Remembering Doug Atwell: The Battle of Arnhem

PUBLISHED: 09:00 26 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:59 27 September 2019

Doug Atwell fourth from left on the back row when he was in the RAF

Doug Atwell fourth from left on the back row when he was in the RAF


The Battle of Arnhem is probably one of Britain's biggest defeats during the Second World War.

Doug with Paul and Betty BergkotteDoug with Paul and Betty Bergkotte

Bad planning and preparation would ultimately cause pain and prolong suffering as the war would last for another nine months.

September 23 marked the 75th anniversary and Doug Atwell played a significant part in the battle. Despite defeat, his biggest victory was helping develop and encourage young people to take up sport in Weston.

Today (September 26) would have been his 101st birthday, having died on the 13th March 1982.

The Weston Mercury of March 19 that year paid tribute to Attwell, christening him 'Mr Sport' after he received the Locking Trophy in December 1981 for outstanding service to benefit young people in the area.

Doug when he was in the Army during the second World WarDoug when he was in the Army during the second World War

Wing commander Geoff Findlay told him 'you have set a magnificent example to all, especially to the youth of this town.'

Youngest son Paul Atwell talks of how Doug was called up to the battle in Arnhem, saying: "At the start of the War he was with the Somerset Light Infantry and then in 1942 he got a telegram.

"The telegram said 'we are thinking of setting up a new regiment called the glider pilot regiment and you'll be flying planes without engines' and he volunteered.

"He landed his glider in Wolfheze and the intention was from there they would march to Arnhem and win the bridge.

"Unfortunately that didn't happen, they were defeated by the Germans and he had to escape by swimming across the river Rhine on his 26th Birthday on September 26, 1944."

With more than 35,000 American and British Forces dropped behind enemy lines by parachute and gliders, it was the largest airborne operation in history and despite just turning 26, Doug had to wait and let men as young as 18,19 and 20 go first.

Paul added: "For his actions he was mentioned in the dispatches. I think he was one of the last to actually escape and get across the river because he oversaw the others first because he was one of the oldest.

"But he saw the youngsters over the river and made sure they were safe."

Despite getting away from the Germans, second son John Atwell recalls a lucky escape Doug had moments after reaching Holland involving a spade he used for digging trenches.

"On his birthday when he swam across the river he had the spade on his back," he said.

"When he was swimming across the river, he got out the other side, the bomb came down and all the shrapnel hit him in the back. It put a great dent in the spade and saved his life."

After reaching Oosterbeek, Doug went into a cellar and met up with Betty Bergkotte, the wife of pastor Philip who ran the local church.

During their meeting, Doug handed out chocolate from his rations, the pair then going their separate ways.

In 1957, 12 years after the Second Wold War had ended, Doug and Jackie headed back for a reunion where they met up with Betty again.

"We became great friends," exclaimed Jackie. "Betty was very friendly with Kate der Horst - the angel of Arnhem. She showed me where she was with her family during the battle.

"An officer came to her and said could they put the wounded in the house and she looked after them."

The battle would later be made into a movie called 'A Bridge Too Far' and halfway into the film Atwell's name is on the side of one of the gliders.

"It's amazing," Paul said. "If you look at the stars that are in the film from that era. You've got Michael Caine, Sean Connery and all the big names and to think Dad's name is there, it's a great honour."

Phillip and Betty's son, also called Paul, would become the godfather of Doug's son Paul and he says the battle should never be forgotten.

"I guess it should be remembered," Paul added. "Because possibly they were thrown into the deep end by the generals. It was an ambitious plan, possibly as it was doomed to failure and these men had to go.

"They had no choice, they had to fight. They were told they had to go and they should always be remembered. Even though we didn't actually win the battle that shouldn't be the point, all the soldiers did their best and it was unfortunate it was one bridge too far."

"I'd like to think that when September comes it would be in the papers, on the television and not forgotten," added Jackie.

"I don't think it will ever be forgotten and I hope we do see some of it in the papers and television."

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