Final leap to honour Arnhem's fallen

September 22nd, 2014

The battalion was led by Lt Col John Frost, whose character was played by Anthony Hopkins in the Richard Attenborough film A Bridge Too Far, which was based on the battle.

However, having been unable to defend the bridge, Cpl Bloys was among many paratroopers captured by the SS and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

He managed to escape but was captured once again. He then managed to escape for a second time with another soldier and the pair stole a car in which they managed to make it to American lines.

He last visited Arnhem in 2004 with his wife Doreen, who died six years later. Before his own death in February he described how the horrors of the fighting at Arnhem were still “fresh in my mind”.

“You can never really get it across to people about the horrors of battle. You are speaking to people one minute and then two minutes afterwards their life is finished. It was a terrible battle and was not well planned.”

On Saturday dozens of veterans of the assault, most of them in their nineties and either wheelchair bound or walking with the aid of sticks, watched as around 500 Allied troops jumped out of planes to commemorate the seven-decade anniversary of the Second World War operation.

Cpl Bloys was one of a number of veterans whose ashes were scattered by British paratroopers landing on Ginkel Heath, in a show of respect and camaraderie towards their predecessors.

This weekend his daughter-in-law Rita, who watched the jump with her husband Ian, among a crowd of around 40,000 people said the gesture was first suggested by a paratrooper who attended Cpl Bloys’s funeral in March. Cpl Bloys had died a month earlier aged 90.

Mrs Bloys, 65, said: “It is just an unofficial thing that they offered to do for us. My father-in-law was very fond of the area. In his later years he said he felt that the fighting had destroyed the area, but he came back here often.

“We just thought it would be fitting to leave a bit of him here. It seems like the final thing we can do for him. We are very emotional.”

Mr Bloys, 66, a former electrician for Ford from Hornchurch in Essex, said before the jump: “He never expressed a wish for what he wanted done with his ashes. But especially in the early days he used to come back here. The last time was on the sixtieth anniversary in 2004. He appreciated the way the Dutch people treated him. He was there for a few days and all the young children were asking for his autograph. It was like being a movie star.

“He was in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and then Arnhem but Arnhem was the one he mentioned the most.

“We want to do the right thing by him. This will be his last jump – I think he would appreciate that.”

Operation Market Garden saw more than 40,000 British, US, Canadian and Polish troops dropped behind the German lines at Arnhem in September 1944.

The attack was conceived by Field Marshal Montgomery to inflict a fatal blow on the Germans and bring the war to a close by the end of the year.

The aim of the operation was to capture a series of river crossings in German-occupied territory to allow Allied tanks to cross the Rhine and sweep into Germany.

However, despite early successes, strong resistance prevented troops from capturing the final bridge at Arnhem.

The British unexpectedly found themselves up against the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, leading to one of the most devastating and bloody battles of the war.

After nine days of street fighting between 17 and 25 September, and running out of food and ammunition, British forces were overwhelmed and forced to withdraw. An estimated 1,700 British soldiers lost their lives.

Yesterday Brig Nick Borton. the commander of 16 Air Assault Bde, whose paratroopers carried out yesterday’s commemoration jump, said the event had given serving troops the opportunity to highlight the “humbling exploits” of the Allied airborne forces 70 years ago.

This weekend Les Fuller, 93, who served as a private with 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment, told the Sunday Telegraph the commemoration at the site of the battle bought back “Massive memories. Memories I could hardly tell you about.”

Mr Fuller was badly wounded as he tried to make his way to the bridge. He said: “We had to detour around Oosterbeek and I finally finished up at the Rhine Pavilion where a fellow who had a howitzer across the other side of the river in a brick field spotted me (I didn’t spot him) and that’s when it came to an end for me.

“A fellow named Sgt Robinson, who was the Sgt medic of the 3rd Battalion, happened to come across me and he went up and got the crew of a tank that was parked just up the road to come and pick me up and hand me over for medical attention which I badly needed.”

Saturday’s event also included a commemoration service at a memorial at Ginkel Heath and a moment of silence as the Last Post was played, before both veterans and serving soldiers laid wreaths to remember the fallen.

The previous day thousands of cheering residents had lined Arnhem’s streets to look on as 83 British and Polish veterans walked or passed them in wheelchairs as part of a week-long commemoration of Operation Market Garden.

Alec Hall, 92, who was a medic during the battle, said of the commemorations: “It brings back so many memories. It’s like it was yesterday. I often think about those few days.”

Bill Carter, 90, who served as a private with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, saluted the landing paratroopers as he watched the drop from his wheelchair, accompanied by three generations of his family – the youngest of which was his 15-year-old grandson William Wilding.

Mr Carter said he was proud to return to the site, adding that the event brought back “a lot of good memories” of the men he served with but also “a lot of sad memories” of the battle.

Tom Hicks from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was another of the veterans attending Saturday’s drop, which was carried out using mainly Hercules aircraft as well as a Dakota from the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The 95-year-old said that Dutch locals had initially thought that they had been liberated from the Nazis when he and his fellow paratroopers landed.

“They brought milk out and flowers and thought the war was over. They thought they were liberated.

“And we knew there was a long way to go before they were liberated. Children [were] holding your hand and skipping… thinking ‘oh, back to normal life’.”

The retreat by Allied forces meant that it was another eight months before they secured a victory which ended the war in Europe.

Mr Hicks added: “I think the message is that even though you are beaten, you never give up, even against all odds.”


World War Two

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