September 17th, marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. It was the largest airborne operation in history up to that time with ground forces, and airborne troops from America, Britain and Poland being dropped to take and hold the key bridges en-route. This operation was even the subject of the 1977-star studded movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’ directed by Richard Attenborough.
In total, the Allies had suffered some 15,000 casualties and had many thousands more taken prisoner.
Forces War Records 'Book of the Month' from Pen and Sword Books: Arnhem 1944 - The Human Tragedy of the Bridge Too Far
The airborne battle for the bridges across the Rhine at Arnhem ranks amongst the Second World War’s most famous actions – inspiring innumerable books and the star-studded 1977 movie. This book, however, is unique: deeply moved, the author provides a fresh narrative and approach – concentrating on the tragic stories of individual casualties.
These men were killed at different junctures in the fighting, often requiring forensic analysis to ascertain their fates. Wider events contextualise the author’s primary focus – effectively ‘resurrecting’ casualties through describing their backgrounds, previous experience, and tragic effect on their families. In particular, the emotive and unresolved issue of the many still ‘missing’ is explored.
During the course of his research, the author made numerous trips to Arnhem and Oosterbeek, travelled miles around the UK, and spent countless hours communicating with the relatives of casualties – achieving their enthusiastic support. This detailed work, conducted sensitively and with dignity, ensures that these moving stories are now recorded for posterity.
Included are the stories of Private Albert Willingham, who sacrificed his life to save civilians; Major Frank Tate, machine-gunned against the backdrop of blazing buildings around Arnhem Bridge; family man Sergeant George Thomas, whose anti-tank gun is displayed today outside the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’, and Squadron Leader John Gilliard DFC, father of a baby son who perished flying his Stirling through a hail of shot and shell during an essential re-supply drop. Is Private Gilbert Anderson, who remains ‘missing’, actually buried as an ‘unknown’, the author asks? Representing the Poles is Lance-Corporal Czeslaw Gajewnik, who drowned whilst escaping the hell of Oosterbeek, and accounts by Dutch civilians emphasise the shared suffering – sharply focussed by the tragedy of Luuk Buist, killed protecting his family. The sensitivity still surrounding German casualties is also explained.
This raw, personal, side of war, the hopes and fears of ordinary men thrust into extraordinary circumstances, is both deeply moving and revealing: no longer are these just names carved on headstones or memorials in a distant land. Through this thorough investigative work, supported by those who remember them, the casualties live again, their silent voices heard through friends, relatives, comrades and unpublished letters.
So, let us return to the fateful autumn of 1944, and meet those fighting in the skies, on the landing grounds, in the streets and woods of Oosterbeek, and on the ‘bridge too far’ at Arnhem.
Now, the casualties can tell their own stories – as we join this remarkable journey of discovery.
Pen and Sword became established as one of the UK's leading military history publishers. Over recent years the company has continued to grow and has added new imprints to its core area of military history. Pen & Sword now specialise in all areas of military history, naval and maritime history, aviation, local history, family history, transport, discovery and exploration, collectables and antiques, nostalgia and true crime.
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Was your ancestor a casualty in WWII, or in the Battle of Arnhem?
‘WWII Daily Reports (missing, dead, wounded & POWs)’, from the National Archives reference WO417, ‘War Office: Army Casualty Lists, 1939-45 War’, is a list of every casualty sustained by the British Army, day by day during the Second World War.
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