With The Red Devils at Arnhem

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With The Red Devils at Arnhem
By Marek Swiecicki
Helion & Company – £17.96

I’m just in the midst of reading Alexandra Richie’s rather excellent and all expansive Warsaw 1944 – The Fateful Uprising, which, all things told, is relative to this book so far as Polish heroism and blatant, naked courage is concerned. Both books underline the degree to which the Polish nation paid the ultimlate price for freedom during the Second World War; a freedom they never actually saw – until just recently – due to Joseph Stalin’s vile tactics and and the West’s ultimate betrayal.

While Warsawians were not only fighting for their beloved city but their very lives, their brethern were simultaneously being parachuted into the Dutch city of Arnhem, which, as many a historian will testify, remains a much-studied and analysed battle to this very day. In fact, had the Polish and British Parachute Brigades secured the bridges over The Rhine, it’s believed several of the ghastly concentration camps in Germany (and to a degree, central Poland) might have been liberated a lot sooner.

But as this revealing and overtly personal account makes clear, it just wasn’t to be.

German forces remained a tough and very formidable fighting force, even with the outcome of the war a foregone conclusion. With The Red Devils at Arnhem is testimony to this, which, although written in the present tense throughout, continues to stand up as one man’s vivid account of what must surely have been a more than fraught and harrowing experience: ”We were struck by a glaring, terrifying,crimson light. Everything all around us was on fire. The neighbouring villages were blazing, the forest was blazing. Over our heads mortar shells burst, scattering thousands of pieces of shrapnel around us. The air was vibrating with the whistle and, hiss of artillery shells. The fallen trees made our way difficult, branches entangled our feet, deep craters forced us to change our direction every minute or two, or to leap across and go round the road of our retreat.

We plunged into a shallow depression and could not stir a yard in any direction. We were framed by arrowing explosions, repeated with terrifying monotony always in the same spots. Our guide went on ahead, but a moment later he fell to the bottom of the hole, struck by shrapnel. Someone else took over the lead, but he shared his predecessor’s fate.”

Marek Swiecicki, a Polish war correspondent attached to the Polish Parachute Brigade, has herein written his own revelatory account of what took place around the Dutch city of Arnhem in September 1944. Replete with a number of very telling black and white photographs, this book is surprisingly fresh, just as it is succinct in both translation and literary maner.

David Marx

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