Date issued: 16 September 2019
A service will be held in Colchester to both remember the 75th anniversary of a major Second World War battle and celebrate the town’s relationship with the Dutch town where the battle took place.
The heroism and sacrifice of the soldiers who took part in Operation Market Garden in September 1944 will be honoured at a commemorative service at the town’s War Memorial on Sunday 22 September.
The battle’s aim was to break into Germany by a combined airborne and armoured advance, striking a decisive blow that would bring the war in Europe to an end by Christmas 1944. 1st Airborne Division were landed by parachute and glider at Arnhem on 17 September 1944 to capture the final bridge across the Rhine. Expecting to be relieved within 48 hours, the soldiers held out through nine days of prolonged and brutal street fighting before withdrawing across the river on 25th September. Over 1,500 British soldiers were killed at Arnhem and nearly 6,500 captured, while five Victoria Crosses were awarded.
The soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which is based at Colchester Garrison, serve under the same Pegasus emblem as 1st Airborne Division, with the badge serving as a reminder of the bravery and commitment of their forebears.
Colchester Borough Council this year signed a bond of friendship with Renkum, the Dutch district including the town of Oosterbeek where soldiers landed and then made their final stand, to mark their common relationship with the British Army’s airborne forces. The Dutch flag and Pegasus will be flying from Colchester Town Hall from 17 to 25 September to mark the nine days that the battle lasted 75 years ago.
For Sunday’s service, the public are invited to join dignitaries including the Deputy Mayor of Colchester, Cllr Beverley Oxford, the Lord Lieutenant of Essex Mrs Jennifer Tolhurst, Dutch military attaché Captain Wolter Sillevis Smitt, members of The Royal British Legion and soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade, based at Colchester Garrison, at the memorial from 11am. The Right Reverend Roger Morris, Bishop of Colchester, and The Reverend Tony Rose will lead prayers, and a bugler from The Band of The Parachute Regiment will play The Last Post and Reveille. A two-minute silence will be followed by the laying of wreaths and the reading by a representative of the Royal British Legion of the Kohima Epitaph.
On the same day the Mayor of Colchester, Cllr Nick Cope, will be attending a commemorative service at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery alongside civic dignitaries from Renkum, veterans and soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade.
He said: “I am tremendously honoured to represent the people of Colchester during the commemorative service at the Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery and to be able to pay tribute, on their behalf, to the soldiers of the 1st Airborne Division who fought so bravely and against such impossible odds during one of the most intense and challenging battles of World War Two.
“We shall not forget their sacrifice in helping to defeat tyranny and secure the freedom in Europe that we all take for granted today.
“The suffering of the Dutch people ought also to be remembered. Their contribution to the efforts of the Expeditionary Force was significant but, just as importantly, the retributions they endured at the end of the operation from the occupying German forces should be acknowledged. The Dutch people have always been most appreciative and grateful for what our soldiers did, but we must also acknowledge what they did and what they endured.”
The Deputy Mayor, Cllr Beverley Oxford, added: I would like to invite members of the public to join me at Colchester’s War Memorial, on Sunday 22 September, to give thanks to those whose sacrifice at the Battle of Arnhem was not in vain but will abide forever as an example of selfless commitment and devotion to the greater good.”
Lieutenant Colonel Steve Caldwell, Commander of Colchester Garrison, said: Operation Market Garden was a hugely ambitious operation, if ultimately unsuccessful, and it is right that we should honour the bravery and sacrifice of all who took part. The soldiers of 1st Airborne Division landed behind enemy lines, by parachute or glider, and fought against overwhelming odds for nine days, far longer than could have been expected. Their courage and determination set a standard that the soldiers within Colchester Garrison, as the home of the British Army’s airborne forces, train hard to maintain today.”