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    Arnhem hero dies aged 98: Parachute veteran was shot and captured in the 1944 battle then escaped prison camp, discovered secret German weapons test and survived to jump again three years ago

    • Paratrooper John Jeffries has died in Richmond, North Yorkshire at the age of 98 
    • Veteran nearly died when he was shot while landing over Netherlands in 1944
    • Three Dutch girls tried to save him, in a bid to use his parachute to make dresses
    • He was later captured and taken to a prisoner of war camp, which he escaped 
    • He was caught again after stumbling across a secret Nazi weapon experiment 
    • Three years ago, at the age of 95, he took to the air again for one final drop 

    A hero of the battle of Arnhem who was shot and captured, only to escape a prisoner of war camp and discover a secret German weapons test has died at the age of 98.

    Paratrooper John Jeffries died in Richmond, North Yorkshire, on August 30, after a remarkable life that saw him serve his country in North Africa, Syria, Palestine, Italy and the Netherlands. 

    Mr Jeffries was born in Warrington, Lancashire in 1922, but grew up in an orphanage after both of his parents died.

    In 1941, he joined the Royal Signals, but signed up for the parachute regiment after hearing about its formation. 

    He trained in Cairo and in 1994 was dropped into the Netherlands at the Battle of Arnhem,  part of Operation Market Garden.

    He was captured just a short while after trying to land, as a German sniper shot home in the buttocks during descent. 

    It was then his remarkable time in the military began, managing to escape, discover a top secret German experiment, only to be captured again and nearly killed by Russian women. 

    Battle of Arnhem paratrooper veteran John Jeffries died on August 30 at the age of 98. The wartime hero was captured shortly after dropping into the battle, but would quickly discover a secret German weapon experiment

    Before he died he managed to carry out one final jump – three years ago at the age of 95. 

    He also had the chance to meet Prince Charles. They shared a conversation about which was the scariest way to jump and decided it was from a hot air balloon because the atmosphere was so still. 

    Mr Jeffries’ military service began in the Royal Signals, serving in Italy, North Africa, Syria and Palestine.

    He later joined the parachute regiment, trained in Cairo and was dropped behind enemy lines at the Battle of Arnhem on September 18, 1944.

    It was the second day of Operation Market Garden – which saw 35,000 parachutists and glider pilots drop into the Netherlands with plans to capture bridges and create a new route into Nazi Germany.  

    While descending into battle, he was shot in the buttock and landed on Ginkel Heath.

    Mr Jeffries, who started the Second World War as part of the Royal Signals, served in Italy, North Africa, Palestine, Syria and the Netherlands

    Mr Jeffries, who started the Second World War as part of the Royal Signals, served in Italy, North Africa, Palestine, Syria and the Netherlands

    Mr Jeffries managed to escape a prisoner of war camp after regaining his strength by eatnig grass and weeds on top of a diet of cabbage or potato soup

    Mr Jeffries managed to escape a prisoner of war camp after regaining his strength by eatnig grass and weeds on top of a diet of cabbage or potato soup

    His heavy wireless set landed on his ankle, leaving him unable to to move. As thick smoke burned around him, it looked as though his war was over.  

    Speaking last year, Mr Jeffries told the Daily Record: ‘I couldn’t get up. I had to lay there almost three quarters of an hour before medics came to pick me up.

    ‘I got shot coming down as I came out the plane.

    ‘I was bleeding quite profusely.’

    However, the veteran’s life was reportedly saved by three Dutch girls who ran over to him and asked for his parachute to make dresses. 

    To his horror he then realised that he still had the secret codebook, printed on magnesium paper, that had been issued to wireless operators.

    Behind the backs of his captors, he persuaded a smoking soldier to put his lit cigarette to the magnesium paper, which went up with a bang.

    After four days on the floor of a filthy cattle truck without food or water, and with injured men dying around him, he went by train to Stalag XI-B in Lower Saxony.

    In 2015 John Jeffries was able to carry out one last jump from an aircraft - at the age of 95

    In 2015 John Jeffries was able to carry out one last jump from an aircraft – at the age of 95 

    To his relief, he was given medical attention and prison clothing – he was still wearing the blood-encrusted uniform he’d been shot down in.

    The prison doctor ripped out the pad which had been placed in his wound ten days earlier, causing immense pain.

    He was reduced to eating grass and weeds to supplement the meagre diet of cabbage or potato soup and slowly regained his strength.

    After escaping a prisoner of war camp, the paratrooper stumbled across the Germans' secret Mistel experiment - a small, piloted plane above a large plane packed with explosives that the pilot would release and then guide, like a drone, to its target

    After escaping a prisoner of war camp, the paratrooper stumbled across the Germans’ secret Mistel experiment – a small, piloted plane above a large plane packed with explosives that the pilot would release and then guide, like a drone, to its target

    When out on a route march, a pre-arranged fight broke out among the British prisoners to distract the guards, allowing Mr Jeffries and his friend, Sandy Powell, to make a break for it.

    After four days on the run, they stumbled into a clearing in the forest. 

    It appeared to be a deserted German airfield, with planes stacked on top of each other.

    Desperately tired, they fell asleep inside a plane, only to be awoken by members of the Luftwaffe pointing guns at them.

    It was only after the war that they revealed they had stumbled upon the Germans’ secret Mistel experiment – a small, piloted plane above a large plane packed with explosives that the pilot would release and then guide, like a drone, to its target.

    Back in prison, Mr Jeffries was set to work in a sugar factory, where he narrowly survived an attempted assault by female Russian prisoners of war who tried to push him into a vat of molasses.

    He was liberated back to Lancashire, where he became an art teacher and met his wife, Mona.

    The veteran met his wife Mona after returning to Lancashire and working as an art teacher

    The veteran met his wife Mona after returning to Lancashire and working as an art teacher 

    They teamed up so that John could teach at an “approved school” and Mona would be the housemother, and they crossed the Pennines to work at Richmond Hill School – the boys’ school in the former barracks in Gallowgate.

    When that closed in 1982, he utilised his artistic skills to set up Rustic Crafts, making garden furniture and painting signs – his handiwork can be seen in the film A Woman of Substance and the TV series All Creatures Great and Small.

    In later years, he volunteered at the Broadacre Able Day Centre in Colburn, run by his daughter, Lynn, and in 2016, wrote a book of his wartime exploits entitled A Spirit for Adventure.

    About 15 years ago, he returned to Arnhem for the first time and in 2017, with the help of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans and the Red Devils display team, he performed his first leap since 1944 at the Peterlee Parachute Centre.

    Mr Jeffries said at the time: ‘It was absolutely fantastic – it was a mixture of fear and elation.’

    A week later he repeated the feat at Arnhem as part of the 73rd anniversary commemorations of the operation where he also met Boris Johnson.

    He was in Arnhem only last September for the anniversary where he unveiled the monument to the battle on Ginkle Heath.

    He died on August 30, in Richmond, North Yorkshire surrounded by his family – his children Lynn and Paul and their partners, and his three grandchildren.  

    His daughter Lynn Tomkinson said: ‘Since he died, we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of messages from all over the world.

    ‘He would be so overwhelmed that so many people are making a fuss over him.’ 

    His funeral will be next Thursday at 1.30pm at St Mary’s in Richmond. 

    Due to pandemic restrictions, only family members can attend, but it is hoped that standard bearers will be present outside.

    Donations are requested in lieu of flowers for the Kumi Community Foundation in Uganda, which provides prosthetics for children.

    It is hoped that a proper memorial service will be held next year.

    What was Operation Market Garden and how did it all go so badly wrong?

    Operation Market Garden, a World War II advancement designed to allow ground troops access to key bridges and roads through Nazi-occupied Netherlands and in to Germany, was the brainchild of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

    In an effort to bring the war to an early end key bridges in The Netherlands were seized by the 101st and 82nd US Airborne Divisions, and the 1st British Airborne Division in mid-September 1944.

    Soldiers gathering in Belgium were forced to wait on the airborne divisions’ advancement through The Netherlands before they could continue through to the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, to collapse Adolf Hitler’s military machine.

    Arnhem bridge (pictured) was 'a bridge too far' during Operation Market Garden. Troops were overrun by German tanks in 1944

    Arnhem bridge (pictured) was ‘a bridge too far’ during Operation Market Garden. Troops were overrun by German tanks in 1944

    And as each airborne division landed, using parachutes and gliders, the five bridges were slowly liberated, allowing British 30 corps to advance across the Rhine. Market was the airborne operation and Garden was the 30 Corps’ advance. 

    Bridges that needed to be successfully captured were in Eindhoven, 13 miles from 30 Corps’ start point, two smaller crossings in Veghel and Grave, Nijmegen, 53 miles from the start, and Arnhem, 62 miles from the start.

    By liberating the bridges The Netherlands would be freed from the German army and an armoured drive into the Ruhr to cripple the country’s armament factories could begin.

    By liberating the bridges The Netherlands would be freed from the German army and an armoured drive into the Ruhr to cripple the country's armament factories could begin

    By liberating the bridges The Netherlands would be freed from the German army and an armoured drive into the Ruhr to cripple the country’s armament factories could begin

    Allied parachute jumper landing almost headfirst during a daylight drop in Holland during Operation Market Garden

    Allied parachute jumper landing almost headfirst during a daylight drop in Holland during Operation Market Garden

    But Allied intelligence failed to detect the presence of German tanks, including elements of two SS Panzer divisions, and 30 Corps was overwhelmed before they could reach the final bridge at Arnhem.

    Lieutenant General Frederick Browning, a top field commander of the Allied Airborne forces, originally described the plan as possibly ‘a bridge too far’ – which turned out to be true. 

    The 10,000 men from Major-General Roy Urquhart’s 1st British Airborne Division and 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade landed seven miles away from the bridge at Arnhem.

    British Paratroops on their way to land In Holland on 17 September 1944 in a C-47 transport plane

    British Paratroops on their way to land In Holland on 17 September 1944 in a C-47 transport plane

    And only one battalion actually reached the bridge, as the rest were squeezed in to a pocket by German forces at Oosetbeeck to the West.

    But why did it go wrong? 

    A shortage of transport aircraft, the wooded landscape and weather conditions all played a part in the plan’s downfall.

    Airborne troops had to be flown into The Netherlands in three lifts rather than all at once and later thick flog in England and low clouds over the battlezone meant reinforcements and supplies could not be quickly flown in.

    And trees surrounding the troops meant wireless radios stopped working. Despite phones still being available, Allied forces rarely used them in case communication was intercepted – so there was a communication breakdown. 

    Three German soldiers surrender to British forces near the Wessem Canal during the invasion of the Netherlands on September 17, 1944

    Three German soldiers surrender to British forces near the Wessem Canal during the invasion of the Netherlands on September 17, 1944

    How many died and how were the surviving soldiers evacuated?

    A week after landing, on September 24 and 25, some 2,100 troops from 1st Airborne Division were ferried back across the Rhine. Another 7,500 were either dead or made prisoners of war.

    Despite its ultimate failure Operation Market Garden is remembered for the courage shown by the troops, and the liberation of large parts of The Netherlands.

    Canadians of the British second army during the battle of Arnhem. A week after landing, on September 24 and 25, some 2,100 troops from 1st Airborne Division were ferried back across the Rhine. Another 7,500 were either dead or made prisoners of war

    Canadians of the British second army during the battle of Arnhem. A week after landing, on September 24 and 25, some 2,100 troops from 1st Airborne Division were ferried back across the Rhine. Another 7,500 were either dead or made prisoners of war

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