The 7th Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers had only one great fight in the Second World War, but it was one that has never been forgotten. The 60th anniversary of Operation ‘Market Garden’, which included the airborne landing east of the Rhine at Arnhem in Holland, has just been commemorated.
The 7th (Galloway) Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers (K.O.S.B.) which was raised in 1939, recruited largely in Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire and until 1943 was used for coastal defence from Essex to the Shetlands. In November 1943 the battalion was sent to Lincolnshire as part of 1st Airlanding Brigade of 1st Airborne Division, where it trained with Horsa gliders on the ground and in the air. All ranks wore maroon berets when they were inspected by their Colonel-in-Chief – H.R.H. Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. King George VI and General Montgomery visited the battalion in March 1944.
Following the successful landings on the Normandy beaches in June, the battalion was put on standby for an operation near Caen. This and other planned airborne operations were cancelled and it was not until September 1944 that the 7th K.O.S.B. went into action. By this time the Allies were progressing well and the idea was that if the bridges over a number of rivers could be captured intact, the war could be over by Christmas.
Operation ‘Market Garden’ involved two American Airborne Divisions which would take the bridges over the Maas at Grave and the Waal at Nijmegan. The British Airborne Division was to take the bridges over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem while, overland, the Guards Armoured Division punched a corridor eastwards to supply and reinforce the airborne troops.
765 men of the 7th K.O.S.B. set off in 56 towed gliders, most of which arrived some eight miles from the Arnhem bridges, in the early afternoon of Sunday 17th September 1944. Their orders were to take and hold a dropping zone – Ginkel Heath – ready for the 4th Parachute Brigade which was due at 10 o’clock the following morning.
The companies set off to establish a defensive ring round the dropping zone. 16 Platoon of D Company was sent to take a group of huts occupied by Dutch civilians. Captain George C. Gourlay, late of Nethertack, Moniaive, who formerly farmed Castlefairn, accompanied this platoon with some signallers. He was second in command of D Company. Patrols were sent out that night but early on 18th September, after some confused fighting, during which seven men were killed or mortally wounded, the enemy overran their position and most of the platoon as well as Captain Gourlay were taken prisoner. Captain Gourlay arranged for a wood to be searched for wounded men and he gave a seriously wounded man a morphine injection.
Lance Corporal Francis Davidson, the son of Mr and Mrs William Davidson who lived at the Ford, Tynron, where William was shepherd, was in 3 Platoon A Company. It was to defend the north-east section of the dropping zone where 4th Parachute Brigade would arrive on 18th September. This it did with vigour but several men were killed. A Company then moved to the landing zone where the gliders for the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade arrived on the 19th. These were subjected to a violent German barrage of fire and it was when trying to extricate themselves from this awkward position that most of A Company was surrounded and taken prisoner. 3 Platoon got away after dark but was captured early on the 20th. This was the day that L/Cpl: Davidson was reported missing. Frank Davidson who was well known as a molecatcher, lived at Shinnelholm, Tynron, where he grew tomatoes.
10 Platoon, C Company, arrived on 18th September as it was guarding the battalion’s reserve ammunition carried in five gliders with a Jeep and two trailers in each. Sergeant Archibald Muirhead, whose home was in Dunreggan, Moniaive, was platoon sergeant. He had been in the Regiment before the war and had served in Burma and India before joining the 7th Battalion.
The platoon was attached to A Company and dug trenches for the night. It was in action the following day trying to clear the woods surrounding the landing zone. Identifying the difference between Pole and German caused difficulties resulting in A Company being forced to surrender. It was not confirmed until November that Archie Muirhead had been taken prisoner. He later married and emigrated to Alberta, Canada.
The battalion made a courageous stand defending the ‘white house’ at Oosterbeek where the remaining men had little food or sleep. The weight of weaponry brought in to counter attack the British Division was beginning to overwhelm them when on 25th September the order ‘Pull out tonight’ was received. The remnants of the K.O.S.B.s were ferried across the Rhine at 2.00am on the 26th.
Major General Miles summed up the achievements of the battalion:
Of the 120 Borderers who lost their lives as a result of the operation at Arnhem, 83 are buried at Oosterbeek where there is a plaque which reads:
FLOWERS IN THE WIND
This plaque is dedicated
to the children of this region
who grace this cemetery every
year paying homage to the
men who gave their lives for
Arnhem Veterans Club
© A.B. Hall
Sources: Borderers in Battle, Captain Hugh Gunning 1948.
Arnhem 1944, Martin Middlebrook 1994.
Off at Last, Robert Sigmond 1997.
Notes: Some local soldiers, in units other than the K.O.S.B. may also have taken part in operation ‘Market Garden’.
Robert Sigmond has kindly allowed information from his Battalion history, ‘Off at Last’, to be used. He has now written a sequel, ‘Nine Days at Arnhem’, about the Canadian Officers attached to the 7th Battalion K.O.S.B.