SSAFA recognises those who took part in the Battle of Arnhem
We talk to Pete Watkins, ex-Paratrooper and Arnhem veteran, as he prepares to return and pay his respects to his fallen comrades.
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This weekend Pete Watkins, ex-Paratrooper and Arnhem veteran, will be returning to Arnhem to mark 70 years since he parachuted in there.
Pete, 91 and from Derbyshire, will pay respects to his fallen comrades who took part in Operation MARKET GARDEN. The battle was famously depicted in the 1977 film 'A Bridge Too Far' which brings to life the Allies' attempt to break though German lines and seize several bridges - and what happened when it went wrong. The commemorations will take place over the weekend of 19 – 21 September, with memorial services in the Arnhem, Renkum, Oosterbeek and Overbertuwe areas.
This was the largest airborne operation of its time. 70 years on and Pete still recalls it like it was yesterday. “We got hammered there,” he says. “In the brief before we went we were told, ‘Take the bridge, you will only be there for two days’. We were there for nine days and still no one came to support us.”
“Of course, with the parachute regiment behind enemy lines and with the loss of every man, we were getting weaker by the hour. The Germans had their tanks lined up, we were completely overpowered. You can’t fight tanks with rifles. We were annihilated. No support could get through. Eventually we got down to the river and the Canadians got us out.”
Reflecting on the role he played in the Second World War, particularly the Battle of Arnhem he says: “It’s still with me now. I try to go back each year to visit the graves of my friends who died in combat. I like to remember them.
“This year it’s more important than ever that I’m there, as less of us able to make the journey across these days.”
Pete has an array of medals and each tells a tale, six in all - Africa, France & Germany, Italy, the Dunkirk medal (1939-45 Star), defence medal and also a war medal.
This anniversary remind the world what we still owe to hose who sacrificed so much. And many of those who survived have needed SSAFA’s help over the years.
SSAFA first met Pete back in 2011 when his gas fire was giving him trouble. A SSAFA case worker visited him at his home and organised for a new gas fire to be paid for and installed after his entire central heating system was condemned. Pete said, “SSAFA was great; they were very good to me. They had it all sorted in no time. SSAFA are very important and I want to share my story to encourage more people to go to them for help.”
Three years on and SSAFA is once again assisting Pete. As he becomes increasingly less mobile, his family have arranged for his sleeping arrangements to be moved to accommodate his needs and SSAFA has been on-hand to install another new heating system to ensure he is comfortable.
As the oldest military charity providing lifelong support for our Forces, SSAFA is uniquely placed to consider the challenges faced by our veterans, both the elderly and those who have recently left military service.