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Mayor’s apology as Second World War veterans turned away from Arnhem event

By Megan Archer | Walsall | News | Published:

Hero veterans from the Black Country were left “heartbroken” after initially being refused entry to a Second World War commemorative event in Arnhem.

Left to right: Les Reeves, seated, with Sim Mayou and Nora Jeffries at the front and the Mayor Ahmed Marcouch with Alan James at the back

The three veterans, Les Reeves, Sim Mayou and Nora Jeffries, all aged in their nineties, travelled to The Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, more commonly known as the Airborne Cemetery, at the weekend.

They travelled with chairman of the 1944 Alliance, Alan James, as well as a group of 30 Midlands relatives and ex-servicemen and women to pay tribute at a special event marking the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.

WATCH: Veteran Sim Mayou speaks out

Footage: De Gelderlander

But they were shocked to be told they could not enter because they did not have the correct admission ticket.

Once the mistake was realised the Mayor of Arnhem later made an apology to the group.

Mr James, 72, said they were “utterly heartbroken”.

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The veterans being honoured by the Mayor

He said: “They paid to get there. It was meant to be the last time they could go in their lifetime. They said they were so insulted.

"There were Dutch people around us crying. And it was all because they did not have the right tickets. Their medals should serve as tickets.”

Mr Reeves, 95, from Aldridge, Walsall, was a tank driver and corporal with the Royal Tank Regiment at El Alamein, D-Day and Arnhem, part of Operation Market Garden, until he was severely wounded in a Tiger Tank attack near Osnabruck in Germany, one week before the war ended.

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Sim Mayou, 97, from Pelsall, Walsall, was part of the Royal Navy, and served on the Minesweepers Atlantic Convoy.

Les Reeves and Sim Mayou

Nora Jeffries, 98, from Smethwick, was a private in the Auxiliary Territorial Service and Royal Artillery, stationed at Romney Marsh.

Her unit shot and hit one of the German V1 Doodle-Bugs on its way to London.

Mr James added: “They invited us later back to a second VIP event and couldn’t do enough for us then. The Mayor of Arnhem apologised with TV cameras there.”

Netherlands news outlets reported that Arnhem mayor Ahmed Marcouch called the incident on Friday “extremely painful”.

He said: “Unfortunately, this went wrong. We should do better next time.”

Sim Mayou said: "It was very disappointing for us. Our hearts just fell apart.

"We arrived there with the intention of just being ushered in and then all of a sudden the hands went up and said you cant come in. We said why not and they said you haven't got a ticket.

"It's so nice to be here but what a disappointment - it spoils it for everyone, the whole issue.

"But now we've cleared the air, the mayor has openly shook each individual - of these veterans and apologised and that it something that we can be proud of and accept wholeheartedly. So we are looking forward and preparing for our next visit which will be in May."

Les Reeves added: "We went over and the barriers were up and they wouldn't let us in.

"We have been coming since 1984 and I asked what's the matter? They said you're not allowed in.

"I don't know what the hell was going on.

"So we all just went back to the hotel, and cried in our beer! It was disgusting.

"The next day the mayor openly apologised but it was disgusting on the night. It did eventually end happily. The Dutch people were lovely though, it's a small country but the people have big hearts."

Bill Bennett was also due to attend the trip, but sadly had to pull out due to illness

Bill Bennett was also due to attend the trip, but sadly had to pull out due to illness

Most of the men buried in the cemetery were Allied servicemen killed in the Battle of Arnhem, an Allied attempt to cross the Rhine in 1944.

Megan Archer

By Megan Archer
Chief Reporter - @MeganA_Star

Chief Reporter with the Express & Star. Give me a call on 01902 319363 or email megan.archer@expressandstar.co.uk.

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