The Canadians Who Fought at Arnhem

CANLOAN officers serving with the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, London (NAC)

The Battle for Arnhem in September 1944 is an action closely associated with the British 1st Airborne Division and their heroic struggle for Arnhem Bridge and fighting in the Oosterbeek Perimeter. The units within this Airborne formation were all from the British Army and at the time Operation Market Garden was taking place the Canadian Forces were advancing along the ‘Long Left Flank’ from Belgium towards the Netherlands.

So how could Canadian soldiers take part in the battle for Arnhem? The answer is CANLOAN.

In late 1943 the British Army was fighting on a number of fronts and infantry officer casualties were higher than the British ability to replace them. With the forthcoming invasion of Europe, the need for officers would be great. At the same the Canadian Army had a surplus of officers, partly due to the disbandment of units that had been on home defence in Canada, and also because they were only fighting on one major front, in Italy. And while casualties there were high, there was enough personnel to replace them. In total 673 Canadian officers volunteered for the CANLOAN system. All of them had ‘CDN’ added to their army number and were sent to England for battle training. Their casualty rate by 1945 was 75% – indicating just how costly the last year of the war in Europe was.

Captain Ashton Kerr, a Canadian CANLOAN medical officer who served with the British 1st Airborne Division aboard S.S. NIEUW AMSTERDAM en route to Canada 1945 (NAC)

In September 1944 a number of CANLOAN officers were in the 1st Battalion Border Regiment, 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment and 7th Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers. These were all ‘glider’ battalions that were part of Airborne Divisions at that time, with some Airborne troops being sent into battle by parachute and others by glider. As part of 1st Airborne Division they played a vital role in Operation Market Garden and flew into Arnhem, the Staffs losing heavily in efforts to get to Arnhem Bridge and the others taking part in the defence of the Oosterbeek perimeter up to the point of evacuation.

Lieutenant G.P. Comper (left), a paratroop officer who fought at Arnhem, talking with Major-General E.G. Weeks at the first annual reunion of CANLOAN officers, Royal Empire Society, London, England, 14 April 1945. (NAC)

Lieutenant George Comper, seen in the photograph above, fought at Arnhem with the 1st Battalion Border Regiment in the battle for the Oosterbeek Perimeter. There were a number of fellow Canadians in his battalion and in the fighting on 25th September 1944 their positions were overrun. An account of the death of his fellow CANLOAN officer, Lieutenant John Wellbelove, survives.

“Lieut Wellbelove’s platoon was on our left. We were attacked by the Herman Goering Officer Corps behind four German tanks. The only way the tanks could get at us was up the short road to the restaurant but coming through the trees were hundreds of Germans. Four of us were on the left hand side of the restaurant and Lieut Wellbelove approximately 50 yards to our left. When they got to about 30 yards of us our Bren jammed and Lt Barnes’ batman was shot between the eyes. To our left we could hear Lt Wellbelove encouraging his lads and hear his Sten firing. We jumped over the parapet as the Germans came round the other side. We could still hear Lt Wellbelove shouting, “Come on you Heine bastards” It was the first time I had ever heard him swear. He was a perfect gentleman and it must have upset him seeing his lads being slaughtered. He kept firing his Stem until he was overrun. You can’t do any more than that. God knows how many Germans he killed before they got him. Over the years I’ve told my sons about him and what a brave chap he was. No braver man ever came out of Canada. He was a credit to his country and his regiment.”

(from Code Word CANLOAN by Wilfred I. Smith, Dundurn 1992, p.173)

Lieutenant John Wellbelove was from Eston, Saskatchewan and was 24 years old. He is buried in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, one of several CANLOAN officers in the cemetery – distinguished by the Maple Leaf badge on their headstones.

Grave of John Wellbelove at Arnhem (World at War)

By the end of the operations at Arnhem of the 23 CANLOAN officers in 1st Airborne Division only three made it back across the Rhine. The rest were all killed or taken prisoner, with several of the POWs being wounded. The sacrifice and service of these men is barely known in Canada, let alone in Britain. It was later said of them,

“… the gallant young officers loaned to the British Army under its terms did their country credit and made a distinguished and significant contribution to the Military effort of the Commonwealth and the winning of the war. “

I once travelled to Normandy with a British veteran who had a CANLOAN platoon commander. His epitaph on him says much of them all. He said this young Canadian was the “toughest b*****d” he’d ever served with.


13 thoughts on “The Canadians Who Fought at Arnhem

  1. Of the 673 Canadian officers that volunteered for CANLOAN, did they all serve in Market-Garden? I’m just curious if it
    was only officers, or were their other Canadian servicemen who saw action in Arnhem.

  2. Thats a great question…i am reading
    A Bridge Too Far Author by
    Cornelius Ryan..i just started it…if
    you want a great read about Market
    Garden.. this is the the book…but i
    am just 30 pages in and i cant put it

    1. I should read the book…I have only ever seen the movie, and we all know what Hollywood does to military
      history (at least until Saving Private Ryan was released). My mother lived in Eindhoven during Operation
      Market-Garden, and her father (my grandfather) was a VP at Philips. So we certainly heard a lot about that
      period in September 1944.

  3. In 2004 I wrote and privatly published ‘Nine Days at Arnhem’, Canadian Officers – under the CANLOAN Scheme – in the
    7th Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers. 1st British Airborne Division – Canada, UK, Holland and Norway
    1944-1945. 180 Pages and many photographs. Ten CANLOAN Officers fought with the 7th Bn KOSB at Arnhem. Two
    of them were killed in action and are buried in the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery: Lt Wayte and Lt Kipping.

  4. My father F/L Frederick A McLeod, was a member
    of the Husky (437) Squadron. He was one of the
    fortunate brave young men who survived
    Operation Market Garden. My Dad lived to the age
    of 95, passing away October 5, 2013. He was an
    incredible man and shared with me many
    memories as well as leaving me numerous
    photographs and other memorabilia from WWII.
    He spoke to me about Operation Market Garden
    not long before he died and as he did he looked to
    the ski as his eyes filled with tears. Spoke of the
    friends who were lost during those missions. He
    was in one aircraft that crashed on top of another
    plane i believe. I am immensely proud to be
    Canadian and immensely proud to be his daughter.
    He was the finest man I have ever known.

    1. Hi Karen: My dad was the commading
      officer of 437 squadron. Just recently
      a bunch of the children of the
      squadron members have started
      communucating and sharing notes.

      If you’re interseted in joining us i can
      be reached at

  5. My father was a canloan officer, but was injured in Colembelles France on July 11th, 1944
    he was on a stretcher for 2 days before the 175th ambulance men came to get him to a
    hospital. he was blind at first, but I believe he just could not see any more carnaige, he regained
    his full site. He became a coward after that. a drunken coward. I am so sorry he had to see
    what he saw. Eric barton Howard, was mean, dirty and a pervert after that war. I have forgiven
    him, because I believe he is part of the reason we are not hitlers to own.

  6. Hello.
    My name is Judith Colbert-Barkel. My grandfather was William A. Colbert and he was also a
    Canloan officer. CDN 138. He served with two different regiments. The Somerset Light Infantry-
    7th Battalion-43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division and also with The Border Regiment 1st Battalion
    1st Airborne Division. I was 3 years old when my grandpa passed away in 1966 so all I know
    about him being injured in the war is what he told my grandmother. He would say he got injured
    by falling off of a fat Belgium ladies lap. I guess he’d say that so he wouldn’t have to tell her the
    truth. Just in the last year or so a relative overseas told me that he had heard that my grandpa
    crashed his glider going into the battle at Arnhem and he had broken his back. I’ve got no proof
    of that but I do know he was injured somehow during the war. If anyone has any information or
    had a relative that was in the same regiments as my grandfather I would love to hear from you.

    1. Dear Mrs. Colbert-Barkel,

      We are conducting a documentary search of Canloan officers who have participated in the Battle of Arnhem
      Sep 17, 1944 – Sep 25, 1944​. We are doing this commissioned by the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek.
      Specifically this research because this group of soldiers remains forgotten within the bigger remembrance of
      WWII in the Netherlands.
      In our research, we came across your grandfather’s name. We were wondering if you are willing to share
      more stories about your grandfather, his service, or if you have found any information over the past months
      you are willing to share with us. We would love to use this information in our research, to honor the soldiers
      that have fought during the Battle of Arnhem here in the Netherlands.
      The findings will be used to create an exhibit at the Airborn Museum in Oosterbeek

      1. I am so very sorry. I just noticed that you had left me a message on my last post.
        Since my last post this is an update about my grandfather William A. Colbert who
        was a “Canloan”officer ( Lt. William A. Colbert CND 138 ) who served with the 1st
        Battalion The Border Regiment from April 1944-Dec 1944. My brother told me that
        when he visited the Cumbria Museum he had talked to someone there about my
        grandfather’s role while with the Border Regiment and at that time he was told that
        according to the book “ A Fragment of Life “ by Alan Green that it was a possibility
        that the Canadian “ Canloan “ officer that Alan Green had to switch
        Company/platoon with just before the Arnhem battle was my grandfather. According
        to what Alan Green writes in his book he was with “ R “ Company until an incident
        happened to a Canadian Canloan officer and that Canadian got demoted and Alan
        Green replaced him in “ D “ Company. In the book “ When Dragons Flew “ my
        grandfather who is mentioned on page 96 and is also in the Battalion Roll, Arnhem it
        shows he is in “ R “ Company/Home Details and didn’t go to fight in Arnhem. I was
        wondering if there was a way to find out if my grandfather was ever in “D “ company
        and was he the Canadian that Alan Green had to switch places with. I have been
        trying online to find any lists showing who was on what Company/platoons before
        the Arnhem battle but I’ve had no luck so far.
        Thank you for taking the time to read my message.

        Judith ( Colbert ) Barkel

  7. Enjoy the Best Movie regarding All Time
    What film do you want to watch today? Sniper movies may be required upon your list.
    This is the most fun shooting battle, where every sniper action is always interesting in order to watch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: