Rare Second World War medal collection going under the hammer

A medal collection owned by a veteran of the Second World War's ill-fated Operation Market Garden in Arnhem will go under the hammer.

John Johnstone collection
John Johnstone collection

The items belonged to John Johnstone, who served in the Royal Engineers, and the lot containing nine medals, his service record, documents and photographs will be part of an auction of military memorabilia at Lichfield Auction Centre.

A specialist in parachuting, he served in the Army for almost 25 years.

Swing-mounted on a wearing bar, his medals include 1939-1945 Africa, Italy, France and Germany stars, a general service medal, 1945-1948 Palestine, a Mentioned in Dispatches laurel leaf, a 1953 Queen’s Coronation Medal and a regular Army LSGC Medal.

He enlisted with the Royal Engineers, aged 16, on March 2, 1939.

After serving in North Africa and Italy he was sent to Arnhem in 1944 as part of Operation Market Garden, dropping into Nazi-occupied Netherlands on a Horsa glider.

The plan was for three airborne divisions to seize bridges across the major rivers in a bid to deploy the Allies into Germany. It was a bold plan devised to end the war in Europe, but instead it became the last major defeat suffered by the British Army.

The Battle of Arnhem was depicted in the 1977 war epic A Bridge Too Far starring Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine and Sean Connery.

The medals
Johm Johnstone
John Johnstone's service record

In reality of the 194 men from Johnstone’s unit who went into Arnhem 44 died, 79 were classified missing in action, killed or captured and only 71 made it out. Following a siege he was evacuated over the Rhine.

Recounting the events in 1994 he said: “There were three of us on a seat and the door was open at the side with the side door open. The first lot set off to get into Arnhem and we then set off with the reconnaissance.

"We got into Arnhem but didn’t stay. We didn’t really know that things weren’t going to plan.

“We came back on Monday night. I’ll always remember coming back because we were given a hot bowl of cocoa. I guess we were very lucky.”

After the war, he served in Palestine, Libya and Norway and retired from the army on December 23, 1963.

Nick Thompson, militaria specialist at The Lichfield Auction Centre, said: “This group represents the finest in the traditions of the British fighting soldier. Groups to Arnhem do not come to market very often.”

The Johnstone archive has a guide price of £200-£350.

It is part of a medals and militaria auction next Monday(6) at 9.30am at Lichfield Auction Centre, in Wood End Lane, Fradley Park. More details are available via website richardwinterton.co.uk/auction-dates or phone 01543 251081.

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