The heavily damaged rectory after the Battle of Arnhem. Inset: Kate ter Horst with her eldest daughter.

Kate ter Horst: the angel of Arnhem

in Main characters/Oosterbeek

She didn’t like the title herself, but Kate ter Horst was ’the angel of Arnhem’ for the English soldiers. During the Battle of Arnhem, the 38-year-old mother cared for hundreds of wounded soldiers in the dressing station that was set up at her home in Oosterbeek.

Kate ter Horst came to live with her husband Jan in Arnhem in 1936, where Jan ter Horst had become a partner at a law firm. Five years later, in 1941, the Ter Horst family moved to the quiet area of ​​Oosterbeek, where they had bought the rectory house next to the Old Church on Benedendorpseweg.

On September 17, 1944, Kate ter Horst saw the British paratroopers landing from her home. Ter Horst wrote in her diary:

“Crazy with joy we walk through the garden and climb on the roof so that we can see more and understand more of what is happening. We can hardly believe it. Will it really be true? Is this the long-awaited end of our grief that now falls from the sky? Does this mean freedom?”

Soon after the landings, it became clear that the resistance of the Germans was much greater than expected. The British soldiers were driven back to a thumb-shaped perimeter in Oosterbeek.

The Old Church was a strong point of defense for the British. British captain Randall Martin asked Kate ter Horst if he could furnish a dressing station for the wounded soldiers in the rectory house.

Jan ter Horst, meanwhile, was on the road as a guide for British soldiers in the British sector. Due to the fighting, he was unable to return home. During the battle, he stayed with the British in the forests around Oosterbeek.

Kate ter Horst cared for five young children, but during the fighting she helped the doctors, encouraged the soldiers and comforted the wounded. More than 250 soldiers, mainly British, were cared for in the house.

Ter Horst had an English Bible at home. From that Bible she read Psalm 91 to dying soldiers. Together they prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

In the temporary cemetery set up in the garden, a total of 57 soldiers were buried during the fighting.

In her diary Kate ter Horst wrote on September 20:

“I walk through the rooms … Everywhere injured, the dining room, the study and garden room, the transverse corridor, even under the stairs and in the toilet they are. There is no corner left. Oh, if only I could be a hostess If only I could give them a hospitable bed and at least fresh water. I ask Scan to help me take the mattresses off the beds and the blankets for the soldiers. “Oh no,” he says. “We don’t want to make your beautiful things so dirty. ”
At the same time, a hurricane of expplosions bursts out over us. Shake the walls. I hear crackling, the house across the street is ablaze … Phosphorus, flashes through my head.

The injured lie back, without a complaint, helpless. Now leave them alone? But I have to go downstairs: five children are longing for me right now, trusting that I will be unharmed to protect them.

In the evening I come to the back door to get some fresh air and see the dead for the first time. They lie forward, the shaggy hair over the muddy faces, like forgotten rags. “

Although she didn’t see it that way herself, Kate ter Horst was an angel to the British soldiers. English General Frank King later wrote about it: “I noticed that an entire room was reviving when she came in. A seriously wounded soldier summarized it before he died. After Kate ter Horst talked to him for a moment, he said:” She is fantastic. She’s just like my mom.”

After the Battle of Arnhem, the Ter Horst family was evacuated, together with the other residents of Oosterbeek. Until the end of the war, Jan and Kate ter Horst stayed with their children in Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands. After their return after the liberation, Kate played herself in the film ‘Theirs is the Glory’, in which veterans acted out the Battle of Arnhem.
At the time, Jan ter Horst was acting mayor of Oosterbeek.

The oldest son of the Ter Horst family was the last victim of the Battle of Arnhem. Pieter ter Horst was killed in November 1947 when he stepped on an anti-tank mine in the floodplains behind their house.

Kate Ter Horst wrote about her experiences in the (English) book ‘Cloud over Arnhem’ in 1959. Publisher Kontrast reissued the book in 2009.

Jan and Kate ter Horst were distinguished for their heroic performance during the Battle of Arnhem in 1980. Both were appointed Honorary Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Kate ter Horst was killed near her home at the age of 85, when a motorist lost control of the wheel and hit her.
Jan ter Horst died eleven years later at the age of 98.


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