A 97-year-old Second World War veteran who parachuted out over the Dutch city he was captured in 75 years ago has been congratulated by the Prince of Wales.
A crowd of thousands applauded Sandy Cortmann, from Aberdeen, as he tandem dropped with the Red Devils on to Ginkel Heath, near Arnhem in the Netherlands, at the weekend.
He was just 22 when he parachuted on to the same drop zone in September 1944 as part of Operation Market Garden, one of the war’s most significant and ill-fated operations.
The Prince of Wales, the Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment, accompanied by Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, met veterans of the operation on Saturday to mark its 75th anniversary.
After landing, Mr Cortmann, still wearing his red flight suit and returning to the area for the first time since the war, waved to onlookers and a mass of cameras from his wheelchair as he took his place for a memorial service on the heath.
The Prince of Wales laid a wreath during the service bearing the handwritten message: “In everlasting remembrance, Charles.”
He later shook Mr Cortmann’s hand as he met several of the last band of surviving veterans from Operation Market Garden.
After speaking to the Prince of Wales, Mr Cortmann described his jump as “thoroughly terrifying”, adding: “When the door opened I thought, ‘Christ, what a way down’.”
But he said it was “absolutely wonderful to see the ground so far below, my God”.
Asked if the parachute drop had been like the one he made more than seven decades before, he said: “I can’t remember much about the jump in 1944, we were just a bunch of young lads out for a good time if you like, but it turned out rather terrifying in the end with the guns and mortars and things opened up. They were all aimed at us.”
Mr Cortmann’s friend and ex-paratrooper Gary Haughton, 52, who lives in Aberdeen, said the Prince of Wales had congratulated the veteran and said: “He puts me to shame, I should have been up there with him.”
Mr Haughton said watching the war hero take to the skies was “breathtaking” and it had left him with the “biggest smile”.
He added: “His teeth were intact, his glasses were intact, his hearing aid was intact and he wants to do it again next year.”
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Evening Express newsletter
Operation Market Garden, portrayed in the 1977 Hollywood film A Bridge Too Far, saw 35,000 British, American and Polish troops parachute or glide behind German lines to open up an attack route for Allied Forces.
The subsequent fighting around Arnhem saw more than 1,500 Commonwealth soldiers killed, nearly 6,500 captured and five Victoria Crosses awarded.
The parachute jumps were part of a host of commemorative events in and around the city of Arnhem this week.
Mr Cortmann also paid tribute to his former comrade Private Gordon Matthews, of the Parachute Regiment, following a memorial service at the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery yesterday.
During the bloody fighting at Arnhem, his friend Mr Matthews, aged just 20, was killed by a mortar, with Mr Cortmann later stumbling across his remains.
Mr Cortmann sipped from a small bottle of whisky while laying a wreath with a message to “my best pal Gordon”.
As the emotional veteran remembered his friend, he was approached by a man clutching a photo of a young Mr Matthews.
Allan Price, 52, a cobbler from Worcester, discovered Mr Matthews was from his home town and has been visiting his grave for the last four years to lay a cross.
He said: “For me, it’s just a little something for a chap from home and then to walk up when I normally walk and to see 30, 40 people surrounding it… I was just wondering what it was all about.”
Mr Price, who is related to Mr Matthews, passed the photo to Mr Cortmann who clutched it to his chest as a crowd of onlookers, many in tears, watched.