Everybody did it

Even in the first week after the airborne invasion, the Dutch in the region had also suffered from American and British looting. ‘Some of them are great people,’ Martijn Louis Deinum wrote of the American paratroopers in Nijmegen, ‘but it’s a great shame there is so much rabble amongst them, as they steal everything.’ Even officers joined in, believing they deserved it after risking their lives for the Dutch.…

‘Some of the soldiers had heard that Holland is the land of diamonds,’ wrote one of Brigadier General McAuliffe’s staff officers. ‘They had visions of going back to the States with pockets full of sparklers. With the use of bazookas, many large iron safes in Holland got the treatment.’ A corporal in the 101st also recounted how ‘some of our troopers used a bazooka to open a bank vault and “liberated” a substantial amount of Dutch money. General Taylor did visit our battalion to inform us that this was not proper behaviour with regard to our allies.’ At the end of the war the Allies had to make a joint settlement of £220,000 ( £9 million in today’s money) to the Dutch authorities for looting just in the area of Nijmegen. The British military authorities put up placards in English ordering troops to stop looting empty houses as the population had suffered enough, yet all too many soldiers could not resist the easy pickings of war. A private of the 3rd Parachute Battalion at the Arnhem road bridge was quite frank on the subject. ‘It was against all regulations, but everybody did it,’ he said later. ‘The lads had piled up some nice treasures. I got four drawers full of beautiful cutlery that must have been worth a £100 or more. My sister was getting married and I thought it would make a wonderful wedding present.’ Even without the prospect of prison camp, he had no idea how he would take it home. All too often soldiers plundered, then dumped their swag later.

—Antony Beevor, Arnhem, (London: Penguin, 2019), 349.

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