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Surgeon at Arms (Paperback)

Parachuting into Arnhem with the First Airbornes

Military WWII > Battles & Campaigns > Arnhem

By Lipmann Kessel
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 192
ISBN: 9781848845916
Published: 2nd November 2011
Last Released: 4th September 2019



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Surgeon at Arms is without doubt one of the most interesting and dramatic personal memoirs to come out of the Second World War. The author, a surgeon, was parachuted into Arnhem with the First Airborne Division. His professional skill was at once tested to the limit and the modest detachment with which he describes serious operations performed under appalling conditions would alone be enough to merit the reissue of the book. But of equal significance is the author's account of his unceasing efforts to stop the Germans evacuating the hospital, a struggle which must inevitably be seen
against his Jewish background. Add to this the author's hair-raising escape and the heroism of the Dutch Resistance and you have all the ingredients of a truly remarkable book.
The flame of 'Arnhem' has lately been rekindled by Cornelius Ryan's book and the thirtieth anniversary ceremonies. But Ryan was an historian; Kessel was a participant; and it is only through the eyes of the participants that the reader can honestly assess the validity of the historian's viewpoint. Lipmann Kessel's book has lost nothing of its freshness or its drama in the thirty years since the events it describes took place. Now republished after being unavailable for many years, it warmly deserves to find a new generation of readers.

Captain Lipmann Kessel was a Jewish South African surgeon who served with the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, spending almost all of the Battle as a prisoner at the St Elizabeth Hospital where he worked ceaselessly to tend the wounded, for which he was ultimately awarded the MBE and Military Cross. The narrative begins in the final moments of the Battle, and vividly describes the conditions and difficulties of working in an improvised hospital under enemy supervision. As it was close to the front line and there was every chance that his prisoner patients could be freed by the Allied advance, he continually argued against the German desire to evacuate it, and deliberately kept lightly wounded men on the danger list so that they would not be taken away. Lipmann Kessel also came into contact with the Dutch Resistance and, having saved the life of and helping to smuggle away Brigadier Hackett, he also managed to make a run for it himself when it was clear his services were no longer necessary. Having spent several dangerous months hiding behind enemy lines in the care of the Resistance, he finally reached Allied territory in February 1945.

Pegasus Archive

Lipmann Kessel was a military surgeon who served with the First Airborne Division at Arnhem. This memoir largely focuses on the period after the hospital he was operating in was captured by the Germans, his escape from captivity and his repeated attempts to cross back to the Allied side of the front line.

The time Kessel spent with the resistance means that he came to realise just how much danger they were in, and how uneven their fates would be if he was caught with a resistance member – he would be returned to a POW camp, they would probably be executed. This sense of risk counters the adventure story elements of the memoir, to produce a compelling account of life on the run in the last days of the Nazi occupation of Europe. Combined with the earlier accounts of medical work under such difficult situations and with Kessel's compelling writing style this produces a very high quality memoir.

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