War veteran, 97, meets Charles after parachute jump to mark Arnhem operation

A 97-year-old Second World War veteran who parachuted out over the Dutch city he was captured in 75 years ago has been congratulated by the Prince of Wales.

A crowd of thousands applauded Sandy Cortmann, from Aberdeen, as he tandem dropped with the Red Devils on to Ginkel Heath, near Arnhem in the Netherlands, on Saturday.

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 on Saturday, to mark its 75th anniversary.

After landing Mr Cortmann, still wearing his red flight suit and returning to the area for the first time since the war, waved to onlookers and a mass of cameras from his wheelchair as he took his place for a memorial service on the heath.

The Prince of Wales, wearing a multi-terrain patterned shirt and trousers and maroon beret of the Parachute Regiment, 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.

Sandy Cortmann
Sandy Cortmann at the Ginkel Heath commemorations (Arthur Edwards/PA)

After speaking to the Prince of Wales, Mr Cortmann described his jump as “thoroughly terrifying”, adding: “When the door opened I thought, Christ, what a way down.”

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 if you like, but it turned out rather terrifying in the end with the guns and mortars and things opened up. They were all aimed at us.”

Mr Cortmann’s friend and ex-paratrooper Gary Haughton, 52, who lives in Aberdeen, said the Prince of Wales had congratulated the veteran and said: “He puts me to shame, I should have been up there with him.”

Arnhem anniversary
Veterans attend a commemorative service and wreath-laying at Ginkel Heath (Arthur Edwards/PA)

“He can’t be everywhere,” Mr Cortmann joked.

Mr Haughton said watching the war hero take to the skies was “breathtaking” and it had left him with the “biggest smile”.

He added: “His teeth were intact, his glasses were intact, his hearing aid was intact and he wants to do it again next year.”

During the memorial service civilian and military dignitaries gave moving speeches before the laying of wreaths.

Charles 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 Hollywood film A Bridge Too Far, saw 35,000 British, American and Polish troops parachute or glide behind German lines in a bid to open up an attack route for allied forces.

Charles talks to a Parachute Regiment veteran
Charles talks to a Parachute Regiment veteran (Arthur Edwards/PA)

The subsequent fighting around Arnhem saw more than 1,500 Commonwealth soldiers killed, nearly 6,500 captured and five Victoria Crosses awarded.

On Saturday, three jump waves were due to take place involving 1,500 parachutists from the UK, Netherlands, US, Germany, France, Poland and Belgium who will 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.

The parachute jumps are part of a host of commemorative events in and around the Dutch city of Arnhem this week, the site of bloody fighting during Operation Market Garden.

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