I did a silly thing, the other day. I emailed someone a question about a decision made over 70 years ago; the answer to which I knew I knew but I suddenly felt the need to ask someone the question and get the answer I knew I’d get.
To elaborate: In September 1944 my uncle was killed in the fighting of Operation Market Garden. He was killed towards the end of the operation and in a part of the Belgian/Dutch border near the base of the corridor XXX Corps were trying to exploit and get across all those bridges. On September 17th, every year, Joseph Desmond has seven days to live. As the men of the airborne divisions begin to fall on the landing sites across The Netherlands, Private Desmond is gearing up for the last seven days of his life. He doesn’t know it, obviously, but that’s what he is doing.
A number of years ago, I helped my Mum and her sisters find the grave of their brother. A consequence of this is that come September 17th each year my thoughts now turn to this uncle I never met, my Mum’s youngest brother, and his impending death. It may seem odd that my focus falls on just the one life lost during this period when so many others died too but, none of those are my relatives. Selfish? I don’t think so.
In actual fact, I have been concerned about the thousands of deaths that surround this operation for many years. Like many of my generation, I am fascinated by World War Two. One of the many battles that fascinate me in particular is that of Operation Market Garden. Even now, I re-read the accounts and histories of this battle and wonder how on earth this came to be lost. This is what led me to ask the question. For some reason, this year, my attention fell on the air plan and the lack of a coup-de-main force landing on or near the bridge at Arnhem, the wilful dismissal of the fundamental rule of any airborne attack – you land on the target. So, I emailed one of the airborne museum curators and asked why the chap in charge of the air plan wouldn’t change his mind and allow Urquhart to put men close to/on the bridge? I knew the answer. I knew that I would get the response I did – Deelen Airfield, Flak, Danger of Losing Aircraft with the Three Day Lift Schedule in place. It still baffles me that knowing what they knew about airborne troop attacks – and the intelligence on the ground re the location of a couple of panzer divisions – that nothing was done to change this plan. I find it difficult to believe that Montgomery – having gone to the lengths he did to secure permission for this mission – would so happily let his carpet of airborne troopers be taken to battle in such a cack-handed fashion.
So, there we are – September is a funny month. It routinely brings a sense of melancholy and remembrance. It routinely re-connects me with my Mother and her family. It routinely locks me into a time and place over 70 years ago. It is a funny month.