The medals, which comprise the 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal, and the International Prisoners of War Medal, will be sold alongside the commemorative medal issued on the 50th anniversary of the battle, a published copy of an emotive account of Nattrass’ experience during the battle and as a prisoner of war based on his diary, and other fascinating items in Tennants Auctioneers’ Militaria and Ethnographica Sale on March 22. The lot has an estimate of £800-£1,200.
George Nattrass was born in Beamish, County Durham, and after first working as a bookkeeper in the mines, he moved into the hotel trade and was working in London when he was called for military service. As a Senior Sergeant of the 15th Platoon, D Company of the 7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers, he was one of the 10,000 men from the 1st British Airborne Division to be sent to the Netherlands in the opening manoeuvres of the September 1944 Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne operation of the war to date. The operation sought to secure territory across the Rhine, with a view to establishing an invasion route into northern Germany, as well as to liberate parts of the Netherlands.
The 7th KOSB landed in Reijerskamp, 13 kilometres away from Arnhem bridge that was their target to capture. In a difficult landscape filled with ditches and trees which hampered communications and movement, the lightly armed soldiers were without support or resources. Only one battalion reached the bridge, the rest became trapped at Oosterbeek. Overwhelmed by enemy forces, the 7th KOSB set up headquarters at the Hotel Dreijeroord, known as The White House, which saw an exhausting battle and fierce resistance put up by the KOSB. The 890 soldiers were reduced to 90, and Nattrass was the only remaining senior sergeant when he was badly injured in the closing hours of the battle. Lying injured in the makeshift first aid post, a Colonel arrived to inform the patients that the rest of the Allied troops were retreating, leaving the dead and injured behind. After falling into an exhausted sleep, Nattrass was awoken by German forces arriving; the injured were taken first to a makeshift hospital, cleaned and bandaged before being transported to the stalags for the remainder of the war.
Although Operation Market Garden failed to achieve its primary aim of creating an incursion into German territory, it liberated towns in Holland to the joy of the starving Dutch people and is remembered for the sheer courage and determination exhibited by the Allied soldiers.
After Nattrass was liberated from the German POW camp, he returned to England. After a spell recuperating in a hospital in York, he returned to the hotel trade until his retirement. The medals, photographs of Nattrass and his comrades, books, ephemera and cutlery from the Hotel Dreijeroord inscribed and presented to Nattrass are all on display at Tennants Auctioneers ahead of their sale in March.