OPERATION MARKET GARDEN had gone wrong. Its objective had been to capture bridges throughout the Netherlands to quicken up the Allied advance into Germany.

On September 17, 1944, 35,000 men were parachuted in behind German lines, but they met unexpected resistance. By the night of September 25, the British paratroopers and glidermen were queuing in the darkness to cross the Rhine to safety.

One of them was Staff Sergeant Peter Hill, 22, whose mother, Elizabeth, lived in Starmer Crescent, Darlington. He had successfully flown two Bren Gun carriers 300 miles in his glider and landed with them at Landing Zone Z near the town of Oosterbeek.

But the Germans had launched five days of shelling and sniping on the soldiers that were holding up in Oosterbeek after having failed to reach the bridge Arnhem and Peter was one of hundreds of men driven to the banks of the fast-flowing Rhine, where they queued for the rescue boats.

Peter could not swim. He was frightened of the water, and worried he would not be able to make it across.

But in the queue, he met another Darlingtonian, Sgt David Hartley, who had a shoulder injury.

“I told him I would look after him,” David later told a wartime researcher.

They took off their boots and sat together on the edge of a boat.

“We had just started when we received a mortar bomb right in the middle of the assault boat,” he said. “We were in the water before we knew it.”

David grabbed Peter and, without panicking, they began to swim in the rescue position, allowing the strong current to drift them away from the danger of the boat crossing area.

“Peter was a very good pupil, using his legs quite well,” said David, “but he started to lag.

“The other side – what we could see of it – did not seem to be getting any nearer and I could really feel my shoulder stiffening up.

“I had a job to hold Peter and after a brief struggle, I lost him.

“I cannot remember getting out of the water, changing my clothes or being taken to a field hospital where a doctor took the rest of the shrapnel out of my shoulder.”

Peter was washed away down the Rhine and, more than 20 days later, his body was recovered near Ravenswaajj more than ten miles from where David lost his last grasp on him. He was buried in a nearby Roman Catholic cemetery in the only military grave.

September, of course, marks the 75th anniversary of this most famous episode of the Second World War – an episode that was turned into the film A Bridge Too Far, staring Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Ryan O’Neal, Laurence Olivier and Robert Redford.

The anniversary is going to be commemorated by ceremonies, services and re-enactments in and around Arnhem and across Holland, which are to be attended by a senior member of the British royal family. Darlington is to be represented by one of the town’s newly elected Conservative councillors, Mike Renton, who is appealing for information about local men who were involved in the battle.

His research shows that another Darlingtonian, Pte Michael Hendrick, was also killed at Arnhem. He was with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and died in action on September 23, 1944, leaving his parents, John and Annie, back in Darlington. He was immediately buried in a mass grave near Oosterbeck, where he’d fallen, but a year later was reinterred in Arnhem’s official war cemetery.

Another Darlingtonian involved was Pte Thomas Laycock, of the 1st Battalion (Airborne) Border Regiment. He survived Operation Market Garden only to be sent the following year to Norway to disarm German troops as they surrendered.

However, on May 10, 1945, the Stirling aircraft carrying him to Oslo crashed in fog 30 miles short of its intended destination and he is buried in the Norwegian capital.

“It is important that we remember these men and their sacrifices properly,” says Cllr Renton. “For example, none of the three men have their names on the walls of the memorial hall at Darlington Memorial Hospital, and Pte Hill isn’t even in the memorial book – he’s buried on his own, many miles from his comrades and, as far as I am aware, doesn’t get a mention in a memorial in his hometown. It’s almost as if he has been forgotten.”

Cllr Renton, who has visited Arnhem on many occasions, will lay a wreath on behalf of Darlington, and will also trace the exact crossing point where Peter Hill and David Hartley began their fateful journey.

“Arnhem is a fascinating episode of the war. The operation was flawed from the beginning having been planned by incompetent generals. It happened in an area not much larger than Darlington, and because of this you can pinpoint exactly where and why things went wrong.

“10,600 soldiers were dropped at Arnhem, but only 2,400 returned. More than 1,500 British and Polish men were killed, and it is for them that I return as much as possible to remember and pay my respect.”

If you are related to any of the men (we believe that Peter Hill’s family are still in the town), we’d love to hear from you – or if you have another Arnhem story to tell. Email either chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk or mike.renton@darlington.gov.uk.

A special remembrance service for the Darlington men will be held at St James’ Church on Sunday, September 15, at 10am, and you can follow Cllr Renton’s visit on his Facebook page – search for “Cllr Mike Renton”.

TODAY’S Page in History (over) is from The Northern Echo of September 4, 1939. Britain had declared war on Germany the day before – next week marks the 80th anniversary. It always strikes us as a strange front page. It was a historic moment, Britain engulfed in war for the second time in 25 years with the memories of the first still scarring every family, yet the headline doesn’t capture the enormity of the moment. “No lightning blow by Hitler”, it says, almost with the disappointment of a 0-0 draw at football. Perhaps it reflects how worried the nation was – we were relieved when the expected immediate assault by the enemy failed to materialise.


DESCENDANTS are searching for my information about a chap called John Henry Harris, who was born into slavery in Nova Scotia, in Canada, in about 1814.

It is understood that he jumped ship at Liverpool to find freedom, and the 1871 census records that he was living in St Cuthbert’s parish in Darlington where he was employed as a boilersmith/maker. Could this suggest he was working at the North Road railway shops?

The 1881 census found him living at 19, Maria Street, Stockton, when he was working as a labourer in an iron foundry. He was living with his wife, Ann Hannah, who was about 20 years his junior and was described as a charwoman from Ireland. They had a daughter, Mary, aged seven.

In 1890, John died aged about 76, and the 1891 census recorded that Ann was living in Bone Street Yard in Stockton. Bone Street was presumably connected to the rendering industry, and a part of it still stands, to the north of the High Street.

Ann died in 1903, aged about 72.

Their daughter, Mary, married Absolom Hope Harding in Stockton in 1891, and by 1911 she was living in Middlesbrough where she had established a fruit and veg shop, which doubled as a pawnbrokers, near the docks, catering for sailors.

Mary died in hospital of complications connected to diabetes in 1935 at the age of 51.

If you can help with any information on the family, please get in touch.

WE know very little about today’s front page picture, which has kindly been sent in by Peter Reiman, of Darlington. There’s nothing written on the back of it, but it is in a frame which says it was taken by W Laybourn of Market Place, Wolsingham, in Weardale. So that’s it! If you can tell us about Mr Laybourn, or any of the behatted farmers or, indeed, any of the cattle, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk