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Arnhem paratrooper reunited with helmet after 61 years

Discarded upon landing

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

LISKEARD, England - Battle of Arnhem veteran Fred Hodges soon can don his paratrooper helmet again, protective gear he had thrown away almost 61 years ago after landing by glider near Arnhem in September 1944. For six decades, the helmet had been in a private war memorabilia collection until a search for the owner, whose name is marked inside the helmet, was successfully completed. The search ended in Cornwall, England. During all those years, Hodges rarely had given his helmet a second thought.

Hodges, who served with the First Batallion Border Regiment, was one of 10,000 Allied paratroopers who crash-landed near Arnhem as part of what was code-named Operation Market Garden. Its object was to capture the Rhine bridges as a gateway for the Allies into Germany. Instead, it became one of the bloodiest battles of WWII, and a costly failure for the Allies. German SS and Panzer units who were not expected to be there, fought fiercely against the invaders.

Hodges is unclear how he ‘lost’ his helmet. The soldier’s pride in his special paratroopers red beret is evident. Fact is that Hodges was involved in heavy fighting and on the fifth day was seriously wounded by shrapnel. Via a first-aid centre, he was taken to a crowded cellar where after another ten days the order came to retreat. The wounded, including Hodges, were ordered to surrender instead and eventually were taken prisoner by the Germans. Hodges made the march to a detention camp and spent the remainder of the conflict a prisoner of war.

About sixty years later, war memorabilia collector Martijn Cornelissen, came across the helmet in someone else’s collection. He traded the man a German paratrooper’s helmet and traced 82-year-old Hodges through the Arnhem Veterans Organization. Cornelissen then wrote to the veteran telling him of his prized possession. The pair met in September 2004 when Hodges visited Arnhem for the commemorations.

The helmet now temporarily is on loan to the Border Regiment Museum in Carlisle.