Arnhem is a yearly camp adored by many cadets including myself. Whilst away, we retrace the steps that brave men took on their epic journey to liberate the Netherlands from the clutches of Nazi Germany, during Operation: Market Garden. The whole camp is four-days long, with the most memorable parts being the longest coach journey known to man and the brilliant atmosphere of March day itself– all to be explained in due course.
On the first ‘day’ (it was Wednesday evening), we all met up at 1289 (Stratford) Squadron to gather everything together and to set off for Arnhem at 8pm.
However, before we set off, Wing Commander Iles gave a speech, wishing us a great time over the coming days. After loading our kit onto the double decker coach (only the best for Warwickshire and Birmingham Wing!) we began our long drive to Dover. This may have the potential to be boring, but in fact that is quite far from reality. We had plenty of time to catch up with friends made on past camps, and to make new friends.
Once we arrived at Dover, around midnight, we boarded a ferry to Calais and from there drove to a Belgian service station, which was a very welcome break after staying up most of the night, cooped up in the coach. From there, we drove to Joe’s Bridge, on the Belgian-Dutch border. This marked the start of Operation: Market Garden, where the British XXX Corps began to advance up a road known as Hell’s Highway
On the way north, we stopped at the other bridges, such as Grave and Nijmegen and learned about the events of Operation: Market Garden.
We also visited the Overloon museum, which is a massive museum dedicated to vehicles from the Second World War and into the Cold War.
Whilst travelling from bridge to museum to bridge, the lucky slept, some talked, but most watched the famed film – A Bridge Too Far, and began to see how everything we learned was brought together. On our way to Harskamp, a Dutch army base near Arnhem, we found an amazing bridge. When a boat was near, this bridge would raise to let the boat through. However, what made this bridge, in particular, special was that it raised vertically. To those who have never been to Arnhem before, this may seem as childish and weird – to be amazed at a raising bridge. However, those who have been to Arnhem know that it is a very amusing. Especially having not slept the previous night. We also visited a cemetery to pay our respects to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice – from both sides. On arrival at Harskamp, on the Thursday evening we went to our rooms, sorted our kit out and then relaxed until we went to bed.
On the third day, Friday, more museums and tours were planned for us, and a relatively small practice walk to find out the groups we were going to march in, depending on our speed. On our way to a glider museum, a Dutchman approached us and asked us to look at something. This turned out to be a brilliant memorial dedicated to those who took part in Operation: Market Garden. After a cheerful conversation, we continued to the museum. The small glider museum we visited may not have seemed like much from outside, but inside, we found an extremely interesting museum full of exhibitions to explore.
After that, we went into Arnhem itself to visit John Frost Bridge – the famous bridge at Arnhem named after the Lieutenant-Colonel who led paratroopers trying to take the bridge.
Next, we went shopping around Arnhem, and collectively bought an entire shop’s supply of Chocomel – an indescribably delicious chocolate milk drink. We then dined at a restaurant on the river Rhine, not too far from John Frost Bridge.
The fourth day was March day. Often described as the best day, this consisted of marching 15km around Arnhem with standards, including a further visit to another cemetery to pay our respects. During the course of the march, we sang songs to help us keep together and in step. Among favourites were: Captain Jack; Yellow bird; Say hello; 10 German Bombers; and Gory Gory what a helluva’ way to die.
Often, the Dutch would join in and sing along with us, adding to an already brilliant atmosphere. After completing the march, everyone gathered at the start/finish point.
Here, servicemen and women traded items such as berets and rank slides with cadets. This is also another highlight of Arnhem – the trading. After an hour of trading, the Wing would march to the coach with a diverse array of berets, cap badges, rank slides or more.
Cadet Warrant Officer Meikle even managed to obtain a huge haul of various items including a Danish brassard with a Kosovo Forces badge on it, German Field Hat and a Polish Commando trained paratrooper beret as well as a variety of badges and rank slides.
After returning to the coach, we made our way back to Harskamp and began to pack our kit away in preparation to leave the next day.
The journey home was very similar to the journey to Arnhem, but this time, with more people sleeping.
I, and many others who have experienced it, would always recommend Arnhem to any cadet offered the opportunity to attend.
There is an aspect of Arnhem for everybody. There is plenty of social time for everybody.
Importantly we learn, in depth, about the history behind Operation: Market Garden and why it is so significant. But March day itself is loved by all, and is one of the main reasons why there are so many cadets attending this great camp each year.