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Arnhem veteran’s unofficial war diary

Arnhem veteran Harry Dicken, from Ramsey

Arnhem veteran Harry Dicken, from Ramsey

  • by Adrian Darbyshire
 

A veteran of the Arnhem campaign will be attending the 70th anniversary commemorations of the battle immortalised in the movie A Bridge too Far.

Harry Dicken parachuted into Arnhem on September 18, 1944, the second day of Operation Market Garden.

The official war diary of the 10th Battalion Parachute Regiment is the only one for the airborne units that has been lost for that period. And Harry knows the reasons for that all too well - as he was the one who buried it in a booby trapped trench outside the Dutch city when his unit was overrun by German forces.

After the war he wrote an unofficial war diary, a copy of which he has now presented to the Imperial War Museum and the Manx Museum.

In the diary he writes: ‘I have never told my story to anyone before. If it helps you to understand the spirit, mistakes and circumstances it will I feel have been worthwhile setting it down.’

Speaking from his home in Barrule Park, Ramsey, Harry, who is 90 in September, told how he joined the 10th Battalion early in 1944 and was posted to the Intelligence section. His job was to carry the Commanding Officer’s maps and the battalion war diary given to him immediately before he boarded the Dakota ready to parachute into Arnhem.

He had to carry the bulky maps by wrapping them round his body underneath an oversized jumping smock. ‘I looked like the Michelin man and had to make backwards landings to avoid injury,’ he recalls.

Harry was only 200ft up when he made the jump and to avoid landing in barbed wire, he landed awkwardly, shattering the wooden stock of his sten gun. He made it to the rendezvous point and orders were given to advance. But under intense enemy fire, casualties were high. Of the 550 who had started out with Harry, 100 had been killed and many more injured by the end of the first day.

Faced with traversing a mile of open country under heavy fire, he took the decision to bury the diary and maps in a trench, covering them with sand and detonators. Later, he was hit by a stick grenade, the blast injuring his left eye and rendering him unconscious. It was dark when he recovered but was then captured by German troops.

His diary goes on to tell how he was evacuated from hospital in Dresden when the RAF bombed that city and how he escaped - twice - before meeting up with American forces.

After the war, Harry worked for the Tate and Lyle sugar giant in Liverpool until retirement and moved to the Isle of Man in 1970 with his late wife Joan. He has a daughter Fiona and three grandsons.

 

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