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Arnhem - John Frost Bridge (Image Copyright: Stephen Berridge)
Arnhem - John Frost Bridge (Image Copyright: Stephen Berridge)
When the Oxf and Bucks went “A Bridge Too Far” – 17th September 1944
Arnhem - John Frost Bridge (Image Copyright: Stephen Berridge)

John Frost Bridge, Arnhem (Image ©Stephen Berridge)

On this day 17th September 1944 - 1st Airborne Division - Arnhem

At 1 pm, 17 September 1944, the gliders carrying the 1st Airlanding Brigade, divisional staff, transport and guns land at Landing Zone 'S'. They were preceded by the pathfinders who marked the Dropping Zones and Landing Zones with large letters and had contact with the tug planes with radio beacons. One hour after the gliders landed the 1st Parachute Brigade drops on Dropping Zone 'X'.

The 1st Airlanding Brigade stays behind to protect the dropping and landing zones for the landings to come over the days to follow.

A 'coup de main' party of the Reconnaissance Squadron destined for Arnhem road bridge is ambushed and destroyed. The Parachute Battalions advance to Arnhem along three roads, commanded by Brigadier Lathbury. Only the 2nd Parachute Battalion under command of Lieutenant-Colonel J.D. Frost, manages to reach the main bridge at Arnhem.

The 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalions are held up by German SS troops.

Arnhem Map (from Victory in the West Volume 2 - Major L. F. Ellis and James Butler)

Map showing Arnhem Landing Zones, from Victory in the West Volume 2 (Major L. F. Ellis and James Butler)

The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire LI Connection

1st Airborne Divisional Defence Platoon incorporated members of 2nd (AB) Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when it flew to Arnhem.

Also serving with the Division were former Officers and Other Ranks of the Regiment including:-

    • • Brigadier Lathbury (43rd) Commander 1st Parachute Brigade
    • • Major Haig (4th Bn & 52nd) Divisional Provost
    • • Major Wallis (4th Bn) 2IC 2nd Parachute Battalion
    • • Major Tatham-Warter (52nd) OC A Coy 2nd Parachute Battalion.
    • • Captain Moy-Thomas (52nd) Staff Captain 1st Airlanding Brigade.
    • • Captain Robson (52nd) 1st Airlanding Brigade GSO3.
    • • Captain Blatch (Bucks) Glider Pilot Regiment.
    • • Lieutenant Grayburn (43rd) A Coy 2nd Parachute Battalion.
    • • Lieutenant Eastwood (52nd) 21st Independent Parachute Company OC 1 Platoon.
    • A number of former 52nd soldiers were serving with Major “Freddie” Gough’s 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron and Major “Boy” Wilsons 21st Independent Parachute Company

Brigadier Lathbury

Brigadier Lathbury

Men of the Campaign:

Brigadier Gerald Lathbury, Commander 1st Parachute Brigade (Later General Sir Gerald  Lathbury GCB DSO MBE)

Commissioned into the Regiment on 2nd February, 1926 he joined the 43rd in Germany. Two years later he was seconded to the Royal West Africa Frontier Force and served with the Gold Coast Regiment from 1928 to 1934 when he rejoined the 43rd at Bordon.

He was at the Staff College in 1937-38 and served in France in 1940 as a Brigade Major, being made MBE for his services.

After being a G.S.O.2 at the Staff College and G.S.O.l at the War Office, in 1941 he was given command of the 3rd Parachute Battalion. In 1942 he was given command of 3rd Parachute Brigade followed in 1943 by 1st Parachute Brigade, serving actively in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, being awarded the DSO.

He later commanded the same 1st Parachute Brigade in the Arnhem operation in 1944 where he was wounded but later escaped from hospital and, with the help of the Dutch Underground, became an evader. His story is featured in the Men of the Campaign: Officers on the Run display in SOFO Museum's main gallery.

Colonel Commandant of 1st Green Jackets, 43rd and 52nd, from 1960 to 1965, he was much involved in planning the full amalgamation of the Regiment with the King's Royal Rifle Corps and The Rifle Brigade to form The Royal Green Jackets in 1966.

He was also Colonel Commandant of The Parachute Regiment from 1961 to 1965

This blog is part of a series which will be published each day from 17th to 26th September 2021, 77 years on from the day in which the events described happened.

Stephen Berridge has long been a volunteer at Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Oxf & Bucks Light Infantry - his knowledge has helped us put together a number of our exhibits - most recently a new Battles display featuring stories from Arnhem.

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