Amidst the rancour of Brexit, we must never forget those who fought at the Battle of Arnhem
On the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, we must remember the sacrifice, heroism and tragedy of those who fought; reflecting on the lessons we can all learn, writes Dan Jarvis MP.
On Monday night, I’m leading the Adjournment debate in Parliament to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem.
This was due to take place last month but was delayed because of prorogation.
When offered a later date by the Speaker’s office I accepted because it’s important we take this opportunity to pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of those who fought during those nine brutal days between the 17th and 26th of September 1944.
Arnhem would indeed prove a ‘bridge too far’, but the story of those who fought there is one of immeasurable bravery and unspeakable tragedy.
The Battle was a defining moment for our airborne forces, forging an enduring legacy.
Buoyed by victories after the D-Day landings, Operation Market Garden was a bold plan devised by Field Marshall Montgomery to end the War in 1944. As part of the operation, the British 1st Airborne Division, supported by the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade and the Glider Pilot Regiment were ordered to secure key bridges and towns, including that of Arnhem.
Once achieved, Allied Forces would then prepare an assault across the Rhine. But a combination of poor planning, lack of intelligence and bad weather contributed to a catastrophe at Arnhem.
The human cost of the operation was colossal.
More than 1,500 troops were killed, while nearly 6,500 were captured. The damage was lasting, and the Division would not fight as a collective unit again. Despite German success, their casualties were estimated to be between 3,300 and 8,000.
The ambition of ending the War by Christmas was met with failure and the people of Arnhem would have to wait seven long and desperate months for liberation.
Arnhem would, however, come to define what it meant to be ‘Airborne’. Even today, it is a story recounted to every fledgling paratrooper in training.
The bravery and mettle shown by those who fought – against all odds – is the standard to which everyone who served in an airborne unit would subsequently be held.
Despite the overwhelming adversity they did not falter. It was a lesson in true solidarity, one from which we can all learn.
A series of commemorative events were co-ordinated in September, at which thousands paid their respects. The nation was privileged that a number of veterans of the campaign were there to attend.
For many, the seventy-fifth anniversary will be the final time they will gather together.
Some of us have had the honour of meeting veterans from Operation Market Garden. I’m proud to know Tom Hicks – one of my constituents from Barnsley.
As a Sapper in the 1st Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers, Tom was dropped in to Arnhem and after nine days’ fighting was injured, taken prisoner by German forces and would spend the rest of the War in a forced labour camp.
It was with great pride that our community congratulated Tom on another milestone earlier this year – his one hundredth birthday.
The act of commemorating this Battle is particularly important to me. Not least because that I hope in seventy-five years’ time, the sacrifice made by my friends and comrades will also be remembered.
On the anniversary this year, I thought of Tom Hicks, his comrades and all those who served at Arnhem. Not celebrating, but commemorating, and in doing so, tried to understand the heroism and tragedy, and how it shaped the lives of so many, including myself.
As it was rightly said, “they are, in fact, men apart – every man an Emperor.”
Amidst the increasing rancour surrounding Brexit, this anniversary serves to remind us that we are entering a period of remembrance.
Regardless of what is happening in Westminster, we must never forget the price paid by those who fought and died. We will forever be in their debt.
Dan Jarvis is Labour MP for Barnsley Central.