Trying to explain my interest in the Battle of Arnhem is not easy – I have no direct connection with the events there nor with any of the people involved.
My awareness of the events at Arnhem started many years ago – probably when, as a boy, I graduated from playing with Action Man and toy soldiers to modelling and ‘proper’ wargaming; the scenarios I explored were mainly the Battle of Waterloo, WW2 naval battles (such as the sinking of the Graf Spee and the Bismarck) and Operation Market Garden. I certainly remember re-enacting Waterloo and small WW2 airborne operations on a large piece of hardboard with many tables of statistics, dice and a multitude of the old Airfix HO/OO scale soldiers and models. But that’s just showing my age…I still play the same sort of games and simulations, but the updated versions are now all on computers 🙂
I’m sure my enthusiasm for the subject was fuelled in the late 1970s by seeing the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’, based on the classic account of the battle by Cornelius Ryan.
As a starting point to explain my sustained interest I can do no better than quote Christopher Hibbert from the Preface his book Arnhem in the Great Battles series:
The battle was, indeed, one of the great epic tragedies which enoble the history of the British Army. It was planned in the light of Intelligence which proved to be false; it was characterised by a succession of miscalculations and disasters; it ended in surrender and retreat. Out of nearly 9,000 men who had landed scarcely more than 2,000 returned; but it was a victory for the human spirit. It has a special quality, a flavour almost of mystique. Men who were there – Germans, Poles and Dutchmen as well as British soldiers – talk of it as though it were fought yesterday. It is, for many reasons, unique.
In fact, I can recommend this book as probably the one of the best introductions to the Battle of Arnhem – it is a superbly written account, really bringing to life the events and the personalities involved. Together with Ryan’s ‘A Bridge Too Far’ it is essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject.
It may sound obvious but, above all, I believe that the participants in the battle deserve to be remembered with respect for their courage and sacrifice – anything that publicises, commemorates or revives interest in the individuals or the events they took part in is to be commended.
Finally, for a tribute to the participants in, and an illustration of the attitudes to, the battle shortly after the events please read this poem written by Ray Vickers.