasus 2 by the Airborne Museum Hartenstain in a booklet entitled "Escape Across The Rhine"
For his actions at Arnhem and beyond Major A Digby Tatham Warter was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
His citation reads:
“Major Tatham-Warter commanded a company of 2 Para Bn which dropped west of ARNHEM in HOLLAND on 17 Sept.
The task of the Bn was the vital one of capturing the main RHINE bridge and this officer handled the leading company with such dash and skill that the bridge was in our hands before dark after considerable casualties had been inflicted on the enemy and 30 prisoners captured.
After, when the O.C. took command of all forces on the bridge, Major Tatham-Warter assumed command of the Bn. He commanded during the next three days when the Bn, without any re-supply of food and ammunition, resisted incessant and determined attacks by vastly superior forces including tanks.
Throughout this period, Major Tatham-Warter displayed magnificent qualities of courage, leadership and the utmost determination. He was to be found invariably at the most threatened point in the defence, where his personal example was an inspiration to all.
On one occasion he was rendered unconscious by blast from an 88m.m. Tank gun firing point-blank at the house he was in, but he recovered and resumed command. Later, when captured by the enemy, he escaped and showed great initiative in making contact with the Dutch resistance organisation. He organised and assembled a force of one hundred escaped airborne troops, so that they could play their part when the Germans should begin to withdraw. Finally, when orders were received to withdraw this party through the German lines, Major Tatham-Warter was largely responsible for the planning of a most brilliant and successful operation in which 130 armed men escaped through the German lines and crossed the RHINE. For a month, behind the German lines, this officer moved about regardless of his personal safety and was an inspiration to all those who saw him.”
ESCAPE FROM ARNHEM BY MAJOR A. D. TATHAM-WARTER, D.S.O.
OBLI CHRONICLE 1946
The story of my escape after the Battle of Arnhem is bound up with that of so many others and with so many minor incidents, some of them quite fantastic, that a book would be required to tell it properly. I shall therefore have to concentrate on the simple story and leave out a great deal that would make it more interesting.
The battle at the bridge ended disastrously, as is well known, after four days fighting. Tony Franks and I were taken to a German hospital on the outskirts of the town. We intended to make our stay as short as possible, and after dark dressed ourselves between visits by the orderlies and climbed out of the window, crawled through the garden, past the guards and into a pinewood. Tony still had a piece of shrapnel in his ankle and I was fairly battered so we did not expect to get far that night. Added to this we had no maps and only our escape outfit button compass. This proved a godsend and we moved on it in a westerly direction through the western suburbs of Arnhem with no immediate plan other than to find shelter and food which we hadn't seen for over two days. Daylight found us at a farm a mile from Arnhem.
We were obliged to take the chance of it being occupied and knocked on the door. A friendly but very frightened woman greeted us, hid us in a loft and fed us on eggs and cheese. Later on in the morning she introduced a house decorator who had been educated in America and seemed delighted to take care of us.
He tried to move us that day, but after two narrow shaves, hid us in a woodpile on the farm for the night. The next day he led us, disguised as his sons, to his own house, and there we stayed for a week. The courage of this man, his family and many like them cannot be too highly praised. There were Germans in the area all the time, many coming to the house. The penalty if we were found was death for the whole family. This penalty had been carried out in other instances.
While we hid there, amusing ourselves by cutting home grown tobacco leaves, with scissors, to smoke, word was brought in of a wounded General hiding near by. An exchange of notes showed this to be Gerald Lathbury, recovering from a bad wound. This put new heart into us, and when a representative of the Resistance organization of Ede, a town ten miles to the west, came over to ask for our assistance, I decided to go with him. To cut the story short, I cycled over with my new friend, leaving Tony and the Brigadier, who were not fit for this kind of travel, with a promise to arrange for them to join me later. The journey had to be made in daylight as the night curfew was strictly enforced. It was quite uneventful, though we passed several hundred Germans on the road.
I was taken straight to the Underground Headquarters and introduced. Thence to a tailor, who gave me a new suit of clothes; to a photographer who provided me with an identity card, and finally a haircut. I was now considered sufficiently Dutch to move freely about the town and countryside, but always with an escort to answer awkward questions if the need arose.
My identity card showed me to be the deaf and dumb son of a lawyer in The Hague. I lived now with 'Bill', the leader of this Resistance Group, until our final escape nearly three weeks later. He was a most remarkable character, with a lovable and forceful personality that nothing disturbed, and which kept his district active long after most of the Resistance Groups had been broken up by the Gestapo.
Three days later Gerald Lathbury and Tony were brought over by car and established in houses in the town. Gerald's house overlooked the main square which had been turned into a 'REME' workshops, where he had the opportunity of studying the Boche mechanics' technique of refitting the Jeeps captured from his Brigade a few days earlier. They were both fitted out as I had been and were free to move about. Gerald's wound, however, kept him indoors.
Tony and I spent our days helping the Underground to sift and pass information of dumps, batteries, troop movements, etc., to 2 Army, and visiting the increasing number of airborne soldiers hiding in the district in farms and villages. It was all most exciting and interesting, and several times we were able to witness, at close quarters, fighter bomber attacks which were the direct result of information passed a few hours earlier. At the same time with the help of an SAS wireless link in the neighbourhood, we organized two supply drops of arms, explosives, etc., to re-equip our force for sabotage in aid of the expected 2nd Army push over the Rhine.
I need not tell you that this 'push' never came, and when this became clear, we started to think seriously of a mass evacuation.
Up to now we had been able to send a few individuals over the Rhine by a devious route a long way to the west; but for our numbers, which now amounted to some 15 officers and 120 other ranks of mixed origin, this was quite impracticable. We therefore formed a plan for crossing the river in the neighbourhood of Ede. Of the four requirements, a safe concentration area, the means of concentrating our very scattered force, a gap in the river defences, and the support of the 2nd Army, the first alone was straightforward, as the country just north of the river was well wooded. The concentration of our force was simplified by a stroke of good luck at the last minute. The first patrol to the selected point of crossing showed it to be very strongly defended, so we tried again further to the east. A personal recce in daylight followed by two night patrols found a gap of some 400 yards between two positions, with a wooded approach to within half a mile of the bank. Finally David Dobie volunteered to cross the river immediately, by the route previously mentioned, to explain our intentions and elicit the support of 2nd Army. The plans were accordingly made at a series of conferences held in Gerald Lathbury's house, and co-ordinated by nightly telephone conversations between David Dobie and myself, using a subterranean telephone line connecting various power stations north of the Rhine to Nijmegen.
A combination of events now made our situation extremely precarious and hastened our plans for departure. Up to now, although the area had been thickly populated with Germans, mostly L of C troops, artillery and troops passing through, with the usual smattering of SS and Gestapo, we had had no real difficulty with them. In fact our closest brush was an occasion, when I was stopped on the road and ordered to assist in pushing a Boche officer's car out of the ditch. Now, however, a large number of Gestapo and Grunei Politzei descended on Ede, and we received information that a round up of all males of working age was to be made in a week's time, to acquire labour for a further defence line. This invariably entailed a house to house search, which we would not be able to withstand; added to this several neighbouring Resistance Groups had recently been broken up, and our own friends were severely shaken by the presence of these large numbers of secret police. At the same time a squadron of tanks parked opposite my house and the personnel billeted themselves in the area, four coming to my house, which only had four rooms. However they were decent enough chaps, utterly fed up, and seemed content to sleep upstairs when off duty, oblivious of the fact that important conferences were being held beneath them; and although we often met they were content with a 'good morning or evening' in doubtful Dutch. Once, meeting two in the doorway, they had the good manners to stand aside and assist me to enter with a friendly arm on my shoulder. Things were black indeed when we received the good news that all civilians were to be evacuated from an area four miles north of the river, in two days time. This meant crowded roads and great confusion, and so offered us an ideal opportunity to concentrate our force and saved us the necessity of making a long and hazardous night advance.
The plan briefly was this: D—2 All evaders in the area of Ede (approx. 80) were to move on foot and bicycle, in one's and two's with Dutch guides, by main roads in daylight, to the concentration area three miles north of crossing place. Food for the following day, one blanket per man and all arms and ammunition, were to be conveyed to the area by horse and cart, disguised as vegetables, etc.
D—1 The remaining 40 evaders who were hiding some distance to the north-east were to be moved after dark in four Dutch lorries to the concentration area. They were to be in uniform and armed, with orders to fight if the lorries were stopped. D-Day By 0100 hrs our force was to be on the river bank. At this time a burst of tracer would be fired over the exact crossing place as a guide. On reaching the point we were to signal with a red torch for the boats to come across. The entire Corps Artillery was laid on should it be required. We were all to be armed and prepared to fight our way to the bank.
D—2 went entirely according to plan with no more than a few tense moments, and by nightfall the first part of the concentration was complete. That night I had my final co-ordinating telephone call to Nijmegen, who agreed to no cancellation under any circumstances.
On D—1, before midday, Gerald and I set off on bicycles; Gerald, dressed in a black clerical suit, the only one in the town that fitted him, looked, in his own words, like a Very seedy Don'. We accomplished the 12 mile journey without event, passing a great many uninquisitive Boche, each one of whom we expected to stop us. There followed an interminable wait in the concentration area until an hour after dark, when the four lorries drew up at the appointed place. They debussed amidst great confusion and noise, and occupied so much of the road that a Boche cycle patrol had to ring their bells repeatedly to force a passage through.
I still dream of the three mile approach to the river that followed. Our force consisted largely of RAMC orderlies, and contained ten Dutchmen, several American airmen and two Russians. Never trained to this kind of warfare, their morale was badly shaken by weeks of evasion, and I can best describe that approach as a very jittery herd of buffalo stampeding through a wood. We passed through the gap without trouble, and then had to move parallel to the river for some 800 yards, between the river and the defences which were sited 400 yards back on the edge of the woods.
A patrol bumped into us and opened fire, causing some consternation among our now thoroughly demoralized ranks. It must be realized that the men had never seen their officers before. This clash of fire was followed by red Verey lights from all along the Boche line, and we expected, what we most feared, a heavy artillery concentration on the river bank. Nothing happened, however, and we hurried on, until the tracer came over according to plan. A slight but very trying delay followed owing to our mistaking the crossing place. But eventually a friendly American voice guided us to the boats and so across the river. We had crossed within two miles of our Dropping Zone almost exactly a month before.
Before we succumbed to exhaustion and reaction, a great deal of the American's whisky went down our throats. At Nijmegen the hospital had been taken over for us and David Dobie had produced a case of champagne. The next day we flew to England.