Signallers past and present, including Grantham soldier Lance Corporal Marcus Baker, joined together in Caythorpe to commemorate the 70th anniversary of an operation that defined the character of the British Army’s airborne forces.
Sunday saw commemorative events take place in the village to mark the contribution of troops from 1st Airborne Divisional Signals to Operation Market Garden in September 1944.
The operation saw some 20,000 British and American airborne troops land behind German lines with the aim of capturing a string of river crossings to allow tanks to thrust across the River Rhine in to Germany.
However, strong resistance prevented armoured forces linking up with the 1st Airborne Division at the final bridge at Arnhem. Expecting to be relieved within 48 hours of landing, the lightly armed paratroopers held out through nine days of brutal street fighting in Arnhem before withdrawing across the river. Over 1,500 British soldiers were killed at Arnhem and nearly 6,500 captured, while five Victoria Crosses were awarded.
Caythorpe was home to 1st Airborne Divisional Signals from late 1943, with troops carrying out extensive training in the area in the build up to Market Garden. Strong links have remained between the village and Airborne Signals since, with Colchester-based 216 (Parachute) Signal Squadron maintaining the tradition.
With this year’s 70th anniversary the annual commemorations took on extra significance. The squadron marched through the village, with Arnhem veterans taking the salute, before a service at St Vincent’s Church. The Grade 1 listed church includes two stained glass windows dedicated to the memory of signallers killed in action at Arnhem and since.
Lance Corporal Marcus Baker, 23, a former pupil at Sir William Robertson School, said: “My parents attend the event every year, so I was aware of it before I joined the Army. It is both a privilege and an honour to be here and spend time with the veterans hearing about their experiences.
“The villagers make us feel so welcome; it is a great weekend and I think I speak for everyone in the Squadron when I say it means a lot to us to be here; we are all very proud to play a part.”
Major Clarke, Officer Commanding 216 (Para) Sign Sqn, said: “It is vitally important that our soldiers are aware of their history and are able to meet the veterans whose actions have set the standard that we expect the current generation of soldiers to meet. Our links with Caythorpe, which took our predecessors to their heart as they prepared for Arnhem, is also something that we greatly treasure and enjoy coming back to celebrate every year.”
Normandy veteran Harry Leach, 90, who was a Royal Signaller in 5 Parachute Brigade, travelled from Devon to attend the weekend commemorations. He said: “It means everything to me to be here. I am very, very proud and the Service means a lot.”
Accompanying Harry was his daughter Marie and son-in-law David. Marie said: “We are very proud of what he did. The weekend has been superb and quite emotional. Dad parachuted in on D-Day. He was the 13th soldier to jump out of the 13th plane and the plane’s number was 169. So you can imagine what his lucky number is.”
Troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade will be taking part in commemorative events at Arnhem on September 19-21, including memorial services on the bridge at Arnhem and Oosterbeek Cemetery and a multi-national parachute drop on to Ginkel Heath, the same fields used as a drop zone in 1944.