'There's only one set of heroes and they're all buried over there' - Battle of Arnhem survivor from Sheffield recalls 'longest week'

One of the dwindling band of survivors from the infamous Battle of Arnhem, who swam across the Rhine to evade capture, has paid tribute to his fallen comrades ahead of the 75th anniversary.

Tuesday, 10th September 2019, 14:48 pm

Ronald Delamore was one of around 10,000 men who landed deep behind enemy lines on September 17, 1944, in a daring but doomed attempt to pierce the stubborn German defences and end the Second World War by Christmas.

Within nine days, 7,500 were either dead or taken prisoner and the remainder, who found themselves hopelessly outgunned, were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

Operation Market Garden proved to be one of the Allies' biggest failures, but the courage and determination those troops displayed would never be forgotten and inspired the film A Bridge Too Far.

Ronald as a young soldier

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Ronald, who grew up in Walkley, where he went on to run his own butchers shop, calls it 'the longest week of my life'.

"There were five Victoria Crosses - Britain's top military decoration - awarded to men who took part in that operation, and given it only lasted nine days that tells you something about the intensity of the fighting," he said.

Ronald was just a teenager when he took part in what would be his first mission, having enlisted six months earlier on his 18th birthday and joined the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Airborne Division.

He had little idea what awaited him when he boarded a plane that morning before parachuting down in the afternoon some seven miles from the occupied Dutch city of Arnhem, where his division's task was to capture and hold the bridge until reinforcements arrived.

Ronald on his return to Arnhem for the commemorations

The intensity of the German resistance they encountered took them by surprise and, coupled with advancing troops being held up, prevented them taking what was meant to be the last in a series of strategic crossing points.

"It was supposed to be only old men and kids covering that bridge but instead they were some of the Germans' most-highly trained troops," he said.

"We only had a Sten gun, and a knife to cut the rigging in case we got caught in the trees, and we were up against soldiers with Panzer tanks and machine guns."

Ronald recalls how, having made it through dense woodland, he and his comrades came under heavy mortar fire as they approached the city.

Ronald Delamore

There were also snipers lying in wait around every corner, taking aim from bedroom windows or even from bunkers they had ripped up paving stones to dig.

At one point, a machine gunner hidden inside an abandoned railwayman's hut mowed down around eight of his company, including twin brothers.

When a shell exploded yards from where he was standing, Ronald was temporarily blinded by the glaring flash and had to be taken to hospital.

Thankfully his eyesight rapidly improved and he didn't hang around there for long, especially with officers marching through the wards urging those who could to get out before the Germans retook the building.

He and his comrades sought shelter from the ceaseless shelling within a house they passed, only to stumble across two Germans inside a bedroom armed with a machine gun who they were able to take captive.

They subsequently found 14 civilians hiding in the cellar of the property, which turned out to be home to the nurse who had treated his damaged eye.

Ronald's battalion was the only one to reach the bridge but, finding themselves outnumbered and with backup failing to arrive, they were left with no option but to retreat.

That meant swimming across the Rhine, holding wooden battens they had ripped up from a jetty as protection against bullets strafing the water.

"There were about seven or eight of us and we weren't stopping there to become prisoners," he said.

"There was only one thing on my mind and that was getting to the other side."

The evacuation was completed on September 24 and 25, with the remainder of those few survivors who evaded capture being ferried to safety, but the harrowing events of those nine days continue to haunt Ronald.

"I try not to look back on it, and I'm glad I'm able to forget things because we saw things you never want to see," he said.

"One of the things I'll never forget is seeing a little boy get machine gunned as he carried water to a clinic where wounded soldiers were being treated."

He says of the mission 'someone had to do it', and modestly bats away praise for his bravery in stepping up.

"There's only one set of heroes and they're all buried in Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery," he adds.

"I will never forget them and I'll do anything I can to ensure their sacrifice continues to be remembered."

Ronald went on to help liberate Norway and after the war's end was stationed at an airfield in the German countryside.

It was at a dance in a nearby village hall in 1947 that he met his future wife Anneliese, from East Germany, to whom he would be happily married for 68 years until her death.

They returned to Sheffield, where they had two sons and were blessed with three grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Together they ran a butchers on Burgoyne Road, Walkley, where he had worked as an assistant since the age of 12 and took over when his boss retired.

Despite the anti-German sentiment in the wake of the war, he insists Anneliese never encountered any animosity in Sheffield, where he says 'I don't know anyone who didn't like her'.

Ronald is now blind and his family have been desperately searching, without success, for a talking book of Antony Beevor’s Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944. If you can help them, please email robert.cumber1@jpimedia.co.uk.