War veterans return to Arnhem

SECOND world war veterans from across the East of England are all set to return to the scene of a critical battle in Arnhem, Holland, to relive their wartime memories and pay tribute to those who did not come home.

SECOND world war veterans from across the East of England are all set to return to the scene of a critical battle in Arnhem, Holland, to relive their wartime memories and pay tribute to those who did not come home.

The Big Lottery Fund is awarding grants through its Heroes Return 2 programme, enabling those who fought for their country to make remembrance trips throughout 2009 and 2010. A total of �111,475 is being received by 165 veterans, spouses, widows and carers across the East of England this month.

Those returning to Arnhem will commemorate the 65th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, a battle later immortalised in the classic film A Bridge Too Far.

The veterans, most now in their mid to late 80s, will return to where they served their country as part of the largest airborne operation of all time. Operation Market Garden saw 30,000 British and American airborne troops flown behind enemy lines to capture the eight bridges that spanned the network of canals and rivers on the Dutch/German border.

One of those making the pilgrimage to Holland is John Lincoln, from Norwich, who joined the 1st Battalion, the Royal Norfolk Regiment, in 1944 and served as a Rifle Company officer until he was wounded in March 1945. At the end of the war he was awarded the Military Cross 'in recognition of gallant and distinguished service'.

Mr Lincoln has vivid memories of his time in the trenches on the front line. One night in October 1944, as the Lieutenant in charge he received reinforcement into his platoon - a young man he would never forget.

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"Next morning, the Battalion was up at 4am, to get the platoon across the small river 100 yards ahead," he says. "The artillery were due to begin an assault of the area 100 yards in front of the footbridge, but they were an hour late, which left the men very exposed.

"When the bombardment was over and the men were starting to get up and move forward, I saw that the new recruit who had joined us the night before didn't get up - he lay still. He'd been killed without even seeing his colleagues'faces in daylight - surviving only one night at the front line.

A few weeks before the liberation of Helmond in Southern Holland in 1944, Mr Lincoln's battalion entered the town. As the first few jeeps drove into the marketplace there wasn't a soul in site. Gradually as the people realised it was British soldiers arriving, hundreds of Dutch people started coming out of their homes to meet them.

Mr Lincoln remembers: "At the time, I'd been trying to grow a moustache. One of the Dutch people who came to meet us was a 16-year-old lad, who saw the pips on my shoulder and remarked that surely I was too young to be a Lieutenant as I didn't even shave yet. That put paid to my efforts, and I've been clean-shaven ever since!"

Also preparing for the off is Gloria Saville, from Ilford in Essex, who is hoping to retrace her late husband John's steps with her grant of �875. They met in 1968, and married the following year, but John rarely spoke about his wartime experiences.

She says: "I know he was posted to Norway as a sergeant, where he helped to run a prisoner of war camp for German officers."

Gloria, who is an active member of the Association for Jewish Ex-servicemen and Women, has never known exactly where in Norway her late husband was based.

"He always said he didn't want to go back - I think he just wanted to forget. But I want to go and see the fjords, and try to imagine him being there."

The Big Lottery Fund's Heroes Return 2 is funding veterans, spouses, widows and carers to mark overseas anniversaries throughout 2009 and 2010 to help them pay their respects and return to the places served in the second world war.

Sara Betsworth, Big Lottery Fund Head of Region for the East of England, said: "We are delighted to support our veterans and their widows to make pilgrimages to the places where they served, and ensure the lessons of the Second World War and the sacrifices made by the wartime generation are not forgotten. Veterans from across the region will be awarded grants to return to foreign battlefields and attend commemorative events over the next two years."