Exercise Arnhem Remembered

Exercise-Arnhem-Remembered

On 17th September 1944 Operation Market Garden was launched in order to liberate Holland from the Nazi regime and to create a clear crossing for the Allied Forces into Germany across the Rhine.

Operation Market Garden was a joint effort between the Allied Airborne Forces and Ground Forces and was supported by The RAF’s Air Transport Command, Bomber Command and Fighter Command and the Glider Force. This operation was the largest ever Allied Airborne invasion and suffered more casualties than the D Day landings including those missing in action, injured or killed.

On 14th September 2011 22 personnel from RAF Waddington took part in Exercise Arnhem Remembered and travelled to Holland to visit a number of memorial sites and points of interest related to Operation Market Garden. The group focused on the Battle of Arnhem where some of the most ferocious fighting took place and the heaviest losses were incurred. After researching the history of Operation Market Garden every member of the Staff Ride presented a stand relating to a location, aspect or a personality of the Operation.

Arriving in Holland on the Thursday, Oosterbeek Church was one of the first significant locations visited. Here all participants were honoured to be given a guided tour by Henk Duinhoven who was born shortly after the Second World War and has been awarded the MBE for his efforts in paying tribute to the veterans and the fallen of Operation Market Garden. This particular church was besieged during the Battle of Arnhem and still shows the scars of war to this day. Henk gave a detailed insight in to the fighting that occurred in and around the church and relayed some highly poignant stories. When asked how he became interested in what had happened his words were “It all started with a vapour trail” alluding to the vapour trails of Allied aircraft flying over Holland after the war.

On the Friday the party split into 2 syndicates, visiting various sites around the battle areas of Nijmegen and Arnhem.  After each “stand” the group discussed aspects of command, leadership and the use of airpower during Operation Market Garden. This allowed for comparisons to be made to contemporary operations and to identify lessons learned and how they influence the way we operate today. During World War II we learnt that the Army at that time were not aware of the full potential of airpower and the impact it can have when used effectively. In comparison we witness a more cohesive military in current operations that is more used to working in joint environments. Key themes translate directly from 1944 to present, such as communication and planning.

On Saturday 17th September the group witnessed the multi-national parachute drops on Ginkel Heath. This was an impressive scene that fuelled everyone to attempt to imagine how it must have looked 67 years ago on a far greater scale. Following on from this the group travelled to the Hartenstein Hotel Airborne Museum in Arnhem where a memorial has been built to commemorate the Airmen who supported the Operation. The group took part in small wreath-laying ceremony.  President of the Air Transport Command Association is Alan Hartley who was a 19 year old LAC Mechanic at the time of Market Garden. He gave a touching and emotional recollection of the events, including an account of his crews’ “see-off” from which they did not return home.

On 18th September the group attended the Annual Memorial Service at the Commonwealth War Graves in Arnhem.  At the end of the service the Flower Children (a group of local school children) lined the graves and paid respect to the fallen by placing flowers at every gravestone. All members of the party were deeply touched by the sincerity of the Dutch appreciation for the Allied sacrifice.

Following this service a wreath was then laid at the cemetery cenotaph and everybody was given the chance to pay their respect to the fallen including Flt Lt Lord who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. After a long few days of Air Power study the group took this last opportunity to reflect on a scale of warfare that will hopefully never again be seen.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning.We will remember them.