The Netherlands / Landmark

A hospital in the front line




The St Elisabeth Hospital, today an apartment building, was still a hospital in the war years. During the Battle of Arnhem, Dutch, British and German doctors helped wounded and saved lives here, not only of Dutch and British, but also of Germans. Even though the hospital comes to find itself literally in the front line.

During the war years, the St Elisabeth Hospital was still a hospital. This was the reason why a medical unit of the British 1st Airborne Division, the 16th Parachute Field Ambulance, goes to this building on 17 September 1944 to take care of the wounded of the 1st Parachute Brigade there. They arrive here early in the evening and find, in addition to Dutch medical staff, a German medical unit, both busy tending to wounded of both sides. The British take over control of the hospital but allow the Germans to keep working here. From that moment, Dutch, British and German medical staff work together to take care of incoming wounded from both sides.

Although the location of a Casualty Clearing Station is intended to be behind the front line, the St Elisabeth Hospital finds itself in the front line on 18 September. While the war is raging outside, the people inside keep working almost unperturbedly to save lives. The war is sometimes literally fought on the doorstep of the hospital when late in the evening of 17 September, a group of German soldiers is cut down on the driveway of the hospital by British soldiers of C Company of the 1st Parachute Battalion.

As many as four times, the control of the hospital switches from one warring party to the other. When on 19 September the Germans finally take control of the hospital, they order that the British medical staff is transported in captivity. Major Longlang, the British doctor in charge, persuades the Germans to leave two surgical teams behind to help the Germans tend to the continuing inflow of wounded. As a result many lives are saved, including that of brigadier Hackett who was wounded in Oosterbeek.

The Dutch underground, including resistance fighter ‘Piet van Arnhem’, is also active in the hospital. With their help, several British soldiers are smuggled out of the hospital to enable them to go into hiding and escape to their own lines. In this way, brigadier Lathbury and brigadier Hackett, among others, are saved from German captivity. Finally, it is decided in the middle of October that all British will be transported in captivity to Apeldoorn, and this turbulent period in the history of the hospital comes to an end.