Following on from Jonathan’s previous post of Day One of the Operation Market Garden Tour, which focused on the Bridges to Arnhem, Day Two looks at a number of the sites linked with the 1st Airborne Division.
Day 2 – The Prize: With The 1st Airborne Division
Our day following the 1st Airborne Division started by visiting some of the Drop and Landing Zones used by the Division during ‘Market’, the Airborne element of the Operation. With the amount of aircraft that would have been required as opposed to how many were available it was impossible to deliver all of the Division in one go. Instead, the plan called for the Division, consisting of 2 Parachute Brigades and 1 Airlanding Brigade (plus Divisional Troops) to be flown in over three lifts on successive days, weather permitting.
Firstly we drove along DZ ‘X’, used by the 1st Parachute Brigade along with men of other Units such as the Divisional Recce Squadron and Sappers etc in that first lift. 2700 men were dropped here that Sunny, Sunday afternoon in just 10 minutes before forming up to move off towards their various objectives.
Our first stop was by LZ ‘S’ in Wolfheze. It was here that the Horsas Gliders carrying the men and equipment of the 1st Airlanding Brigade comprising the Battalions 1/Borders, 7/KOSB and 2/South Staffs landed. Today the large Horsa Glider Memorial stands sentinel over LZ ‘S’.
Moving on, we took in the wide acres of Ginkel Heath, which, on 18 September saw the arrival of the 2nd Lift, which brought in the men of Shan Hackett’s 4th Parachute Brigade.
DZ’s done, it was time to make for the centre-piece of our day’s tour. The Remembrance Service at Arnhem-Oosterbeek CWGC Cemetery. It’s a very special event to attend and brings the Generations together quite like no other ceremony that I can think of. This is where the local Children, as they have every year since 1946 lay a floral tribute at every one of the 1760 graves within the cemetery just after two children, accompanying a Veteran of the 1st Airborne Division lay a wreath at the Cross of Sacrifice. That veteran this year was Wilf Oldham, 95 years young who served with 1/Borders.
Our Afternoon was spent visiting some of the key locations of the fighting within the Oosterbeek Perimeter. This thumb shaped area, with its base on the Lower Rhine formed when all attempts to reach Lt. Col John Frost’s force at the Road Bridge had failed, leaving his men to their fate and requiring the Division to fight for its toehold on the Northern Bank of the river. The imposing, well built houses in Oosterbeek became the scene of some fierce fighting, as the 1st Airborne fought to hold out. It was intense fighting on a street by street, house by house, room by room basis.
We also took in the Hollow, named now after Brigadier John Hackett after the remnants of his 4th Parachute Brigade fought their way Eastwards into the Perimeter from the Wolfheze Woods.
Then we moved down to the Church on Benedendorpsweg, the Lion Route in British plans and scene of such hope when Frost and the 2nd Battalion passed by, on the way to the Bridge and later as the remnants of 4th Infantry Battalions pulled back, the scene of bitter fighting to defend the Perimeter. The Church was also the place where Major Dickie Lonsdale of the 11th Battalion, and who gave his name to an ad-hoc defensive force, gave his famous rallying speech as depicted in the 1946 classic film, Theirs Is The Glory.
Now moving ever eastwards towards Arnhem and our next stop took in St.Elisabeths Hospital, the point at which the plan to seize the Bridge began to unravel. It’s at this point we talk about elements of 4 different Battalions who all tried and failed to link up with Frost at the Bridge. It’s the point where the Divisions’ Commander, Major General R.E ‘Roy’ Urquhart knew the game was up in trying to reach Frost and began moves to pull his depleted Division back in to Oosterbeek and on to the defensive.
Walking around the corner from the Hospital gave the Guests the chance to ‘be’ Roy Urquhart. It’s here where Urquhart, Brigadier Gerald Lathbury (C.O 1st Parachute Brigade), Captain Willie Taylor (Intelligence Officer, 1st Parachute Brigade) and Lt. James Cleminson (Commanding No.5 Platoon, B Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion) ran into enemy strong fire as they tried to move forward. Lathbury was hit in the back and dragged into the nearest house, No.35 Alexanderstraat where, as famously depicted by Sean Connery in A Bridge Too Far. The German soldier was shot through the window.
Leaving Lathbury in the care of the residents of the house, Urquhart, Taylor and Cleminson dashed into the back alley, turned left down another alleyway and finally into No.14 Zwarteweg, owned by an incredibly brave Dutchman, Anton Derksen who hid them in his attic. Our 44 Guests followed in their footsteps, although not as quickly and while it’s a tight squeeze down the alleyway was a hugely enjoyable moment to follow in their footsteps although our journey took us to the point outside where the German SP Gun was parked, a Gun which kept the 3 British Officers stuck overnight, and not into the tiny Attic.
Finally, at the end of a very busy day we reached journeys end and what, to the Planners of Market Garden was seen as the prize. The Bridge over the Lower Rhine now named after the man whose small force of 740 men held its Northern End so gallantly. John Frost.
Here we looked at the area that bore witness to the fierce fighting which enveloped the area around that Northern end of the Bridge for four days, a place where a posthumous VC was awarded to Lt. Jack Grayburn of the 2nd Battalion. Despite many peoples belief, there was no surrender. Ordered to breakout back to Oosterbeek on the morning of the 21st. The remnants of John Frost’s force were captured. One of the last radio messages before resistance ended, intercepted by the Germans, contained the line “Out of Ammunition, God Save the King”.
That’s our tour and I always find it fitting to end with a quote from Alan Wood, the Daily Express Correspondent who accompanied the 1st Airborne to Arnhem…
‘If in the years to come, you meet a man who says, “I was at Arnhem”, raise your hat and buy him a drink’
Thank you to Jonathan for sharing with us his two day photo journal of the 71st Anniversary Leger Tour of Operation Market Garden.
Photo Credits: Douglas Dakotas dropping paratroops of 1st Airborne Brigade on to Dropping Zone (DZ) ‘X’ | All other photos were kindly taken and provided by Jonathan.