Kate ter Horst – The Angel of Arnhem

One of the main characters in the 1977 movie A Bridge Too Far is Kate ter Horst, portrayed by Liv Ullmann.  I didn’t realise until I did some reading recently, that it was Kate ter Horst and not Liv Ullmann who provided the narration for the opening title sequence of the movie.

The movie tells how this amazing lady gave permission for her home to be used by the Regimental Aid Post as a place to provide care for the wounded men of the British Airborne.  Kate ter Horst became known as the ‘Angel of Arnhem’ for the part she played in providing comfort and aid to the wounded and dying airborne soldiers.  Although she was reportedly uncomfortable with the accolade, it is easy to see how she can have been regarded as such by the young men in her care.  One such paratrooper is reported to have said to her “you’re lovely, just like my mum…” shortly before passing away.  Although she played host to the Aid Post, Mrs ter Horst was not alone in her actions.  Many households showed tremendous kindness to the embattled soldiers that sought refuge in the cellars of their homes.  That kindness was reciprocated; in one instance, a young Private soldier saved the life of his hosts by shielding them from the blast of a grenade that had been lobbed into the cellar.  In protecting the civilians, the soldier gave his life.

Many years before A Bridge Too Far, Mrs Ter Horst also featured in the movie Theirs is the Glory, a black and white docudrama filmed amid the ruins of Arnhem little more than a year after the battle.  One scene shows soldiers collecting water from a radiator leak, which lends realism to the film.  Apparently Kate ter Horst resorted to similar measures to provide water for the wounded to drink; draining radiators and the lavatory cistern.

The winter following the Battle of Arnhem was tough.  The German occupiers meted out severe punishment in revenge for the aid that the townspeople had rendered to the British.  Tragically, Kate’s oldest son, Pieter Albert was killed by an anti-tank mine in a meadow near the River Rhine.

Made an honorary Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for caring for the wounded, Kate died after being hit by a car outside her home in 1992.  I have read that Randall Martin, the young Airborne doctor who had set up shop in her home all those years before, rushed to be by her bedside when she died.

© Barry Alexander 2016



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