Memories and Memorial Day

As I write this, it is the last Monday of May. For my friends in the UK, It is the Spring Bank Holiday; here in the US, it is Memorial Day.

I have previously written a little about the history of Memorial Day, and compared it to November 11, Veterans Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Britain and the Commonwealth.

Earlier today, I paid my respects at the local National Cemetery. While there, I was reminded of May 2003, when my wife and I visited Normandy and Holland.

For my British friends, hopping across the English Channel to the French coast is an easy trip. From where I live in the Western US, it was a significant journey; one could almost call it a pilgrimage.

What we had originally planned as a sightseeing vacation in England become something more when we added a side journey to Holland and France; however, most of the itinerary had already been built out, and our time on the continent was limited. There was so much to see, and not enough time to do it. But I did not know if I would ever have the opportunity to go there again, and it was important to me to see where some of the most significant events of 1944 took place.

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Ranville War Cemetery, Normandy.  All photos in this article by the author’s spouse.

We crossed the English Channel by car ferry and landed at Sword Beach at dawn, aware of the peaceful nature of the journey. There at the ferry terminal in Ouistreham was a memorial dedicated to the Commandos and Combined Operations. Our first objective was to drive to Benouville to see Pegasus Bridge. From there, it was a short drive to Ranville and the War Cemetery where many of the graves were for soldiers of the 6th Airborne Division. We then went to the Merville Battery, then took the coast road through Sword, Juno and Gold Beaches. There were monuments and memorials everywhere we looked. Our day ended at St. Laurent-sur-Mer and the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.

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Memorial to the 6th Airborne Division, built in September 1944 by Airborne Engineers

The next day was spent exploring Medieval history: the Bayeux Tapestry, the nearby cathedral, the massive castle in Caen, and the grave of William the Conqueror. Another day was dedicated to driving from Normandy to Arnhem, to see where 1st Airborne had fought; once we reached the Netherlands, we tried to follow the same route taken by XXX Corps during Market-Garden. We only had one full day and part of another for Arnhem and the surrounding area, and much of it was lost dealing with car trouble. But we made it to John Frost Bridge, the Hartenstein, and most importantly, the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

Something that struck me, and what I felt compelled to write about today, was that the Americans and British took very different approaches to burying their fallen. The British believed in burying theirs where they fell. The Americans sent the remains of most their war dead back home; those who stayed in theater were collected in large, centralized cemeteries. There are dozens of British war cemeteries of different sizes across Europe, but all close to the battlefields. Just in Normandy, there are fourteen British and two Canadian cemeteries. There are just over 2,000 men buried at Ranville; in Holland, there are just over 1,700 at Oosterbeek. By contrast, there are only two American cemeteries in Normandy; the one at Omaha Beach has over 9,300 graves.

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The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, with the English Channel in the background

The headstones are different, as well. Each British marker is engraved with the cap badge of the soldier’s regiment or corps. Below the name and rank is often a short text chosen by the family; sometimes it is a verse from the Bible or a favorite poem, sometimes it is just a short statement about the man. Visiting the graves of the Airborne soldiers at Ranville and Oosterbeek, I felt like I learned something about each man buried there; it was a rather intimate feeling, making each loss that much more sad and personal.

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The American Normandy Cemetery and Memorial

The American cemetery was just as touching, but in a different way. There are over 9,000 white crosses, interspersed with the occasional marker topped by a Star of David. My wife was particularly touched by the Jewish graves, knowing what those men had died fighting against. The cemetery is enormous; standing at one end, we could not see the other. There was a vast ocean of white marble, and it was that enormity that overwhelmed us with grief. We could also look down the bluffs to see where so many had been killed coming off their landing craft and struggling up the steep terrain.

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Sgt. A. Ashworth of the Parachute Regiment, with a personalized inscription from his family.  Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery

After returning home, I was tempted to give up reenacting. As much as I have always enjoyed living history, visiting the graves of those who died liberating Europe was a sobering and life-changing experience. Shortly after, however, I attended a public event when a an elderly Englishwoman thanked me for wearing my battledress. She noted the Pegasus flash on my arm and told me that she had not seen one since her brother had served as a Glider Pilot. That experience warmed my heart and reminded me of the real reason I do what I do.

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Two unidentified soldiers of the Glider Pilot Regiment, Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery

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Gone Too Soon: Remembering Michael Tom

Today has been a difficult day.  Twenty years ago today, my very good friend Michael lost his life.

This is not the sort of thing I normally write about.  But if it had not been for Michael, and his influence on my life, there’s a good chance this blog would not exist.

I have been passionate about history since I was eleven years old.  I first became fascinated by history when my family visited the eastern United States, particularly the significant sights of Colonial and Revolutionary America.  It was at Colonial Williamsburg where I was first exposed to the concept of living history, and I knew that I wanted to take part.

By the time I reached university, my interest had shifted to the Middle Ages, and I had developed a significant interest in the history of England.  My college hosted a small Renaissance festival, and it was there that I first met Michael.  He and another man were both wearing chainmail, and bashing each other with wooden clubs.  I wanted to get involved.

Over the years, I got to know Michael better, and he became a very good friend.  He was ten years older than me, and I looked up to him like an older brother.  Michael was known throughout the Medieval group for his skill-at-arms and for his chivalrous behavior.  He taught me about simulated Medieval combat; but he was also a firearms enthusiast, and taught me gun safety and handling.

I got married shortly after college; I met my wife through the Medieval organization.  My bride had known Michael for many years; as her father was already gone, she asked Michael to escort her down the aisle.

I started losing interest in the Middle Ages.  Michael and I got together to watch war movies, and we attended gun and militaria shows.  I had some interest in the British Army, but didn’t know much about its history.  I started reading about the Falklands conflict, which I vaguely remembered from my childhood, but wanted to learn more.  My first exposure to the Parachute Regiment was reading about their actions at Goose Green and Mount Longdon.  I started collecting British uniforms and equipment.

At the beginning of my career, I didn’t earn much money, but my wife and I were able to buy a small, comfortable home; Michael helped us move.  There was little extra money, but I kept collecting militaria where I could.

Michael got involved in World War II reenacting, with the British 1st Airborne.  He took me to a training event and some public displays.  I bought my first Enfield rifle, but most of what I wore was borrowed from my friend.

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Michael Tom (far left) with the British 1st Airborne.  Photo courtesy Jeff Bieler.

In the winter of 1996-7, Michael developed a persistent cough.  He thought it was a cold that wouldn’t go away.  Finally, his fiancée convinced him to see a doctor.  It was throat cancer.  He only lasted a few months after the diagnosis, and died on November 30, 1997, a few days after his 39th birthday.  I was devastated.  He had been my friend, my brother, my mentor.  And he was gone.

When Michael knew the end was near, he wanted me to inherit much of his British military collection.  I joined the WWII British 1st Airborne, determined to carry on his tradition.  His trousers and helmet did not fit me well, and I started getting my own items.  But to this day, I still carry his pack and some of his equipment.  The deactivated Sten gun that I bring to public displays had originally been his.

It has now been twenty years.  I have lost several friends and family members since then, but the loss of Michael still hurts the most.  Because Michael taught me what he knew, and helped me get involved in reenacting, I wanted to pass along that same kindness.  I have made it my mission to teach others, and to help anyone who wanted to join the organization.  If I have done anything good or decent in the last twenty years, it has only been a dim reflection of the kindness he showed me.

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Reflections on November 11

As I write this, it is an important day; it is November 11, when America honors its veterans, and when Britain and the Commonwealth commemorate their war dead.  It’s a day I take seriously as an American and an Anglophile; the US flag is flying, and I’m wearing a poppy.

My wife informed me this morning that one of her friends wanted to thank me for my service.  This is troubling, because I have never served in the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, or any other country.

I am a reenactor and something of an amateur historian.  I am fascinated by history, and I find it deeply fulfilling to study and attempt to recreate a different time.  I try to be as authentic as I can with my uniform and equipment, and how I behave at events.  I feel it is important to be an educator, to teach others what I have learned, both from books and experience.  But I have never faced real danger or real sacrifice.

When I first started using social media, I used my real name.  Since then, my employer adopted a social media policy that all employees are expected to follow; but I find the policy restrictive, invasive, and unreasonable.  For that reason, not only do I never mention my employer by name on Facebook or WordPress, I decided to adopt a pseudonym, Colour Sergeant Tombstone, as my screen name.

I was given the nickname “Tombstone” at my first WWII tactical reenactment twenty years ago; my friends thought I looked like the spokesman in a series of pizza commercials.  Within my reenacting unit, I started off portraying a simple private soldier, just like everyone else.  After several years of involvement with the organization, supporting and helping organize our events, I rose through the ranks of corporal, then sergeant; but it was only in the context of our living history organization.  I am now unit leader.  When I took over, I gave myself the rank of colour sergeant, the British infantry’s equivalent of a staff sergeant.  We had other sergeants, and I felt the need to differentiate myself; I also needed my leadership status to be clear to the other units with which we interact.

When I joined Facebook, the only people I made “friends” with were people I already knew in real life; most of them were fellow members of the living history community, plus the occasional coworker or old friend from school.  I now have online friends across the globe that I have never met in person.  It never occurred to me that changing my screen name would cause a case of stolen valor.  Perhaps I needed more imagination with my screen name.

I often look back at my life and regret that I never joined the military.  I look back at the shy, sensitive kid I was thirty years ago, and I don’t think he was tough enough to have handled military life.  My father was an officer in the US Air Force, followed by a long civilian career in the defense industry during the Cold War.  I have friends who currently serve, and many, many more who are veterans.  I have the utmost respect for them and what they have done.  I also have tremendous respect for the generation that fought in WWII, my preferred time period, and part of why I take living history so seriously is to help teach younger generations about the sacrifices of their forefathers.  But I never intend anything that I do to be about my personal ego, or trying to represent something that I am not.

For any confusion or upset that I may have caused, I am deeply, deeply sorry.

 

Sentimental Journey: Longing for the 1940’s

Next weekend, I will be attending a World War II-themed swing dance. This is an event I try to attend every year, and I enjoy it greatly.  This is a popular event, drawing hundreds of people from across Southern California.  While a few attend in modern clothing, most people dress in period-correct uniforms or vintage civilian attire.

Preparing for next weekend’s dance got me thinking about the number of people who have a sense of nostalgia about the 1940’s, myself included. Nostalgia is typically a longing for a simpler time, a better time.  WWII was a terrible, devastating period, and life was extremely difficult.  How could that era cause anyone to feel nostalgic?

There are several factors to consider. Nostalgia often looks back at popular culture, and this certainly makes sense for the 1940’s.  It was the “Golden Age of Hollywood”, with films such as Casablanca and Citizen Kane, and stars like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Rita Hayworth, and Lauren Bacall.  Hollywood stars were seen as sophisticated and glamorous, and naturally, people wanted to be like them.

casablanca

People generally dressed more formally than they do now. To go to a movie or dance club, men wore suits, ties, and polished shoes; they wanted to be well-dressed and look sharp.  Women wore dresses and stockings, and their hairstyles and makeup were glamorous and stunning.  Everyone wore hats.  I love hats – why did we stop wearing them?

Musically, it was the Big Band Era, the time of Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, and Duke Ellington. It was fun, exciting and interesting music, vastly superior to anything produced today.benny-goodman

Popular culture of the 1940’s certainly has its appeal. But there must be something deeper.  Historians use the term “zeitgeist”, or the spirit of the times.  What draws me to the WWII era, and I think may attract others as well, was the mentality of the time.  There was a tremendous sense of unity.  Everyone worked together towards a common goal.  Everyone contributed to the war effort to defeat the enemy.

Not only was that sense of unity in place here in the US; all the great Western democracies were allied in the struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. We knew we were up against powerful enemies, and we needed to be united in our efforts.  We knew that we were facing tremendous evil, and that we were on the side of what was right and good.

Conscription was established; all able-bodied young men were required to join the military. However, many volunteered before they could be called up, and there were some who lied about their age so they could join.  Women also volunteered; they weren’t allowed to fight, but they provided valuable support.

The war touched every aspect of people’s lives. With all the young men in the military, there was a tremendous labor shortage.  Women went into the factories in record numbers, and built the tanks, planes and other items required for war.  New demands were placed on women and minorities, but this also gave them new opportunities; it was the era of Rosie the Riveter and the Tuskegee Airmen.  I’m convinced that WWII led directly to the Civil Rights movement of the following decades.waaf

There were so many men in uniform, it was a major struggle to keep them supplied with everything they needed. People grew their own food.  Women spent their free time knitting sweaters and scarves to be sent to soldiers who had not been issued with sufficient winter clothing. Families donated old pots and pans so the metal could re-used for weapons and military vehicles.  Everyone did something to help.  Everyone felt it was their duty to contribute.

These ideas of duty and unity are sadly lacking today. There are times when I want to delete my Facebook account and throw away my smart phone.  I see tremendous divisions in our society.  Not only are people divided on issues, many of them have lost the ability to debate, to have meaningful discussions, and people simply resort to insults.  This only increases the anger and divisiveness.  The ideas of common effort for the common good, of sacrifice and contribution, are also lacking today and have been replaced with feelings of entitlement and selfishness.

In this age of terrorism and random violence, it makes sense to long for an age when we knew who our enemy was. In this age when technology often dominates our lives, it makes sense to long for a time before such devices existed.

I would love to see a return to the values of the 1940’s. I have little use for today’s music and culture, but it goes beyond entertainment.  I worry about the future of the United States and Western Europe.  In our divided and angry society, we need to find a way to come back together, to find a common purpose, to join in a common effort.

WWII was a very difficult time, but I desperately long for that sense of unity we once had, and I think there are others who feel the same way. I hope we can find that common purpose again.

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Veterans Day and Remembrance Day

I believe the American people have lost touch with the real meaning of most holidays.

As a Christian, I believe the most sacred days of the year are Christmas and Easter. They are the holiest of all holy days, and they have nothing to do with reindeer or rabbits.

But we can’t even get our secular holidays right.

Shortly after the American Civil War, May 30 became known as Decoration Day. People went to cemeteries to place flags and flowers at the graves of the Union soldiers who had been killed in the war.  It became widespread in the North, and was eventually made into an official holiday.  However, Decoration Day was not popular in the South – it was seen as yet another reminder of the Southern defeat.

After World War One, Decoration Day was renamed and became Memorial Day. The idea was to pay tribute to those who had fallen in all of America’s wars.  It was still observed on May 30 until 1971, when it was moved to the last Monday of May to create a three-day weekend.

Now, Memorial Day is seen as the unofficial beginning of summer. Students and their families prepare for summer vacations.  People flock to the beaches and parks to hold barbecues and parties.  Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of the summer “blockbuster” season in the movie theaters.

This mentality is reflected in the television news. There are stories about the crowds at the beaches and which films made the most money.  Towards the end of the newscast, there will be footage of the President laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and perhaps there will be coverage of a local parade.  But, sadly, that seems to be the only tribute that our nation’s fallen are able to receive.

The First World War was fought from 1914 – 1918 and was the bloodiest, most devastating conflict the world had seen – to that point. Much of the war was a stalemate; despite the appalling casualties, neither side could make any progress.  Fortunately, the United States entered the war in 1917, which helped finally break the stalemate.  A ceasefire was declared, and the guns stopped firing at 11:00 on November 11, 1918.  It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  November 11 became known as Armistice Day.

World War I was supposed to have been the “War to End All Wars”, but of course it wasn’t. After World War II, November 11 was still observed, but renamed; in the United States, it became Veterans Day.  As we already had Memorial Day in May, the November holiday was to pay tribute to those who had served their country and survived the ordeal.

As Great Britain and the Commonwealth did not already have a Memorial Day as the Americans did, they renamed November 11 as Remembrance Day, although it is sometimes still referred to as Armistice Day.  Traditionally, a two-minute period of silence is held at 11:00 to mark the time when the guns stopped firing at the end of World War I.  Commemorative services are held at cemeteries, war memorials, and churches.  In the UK, Remembrance Sunday, the second Sunday in November, has become the main observance, although the period of silence is still held on November 11.

During World War I, the red poppy became a symbol for honoring the war dead. It is a common flower in Northern Europe, and has the remarkable ability to grow in recently-disturbed ground.  In the spring of 1915, the battlefields of France and Belgium were covered with poppies; their red color was reminiscent of the blood that had been shed.

A Canadian medical officer, Lt. Col. John McCrae, was inspired to write the following poem:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The poem became hugely popular as a symbol of remembrance throughout the Allied nations. An American woman, Moina Michael , created artificial poppies made of silk.  The American Legion adopted the concept of wearing artificial poppies on Armistice Day, and the practice was soon copied by the Royal British Legion.  Now, these poppies are typically made of paper or plastic.  Today, in America, banks and government agencies close on Veteran’s Day, but most business remain open.  The custom of wearing the poppy has almost completely disappeared.

In Britain, Canada, and some other countries, the tradition of the poppy remains strong. The Royal British Legion and the Royal Canadian Legion sell them as a fundraiser, helping these organizations provide support for their nations’ veterans.  Most people wear a poppy for the two weeks leading up to November 11; it is unusual to find anyone not wearing a poppy.  In recent years, some people have started wearing a white poppy not only to honor the fallen, but also to express their hope for an end to war.

I have worn a poppy for the last several Novembers. I first knew about the poppy as a British custom, and I bought my poppies from the Royal British Legion.  I was surprised to learn that it was an American who came up with the idea, and that the poppy used to be commonly worn in the US.

We owe so much to our veterans and our war dead, and we don’t do enough to honor them. I am an amateur historian and an Anglophile, but it’s personal, too – many of my friends served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  When I see an advertisement for a Veterans Day sale, it just seems like a mockery of the real holiday.  I have sometimes been accused of celebrating the wrong holiday or even being in the wrong country, but I feel it’s important to observe November 11 as best I can.  I would love to see the poppy tradition return to the United States.  It started here; let’s bring it back.

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I Want to Write a Book

I have been studying the history of the British Army in WWII for about 20 years. I have also been participating in living history for nearly that long; in other words, I spend my weekends dressing in a reproduction uniform and trying to experience life as a British soldier.

Several months ago – perhaps longer – a friend suggested that I write a book based on what I have learned. It sounded like an interesting project, but it also sounded rather daunting.

I looked at a number of challenges that I knew would face me:

  1. I am not a professional historian. Is my background and experience enough for me to write a history book?
  2. The market is flooded with books on WWII. Could I find a subject unique enough to attract a publisher’s interest?
  3. What resources are available for my research?
  4. How would I go through the process of getting published?

 1.  Personal Background

I am not a professional historian, but I am an enthusiastic amateur. I want to write about a  subject that has fascinated me for 20 years.  I have probably read a hundred or more books on the subject.

I do have some training and experience in history and conducting research.  My Bachelor’s degree is in Music Humanities, that is, music from a liberal arts perspective rather than fine arts.  The degree program required classes, not only in music, but in history and literature.  Along the way, I wrote numerous term papers.

Professionally, I work in regulatory compliance.  One of my main functions is to conduct regulatory research and write summary memoranda of my findings.

Finally, my reenacting experience may be a help, but it may be a hindrance. I have already discovered that some things I thought I knew were incorrect.  As part of researching my book, I also intend to confirm everything I do as a living historian to eliminate any possible assumptions or short cuts I may have picked up over the years.

2. Book Subject

There are a number of general overviews of WWII, as well as studies of specific battles and campaigns. There are also histories of specific units and their activities.  Additionally, there are social histories of the war, based on interviews with veterans or civilian participants.  A rather recent trend has been examinations of uniforms and equipment.

My plan is to write about the daily life of the British soldier.

  • How was enlistment handled?
  • What was it like to live in the barracks?
  • What did the soldier eat and drink?
  • How did he sleep?
  • How was he trained?
  • How was leave handled?
  • What did the soldier do for entertainment?

While there are several books that have included elements of the above, I have not seen any single book that ties it all together and examines the day-to-day existence of the common soldier.  This is a subject in which I am very interested, but to my knowledge, would be new and unique in the marketplace.

3. Research

My personal library contains over 100 books on the British Army in WWII, and is constantly expanding.  In addition to my collection of history books, I also own several official publications from the period, such as the King’s Regulations and numerous training pamphlets, which will be extremely helpful for my chosen subject.

While I would like to conduct veteran interviews, that may not be possible. The WWII generation is getting quite old; sadly, we are losing them at a tremendous rate.  Additionally, being an American writing about the British Army makes it even more difficult to meet the veterans and talk to them in person.

However, the internet is a tremendous resource.  The BBC has an online archive of memoirs and narratives by both veterans and civilians.  The Imperial War Museum has thousands of documents and photographs available for review online.  Both websites have information on how to obtain commercial licensure for use of the materials.

A resource that I believe to be under-utilized by historians is film. I have a number of DVDs of wartime newsreels and official training films.  Even movies made for entertainment have their value, particularly the propaganda films that were made in cooperation with the Army.  Film can also provide insight into the attitudes of the period.

4. Publication

If I go to the effort needed to write the book the way I want to do it, I would also like to have it published; however, I have no experience in this matter. Fortunately, again, the internet is a valuable resource.  One of my favorite publishers, Pen and Sword Press, specializes in military history.  They have an online book proposal and submission process.  The IWM also has an online proposal system, although they don’t publish as many books.

If I am unable to go through a traditional publishing house, there are now online resources for obtaining an ISBN number and self-publishing, or even publishing on-demand.

Conclusion

I’m confident I have the ability to conduct the research and write the book that I want to create.  My real concern is having the time and energy to put into the project.  My job is demanding and often leaves me feeling exhausted.  I love attending living history events, but that too takes time and energy away from the book.

I will never have the opportunity to sit down over several months and read and write as much as I want.  The only way I will be able to achieve my goal is to take it on in small pieces.  I have read (or re-read) several books over the past several months with the intent of gleaning as much useful information as I can find, and have taken careful notes.  I have started the process of transcribing those notes into computer files to be more easily referenced in the future.

The main reason I started this blog was to help me with the book.  As much as I have been reading, I have done little writing.  This blog is intended to remind me to write more frequently, and to help me collect my thoughts and present historical snippets.  I have already found it valuable for me; I hope this is also entertaining, or at least somewhat interesting, to the reader.

Thoughts on Market Garden

I wrote this a few years ago for a club newsletter.  Now that I have a blog, I wanted to share it again.

Operation Market Garden began on 17 September, 1944. It was a combined operation, Market being the largest airborne operation attempted to that point, and Garden the ground operation to reinforce the airborne component.

The German forces who had survived the slaughter of the Falaise Gap were retreating back to Germany, and the Allies were eager to take advantage of the German retreat. General Montgomery devised Market Garden, a plan to outflank the heavily-defended Siegfried Line and break into Germany. It was hoped to end the war by Christmas.

An “Airborne Carpet” was laid down, utilizing the American 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and the British 1st Airborne (with the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade attached). Each Airborne Division was assigned to capture key bridges over the rivers and canals of Holland, with the British 1st the farthest north at Arnhem, near the German border. British XXX Corps was to drive north, linking up with each Airborne division in turn. At Arnhem, XXX Corps was to cross the Lower Rhine, then turn east and head into the Ruhr, the center of German industry.

Despite the size and complexity of the operation, the plans were hurriedly thrown together in only a week. Prior to the launch of the operation, the front had been moving north several miles a day; the Allies were eager to exploit the German withdrawal. As the operation was thrown together so quickly, mistakes were made in the planning. Nobody was too concerned, as the Germans had been retreating like mad; surely they would not stand and fight, or so it was thought.

Optimised by Greg Smith

It was an extremely bold and ambitious plan. Sadly, it failed. Just as the operation was launched, the Germans decided to stop retreating, and instead dug in and prepared to defend themselves against the Allied onslaught.

The American Divisions took their objectives and held them. But the northward drive of XXX Corps was constantly harassed by the enemy and suffered terrible delays. They were forced to use a single road on top of the Dutch dykes. Any tanks that went off the road found themselves mired in mud. The Germans set ambush after ambush, and destroyed tank after tank.

The British 1st Airborne had been told the German defense would be rear echelon troops made up of poorly-equipped old men and boys. Instead, Arnhem was held by the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, elite troops with numerous tanks and self-propelled artillery.

1st Airborne had been told they would be relieved after only two days’ fighting. 2nd Parachute Battalion took and held the north end of Arnhem Bridge for four days. After those four days, most of 2 Para were wounded, and they had no more food or ammunition. The wounded surrendered and the others attempted to return to Divisional headquarters. After the Germans re-took Arnhem Bridge, they concentrated on shrinking the perimeter held by the rest of 1st Airborne in Oosterbeek (a suburb of Arnhem). Still XXX Corps did not arrive.

Finally, after eight days of constant fighting, the remnants of 1st Airborne were ordered to escape, under cover of night, and cross back over the Rhine. Market Garden had failed. However, the bravery and tenacity of the British Airborne has become a legend. The fact that they held on as long as they did, despite being outnumbered and outgunned, was an amazing feat of arms.

The 1st Airborne fought against fascism to make a better world. We are all in their debt. Please remember them.

I participate in living history events with the British 1st Airborne Division Living History Association.  The Association’s mission is to remember the bravery and dedication to duty of those men who fought at Arnhem.  Please visit our website or follow us on Facebook.

British 1st Airborne Living History Association: website

British 1st Airborne Living History Association: Facebook page