War hero returns to epic battle scene
By Sharon AsplinA WAR hero from East Anglia will be travelling to Holland to mark the 60th anniversary of the last and crucial phase of one of the most daring offensives of the Second World War.
By Sharon Asplin
A WAR hero from East Anglia will be travelling to Holland to mark the 60th anniversary of the last and crucial phase of one of the most daring offensives of the Second World War.
Tom Reynolds, 84, from Marks Tey, will join hundreds of veterans who risked their lives at the Battle of Arnhem to remember the British 1st Airborne Division's assault on the huge road bridge that spanned the Lower Rhine.
His emotional journey has been backed by the National Lottery's Heroes Return Fund, which has helped finance veterans' trips to battlefields.
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Operation Market Garden, masterminded by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery – the largest airborne operation yet mounted – proved a costly, though heroic, failure with the Allied forces suffering heavier casualties than on D-Day.
Mr Reynolds, a gunner with the 2nd Oban Air Landing Anti-Tank Battery, part of the 1st Airborne Division (4 Para), had the task of helping capture the bridge and blast a route through Holland into the industrial heart of Germany.
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He had joined up in 1942 at the age of 21 and had already seen service in North Africa and Italy. A number of operations had been postponed or cancelled before Mr Reynolds finally joined the second wave of troops in a Horsa glider, going out to Arnhem on September 18, 1944.
"If this had come off, it would have shortened the war by six months and we would have got to Berlin before the Russians, which would have solved a lot of things," he said.
"We were at a great disadvantage from the start because our whole division was dropped eight miles away, the nearest safest pace with fields, but we had to fight our way to the bridge. Most of us never made it."
After retreating and regrouping, the fighting continued until orders came to evacuate. Mr Reynolds eventually escaped in an assault boat. He had been in the Arnhem area for about nine days and suffered just a flesh wound to his knee.
"We were all complaining about having nothing to eat or drink or being able to wash, but it was not defeatism or anything, it's like it was just part of the job," he said.
"There were times when you thought you were not going to make it, but you just got over it. I lost quite a few colleagues and you do feel it, but you get on with it. I just put it down to luck that I survived it –it's a matter of luck and fate."
After Arnhem, Mr Reynolds helped liberate Norway and then served in India, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia before demobbing in 1946.
He then went back to his trade as a plasterer. He married his wife, Bridie, and had two children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Serving in the Army is a long-standing family tradition – Mr Reynolds' father and grandfather both signed up and one granddaughter has also followed in his footsteps.
He has visited Arnhem a handful of times since the war and is looking forward to returning for the 60th anniversary commemorations on September 18 and 19.
"It will be sentimental, but it's one of the biggest events of my life. It means such a lot and the Dutch people who risked their lives to help us really make it," said Mr Reynolds.
Field Marshal Montgomery's plan with Operation Market Garden was to open a 40-mile corridor for the British 2nd Army northwards from its position on the Dutch border.
His army had to cross two canals and three river bridges, all to be simultaneously captured by airborne troops. Once across the Rhine, his forces could drive for the Ruhr.
The U.S. 101st Airborne Division was to allocate the canal bridges and the U.S. 82nd the river bridges at Grave and Nijmegen, while the 1st British got Arnhem over the Nader Rhine.
The British Paras were expected to hold on for two days, or at most four, but the Allied relieving force never made it from Nijmegen.
The 700 British paratroopers who initially captured the northern bridge were gradually eliminated.
Only 2,400 men returned out of an original force of 10,000 and the Arnhem bridge remained in German hands until 1945.
After the battle, Field Marshal Montgomery told the 1st Airborne Division there could be few episodes "more glorious than the epic of Arnhem".
n Soldiers from The Parachute Regiment will be travelling to Arnhem to take part in the 60th anniversary commemorations.
Members of The 4th (Volunteer) Battalion The Parachute Regiment and The 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment as well as from 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery will participate in various events, including a parachute drop and a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota.
Frinton pensioner Bill Bloys, a corporal with 2 Para, who were the only troops to reach the main bridge at Arnhem, will also be there. He acted as a bodyguard to Lieutenant Colonel Jack Frost, who was played by actor Anthony Hopkins in the epic film A Bridge Too Far.