The heroism and sacrifice of the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Arnhem will be honoured in the annual service at the town’s War Memorial on Thursday, 22 September. Members of the public are invited to attend a special service to remember the 78th anniversary of Operation Market Garden and celebrate Colchester’s relationship with the Dutch district of Renkum, where the British Airborne Forces first landed and, reinforced by the Polish Airborne Forces, made their final stand during the battle. The Allies’ 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. The 1st Airborne Division 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 and nearly 6,500 captured, while five Victoria Crosses were awarded including posthumously to Flight Lieutenant David Lord VC DFC. The soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, which is based at Colchester’s Merville Barracks, serve under the same Pegasus emblem as the 1st Airborne Division, with the badge serving as a reminder of the bravery and commitment of their forebears. In 2019, Colchester Borough Council signed a bond of friendship with Renkum, the Dutch district including the town of Oosterbeek where soldiers landed and made their final stand, to mark their common relationship with the British Army’s airborne forces. This year, the Pegasus will fly from the main flag pole on Colchester Town Hall until the 25 September. The public is invited to join dignitaries, including the Mayor of Colchester Cllr Tim Young, the Deputy Lieutenant of Essex Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Hugh Toler, representatives from the Dutch and Polish Embassies, and a small contingent of troops and senior officers from 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team. Pupils from local schools, and The Gilberd School Combined Cadet Force will lay sunflowers at the War Memorial, mirroring the Dutch tradition where children lay flowers at the main commemorative service at Oosterbeek cemetery. The Reverend Richard Meikle CF, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment Padre, and the Mayor’s Chaplain, the Reverend Sue Howlett, will lead prayers, and a bugler from The Band of The Royal Anglian Regiment will play The Last Post and Reveille. A two-minute silence will be followed by the reading of the Kohima Epitaph and the laying of wreaths and flowers.
The Mayor of Colchester, Tim Young, said: “I would like to invite members of the public to join me at Colchester’s War Memorial on Thursday, 22 September, to give thanks to the bravery and heroism of those who took part in Operation Market Garden. We shall not forget their sacrifice in helping to defeat tyranny and secure the freedom in Europe that we all take for granted today.”
Colonel James Loudoun, Deputy Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, said: “Operation Market Garden was a hugely ambitious, if ultimately unsuccessful, operation. The soldiers who fought at Arnhem set standards of determination, endurance and selflessness that we, as the current generation, aim to live up to.
“It is hugely important that we join with the people of Colchester to honour the bravery and sacrifice of all who took part and celebrate our continuing links with the Netherlands.”
Page last reviewed: 20 September 2022
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