Today we remember the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem and pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of those who fought there. Arnhem would prove a bridge too far but would also come to define our Airborne Forces, forging an enduring legacy. It is a story of immeasurable bravery and unspeakable tragedy.
Operation Market Garden was a bold plan devised to end the War in 1944. But a combination of poor planning, lack of intelligence and bad weather contributed to a catastrophe. More than 1,500 troops were killed, while more than 8,000 were reported missing or captured.
However, the bravery and mettle shown over those nine days would become the standard to which everyone who served in an airborne unit would subsequently be held.
Facing unrelenting assault from German armour and infantry, British and Polish paratroopers held firm in the face of overwhelming adversity. Even today, their story is recounted to every fledgling paratrooper in training.
We are privileged that a number of veterans are still with us, and for many, this anniversary will be the final time they gather together. One hero of the campaign is Tom Hicks, a man Barnsley is proud to call one of our own.
As a member of 1st Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers, Tom was dropped in to Arnhem and after nine days’ fighting was injured, taken prisoner by German forces and would spend the rest of the War in a forced labour camp.
It was with great pride that our community congratulated Tom on another milestone earlier this year – his hundredth birthday. He typifies the very best of our country and our airborne forces. The freedoms we enjoy today are a direct result of the determination he showed throughout the War.
Today, I’ll be thinking of Tom and all his comrades. Not celebrating, but commemorating, trying to understand the heroism and tragedy and how it shaped so many people, including myself.
As it was poignantly said: they are, in fact, men apart – every man an Emperor.