Trip To Arnhem: 59th Anniversary

Margie Hofman

Photo of Arthur and Phillip Letchford.

Copyright 2004 by Margie Hofman


Photo of Arthur and Phillip Letchford.

The survivors of the battle of Arnhem gathered together, as always in mid September.  This must be the only battle where former soldiers go back year after year and always welcomed by the Dutch people whose land they tried to liberate in 1944.

Polish servicemen are also invited back and a great fuss is made over all of them.  Church services are held for the Poles and the British.  A concert was performed in the town hall of Arnhem but the most moving event I thought was the ceremony in the middle of Arnhem – now of course completely rebuilt since its destruction in 1944 in the circle called Airbourneplein.  The veterans have a service in English and Dutch and then march the short distance through the streets to the town hall.  The streets are lined with Dutch people, young and old, flowers are given and the children applaud.

Lets look at the children. They are anxious to talk to the veterans, they ask for their signatures, ask them where they were fighting and look proudly on these men who, although their battle was lost, it gave the Dutch hope for the first time that their land would be free. Later in the week a ceremony is held at Osterbeek cemetery where most of the dead of Arnhem are buried. At a given time, the children step forward and place flowers on the graves of every soldier and airman – a very emotional moment

I went in the company of the Letchford twins, Arthur and Philip, Arthur was fighting on the bridge with Col. Frost and later retreated to the vicinity of a school.  While a small group of friends went for a walk later , we were trying to find the location of the school, when a man came up and said “That used to be my school but it was completely destroyed.”

Nobody who fought on the bridge got their freedom, they were either killed or taken prisoner.  Arthur ended up a prisoner of war near Chemnitz on the German/Polish border near the notorious concentration camp .  His brother Philip, by that time had moved to another C Company and was on the other side of the Maas.  Another of their
friends crossed the river and ran into German forces but with other soldiers took refuge on a houseboat  where
they stayed for five days until the lack of water and food forced them out where they were seen by Germans and taken prisoner.

Many of the veteran paratroopers meet in the evening at a pub/caf called the Schoonarde which stands on a cross roads. It was used as a dressing station during the battle and pictures on the wall depict what an inferno it must have been. The veterans while in Arnhem wear their black blazers , red berets and their badges.  Three young American men are sitting down having a beer, one of them asks a waitress “What are these men dressed up for”  Surprised, she says “Look at the photographs”.  It is lucky that many of the men are slightly deaf from the constant bombardment and firing of their own bombs many years ago – the Americans escape without injury!!

The photograph at the top of this page was taken at Arnhem. It shows the Letchford twins, Arthur and Phillip, who survived, taken at the graves of the Cronert twins who unfortunately did not. The  Cronert twins were 19 years old when they were ambushed as they were approaching the railway bridge on the way to Arnhem on the 17th September.
It is assumed they were killed by the same burst of fire ,

This year is the big 60th anniversary and it may be the last trip for many of them. It is hard to realise they are approaching 80 as their attitude to life is still full of fun and good humour , they all have strong characters and it makes one realise the great loss to society of the men who died at Arnhem.  

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