A 97-year-old Second World War veteran parachuted back into the Dutch city of Arnhem yesterday 75 years after he was taken prisoner there.
Sandy Cortmann, from Aberdeen, tandem parachute jumped with the Red Devils on to Ginkel Heath to join other veterans saluting fallen comrades on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem.
He was just 22 years old when he parachuted on to the same drop zone in September 1944 as part of Operation Market Garden, one of the war’s most significant and ill-fated operations.
The Prince of Wales, the Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, accompanied by Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands, met veterans of the operation yesterday as part of the commemorative events.
After landing as part of a mass jump, Mr Cortmann, still wearing his red flight suit and returning to the area for the first time since the war, waved to spectators from his wheelchair as he took his place for a memorial service on the heath.
The Prince of Wales laid a wreath during the service bearing the handwritten message: “In everlasting remembrance, Charles.”
He later shook Mr Cortmann’s hand as he met several of the last band of surviving veterans from Operation Market Garden.
After speaking to the Prince of Wales, Mr Cortmann described his jump as “thoroughly terrifying”.
But he said it was “absolutely wonderful to see the ground so far below, my God”.
Asked if the parachute drop had been like the one he made more than seven decades before, he said: “I can’t remember much about the jump in 1944, we were just a bunch of young lads out for a good time, but it turned out rather terrifying with the guns and mortars and things opened up. They were all aimed at us.”
After landing 75 years ago, Mr Cortmann was captured before being transported to Germany where he was held for a year.
Mr Cortmann, who worked as a plumber after the war, now lives at the Fairview Nursing Home in Aberdeen and travelled to Arnhem with staff member Alana Davidson. He outlived his wife and two children.
During the memorial service civilian and military dignitaries gave speeches before the laying of wreaths.
The Prince of Wales held a salute and veterans were helped to stand, some holding hands, as a lone bugler played the Last Post and a minute’s silence was observed.
Operation Market Garden, portrayed in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far, saw 35,000 British, American and Polish troops parachute or land in gliders behind German lines in a bid to open up an attack route for Allied forces.
However, the subsequent fighting around Arnhem saw more than 1,500 Commonwealth soldiers killed, nearly 6,500 captured and five Victoria Crosses awarded.
Only 2,400 paratroopers made it to safety across to the south banks of Rhine using small boats.
Yesterday three jump waves were due to take place involving 1,500 parachutists from the UK, Netherlands, US, Germany, France, Poland and Belgium who planned to drop on to Ginkel Heath.
One joint-nation jump was to form the culmination of Exercise Falcons Leap, hosted by the Royal Netherlands Army, to train Nato airborne forces to launch parachute operations together.
Minister for Defence People and Veterans Johnny Mercer also completed a tandem parachute jump with Mr Cortmann and the Red Devils before the memorial service started.
Speaking ahead of the service, John Jeffries, 97, from Richmond in North Yorkshire, said he was injured dropping on to Ginkel Heath 75 years ago.
“I got shot here, I couldn’t get up. I had to lay there almost three quarters of an hour before medics came to pick me up.”