D-day hero granddad almost died at Dunkirk

Arthur Prosser 1943
Arthur Prosser 1943

THE courage of a war hero has been retold in memoirs compiled by his proud grandson.

The remarkable compilation describes how Hartlepool man Arthur ‘Pross’ Prosser played a major role in the liberation of Europe from the German troops in the Second World War.

Phil Prosser (right( with his son Callum as they hold photographs of his dad Arthur Prosser.

Phil Prosser (right( with his son Callum as they hold photographs of his dad Arthur Prosser.

Arthur even got to witness the Nuremberg Trials to see war criminals – which he branded “the perpetrators of what must have been the greatest crime of slavery and murder of mankind” – brought to justice.

Arthur, who passed away aged 89 in 2007, played a part in Operation Market Garden, the Allied attempt to break through German lines and seize several bridges, which saw a failed attempt that was later immortalised in the film A Bridge Too Far.

Arthur was born in 1917 in County Durham and moved to Hartlepool as a child.

He worked at Carter/Carter timber merchants and also commanded the town’s Territorial Army.

He was encouraged to join the 85th Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery.

During his training, tensions were rising in Europe and he was soon mobilised for service.

Following Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 and the UK’s declaration of war, Arthur was sent to France.

He was promoted to Bombardier (Cpl) with an anti-aircraft battery and found himself in the heat of the action.

The entire British force was trapped in Dunkirk and during Operation Dynamo, Arthur was trapped on the beach of Brae Dunes.

His account of Dunkirk is one of horror and despair, having to swim out to a Royal Navy rescue lifeboat, only for the boat to be full.

A Canadian gunner held a pistol to his face, ordering him to let go of the vessel, and Arthur sunk under the water.

But his life was saved when soldiers on board over-ruled the Canadian and dragged him in.

After a brief spell of leave he was redeployed during the Battle of Britain, defending RAF airbases and scoring many German “kills”.

Arthur was in charge of a gun on Dover pier.

One morning he watched a fishing boat heading towards the harbour but then noticed a German bomber flying low behind it with its bomb-doors open.

They fired off a round, missing the aircraft and completely blowing the front off the boat.

“He often wondered what the reaction of the bomber crew was to this unfortunate incident,” said Arthur’s grandson Stuart Prosser, 26, who compiled the recollection and is head of security at the home of Scottish Parliament in Holyrood.

Arthur was commissioned as an officer in 1943, in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

In May 1944 he was admitted to hospital with glandular fever.

But as allied forces were planning the invasion of Europe, he discharged himself, still ill, to join his unit.

On orders from General Dwight D Eisenhower, on June 5, 1944, Arthur headed to France.

Arthur wrote about the “enormous strength of the operation and the tremendous power” of the Allies, as he saw the size of the Allies’ naval escort, with hundreds of aircraft overhead.

He led 15 men onto Juno Beach as German fighter aircraft appeared.

He shouted for his men to get down, and recalled how one man who had not seen action before clung to him in the sand as the aircraft screamed overhead.

When danger had passed, they continued, and came across a German SS Lieutant, but swiftly “sent him to his maker”.

Arthur transferred to 3rd Infantry Division to the Guards Armoured Division of 30 Corps and fought through Belgium.

He took part in Operation Market Garden, helping to seize German bridges.

But the plan collapsed when the bridge at Arnhem was in German hands.

Arthur crossed Nijmegen Bridge shortly after it was captured and took up position with the guns in front of a factory.

From there they were able to support the airborne troops trapped at Oosterbeek, but 30 Corps were unable to reinforce the perimeter before it collapsed.

Of the 10,000 British troops that went into Arnhem only 2,000 were rescued.

The 30 Corps took the brunt of a surprise German assault in the Ardennes.

He spent the night in a barn and was woken by German troops and he and his men had to fight their way out of danger.

The Allied forces advanced into Germany, and the Nazi atrocities became known to Arthur with the discovery of vast concentration camps.

His unit was called in to remove the corpses.

“For Arthur, the scenes he had witnessed in this most awful of places would never leave him,” said Stuart.

Approaching Victory in Europe (VE) Day, with German troops hemmed in on all sides, Arthur wrote about being on a train travelling to Calais to come home when a warrant officer announced that a German delegation was meeting Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to sign a surrender.

“Nobody cheered or appeared excited although everyone felt a sense of relief”, wrote Arthur.

“Our war at least was over and the killing stopped.”

Arthur sat through the Nuremberg Trials and after nine months, 12 war criminals were hanged with seven given prison terms from 10 years to life.

Arthur returned home to his wife Gwennie and their home in Caledonian Road.

His son Phil Prosser, 63, of Clarkson Court, who along with his younger son Callum, 24, are well-known cricketers, said: “I’m very proud of what dad did, but he was not the sort of man who wanted to broadcast it himself.”

Arthur was also dad to Tina Proud, 65, and Tom Prosser, 68, and has nine grandchildren and many great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.