The defence of the Van Limburg Stirum School

The Netherlands




Before the war, the Van Limburg Stirum School was situated here. During the Battle of Arnhem, the school was taken by a group of 30 Airborne Engineers and a group of thirteen men of C Company of the 3rd Parachute Battalion. The school became the scene of a tough battle during the fighting around the bridge, and the British defenders tried to hold out to the last.

When captain Eric Mackay arrives with his group of 30 Airborne Engineers at the bridge in the evening of 17 September 1944, he is ordered to occupy and defend this school and an adjoining building. After entering the buildings, they immediately equip them for their defence. Windows are smashed to prevent glass flying around during the fighting, curtains are removed, and furniture is moved to barricade the windows. In addition, bathtubs, buckets and basins are filled with water to build up a water supply.

Soon after they arrive in the building next to the school, it is attacked by German troops, and it becomes clear that this building is difficult to defend. The British withdraw to the school, where later that night, they are joined by a group of British soldiers of C Company of the 3rd Parachute Battalion under major Lewis.

In the night of 18-19 September 1944 around three o'clock in the morning, the British notice that a group of German soldiers has gathered right next to the school. Obviously unaware of the British presence in the building, these German soldiers are having a carefree chat with each other when the British defenders harass them from above with grenades and gunfire. The next morning, the British defenders count at least eighteen dead and wounded Germans next to the building.

By Tuesday evening, the first heavy German tanks, the fearsome Tiger tanks, emerge and drive across the Eusebiusbuitensingel, systematically shooting at buildings. The school is shot at as well, about which private George Needham said later: “Suddenly there was a huge explosion beneath us in the stairwell. It was the first time the building was hit by such a heavy shell. There was a tank in the driveway, firing at point blank range. We were used to gunfire and mortar fire but were completely stunned by this huge explosion.

On Wednesday 20 September, the pressure on the ever-smaller perimeter increases, and the British defenders in the Van Limburg Stirum School have almost reached the end of their tether and nearly run out of ammunition. A German tank systematically fires at the building, and a fire breaks out at some point in time. Unable to extinguish the fire, the defenders have to abandon the school. Another attempt is made to enter the adjoining building, but it fails, and there is no option left but to surrender or, in some cases, try to get away. Major Lewis is one of those who surrender. Captain Mackay flees and finally manages to reach the Allied lines at Nijmegen; one of the very few who managed to get away.