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Battle of Arnhem: Staffordshire WW2 heroes honoured

By Marion Brennan | Hednesford | News | Published:

They marched to remember what was then the largest airborne operation in history in which two of their regiment were awarded Victoria Crosses.

Members of the Staffordshire Corps of Drums take part in the march through Hednesford in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem

Major Robert Cain and Lance Sergeant John Baskeyfield, both of the South Staffordshire Regiment, were among five VC recipients of the Arnhem campaign to capture key bridges during the Second World War exactly 75 years ago.

British, US and Polish forces dropped behind enemy lines in 1944 but failed in their bid to secure eight bridges over the River Rhine and open up a route into Germany.

Chase MP Amanda Milling takes the salute as members the Hednesford branch of the Staffordshire Regimental Association march past as part of commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem
March by the Hednesford branch of the Staffordshire Regimental Association as they exercise their Freedom of the Town in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem

About 35,000 troops landed by parachute and gliders seizing bridges and canal crossings at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem but were forced to retreat after German counter-attacks.

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More than 1,500 allied soldiers were killed and nearly 6,500 captured in the operation, immortalised in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far, starring Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

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To applause from onlookers lining the streets, members of the Staffordshire Regimental Association marched through Hednesford on Saturday, exercising their right to do after being given the Freedom of the Town in 2014, as part of the Arnhem anniversary commemorations.

March by the Hednesford branch of the Staffordshire Regimental Association as they exercise their Freedom of the Town in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem
Veteran Ron Mattison, 94, (centre, red beret) takes part in the Freedom March to honour the Staffordshire Regiment as they commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem
March by the Hednesford branch of the Staffordshire Regimental Association as they exercise their Freedom of the Town in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem

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Among their number was 94-year-old Ron Mattison, of Essington, who fought in the Second World War as a lance corporal with the Scottish Cameronians, and crossed the Rhine, although not as part of Operation Market Garden as the failed military operation in the Netherlands was codenamed.

More than 20 veterans took part in the parade from the Royal British Legion Club in Anglesey Street to the town clock in Market Street which was adorned with the photographs and stories of the campaign exploits of the two VC recipients.

Major Cain continually exposed himself to danger whilst leading his company, which was closely engaged with enemy tanks, guns and infantry, refusing medical attention despite suffering several injuries.

Major Robert Cain

L. Sgt Baskeyfield commanded a pair of anti-tank guns that destroyed several enemy tanks before the crews were killed, firing the guns himself alone before he too was gunned down.

Lance Sergeant John Baskeyfield

Cannock Chase MP Amanda Milling took the salute in the town centre. A reception for the ex-servicemen was held at The Smoke House restaurant following the march.

Also taking part in the ceremony were the 1st Hednesford Beavers, Cubs and Scouts, the girls' Hednesford Air Cadets and the Staffordshire Corps of Drums.

Darren Thomas, chairman of the Hednesford branch of the Staffordshire Regimental Association, said: "We're very proud that members of the Staffordshire Regiment took part in the airborne campaign, and that two were presented with VCs for their bravery in battle."

Marion Brennan

By Marion Brennan
@Marion_EStar

News and features reporter, specialising in human interest and local history stories.

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