With the 70th anniversary of the battle Arnhem looming, one of the few veterans left has had to put his passport back in the drawer after his doctor advised him not the travel to the commemoration ceremony next Wednesday.
Ninety-three year old Gerry Dimmock, from Knockstocks Cottage outside Newton Stewart, has been back to the scene of one of World war Two’s most bloody battles every year since 1944, but with his fragile heath a concern his doctors have advised him to give the anniversary a miss this year.
Gerry was to be given pride of place at the ceremony which will be attended by the king and Queen of the Netherlands as he is the only survivor left of the Allied troops who swam the Rhine to escape the Germans.
Paratrooper Gerry was with the 1st Airborne Division instructed to take the bridge at Arnhem as the allies their to push the Germans back after the D-Day landings in June. As a driver, Gerry and his jeep were towed across to Holland in a glider attached to a tow plane. The Allied troops were briefed that there was only going to be up against a couple of German divisions but when they landed they found two crack German Panzer divisions.
Gerry remembers: “We had to fight them without anti-tank weapons, we were only fighting them with small arms, the bombs we did have were just bouncing off the tanks.
As a driver, during the last three days of the battle I was busy picking up the wounded and taking them back to the dressing station it was a very, very hairy thing to do as I expected a bullet in the back at any minute as I only had a white handkerchief on a broomstick driving through the German lines. We burst the doors off houses and I wired three of them onto the jeep so I could carry three wounded lying down and two in the seats. Put on so many tourniquet on people that were bleeding to death I became the world’s expert.
“I was wounded three times during the war and the last time was when I was crawling out of the Rhine at Arnhem when I was hit by a mortar, having gone through the eight days of the battle. A mortar bomb landed so close it burst my eardrum and a piece of shrapnel shaved my pelvis. I was taken to Brussels and then flown back to England and that was the end of the war for me. General Browning after the Arnhem battle got all the survivors together in the church at Nijmegen to announce: ‘I will see to it that none of you who fought at Arnhem will go into action again’, and he kept his word.”
Once I recovered, being young, I could walk but in the last few years I have had to use a wheelchair.
As the anniversary looms, Gerry is realistic that he may have made his last pilgrimage to Arnhem, where he lost so many comrades.
“I’m disappointed I can’t go but I have to listen to what the doctors tell me. The organisers wanted me there this time because I’m the only one left who swam the Rhine. There were about 30 of us who made it. So many of them were drowned because of the currents. I am lucky to be here.
“After the war, they made a film called “Theirs is the Glory’ which I am in, it will be screened in the square on the day with 15,000 people watching.
“It’s important that people remember what happened at Arnhem. I was a horrendous battle as there as no quarter given and none asked. Of the 8000 paratroopers in my draft there were only 2000 came home. The 10th battalion I was in was stationed at Sommerby in Leicestershire during the war and out of the 680 of us that left the village only 36 came home.
“The whole village was weeping.”