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Arnhem Legacy of Liberation

Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne assault in history and one of the most daring and ambitious Allied operations of the Second World War. 75 years later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Arnhem tells the story of the men who fought and died for ‘a bridge too far’.

In this article you’ll discover stories of courage, determination and sacrifice, and find out more about how the CWGC ensures that those who died are never forgotten.

Holding the line. Arnhem, September 1944 © IWM

Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery

In September 1944, British forces were defeated at the Dutch town of Arnhem. During the desperate fighting more than a thousand men of the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were killed. After the battle, hastily made graves could be found amongst the ruins and in the woods and fields that border the town. When Arnhem was finally liberated in April 1945, British army graves registration units arrived and began to create a permanent resting place for the dead.

An isolated grave at Arnhem © IWM & Original graves in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery © CWGC & Flower girls lay flowers on the graves in Oosterbeek War Cemetery, c. 1945 © IWM

In the summer of 1945 several hundred veterans of the Arnhem fighting returned to the Netherlands to take part in the filming for the movie Theirs is the Glory. On the anniversary of Market Garden they visited the new cemetery and held a short service to remember their fallen friends. The veterans were joined by many local people and flowers were laid on the graves by the children of Arnhem. Today, Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery is the focal point of remembrance for the Battle of Arnhem. Each year thousands of people travel to the cemetery in September to attend the memorial service, while local children lay flowers on every grave.

Willemien Rieken, a Flower Child then and now

Remembering the fallen

Hope – Courage – Determination - Tragedy

In the summer of 1944, Allied commander Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery suggested a daring new operation. Hoping to bypass the well-prepared enemy defences along the German border, he suggested a lightning strike through the Netherlands to open a path into northern Germany. Ahead of advancing tanks and infantry, two American and one British airborne division would be dropped deep behind enemy lines to secure vital bridges at Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem. Success could bring a swift end to the war in Europe, but the risks were high. The toughest task fell to the British 1st (Airborne) Division which would be dropped near Arnhem, some sixty miles beyond Allied start lines. Montgomery expected the tanks to reach them in two days; the commander of British airborne forces felt they could perhaps hold out for four.

Map of Operation Market Garden (click to enlarge) & A stick of British paratroopers on route to Arnhem © IWM

Hope - THE FIRST DAY

17 September 1944

Gliders fill the fields of Holland © IWM & Paratroopers jump over a drop zone near Arnhem, 17 September © IWM

On the morning of 17 September 1944, the residents of the Cambridgeshire village of March, and of Hatfield in Hertfordshire, awoke to see thousands of aircraft in the skies above them. Robert Bondy was a jeep driver tasked with keeping supplies flowing to the front line and was one of the thousands of servicemen aboard the planes now en route to Arnhem.

Driver Robert Claude Bondy

“SPLENDID YOU PASSED, THE GREAT SURRENDER MADE, INTO THE LIGHT...”

Robert was the son of Charles and Florence Bondy, and the husband of Ivy. He had enlisted in the Army Service Corps during the Second World War and then volunteered to join the airborne forces. Instead of parachuting into action, Charles was one of many aboard a glider, a wooden aircraft that was towed behind an aeroplane and then released to glide gently to the ground.

Robert was killed when his glider crashed: one of only a handful which did not land safely. He was buried by his comrades near the crash site and in July 1946 he was laid to rest in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, Plot 8. Row B. Grave 7.

Lieutenant Peter Cane

“WE PROUDLY REMEMBER THEM”

As the day went on, the landing zones became hives of activity; hundreds of gliders littered the landscape near Oosterbeek, on the western edge of Arnhem. Paratroopers began their advance to the bridge. At first, they were met by cheering crowds of local people but soon they began to encounter the German troops.

Lieutenant Peter Cane of 2nd Bn, Parachute Regiment was 25 years old when he landed at Arnhem. Peter grew up in Reading in Berkshire. By September 1944 he was a combat veteran having already fought in Sicily and Italy. He was leading a group of men through Arnhem when they met and rushed a group of German soldiers. Peter was hit almost instantly. Mortally wounded, he continued to encourage his men, shouting ‘Charge the bastards!’

When the incident was over his men returned to find they could do nothing to save their officer, and Peter died soon after. He was buried near where he fell and in October 1945, he was laid to rest in Plot 18. Row A. Grave 13-14 of Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

Troopers gather at the drop zone 17 September © IWM

The Gronert Twins

“WINDS OF HEAVEN BLOW SOFTLY HERE WHERE LIE SLEEPING THOSE WE LOVED SO DEAR”

Buried in the same row as Peter are the other men who died in the same brief firefight, including Thomas and Claude Gronert. Twins from Cornwall, Thomas was hit and as Claude ran to his aid he too was mortally wounded. Aged 21, they died side-by-side. Today, they are buried side-by-side in Plot 18. Row A. Graves 17 & 18 of Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

As the day wore on it became apparent that the British troops were not just fighting the local garrison but soldiers of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions. These elite tank formations happened to be refitting in the area and now they were ordered into action.

Paratroopers cautiously advance thought the ruined streets of Arnhem © IWM

By evening on the first day only 750 men of 2nd Bn, The Parachute Regiment, had made it to the bridge. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Frost, they dug in and hoped that reinforcements would arrive soon. Far from Arnhem, the tanks and infantry that should have been charging through the Netherlands to reach them were far behind schedule. The paratroopers at Arnhem were on their own.

Courage

18 to 20 September

Over the next three days the soldiers at the landing zones tried desperately to break through to the men at the bridge but they were blocked by German tanks and soldiers. Outnumbered and outgunned, the paratroopers fought on courageously.

Lieutenant John Grayburn VC

“YET SHALL HE LIVE" ST. JOHN XI.25”

With most of the airborne soldiers fighting on the outskirts of Arnhem, those at the bridge fought a desperate battle of survival. Lieutenant John Grayburn was born in India and came from Chalfont St. Giles in Buckinghamshire. He made it to the bridge with his platoon after nightfall on the first day and in the darkness led an assault across. As they advanced the Germans opened fire. Brightly coloured tracer bullets ricocheted off the road and the bridge supports, and with no cover the platoon suffered terrible casualties. John was hit in the shoulder but fought on. He ordered the survivors to fall back and he was the last man off the bridge.

Arnhem Bridge during the battle © IWM

Over the next two days John and his men fought for survival in a forward position near the north end of Arnhem bridge. Despite being wounded again John continued to lead, encourage and inspire his men. Finally, on 20 September, a German tank, against which the paratroopers had no defence, forced John to pull his men back. Filthy, exhausted, with his head bandaged and arm in a sling, John stood up amongst the rubble to direct the evacuation. He was killed almost instantly. He was 26 years old.

Buried after the fighting, in January 1946 he was laid to rest in Plot 13. Row C. Grave 11 of Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery. For his supreme courage, leadership and devotion to duty, he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Captain Lionel Queripel VC

‘DEARLY LOVED SON OF COLONEL AND MRS L.H. QUERIPEL’

As the battle at the bridge raged on, troops at the landing ground fought to breakthrough and relieve their beleaguered comrades. Captain Lionel Queripel of 10th Bn Parachute Regiment was leading a group of men in the outskirts of Arnhem when they came under heavy fire.

Lionel had graduated from Sandhurst in January 1939 and had been evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. He went on to fight in the deserts of North Africa and in Italy before returning to England to take part in Market Garden.

Pinned down on either side of a road, Lionel ran from one side to the other to coordinate his men. Although hit in the face, he carried a wounded soldier back to a rudimentary aid post before personally leading the assault on the German position. Later that day, with ammunition running low and German soldiers everywhere, Lionel, now wounded in both arms, ordered his men to withdraw while he held the position alone. He was not seen alive again.

Paratroopers take cover in a shell hole, Arnhem, September 1944 © IWM

For his inspirational leadership, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. He was just 24 years old. In August 1945, he was laid to rest in Plot 5. Row D. Grave 8 of Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

Surrendered Paratroopers at Arnhem, September 1944 © Bild
‘Out of ammunition. God Save the King.’

- Final message from 2nd Bn the Parachute Regiment at Arnhem Bridge, 20 September 1944.

Despite the courage and sacrifice of men like John Grayburn and Lionel Queripel, by the fourth day the men at the bridge could do no more and the survivors surrendered. Almost all were wounded, including their tenacious leader John Frost, but nevertheless those who could, marched in good order into captivity.

Determination

21 to 24 September

There was now little that the troops at Arnhem could do except hold on and hope help would come. Determined that the sacrifices of their comrades should not be in vain, they fought a brutal and often confused battle to hold an ever-shrinking perimeter around the landing zones on the outskirts of Arnhem at Oosterbeek. Help, however, was on its way. On the morning of 21 September, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade set off for Arnhem. They had little knowledge of what awaited them.

Holding the Oosterbeek perimeter © IWM & Polish paratroops prepare to board their aircraft © IWM

Porucznik (Lieutenant) Stanislaw Antoni Slesicki

Since the first day of Operation Market Garden the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade had been waiting to go into action. Delayed by bad weather in England, they were finally able to join the fight at Arnhem on 21 September. The first Poles arrived under intense enemy fire, but they soon established themselves on the south bank of the river at Driel, across the water from the Oosterbeek battle.

Polish paratroopers carefully check their chutes before boarding their aircraft © IWM

Born in Ciechenow, Poland, Stanislaw Slesicki was one of the first Polish paratroopers to arrive at Arnhem. Like many of his countrymen he had already had a remarkable war. He joined the Polish military in 1930 and fought to defend Poland from German invasion in 1939. He escaped via Hungary, Italy and France to continue the fight, volunteering for the new Polish paratrooper force begin assembled in Scotland.

As dawn broke on 22 September the Germans began to bombard the newly-arrived Polish soldiers. While discussing their options for getting across the river to reinforce the perimeter at Oosterbeek, a shell landed amongst the group. Stanislaw was killed instantly and many others were wounded. Over the next few days more than 1,500 Polish troops were dropped at Driel. They fought their own desperate battle against the Germans, all the while attempting to get men across the river to Oosterbeek.

More than 200 Polish servicemen were killed or captured during the Battle of Arnhem. Nearly 80 now rest in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, including Stanislaw Slesicki who is buried in Plot 34. Row A. Grave 15.

Wing Commander Graeme Harrison

“FROM SKY TO EARTH FOR LIBERTY I FELL. I FOUGHT, I FOUND MY WINGS AGAIN. FAREWELL”

As supplies of food and ammunition ran out, the men at Arnhem relied upon the courage of Royal Air Force air crews to keep them in the fight. Wing Commander Graeme Harrison commanded 190 Squadron of the RAF during Market Garden. Over the first five days of the Battle of Arnhem, Graeme and his men flew almost 100 sorties to the Netherlands dropping paratroopers and supplies. It was dangerous work and they faced the constant threat of fighters and withering anti-aircraft fire.

Graeme was born in 1915 in Canada, but he grew up in Rustington, Sussex. He joined the RAF in the mid-1930s, and during the Second World War flew missions against the Japanese before being transferred to the UK. He flew sorties over Germany and was awarded the American Silver Star for leading US bomber groups against enemy targets. He took command of 190 Squadron in January 1944 and led them through the Normandy Campaign and Market Garden.

On 21 September, 190 Squadron set off for Arnhem once more. Their fighter cover was late and German aircraft pounced on the undefended bombers. Fifteen were shot down by enemy fighters and a further eight were brought down by anti-aircraft fire, nevertheless the survivors continued to Arnhem. Graeme dropped his supplies to the waiting troops but while turning for home his aircraft was hit and crashed. All nine men aboard were killed. Graeme’s second daughter was born a few months later.

Wing Commander Harrison (far left) describes the situation over Arnhem after safely retuning from an earlier mission © IWM

Originally buried near where the aircraft came down, in October 1945 Graeme was reburied in Arnhem Oosterbeek War cemetery in Plot 4. Grave D. Grave 12.

Tragedy

25 to 26 September

Throughout the last days of the Battle of Arnhem the relieving force continued to fight at close quarters with German forces in the towns south of Arnhem, desperately pushing to link up with their surrounded airborne comrades.

Two soldiers shelter behind a knocked out German tank in Nijmegan, 24 September © IWM

Lance Corporal William Wilkins

“FOREVER IN MY MEMORY, DARLING, YOU’LL REMAIN. MY HEART IS BROKEN BUT WE WILL MEET AGAIN”

Lance Corporal William Wilkins had joined the 1st Worcestershire Battalion just a few weeks before Market Garden. A Bren gunner, he carried his machine gun the sixty miles from Belgium to Arnhem. On 22 September he spent a quiet night under Nijmegen Bridge and wrote to his wife about the cheering crowds of Dutch people that met them in every liberated town. Not far away he could hear the German guns firing upon the encircled troops at Arnhem.

The people of Eindhoven celebrate as Commonwealth tanks liberate the town© IWM

Three days later William was killed in action in Elst, just 6 miles south of Arnhem. He was one of almost 1,500 Commonwealth personnel who were killed or wounded in the drive for Arnhem. In September 1945, he was reburied in Plot 10. Row B. Grave 8 of Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

Exhausted by days of constant fighting, the surviving airborne troops at Arnhem were forced back inch by inch into a smaller and smaller pocket. There was no safe place to take the wounded, and those who could still hold a weapon often remained in the fight. On 24 September it was decided that all who could be moved would attempt to escape across the river.

An officer defends the Airborne Headquarters, Oosterbeek © IWM & Paratroopers wait for yet another German attack at Oosterbeek © IWM

Codenamed Operation Berlin, the evacuation began at 2200 hours on 25 September. Royal Engineers and Royal Canadian Engineers made dozens of trips back and forth across the river at Driel in small boats to collect the survivors. Bedraggled groups of men appeared on the dark river bank and were gratefully ferried across to safety, under fire from German artillery and machine guns.

Corporal Anthony Lloyd

“SIMPLE JOYS OF HEARTH AND HOME, THE HAPPINESS WE KNEW, THUS WE REMEMBER YOU”

As dawn broke on 26 September, the last boats returned to the relative safety of the southern shore. Although 2,500 men had been saved more than 6,000 had been left behind.

Corporal Anthony Lloyd was from Penarth in Wales. He enlisted in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers before joining the Parachute Regiment. He served in North Africa where he was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry, and then fought in Sicily and Italy. He returned to the UK in early 1944 and was presented with his medal at Buckingham Place.

Anthony fought at Arnhem and was badly wounded, before being taken to the Regimental Aid Post at Kate ter Horst’s house. Kate had watched with joy as the airborne troops arrive on 17 September but had then spent the following days helping the constant stream of wounded who were brought to her home. She soon became known as the ‘Angel of Arnhem’. Injured soldiers crowded into her house but with supplies exhausted, there was little that she or medical staff could do.

Anthony was one of many that were too badly wounded to be taken across the river on the night of 25 September, and as dawn broke on the 26th, German soldiers moved in and captured those who had been left behind. Sadly, before German doctors could help him, Anthony succumbed to his wounds.

A wounded soldier is rushed to an aid station © IWM

He was buried in the garden of Kate’s house alongside 56 others who had died there. In August 1945 he was laid to rest in Plot 3. Row A. Grave 19 of Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

Aftermath

Operation Market Garden had been a costly failure. Commonwealth tank crews and infantry had suffered almost 1,500 casualties fighting their way through the Netherlands, while the American airborne divisions had taken a further 4,000 killed, wounded and missing. The British 1st Airborne Division was effectively destroyed. More than 10,000 Commonwealth and Polish troops had been dropped at Arnhem and in nine days of fighting, 1,500 had been killed and more than 6,500 captured.

Defiant to the last, Lieutenant Jack Reynolds gives two fingers to a German cameraman after being taken prisoner © Bild

The cheering crowds of Dutch citizens who greeted the paratroopers on the first day were forced to flee or find shelter while the battle raged about them and more than 450 were killed. Afterwards, the entire population of more than 100,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes by the Germans and many did not return until after the war.

Wounded British paratroopers limp into captivity © Bild - German soldiers celebrate their victory with a bottle of 'liberated' Dutch wine © Bild- The people of Arnhem dejectedly abandon their homes © Bild

For the Germans this was a remarkable victory. With their forces retreating on every front, success against an elite British airborne division was reported in every German newspaper and on every radio station across the Third Reich. Instead of shortening the war, Operation Market Garden had lifted German spirits, and the Allies would have to fight their way into Germany.

The Missing

More than 400 men who died in the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden have no known grave. They are commemorated by name on the CWGC’s Groesbeek Memorial, near Nijmegen.

John Baskeyfield VC

'WE LIVE ON IN THE HEARTS OF THOSE FOR WHOM WE DIED'

Born in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, John worked as a butcher until he was called up in 1942. He served with an anti-tank unit of the 2nd South Staffordshire Battalion and fought in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. On the third day of the Battle of Arnhem he was manning his gun when his position was attacked by German Tiger tanks. These massive machines struck fear into all who faced them, but John and his comrades stood their ground. Two of the tanks were destroyed but one by one all his gun crew members were killed. Severely wounded, John manned the gun alone and continued to fire round after round. When a German shell knocked out his gun John crawled to another. Weak from loss of blood and in terrible pain he fired two more rounds before being killed. He was 22 years old.

Anti-tank gunners in action at Arnhem, September © IWM

Survivors passed on the story of John’s singlehanded stand and in November 1944 he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for supreme gallantry beyond praise. When the army graves registration teams came to Arnhem in 1945 there was no sign of his final resting place. His name appears on panel 5 of the CWGC Groesbeek Memorial to the Missing.

‘Missing’ was often the hardest news for families to hear and some struggled to accept that their loved one had simply vanished. John’s parents could not come to terms with the thought that their hero son had no known grave and made a special pilgrimage to Arnhem. Their heart-breaking story was told in the Daily Express on the anniversary of his death. The article began with the words ‘The two saddest people in Arnhem tonight are the parents of John Baskeyfield’.

Baskeyfield's name on the Groosebeek Memorial

All day they had walked amongst the graves in the newly made Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery hoping to find his name, his mother proudly wearing his Victoria Cross. Finally, they decided to lay their flowers on the grave of an unknown soldier.

Remembrance

Since the end of the Second World War Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery has been a place of pilgrimage and remembrance. John Jefferies fought at Arnhem and was captured by the Germans after he was wounded. He is one of many veterans who have made the journey to Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery to remember fallen comrades and friends.

John Jeffries

CWGC staff interviewed John in 2019 to record his story and you can hear an edited version of that interview by clicking here.

John was inspired by his visits to Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery to write this short poem.

DISCOVER THE VOICES OF LIBERATION

LEGACY OF LIBERATION PODCAST

With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, the family of Porucznik Stanislaw Slesicki, Willemien Rieken, Bundesarchiv and the team at AircrewRemembered.com