2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem. With a day long commemoration of the events set to take place this month, Lincolnshire Today had the honour of speaking to one of the gallant veterans of Arnhem.
In 1944 the Battle of Arnhem took place as part of Operation Market Garden, an airborne assault from British, American and Dutch forces aiming to secure major bridges that would allow ally troops to travel through Holland towards Germany. Starting on the 17th of September, the battle lasted until the 26th. Three battalions that took part in the Battle of Arnhem and Operation Market Garden trained in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Arnhem and Woodhall Spa residents Tony Woodrow and Jackie Goodall have organised a day-long commemoration taking place on Sunday 18th August. There will be a flypast, open-air concert, and a free cinema screening. The day will also see a specially commissioned stained-glass window unveiled at St Peter’s Church, designed by a serving WWII paratrooper and produced by Glen Carter.
Lincolnshire Today is fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak to one of the surviving veterans present at the Battle of Arnhem. Dennis Crockett, whose regiment at the time of the battle – the Kings Own Scottish Borderers – was part of the 1st Airborne Division, is now 97. He trained in Woodhall Spa.
On his experience of the Battle of Arnhem, Dennis remembered flying to Arnhem in a Horsa Glider. He said: “We went over there on the 17th of September and it was a bright sunny Sunday morning. There was nothing outstanding about the trip. We got to the ground alright and paraded to our defence position. We didn’t see any action on the first day but after Sunday things began to change.”
After landing with no opposition at the drop zone, and moving further into town, the courageous men at Arnhem faced strong German infantry. Dennis notes that while they charged remarkably with rifles and bayonets, they were certainly not sent to Arnhem prepared to fight the Tiger Tanks they were up against. “I don’t know how some of us survived,” he said. “It was just hell.”
Eventually Dennis would be evacuated to the banks of the River Rhine, but with the German opposition too great, he would not make it across the river. Dennis said: “On the night of the 26th we were going to make an escape, everything was organised. We were going to get across the river and join up on the other side, but of course we didn’t. There were no boats waiting for us – there had been, but they weren’t there by the time we arrived. When daylight broke we were surrounded by German troops and were POWs from that point on.”
Sadly, while over 10,000 brave men landed at Arnhem, almost 1,500 were killed, and more than 6,500 captured. Just over 2,000 crossed the Rhine safely. As a survivor, Dennis considers himself lucky: “I thank my lucky stars that I am here to talk about it.” On his return to Britain, Dennis says that the survivors were “tidied up, and came home on a good spell of leave.” He was then recalled back into the army, reported to a camp in Yorkshire and carried on training until he was demobilised in 1946. Dennis married in 1949 and had a daughter.
Talking about the day-long commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem for its 75th anniversary, Dennis stressed the importance of the occasion. He said: “It is very important to commemorate the Battle of Arnhem. I don’t think any of the happenings that went on from 1939 to 1945 (WWII) should ever be forgotten.”