We Will Be Back

Author: Jan Brouwer
Pictures: Jan Brower


XXI Independent Parachute (Pathfinder) Company

during operation Market Garden

Oosterbeek September 1944

In June 1942 major Lander was granted permission by general Boy Browning (CB, DSO) 
to raise an independent pathfinder unit. This unit became the XXI Independent Parachute 
Company. The unit to be was stationed at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain near the 
pre-historical monument StonehengeIts task was to land by parachute ahead of the 
main force and mark the drop and landing zones (DZ/LZ) using Eureka beacons, 
coloured panels, and smoke pots. The unit then was supposed to clear en defend the 
DZ’s and LZ’s. The full company existed of 3 platoons and headquarters and numbered 
some 150 men[1], NCOs and officers. During the last six months of 1942 and the first 
six months of 1943 members were selected and trained for the unit. The unit-members had 
to maintain a very high standard and had to endure a strict selection and very tough training.
The unit contained quite a large number of Jewish Germans and Austrians[2] that had fled 
the mainland to escape nazi terror. They served under new English identities.

From May 1943 until December 1943 the company was deployed in North-Africa, Sicily 
and Italy. Its founder, major Lander, was killed in action on Sicily. In succession his second 
in command, Captain (later Major) “boy” Wilson(MC) became the CO of the company.
The company returns to Great-Britain in January 1944. From January until September 1944 
it gets replacements for those killed, wounded or captured. It is a period of renewed and 
intensive training. On September 11th 1944 operation “Comet” is cancelled. The company 
remains on stand-by. On September 16th they are briefed for operation “Market Garden”.

Pair of Fairbairn Sykes knives to commemorate
XXI Parachute Company.

[1] Including attached personnel nearly 200 went to Arnhem
[2] “the King’s own enemy aliens”

Assigned objectives for operation Market Garden:

The three platoons had the task of marking and if necessary defending the landing and drop zones 
(see map LZ L and LZ XZ).

 -          Drop and Landing zone “X” south of the railroad Utrecht-Arnhem, between Heelsum and Wolfheze (western part of this area);
-          Landing zone “Z” south of the railroad Utrecht-Arnhem, between Heelsum and Wolfheze (eastern part of this area);
-          Landing zone “S” north of the railroad Utrecht-Arnhem, north of Wolfheze
-          Landing zone “L” (later to be supply drop zone) north of the railroad Utrecht-Arnhem, between Johanna-hoeve and Wolfheze (nowadays sport centre Papendal);
-          Drop zone “Y” Ginkel Heath, east of Ede;
-          Supply drop zone “V” north-west of Arnhem[1];
-          Drop zone “K” south of Arnhem, East of Elden (Polish Para Brigade)[2].

After the accomplishment of their assigned tasks and objectives the company would be 
available to headquarters 1st Airborne Division. They could be deployed to defend the HQ 
or as “trouble shooters” reserve.

Pair of Fairbairn Sykes knives to commemorate
XXI Parachute Company.

[1] Due to the Germans blocking the Airbornes, this DZ was never occupied by the Airborne troops
[2] Idem, this DZ was later relocated to Driel and could not be marked by the Pathfinders

Sunday september 17th 1944, the first day

During the first day of the landings only the drop and landing zones X, Z and S were
being used.The 21st IPC took off from Fairford Airfield at 10:25. They were being
transportedin 12 Short Stirling bombers. These were adapted for use by parachutists by a
square hole in thebomber floor at the rear of the fuselage. It was the first time members of 
the 21st jumped from this type of aircraft. At Arnhem they were the only parachutists that 
jumped from Short Stirlings.

Pathfinders waiting to board their plane at Fairford Airfield.

At 12:40 it was “green on” en some seconds later the Pathfinders jumped from the planes 
over their assigned DZ’s.Shortly after their drop the Pathfinders reached their objectives 
and immedialtely started securing and marking the areas. At 13.00 the gliders of the 
1st Airlanding Brigade came in sight. In the companys war diary the following was recorded:

“The journey (from Fairford to the DZs) was almost uneventful, with the exception of a
 little light flak fired at one aircraft of no 1 platoon. 13.00 platoons were most accurately 
dropped in correct places and what little opposition there was, was quickly overcome.”

1st platoon, dropzone X

First platoons task was to mark drop zone X. This was done by laying out cloth panels in
the shape of the letter X (for the drop zone) and the letter T (for wind direction). Apart from
these panels they used a Eureka beacon and coloured smoke pots[1].

From available aerial photographs (see previous picture) it is known that the panels for 
drop zone X were placed in a field west of the Telefoonweg at Renkum across the road at 
the farm “de Sinderhoeve”. Other markings were placed in a field north east of the farm 
“Klein Amerika”. (see map LZ XZ).

This drop zone was meant for the landing of the parachutists of units of the 
1st Parachute Brigade.

2nd platoon landing zone Z

The second platoon had to mark landing zone Z. This zone was situated parallel to and 
east of landing zone X. This zone too was marked with coloured panels but this time using 
the letterand a T, as well as a Eureka beacon en smoke pots.These smoke pots were 
lighted very shortly before the landing or dropping of the main force. Pilots could see the 
smoke drifting away and assess direction and strength of the wind.The “Z” was laid in a 
field south of the farm “de Boschhoeve” and east of the farmhouse “Jonkershoeve”. 
See map LZ XZ.

The landing zone was for the gliders of the first Air Landing Brigade as well as the 
reconnaissance squadron and general Urquhart and his HQ. A total of 123 Horsa gliders 
were meant to land here the first day.

3rd platoon and HQ landingzone´s

Third platoon was destined to mark landing zone S. The parachutists had a very splendid 
and quit jump. They landed a short distance south-west of the farmhouse |”Reijers Camp”. 
The S marks were positioned in a field north-east of the same farmhouse. See map LZ XZ.
This terrain was used for the landing of the 1st Airlanding Brigade in their gliders. 
Also landed here were the jeeps of the reconnaissance squadron with which they were 
supposed to race to the bridge at Arnhem. Finally major-general Urquhart (CB, DSO) and 
his staff were landed here as well as several gliders with all kinds of loads for several units.
 About 20 minutes after the Pathfinders had landed the first “tugs and gliders” came in sight. 
The units war diary records:

“The landings were effected without opposition and all the gliders reported they had 
no difficulty in seeing the markings of the correct areas.13.45 hrs The 1st Parachute 
Brigade were dropped on DZ ”X”. The drop was accurate and battalions were well 
together. So far the enemy has made no serious attempt to interfere with the landings. 
During the course of the afternoon some enemy opposition was encountered but the 
DZ and LZs were kept clear.”

To report the successful landings two carrier pigeons with a short message were released. 
His pigeons refused to do their job and comfortably remained seated on the roof of the 
building. By throwing several pebbles they were encouraged to bring their messages to 


Company Headquarters established itself in and around the “Reijerskamp” farm on 
landingzone “S”. During the next days, from here, the Pathfinders were supposed to mark 
several LZs and DZs for the droppings and landings of the upcoming days.After the landings 
were finished and the landing grounds were deserted, the company gathered at Reijerscamp 
HQ. All platoons dug in for the night around the farm. The war diary records a quite night.

End of the first day

For the 21st Independent Parachute (Pathfinder) company, the first day had passed
quit successful. The operation on day one had passed like an exercise. Within a couple
of hours the company had completed it’s objectives, made 16 prisoners and had found a
horse and cart and captured a German staff car. Unfortunately there was one casualty KIA.
Corporal James Arthur Jones got accidentally shot in the head, shortly after the landings, 
whileclearing the landing zones from left equipment and weapons. He probably was the first 
casualty of the 1st Airborne division during operation “Market Garden”.

monday september 18th 1944, the second day

During the second day the Pathfinders again had to mark some landing and drop zones 
for theparas and gliders of the second lift. In the early morning hours they started off from 
“Reijerskamp” where they had been dug in during the night.All platoons met with stiff 
enemy resistance and had tojoin in the fighting to drive the enemy from the different zones 
and place their marking equipment.

1st platoon, landing zone L now sports centre Papendal

The first re-supply drop on this drop zone was expected at about 10.00 uur a.m. 
(see map LZ L). It involved 86 tons of goods, mainly ammunition en fuel. Due to bad 
weather in the UK the aircraft were seriously delayed. Around midday some enemy 
aircraft flew over the landing zone. They turned round from the east and strafed the platoon
which was outin the middle of the fields. There were no casualties but a Eureka beacon at 
thecentre of the zone was nearly hit. Finally at 15.30 hrs the hum of the supply-aircraft was
heard. As soon as theygot in sight a hail of Flak[2] and machine gunfire was fired at the 
planes. Nevertheless soon it was raining large amounts of supply containers and baskets, 
accurately guided in by the Eureka beacons and markings on the ground. Units of the Royal 
Army Service Corps took their jeeps and trailers to get the supplies from the fields. Because 
of the enemy activity the terrain wasn’t firmly in British hands and there was a lot of German
activity. The service Corps chaps nevertheless managed to secure 12 tons of supplies.

2nd platoon, landingzone X western part between Heelsum and Wolfheze

On this landing zone the Pathfinders were also strafed by a group of German ME 109 
fighter-planes. As the gliders came in they were fired upon by a group of Germans at the 
south side of the landing zone. These Germans had slipped through the positions of units of 
the Border regiment which was to defend the southern and western side of the landing zone. 
Despite the German presence the remainder of the 1st Air-landing brigade and several other 
units landed comparatively safe. For the pilots, the landing terrain was very easy to recognise
from the air. There were the markings of the Pathfinders and it was littered with gliders and 
parachutes from the previous day. One of the gliders that landed on landing zone X was 
loaded for the 21st Independent Company itself. The glider, with chalk number 900, 
contained the vehicles of the company, amongst which the company jeep, and the driver 
of HQ platoon, Corporal “Jock” Duncan Moir.

3rd platoon, drop zone y Ginkel heath east of Ede

On this drop zone about 4 miles to the west the parachutists of 4 Parachute Brigade came 
in. Apart from the Pathfinders of the 21st units of the 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers 
were present. Their job was to hold and defend the drop zone. Due to German presence at 
the east and north side of the heath the marking panels had to be laid on the south side of the 
drop zone (near to where now the A12 motorway runs). At 15:09 the first paras jumped. 
The entire dropping lasted for only 9 minutes. The jump of 4 Para Brigade was made under 
heavy enemy fire while a strong wind was blowing. Some men landed in the trees but were 
able to free themselves. Some 1.900 men jumped that afternoon.

HQ landing zone s north of railroad, north of Wolfheze

This zone, lying around the “Reijerskamp” farm was marked by members of HQ for the 
landing of gliders which were due that day. These 69 Horsa gliders landed safely despite the 
gliders that were already lying about the landing zone form the previous day.

End of the second day

The second day of the operation had passed a lot more hectic than the first day. After
the landings and the assisting in the defence of the drop and landing zones the 21 st
Company assembled at “Reijerskamp” farm around 18.00 hrs. At 19.00 hrs the
company started its move to the area near the Oosterbeek Hoog station where
Dreijenseweg and Stationsweg link up. This move passed off without any encounters with
the enemy. The heavier equipment was transported on the horse and cart that were
commandeered the day before. After a slow and difficult journey in the pitch dark evening
the new position was reached at about 23.00 hrs. The cold and uncomfortable night was
spent on the terrain around a large house called “de Paulastiching/Dreijerheide”, south of the
railway between “van Rechterenweg” and “Parallelweg/Nico Bovenweg”. HQ was situated
inside the house. During the night, the 21st came under heavy machinegun fire from the 
northside of the Railroad. Apart from that the war diary records no details and speaks of 
a quite night.

House Dreijerheide

Tuesday September 19th 1944, the third day

Again the 21st Pathfinders had the task of marking landing zones. First this concerned 
landing zone L where the gliders bringing the heavy equipment, such as jeeps, motorcycles 
and 6 pounder anti-tankguns of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade, were to land.
The second marking task was for the drop zone “V”. This terrain was chosen to drop 
supplies. As most of the landed troops the Pathfinders were not informed about the 
development of the battle, which already was going the wrong way because of stiff 
German resistance.

1st platoon, landingzone L now sportscentre Papendal

In the morning the 1st platoon started its move to the landing zone “L” to mark it for the 
arrival of the gliders of the Polish Brigade. Because of the increasing German activity 
they had to leapfrog section wise from cover to cover through the woods alongside the 
railway. The trip through 1 ½ mile of no-man’s land went slowly; before each move a 
thorough reconnaissance was necessary. To get to their objective the group used the 
culvert under the railroad embankment near Wolfheze. Like the day before, the gliders 
were expected at 10.00 hrs. About half an hour earlier the Pathfinders had marked the 
landing zone; were ready for action and started digging in. Shortly after 10.00 hrs the 
Pathfinders were fired at by Messerschmidt fighter planes that made several runs across 
the fields. No-one got hit.

It took until 16:00 hrs for the gliders to arrive. They were welcomed by a hail of German 
Flak, machinegun and mortar-fire. The Pathfinders had received orders to get onto the 
landing zone to inform the landing troops that they had to get south in the direction of 
Oosterbeek instead of east in the direction of Arnhem. At the same time large elements of 
4 Para Brigade werewithdrawing in western direction towards Wolfheze. The Germans 
started an attack from the north.Under these disastrous chaotic circumstances almost all of 
the Polish equipment was destroyed within half an hour.

Many of the Poles were killed, wounded or captured. The remaining Poles joined the units 
around the landing zone. During a lull in the German attacks the Pathfinders withdrew in the 
direction of the railway. There they waited until the entire 4 Para Brigade had passed to the 
south side of the railway. Then they crossed the railway themselves and moved in eastern 
direction through the woods between Wolfheze and Oosterbeek. At dusk they arrived at the 
new positions of the company around a house called “Ommershof” 
(see No 3 platoon and HQ).

2ND  platoon, DROPzone V FIELDS NEAR warnsborn west of arnhem

This drop zone was not available because it was still in an area that was in hands of the 
Germans. The members of 2nd platoon soon ended up with the units of the 156th and 
10th battalion preparing to attack the “Lichtenbeek” height, east of “Dreijense weg”. 
There was not much progress. The battalions were not able to break through the German 
defence-line and cross the Dreijenseweg. The second platoon moved back to Oosterbeek
and later that afternoon tried to get the attention of the incoming planes by using a 
Eureka beacon and ground panels. They even placed a beacon on a water tower 
at Zonneheuvelweg.

Helpless they had to see how the planes, through a hail of fire, tried to drop their supplies 
over enemy held territory. All attempts to have the pilots and dispatchers drop the supplies 
earlier had no effect. They were under orders to ignore any signals or instructions from the 
ground. Almost all of the supplies fell into enemy hands. When the last airplanes were gone 
the 2nd platoon withdrew to the new positions of the 21st company in and around the house

Gate entrance to the bilding of "Ommershof " used to be.

3rd platoon and HQ oosterbeek

During the day the enemy forces came closer and closer to the positions of the 21st 
company around the house “Paulastichting”. The CO Major Wilson decided to move 
their position in southern direction. The house “Ommershof” was on a piece of higher 
ground which gave a much better view of the surrounding terrain. The enemy would have 
to attack uphill, across the road and over a fence.The Pathfinders in their 2 man foxholes 
had an excellent field of fire. Their positions were strengthened by 30 men of the 
4th Parachute Field Squadron RE under command of captain Faulkner Brown (OBE, MC) 
and 60 glider pilots under command of major Jackson (DFC, Silver Star). As mentioned 
before,the 2nd platoon joined the company during the day and the 
1st platoon arrived at dusk.

End of the third  day

It had been a heavy day and in turns the men were on guard or tried to get some sleep. 
It was to be the last day the company would be executing their official task, the marking 
of landing and drop zones. After this day all landing and drop zones were completely in 
German hands. It became clear that the drop zone for the Polish Brigade could not 
be reached because the Pathfinders were not able to move to the south side of the river 
where this drop zone was planned. The 21st Independent Parachute Company had 
become part of the northern boundary of the Oosterbeek perimeter.

Wednesday september 20th /Thursday 21st, 1944
 the fourth and fifth day

During these two days the Pathfinders defended themselves around the house “Ommershof” 
They beat off many German attacks and were subject to several mortar and “nebelwerfer” 
bombardments. The allied named these “moaning minnies” because of the howling sound 
when this multiple barrelled gun was fired.

On Thursday there was an incident that has been subject to many stories, fact and 
speculation. Later it was called the “killing field incident”. The killing field was an open 
field on the left flank(west side) of the positions around “Ommershof”. Across this field the 
Germans had attacked the company several times. To do so they had to move up a 
slope and over a fence. These attacks were beaten off time after time and the Germans 
suffered heavy casualties. At some stage the Germans installed loud-speakers and tried to 
persuade the British to surrender.

The reports and stories about the incident are confused and sometimes contradictory. 
There was a moment when the Germans shouted something about surrender. Who was 
going to surrender to whom was not clear. One of the German speaking corporals called 
out to the Germans to show themselves. The Germans did show themselves and walked 
hesitant and carefully in the direction of the British lines. No-one fired a shot. 
All of the sudden Bren guns in the positions of the glider pilots opened up and everybody 
did the same. There was a true slaughter amongst the Germans who were out in the open 
field and all of them went down. Killed, wounded or looking for cover. 
The Germans did not attackacross that field anymore.

On Thursday-night, due to the increased activity of German armoured vehicles, the position 
was strengthened by the arrival of two six pounder antitank guns and a mortar section.

On Thursday Corporal Nick Carter placed a Eureka beacon on the roof of the 
Hartenstein Hotel. The supply drop-zone had been moved to the lawn across the road near 
the hotel (where the monument is now). Despite the beacon and the brave work of the 
RAF crews and dispatchers only a very limited part of the supplies was dropped within the 
British lines. After the drops the beacon was left on the roof for later use. 
Sergeant Patterson was sent to Hartenstein to operate it at later occasions.

Dropezone in front of Hartenstein Hotel.

Friday september 22nd 1944 the sixth day

Thursday night divisional HQ decided that the perimeter had to be made smaller and that 
the units defending it had to be repositioned. During the night at 01.00 hrs the company 
was moved to its new positions. In a pitch black night they walked in single file holding the 
tails of each others smocks to keep together and not get lost. The company was given new 
positions in several houses around the crossroads Utrechtseweg/Stationsweg (zie map 2). 
Company HQ was set up in the house of doctor van Maanen at Pietersbergseweg 16.

House of doctor Van Maanen HQ 21st IPC

The first platoon occupied the houses at numbers 2,4, and 
8 on Stationsweg.

The second platoon occupied the houses at numbers 
186, 188, 190, 192 and 194 on Utrechtseweg.

21st IPC monument in the garden of statinsweg 2
corner Utrechtseweg.

The third platoon occupied the houses on 32, 34, 38 Pietersbergweg and 
15,17, 19, 21, 23, 25Paasberg.
At a later stage the house at 153 and 155 Utrechtseweg were occupied by 
the Pathfinders as well.

saturday september 23rd untill Monday 25th 1944
the seventh eights and nineth day

The positions that were occupied the previous day are the ones where the Pathfinders 
would find until the final day of the battle for the perimeter. It turned out to be heavy days 
and nights. The Germans increased the pressure with permanent attacks, heavy mortar and 
artillery bombardments and sniper fire. The number of engaged tanks, self propelled guns 
and armoured vehicles grew larger every day.Several Pathfinders got killed, wounded or 
captured. Soon it was no longer a matter of a clear, coherent front line. The houses, 
occupied by platoons or sections were like islands from where a part of the surroundings 
was controlled. The streets were no mans land and while moving from one position to 
another one would never know if one would meet friend or foe. The front line was fluid all 
the time. Houses changed sides sometimes several times a day. At stages British and 
Germans even occupied different parts or floors of the same house for a short while.

Control over the area was kept not only by fields of fire from the houses but by patrolling 
as well. During the night of 25th/26th September 1944 the remnants of the division were 
to be withdrawn across the river Rhine. The way to the river went past the Oosterbeek 
Old Church to the fields at the side of the river. The Pathfinders were to assemble at 21.00 
hrs that night. Silence was crucial so their shoes were wrapped in pieces of blanket to 
prevent any noise. Equipment was secured so that it could not rattle. The password for that 
night was “John Bull”. One of the captured Germans insisted on going along across 
the river. He was tired of the war and wanted to stay alive to see his family with 6 children 
once more. He went along to the river but it is not known if he made it across.

The Pathfinders were going to leave as a company and gathered in a cabbage field. 
At 21.00 hrs XXX corps started a heavy bombardment around the edges of the perimeter 
to cover up the retreat of the airbornes. It was a dark and rainy night. At 21.25 the order 
to leave came and their withdrawal started. Like a snake the column moved silently 
through the night, men holding the flaps of the smock of the man in front. Close to the river 
the company ran into a German machine gun position that opened fire. After a short 
fire-fight the strong point was put out of action using hand-grenades. 
Several men, including Major Wilson
got wounded.In the fields south of the 
Old Church the Pathfinders joined the 
queue of men waiting to be evacuated. 
The waiting men were under constant 
mortar and artillery fire.Men got across 
in the boats that were used for the 
evacuation but some swam to the other 
side. Some didn’t make it and ended 
up as prisoners of war.

A total of 15 members of the company 
got killed in action during the battle for 
Arnhem. 5 members died of wounds 
sustained during the battle on a later date. 
A number of 24 got wounded and 
most prisoner. 29 members were missing 
in action or prisoner of war. This makes up for a total of 73 of the 186 that left 
from England. This is a little more than one third of the company.

For comparison, the entire division lost three quarters of its strength. Unique about 
the 21st IPC during the entire battle they fought as a coherent unit with its own identity. 
They had more than shown their fighting spirit by standing up to a much larger force with 
an enormous fire-power and not being defeated.

The battle for Arnhem Bridge was over. In the “Paasbergschool”, which the last few days
 had been defended by the Pathfinders, someone had written on the blackboard:

“We’ll be back”


JONES, James A.
LANDON, Walter
MARTIN, Dennis B.
MAY, Maurice L.
PHILPOT, Albert E.
FIELY, James V.
DUNBAR, Thomas M.
Served as John P. Rodley
Served as Bleach, NKG
HART, John E.
1st Border
ROBERTS, Kenneth
HILLIER, Francis J.
SWALLOW, Benjamin C.

Transcript of the letter sent to CO Major Wilson by Gen “Browning, 
shortly after returning to England.

From Lieut-Gen. F. A. M. Browning, C.B., D.S.O.
Headquarters British Airborne Corps,  B.L.A.,  27th September 1944.

“Dear Major Wilson,
I have heard on every side how outstandingly your company has done. To have 
earned this special praise from such a gallant body can only mean one thing 
- that your unit is unsurpassed by any other in the world.
Please tell your chaps what a terrific reputation they have earned.
Yours ever, “


Major. B. Wilson, M.C.,
21 Indep. Para. Coy.

Literature and websites:
“First in” – Ron Kent
“Leading the way to Arnhem” – Peter Gijbels & David Truesdale
Arnhem 1944” – Martin Middlebrook
“Ten Commando” – Ian Dear
“The Cauldron” – Zeno
“Tugs and Gliders to Arnhem” – Arie Jan van Hees
“Green on” – Arie Jan van Hees
“Silent Invader” – Alexander Morrison
“The History of the Glider Pilot Regiment” – Claude Smith
“De slag om Arnhem” – R.E. Urquhart
“De slag om de Ginkelse Heide” – C.E.H.J. Verhoef
Excursion guide Bicycle tour Airborne Museum/VVAM 19??
Excursion guide Lonsdale Force Airborne Museum/VVAM 2006

[1] Each platoon carried  part of this equipment threefold and spread over several planes to make up for possible loss.
[2] Flugzeug Abwehr Kanone.

DZ / LZ Maps

DZ / LZ Maps

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