The Cotterell Brothers

Anthony and Geoffrey Cotterell

Above: Anthony on the left and Geoffrey on the right at the family home, Ham Frith

One of the original inspirations behind this website was the story of the Cotterell brothers, Anthony and Geoffrey. It is a story of lifelong devotion to a brother’s memory, and the search to find the truth of what happened to him. Sadly, Geoffrey died in 2011 without ever knowing the answer of how Anthony had died or where he had been buried.

Anthony disappeared without trace after the battle of Arnhem in September 1943. He had been with the parachutists at the bridge, but was later captured and then, whilst a prisoner of war, was seriously injured when the SS opened up on unarmed prisoners. Shortly after being treated for his wounds, he disappeared.

Geoffrey was at that time a major in the British Army. In 1945, after the war ended, he obtained a posting to Occupied Germany with the specific intent of carrying out investigations into what had happened to his much-loved only brother. His many letters home to his parents tell of what he discovered and the many heart-breaking dead-ends that he encountered.

Even after he was demobbed, he never gave up the hope of discovering the truth and periodically returned to Holland for the rest of his long life. The shooting had taken place in the village of Brummen, and Anthony was later treated for his wounds at Zutphen. His gravestone is at Enschede, but it has never been verified that it is him in the grave.

Anthony Cotterell

Anthony was a hugely likeable character, and an extraordinarily witty and talented writer.

Daily Express journalist (at a time when the Daily Express, under Lord Beaverbrook, was a major national newspaper), he was conscripted into the Army in 1940 and thereafter – out of necessity – made it his main subject, writing numerous articles and books about soldiers’ lives during the Second World War.

After a very unsatisfactory first two years in the Army, he finally got his dream job. It was at ABCA, the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, which was part of the War Office. There, he became  both editor and star journalist of ABCA’s fortnightly booklet entitled WAR. The first issue was on 20 September 1941, and the last, and 97th, issue was on 23 June 1945.

Anthony’s articles in WAR were based on first-hand experience; he shared the lives and dangers of men on active service. He flew on several bombing raids, either with the United States Air Force or the RAF. He was with the troops in France on D-Day in June 1944. Subsequently, he spent three weeks as part of a tank crew of the Sherwood Rangers, part of the 8th Armoured Brigade which was fighting in Normandy.

His last reporting assignment was with 1 Airborne Division. On 17 September 1944, he went to Arnhem with them, got to the bridge, and like many others was captured when the struggle was over. On 23 September, he and several other British officers, who were being transported to Germany, were shot by the SS in the Dutch village of Brummen. Anthony was wounded but survived; however, later he disappeared, the only one of the wounded to do so.

Below: the photograph of Anthony which Geoffrey carried with him throughout the search.


Cotterell Brothers – Chronology

19 December 1916
Anthony Cotterell born in Plymouth, first child of Graham and Millicent Cotterell. The picture above is of him as a baby with his mother and his aunt Jane (right).

24 November 1919
Birth of his only brother, Geoffrey.

In the 1920s, the family move to Wanstead in Essex. Their house, Ham Frith, remains the Cotterell family home for the next 35 years or so.

September 1929
Having won a scholarship, Anthony begins at Kings School, Rochester.

Anthony wins another scholarship, and begins combined medical and dental studies at Guy’s Hospital, London.

At a summer school in Oxford, he meets George Edinger, a feature writer and political correspondent on The Daily Express. Inspired by his example, Anthony works very hard – and very successfully – at freelance journalism.

April 1936
Anthony is taken on the permanent staff of The Daily Express.

His first book is published, The Expert Way of Getting Married.

15 March – Anthony is conscripted into the Army.

9 April – the Germans invade Denmark and Norway.

10 May – Belgium and Holland are invaded; Churchill becomes Prime Minister; Anthony’s initial training course finishes.

12 May – France is invaded.
15 May – The Netherlands surrender.
28 May – Belgium surrenders.
25 June – Hostilities end in France.

29 June – Anthony begins four month Officer Training course.

12  October – Anthony finishes Officer Training and receives the lowest grade possible – D.

19 October – He is posted to the Royal Fusiliers as a 2nd Lieutenant.

January  – publication of What? No Morning Tea!

Publication of Oh, It’s Nice to be in the Army

14 May – posted to Guards Brigade for duties as a Motor Coordination Officer.

17 April – posted to the War Office, and thence to Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA). Here he works on a bulletin called WAR, for which he will eventually become both editor and star correspondent.

Publication of She Walks in Battle Dress

Publication of Roof Over Britain

3 June – becomes a Major, the highest rank he will hold in the Army.

Late 1943 or early 1944 – publication of RAMC. 

6 June – D-Day
Anthony lands soon after the first wave of assault troops. He writes about D-Day for WAR, and subsequently covers 4 weeks of the Normandy campaign as a guest gunner travelling in a tank of the Sherborne Rangers, part of 8th Armoured Division.

End of June  – returns to England.

1 – he goes on attachment to 1st Parachute Brigade HQ of the British Airborne forces.

17  – Operation MARKET GARDEN commences.
Anthony parachutes into Holland with 1st Parachute Brigade HQ, and is with them at the battle for the Arnhem bridge.
21 – Anthony – who is with the Brigade Major for 1st Parachute Brigade HQ, Tony Hibbert – is captured by the Germans.

23 – Anthony is seriously wounded when an German SS officer shoots into a truck of unarmed British prisoners. The shooting takes place in the Dutch village of Brummen.

Anthony and the other wounded are later treated at a dressing station in Zutphen on the way to Germany. Later, the wounded and dead are transported to Enschede, on the Dutch-German border. They arrive at the Roman Catholic hospital St Joseph’s, which is run by a German staff. However, Anthony is not with the party.

25 – Alleged last sighting of Anthony in the X-ray department at Zutphen Hospital.

Disappears without trace.

4 – German-controlled Radio Hilversum in Holland puts out a message saying that Anthony has been severely wounded ‘trying to escape’.
5 – Publication of An Apple for the Sergeant.

8 May – the war in Europe ends.
The search for Anthony and thousands of other British servicemen missing in Europe commences.

The truth about his disappearance is never discovered.
His service record notes “Presumed for official purposes to have died in Europe on or since 25th September 1944”.

His parents refuse to believe that he is dead.

His father Graham finally puts affairs in motion to settle Anthony’s estate. However, Anthony’s mother never accepts that he is dead.

Late 1970s, early 80s
A gravestone is erected near Anthony’s possible place of burial in Enschede in Holland.

An annual memorial service is instituted to commemorate Anthony and the other airborne soldiers shot by the Germans at Brummen on 23rd September 1944.

6 December 2010

Death of Anthony’s devoted brother, Geoffrey Cotterell.

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