Airborne Forces remember Arnhem anniversary

The British Army's Airborne Forces have remembered the bravery and sacrifice shown by their forebears during Operation Market Garden, while reflecting on the parallels with their recent deployment to Afghanistan.

A service was held on 17 September in Colchester, the home of 16 Air Assault Brigade, with civic dignitaries, soldiers and members of the public gathering to honour those who fought during the Second World War battle.

Arnhem was the key target of Operation Market Garden, which aimed to break into Nazi Germany by a combined airborne and armoured advance to end the war in Europe by Christmas 1944. The 1st Airborne Division landed by parachute and gliders near Arnhem on 17th September 1944 to capture the final bridge across the Rhine.

Anticipating that they would be relieved within 48 hours, the soldiers instead held out through nine days of prolonged and brutal street fighting before withdrawing across the river on 25th September. Over 1,600 British soldiers were killed at Arnhem and nearly 6,500 captured, while five Victoria Crosses were awarded.

The soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade serve under the same Pegasus emblem as the 1st Airborne Division as a reminder of the bravery and commitment of their forebears.

Colonel James Loudoun, Deputy Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, said: “Operation Market Garden was a hugely ambitious, if ultimately unsuccessful, operation and it is right that we should honour the bravery and sacrifice of all who took part. It is legendary within airborne forces and those who fought at Arnhem set a standard that we, as the current generation, aim to live up to.

“There are firm parallels that can be drawn between Arnhem and Operation Pitting, the evacuation of Kabul that the Brigade recently deployed on. While very different operations, both saw troops deploy by air to act with the determination, selflessness and compassion needed to deliver the mission on the ground.” Colonel James Loudoun, Deputy Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade

Dignitaries at the service included Deputy Lieutenant of Essex Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Hugh Toler, Deputy Mayor of Colchester Cllr Tim Young and Dutch defence attaché Lieutenant Colonel Richard Piso. Pupils from local primary schools laid sunflowers at the War Memorial, replicating what Dutch children do at the main commemoration service at Oosterbeek cemetery in the Netherlands. 

In 2019, Colchester Borough Council signed a bond of friendship with Renkum, the Dutch district that includes Oosterbeek, to mark their common relationship with the British Army’s airborne forces. The Dutch flag and Pegasus will fly from Colchester Town Hall until 25th September, to mark the nine days the battle lasted.

The Deputy Mayor of Colchester, Cllr Tim Young, said: “We remember and give thanks to those whose sacrifice during Operation Market Garden embodied selfless commitment to the cause of freedom

“I was tremendously honoured to represent the people of Colchester to pay tribute to the soldiers of the 1st Airborne Division, who fought against such overwhelming odds during one of the most intense and challenging battles of World War Two. We shall never forget their heroism in helping to defeat tyranny and secure the freedoms we all take for granted today.

“I would also like to thank, on behalf of the borough, members of 16 Air Assault Brigade, who recently returned from Afghanistan after two decades of service helping to improve the lives of millions in the region. They, too, showed unwavering commitment to freedom and human rights, and made immense sacrifices of their own.”