Battle of Arnhem veteran: I wanted to see Gordon’s stone so I could say ‘hi pal’

A Battle of Arnhem veteran took a dram of whisky to the grave of his friend during an emotional first return to the Netherlands in 75 years.

Sandy Cortmann, from Aberdeen, paid tribute to his former comrade, Private Gordon Matthews of the Parachute Regiment, following a memorial service at the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery on Sunday.

The 97-year-old ex-paratrooper has become the star of a week of commemorative events marking the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden after he took part in a tandem parachute drop with the Red Devils.

Sandy Cortmann at the gravestone of his friend Gordon Matthew
Sandy Cortmann at the gravestone of his friend Gordon Matthews (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Cortmann, who was just 22 when he parachuted over Arnhem in September 1944, was congratulated after his jump on Saturday by the Prince of Wales.

During the bloody fighting at Arnhem, his friend Mr Matthews, aged just 20, was killed by a mortar, with Mr Cortmann later stumbling across his remains.

On Sunday, Mr Cortmann, who survived capture by the Germans, sipped from a small bottle of whisky while laying a wreath with a message to “my best pal Gordon”.

As the emotional veteran remembered his friend, he was approached by a man clutching a photo of a young Mr Matthews.

Allan Price, 52, a cobbler from Worcester, had discovered that Mr Matthews was from his home town and has been visiting his grave for the last four years to lay a cross.

He said: “For me, it’s just a little something for a chap from home and then to walk up when I normally walk and to see 30, 40 people surrounding it… I was just wondering what it was all about.”

“It was a bit overwhelming, it’s a surprise,” he added.

Mr Price, who has no relation to Mr Matthews, passed the photo to Mr Cortmann who clutched it to his chest, as a crowd of onlookers, many in tears, watched.

“To meet any of the veterans is an honour and a privilege,” said Mr Price, who has committed to providing Mr Cortmann with more information about this friend.

He added: “To be able to come out to pay a little bit of respect, I thought is the least I can do.”

Operation Market Garden 75th anniversary commemorations
Gordon Matthews (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Cortmann previously said of his friend: “I often wonder if any of his family are still alive and if they are I would like to meet them just to say, ‘I knew Gordon’.

“I wanted to come back, I wanted to see Gordon’s stone so I could look at him and speak to him and just say ‘hi pal’ and think about him for a wee while.”

Just two years ago, the full extent of Mr Cortmann’s Battle of Arnhem experiences was largely unknown by family and carers.

Friend and ex-paratrooper Gary Haughton, 52, who lives in Aberdeen, helped him connect with military associations, get a new uniform and complete the journey back to Arnhem for the first time.

Operation Market Garden 75th anniversary commemorations
Sandy Cortmann has a drink at the gravestone of his friend Gordon Matthews (Steve Parsons/PA)

A tearful Mr Haughton said it was “emotional and memorable” to see Mr Cortmann at Mr Matthews’s graveside.

He added: “He’s the mould I was made from, the future generation of paratroopers were made from, the standards we adhere to.”

Mr Cortmann, whose wife Joan and children Alan and Susan have died, said his friend Mr Matthews was “always smiling” and that it had been “great living with him and all the others”.

Speaking by the grave, he said: “You just feel you’re with him and he’s there.”

“He would probably say, ‘what about that 30 bob that I lent?’

“I will give it next week, Gordon,” Mr Cortmann joked.

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