NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Veteran, 97, parachutes again over Arnhem

Sandy Cortmann with parachute "instructor" Image copyright MOD
Image caption Sandy Cortmann smiled and waved to the crowds after his tandem jump

A 97-year-old Arnhem veteran has parachuted again over the Dutch city to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.

Sandy Cortmann, from Aberdeen, made an emotional return to the Netherlands on Thursday as part of the commemorations.

He was just 22 when he parachuted near Arnhem in September 1944, where he was taken prisoner by the Germans.

He made a tandem jump with an Army parachutist into the same drop zone at about 10:00.

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".

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.

The fighting around Arnhem saw more than 1,500 British soldiers killed and nearly 6,500 captured.

Some 1,500 people took part in a mass parachute drop to commemorate the allied assault.

Mr Cortmann jumped with a parachutist from the Army's Red Devils display team over the Ginkel Heath nature reserve, to the the north west of Arnhem.

"When the fighting started we were just in amongst it," he recalled.

"You can describe it as brave, you thought you were brave, but once you got down there, Jesus Christ, terrified, absolutely terrified.

"You just heard bangs and machine guns. I didn't understand what that was all about."

Allied soldiers had been parachuted in to secure bridges on the Dutch and German border, with the expectation of being relieved within 48 hours. Many ended up fighting for nine days.

Mr Cortmann remembered seeing treatment areas for the wounded "strewn with bodies" with "nobody complaining, nobody moaning, just lying still".

He recalled one young soldier calling out repeatedly for his mother and being told to help quieten him.

"I crawled out, I just touched his hand, grabbed it and he died," he said.

"I thought, 'what a thing to happen'. I was choking, but I was alive."

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Mr Cortmann's return to Arnhem has brought back many memories

Mr Cortmann said he felt "very emotional" when he earlier visited a cemetery where a fallen friend named Gordon Matthews is honoured.

His friend, who he said had a "happy smiling face", was killed instantly by a mortar shell during the operation.

He said: "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."

The veteran paratrooper and his comrades had tried to escape the fighting by crossing a river to safety, but Mr Cortmann was forced to admit he could not swim.

He said that instead of abandoning him his fellow soldiers put their clothes back on and stayed.

Mr Cortmann was eventually captured and endured a seven-hour train ride in a packed wagon to Germany where he was held for a year.

'Never seen him this happy'

Alana Davidson, 27, who helps look after the veteran at the Fairview nursing home in Aberdeen and travelled with him to the Netherlands, said he still led an independent life.

"I've never seen him this happy before," she said of his trip.

"In the care home you don't have much time to sit for ages, but you hear the stories. I never realised how much of a hero he was," she said.

"It's just unbelievable what they went to do at such a young age. It's just crazy."

Mr Cortmann said the welcome he had received in Arnhem was "overwhelming" and that he had felt "happiness".

"The attention I'm getting, I don't think I deserve it," he said.

More on this story