The Open Door

Arnhem Pilgrimage 2004: Derek Armitage

The Air Despatch Wreath, Maj. Gen. White and John Frost Bridge

Sixty years ago this September, the 1st Airborne Division were fighting for their lives during the battle for Arnhem, known to all as Operation ‘Market Garden’. An Airborne carpet laid across northern Holland.

Throughout the battle, Air Despatchers of 63, 223, 253, 398, 799 and 800 Companies RASC (AD) flew 611 re supply sorties, dropping just over 2000 tons from Stirling and Dakota aircraft during the period 18 -26 Sept 1944. The casualties suffered by 48 & 49 AD Columns RASC were considerably high, 216 were shot down and of these 79 gave their lives. The Distinguished Flying Medal was awarded to L/Cpl Whittaker of 223 Coy AD RASC for gallantry while despatching an Airborne Pannier load from a Dakota. This Decoration can be seen at RAF Brize Norton where it is in the safe hands of 47 AD Sqn RLC. It was only a short time later that the War Office allowed members of Air Despatch units to wear the now famous Dakota Shoulder Flash, regardless of which theatre they were operating in. An honour not given to any other unit in the British Army.

This was the back drop to our pilgrimage to Arnhem this year. To participate in the commemorations, along with many other Regimental Associations and the Dutch population who turned up in their hundreds, to give their thanks to those who had sacrificed so much. The weather was outstanding and our party of 53, including our President, witnessed the mass drop at Ginkel Heath.

The Arnhem Service
The Service at Oosterbeek

The Sunday morning service at Oosterbeek was followed by the AD service in the afternoon, conducted by the Rev Don Irvine, the lesson was read by Major Dickie Gittins. On this occasion Major General White CB CBE DL, presented a Dakota Pennant to the Arnhem Scout Group for their support during the past years. Wreaths were laid by our own AD veterans, the ADA, and 47 AD Sqn RLC. It was also a pleasure to see Mrs Betty Maskell lay a wreath on behalf of her husband James, who fell at Arnhem. Our party then paid their respects and laid RBL crosses on all the AD graves and for the first time, we laid an ADA wreath at the Sword of Remembrance in the main cemetery.

Para drop at Arnhem
The Para drop at Arnhem 2004

The tour included a visit to the battlefield sites, having to contend with traffic problems as bad as the M25, but we managed to stay the course. We ended the tour on a high note by holding a farewell dinner for 72 people in our hotel, with Brigadier Page OBE Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade as our main guest. The President welcomed all the guests including our Dutch friends, whom he thanked on behalf of the ADA for their continuing support. We were also fortunate to have two Arnhem veterans with us, Mr Mickey Marshall of 63 Coy and Mr Geoff Gamgee of 253 Coy. Both were in exceedingly good form and we look forward to seeing them again at our annual reunion.

It would be remiss of me not thank Mr Cees van den Bosch and Mr Frank van den Berg for their help and support with the logistics that ensures our Memorial Service at Oosterbeek is a success.

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