The novel ‘Postcards from No Man’s Land’ inspired me to visit Arnhem, and more specifically the village of Oosterbeek, to see the location of the events of Operation Market Garden. There is a very good museum about the battle for Arnhem in the village in what was once the Hartenstein Hotel, used by the allies after their landings.
This visit then sent me off in the direction of the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ and, after that, to the book by Cornelius Ryan. The film was directed by Richard Attenborough with a screenplay by William Goldman. It can safely be categorised as an epic with a line up of film stars from the time that is truly amazing. Among the actors involved were Ryan O’Neal, Dirk Bogarde, Hardy Kruger, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, and Liv Ullmann. The stand out performances were from a younger Anthony Hopkins and Laurence Olivier. Anthony Hopkins was a formidable actor before knighthood and hammery took over and Olivier stole the film with such a small but powerful performance.
The name for the film comes from a comment, supposedly spoken by the British General ‘Boy’ Browning that “I think we may be going a bridge too far.”
The book, with over 600 pages, is a detailed history of Operation Market Garden that puts the Battle of Arnhem in the context of the wider strategy to move through Netherlands and cross the Rhine and on into Germany. Allied commanders believed that success in this mission could end the war by December 1944. The failure of the campaign was set out by Ryan along with stories of how useful intelligence was ignored because the higher ranks wanted a success. The Germans had more tanks in the are than at first presumed but this information was shelved so that the campaign could proceed.
The film is an exciting recreation of the battle and the book is highly readable but, perhaps, the most important part of this story is found in the war cemetery in the village of Oosterbeek where, every year, Dutch school children lay flowers on the graves on the anniversary of the battle as a mark of respect.
This post ends where it began: in ‘Postcards from No Man’s Land’ Jacob lays flowers on the grave of his grandfather alongside the Dutch school children.