WWII vets recall Arnhem's 'bridge too far'
OPERATION Market Garden, portrayed in the 1977 Hollywood film A Bridge Too Far, was one of the largest allied operations of World War Two.
It saw 35,000 British, American and Polish troops parachute or glide behind German lines in the Netherlands in a bid to open up an attack route for allied forces.
They were instructed to seize bridges up and down from the Dutch-German border, but after three days of heavy battles and initial success, they failed to take the city of Arnhem.
The subsequent fighting around Arnhem saw more than 1500 Commonwealth soldiers killed, nearly 6500 captured and five Victoria Crosses awarded.
It prolonged the war in Europe until the final liberation came in May 1945.
On Saturday, three jump waves were held involving 1500 parachutists from the UK, Netherlands, US, Germany, France, Poland and Belgium, dropping on to Ginkel Heath, near Arnhem.
One 97-year-old veteran who parachuted out over the Dutch city he was captured in 75 years ago repeated the feat on Saturday.
A crowd of thousands applauded Sandy Cortmann, from Aberdeen, as he tandem dropped with the Red Devils.
He was just 22 years old when he parachuted on to the same drop zone in September 1944 as part of Operation Market Garden, one of the war's most significant and ill-fated operations.
After landing Cortmann, still wearing his red flight suit and returning to the area for the first time since the war, waved to onlookers and a mass of cameras from his wheelchair as he took his place for a memorial service on the heath.
Cortmann described his jump as "thoroughly terrifying", adding: "When the door opened I thought, Christ, what a way down."
But he said it was "absolutely wonderful to see the ground so far below, my God".
Asked if the parachute drop had been like the one he made more than seven decades before, he said: "I can't remember much about the jump in 1944. We were just a bunch of young lads out for a good time if you like, but it turned out rather terrifying in the end with the guns and mortars and things opened up. They were all aimed at us."
British veteran Les Fuller was 23 years old when he leaped behind enemy lines close to Arnhem with orders to capture the city's bridge over the Rhine. Now 98, he still remembers it clearly.
"It was a day like today. Weather was just like this; lovely sunny day," he said, adding there was no opposition on the Sunday afternoon when he landed close to two German soldiers lying in the heathland with their girlfriends.
"They were quite surprised to see me," he added with a cheeky smile.
He was later hit by a German shell and his right arm was amputated shortly afterwards.
Speaking ahead of the service, John Jeffries, 97, from Richmond in North Yorkshire, said he was injured dropping on to Ginkel Heath 75 years ago.
"I got shot here, I couldn't get up. I had to lay there almost three quarters of an hour before medics came to pick me up.
"I got shot coming down as I came out the plane.
"I was bleeding quite profusely."
On the flight over, Jeffries remembered German anti-aircraft fire shaking the plane.
"We had ack ack firing to the plane and making it rattle, we didn't expect to get here the way things were happening."
Albert John Few, 94, originally from Tottenham in London, was on a Dakota aircraft landing jeeps during Operation Market Garden.
He was sent into a forest to recover panniers and later woke up in hospital.
Today he can not remember how he got there and how long he had been receiving treatment.
He praised the "kindness" of the Dutch during the war.
"They got nothing and they wanted to give everything," he said, holding back tears.
Also at the ceremony was Joe McAllister, 95, from Aughton, Ormskirk, Lancashire, who dropped into Ginkel Heath on the first day of the operation.
He was later hit by shrapnel and wounded in the legs.
Lying in a ditch for six hours he was eventually taken to hospital by German soldiers.
His wife Florence, 81, said: "He saw a car coming and he thought that was it. It was SS men and they sought help for him."