It was the bridge too far: the operation designed to end the second world war by Christmas 1944. The airborne assault was audacious and partly succeeded. Nijmegen was captured. Yet Arnhem proved the bridge too far, as Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning was claimed to warn in the famous film A Bridge Too Far. The allies lost twice as many casualties in Operation Market Garden as at D-Day.
That film was one of the last great movies about the war. I saw it with my friend Gareth in Cardiff when it came out in the autumn of 1977. (I remember having to pay full fare on the train into Cardiff as I had just turned 14.) I enjoyed the film, but didn’t really understand the story. You needed some understanding of Market Garden.
The following summer, I read Cornelius Ryan’s book, A Bridge Too Far, which inspired the film. It was an extraordinary story, and I had huge admiration for those who took part in that bloody fight, such as Gerry, the husband of Dad’s colleague Kate. I was moved to use Arnhem as the subject for an essay in my end of year English exams in 1979. I recounted the story of the men who desperately held off the Germans in the battle for the Arnhem bridge. They awaited relief by the armoured divisions racing up the road from Nijmegen. Tragically, that effort was in vain and the bridge fell.
Seventy years on, we honour their sacrifice. And celebrate the fact that western Europe has lived in peace since 1945.