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Battle of Arnhem: Mass parachute drop marks WW2 assault


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Media captionSome 1,500 people, including a 97-year-old veteran, took part in the commemorative parachute jump

A mass parachute drop has taken place in the Netherlands to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden in World War Two.

The Prince of Wales joined veterans at the commemorations to the allied assault in the Battle of Arnhem.

Veteran Sandy Cortmann, 97, parachuted again over the Dutch city.

British, US and Polish forces dropped behind enemy lines in 1944 but failed in their bid to secure eight bridges and open up a route into Germany.

About 35,000 troops landed by parachute and gliders in what was then the largest airborne operation in history.

They seized bridges and canal crossings at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem, but were forced to retreat after German counter-attacks. More than 1,500 allied soldiers were killed and nearly 6,500 captured.

The events were portrayed in Richard Attenborough’s 1977 Hollywood war epic A Bridge Too Far starring Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The Prince of Wales and Princess Beatrix mark the 75th anniversary
Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Veterans also attended the commemorative service and wreath-laying
Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Veteran Sandy Cortmann, now 97, jumped with a member of the Red Devils parachute team

Prince Charles and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and veterans attended a service and wreath-laying at the former landing zone of Ginkel Heath.

Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment, of which the prince is colonel-in-chief, were among the 1,500 people who took part in the commemorative parachute drop.

Mr Cortmann, from Aberdeen, made a tandem jump with a parachutist from the Army’s Red Devils display team over the Ginkel Heath nature reserve as part of the commemorations.

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Image caption About 35,000 allied troops took part in Operation Market Garden

He was just 22 when he parachuted into the same drop zone in September 1944, where he was taken prisoner by the Germans.

The Arnhem veteran made an emotional return to the Netherlands on Thursday.

“When the fighting started we were just in amongst it,” he recalled.

“You can describe it as brave, you thought you were brave, but once you got down there, Jesus Christ, terrified, absolutely terrified.”

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Image caption Battle of Arnhem veterans veterans Geoff Roberts and Ray Whitwell have returned for the events

Another of the soldiers returning to the former battlefields for the anniversary is 100-year-old Raymond Whitwell, from Malton, North Yorkshire.

Speaking from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s cemetery at Oosterbeek near Arnhem he recalled the moment he landed by glider in 1944.

“I said to myself on the way out, what on Earth am I doing here? But when you’re there your training takes over,” he said.

Mr Whitwell added: “The Dutch people are really very, very nice, it’s wonderful to be back.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The allies captured three bridges in September 1944 before being forced back

On Friday, the ashes of two veterans of the Battle of Arnhem were laid to rest alongside their fallen comrades buried in Oosterbeek.

Relatives of Pte Dennis Collier, 95, from Harrogate, and Pte Steve Morgan, 93, from Chipping Norton, travelled to the Netherlands to see their remains interred.

Tributes were paid before wreaths were laid and the last post was sounded by a lone bugler.

Meanwhile, the southern Dutch town of Brunssum has bestowed honorary citizenship on 328 British soldiers buried in its war cemetery in recognition of their sacrifice to help liberate the Netherlands.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The ashes of Arnhem veteran Dennis Collier were interred at the Oosterbeek War Cemetery

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