Upon joining the paratroopers, Tatham-Warter was put in charge of a company in the 1st Airborne Division. It did not take long before he built a reputation, such as by procuring a Dakota airplane to fly his fellow officers to a posh party in London’s Ritz Hotel. However, although Tatham-Warter partied hard, he also worked hard, and his company was chosen to spearhead the attempt to seize the Arnhem Bridge in Operation Market Garden on September 17th, 1944.
Tatham-Warter was worried about radios’ unreliability, so he trained his men to respond to Napoleonic era bugle calls. He also had trouble remembering passwords and came up with an innovative and weird solution: carry an umbrella. He reasoned that even if he forgot a password, any paratrooper who saw him would immediately realize that “only a bloody fool of an Englishman” would carry an umbrella into battle.
2. Charging Into Battle While Wearing a Bowler Hat
Upon landing near Arnhem, Tatham-Warter led his company to the bridge. He and his men wound their way through backstreets, to avoid German armored cars on the main thoroughfares. In heavy fighting over the next few days, he was often seen strolling through the wrecked town, wearing a paratrooper’s red beret instead of a helmet, with a pistol in one hand, and an umbrella in the other.
Tatham-Warter’s umbrella actually came in handy, when a German counterattack placed armor on the Arnhem Bridge. He led his men in a charge, bearing a pistol and his trusty umbrella, and adding to the weird scene by wearing a bowler hat. He reportedly even managed to disable a German armored vehicle by thrusting his umbrella through its viewport, poking out the driver’s eye or otherwise incapacitating him.
Operation Market Garden called for the paratroopers to hold the Arnhem Bridge for two days, until relieved. However, the relief force got stuck, and after eight days, a wounded Tatham-Warter and the surviving paratroopers surrendered. The weird adventures were not over yet, however. He was sent to a hospital, but once the German nurses were out of sight, he snuck out. A friendly local woman put him in touch with the Dutch Resistance, who furnished Tatham-Warter with civilian clothes and fake identity documents that described him as a deaf-mute. He then spent weeks bicycling around, helping the Resistance.
During those escapades, Tatham-Warter helped push a German car out of a ditch without arousing suspicion. Eventually, he gathered about 150 Allied soldiers on the lam in the Dutch countryside and led them to the safety of friendly lines. Allison Digby Tatham-Warter was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, and after the war, he settled in Kenya, where he lived out his days as a safari operator until his death in 1993.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading