A boy witnesses the raging war
Bert Selles, ex-city engineer of Hastings, was a 10-year-old living with his family 20 kilometres from Arnhem when Operation Market was launched on September 17, 1944.
Wageningen, where he lived was just six kilometres from the drop zone.
“There was a lot of activity around the city of Wageningen that morning” he said.
“Alarms had gone off a few times, but despite this it was decided that we would still go to church.
“At one point while in church we all heard an alarm go off and it [was] thought wiser by everyone to stay where we were despite the service having ended.
“I remember the organist went on playing and we kept singing. That is until the organ gave up when we lost power.
“Just after 12 it was thought it was safe and everyone left the church. At that moment a group of dive-bombing German aircraft flew over dropping their bombs.
“About two streets away, we learned later, around 30 people had been killed by bombs.
“All of us who had dropped to the ground at the blast scrambled up and ran to our homes.
“The air activity continued with parachutes dropping out of planes. It was all very exciting for us. My brothers and I wanted to see all that was going on, but our parents kept calling us inside.
“About 1pm from the first ﬂoor of our home we could see the big planes arriving with their tow ropes trailing behind.
“I don’t think there was any retaliation from the Germans that day. We didn’t hear any anti-aircraft fire.”
Bert said the second day was much the same.
But on Tuesday it was a different story. It was obvious by now that the Germans were prepared and anti-aircraft gunfire raged as German fighter planes battled overhead.
Ten days later Bert and his family were evacuated to a friends’ farm three kilometres north of Wageningen and later to another large house at Leersum west of the city.
At this house he remembers getting up one night to go the the bathroom and seeing a man wearing leathers coming down the stairs.
“I realised later that he must have been an Allied airman whose plane had crashed in a nearby field who was hiding in this house.”
Always when talking about the war, Bert repeats, “I was only a boy”.
He remembers having an auntie living with them, but she was in fact a Jewish woman who his parents were hiding.
“She survived the war,” said Bert.
He has been back to his home, walked under “A bridge too far” and seen the huge cemeteries of those who died in Operation Market Garden. Historians agree that casualties in the combined air and ground attack were greater than the D-Day invasion of Europe.
Photo caption – Bert Selles . . . in church when the first planes were heard.