29 September 2021
Peter Duckers takes a look at the various medals handed out for the ill-fated operation to capture the bridges.
Although generally regarded as the last great failure of the British Army’ in World War II, Operation Market Garden has gone down in British military history as another of those near misses or glorious failures distinguished by the bravery, endurance and determination displayed by the forces involved.
A list of awards for Market Garden was quickly published for some of the 2,000 men who had already returned and an investiture ceremony was held at Buckingham Palace as early as December 1944. A much smaller list of awards for the 6,000 who would never, or had not yet, returned was not published until September 1945.
The list of British awards (approximate figures) was:
Victoria Cross 5
Order of the Bath 1
Order of the British Empire 20 (at various grades)
British Empire Medal 10
Distinguished Service Order 23 inc. two to RAF and 1 Polish
Military Cross 42 inc. two to Poles
Distinguished Flying Cross 40
Distinguished Conduct Medal 14
Military Medal 54
Distinguished Flying Medal 17
Mentions in Dispatches 140
Right: The NW Europe group to Flight Sgt SH Webster, RAFVR, typical of those awarded for Market Garden, with the American Air Medal (on far right)
Five of the British participants in the battle received the highest award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. Four were members of the Airborne forces and one was from the RAF. They were L/Sgt. John Daniel Baskeyfield, 2 South Staffordshire Regiment; Major Robert Henry Cain, 2 South Staffordshire Regiment; Flight Lt. David Samuel Anthony Lord, 271 Squadron, Royal Air Force; Captain Lionel Ernest Queripel, 10 Parachute Regiment; Lieutenant John Hollington Grayburn, 2 Parachute Regiment.
Four of these were posthumous awards, only one of the recipients surviving the action to wear the medal – Major R. H. Cain of 2 South Staffs. On 19 September 1944, Cain’s company, cut off from his battalion, was closely engaged with enemy tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry. As the Germans made repeated attempts to break into the company position Cain’s actions were largely responsible for saving a vital sector from falling into enemy hands.
On 21 September Cain went out alone to destroy a German tank, armed with a Piat. Holding fire until it was only 20yd away, he halted the tank, which then turned its guns on him, destroying the corner of the house where Cain was lying. Although wounded by machine gun bullets and masonry, Cain continued to score direct hits, immobilised the tank and then brought up howitzer which destroyed it. Only then did he have his wounds dressed. Next morning, he drove off three more tanks using only a Piat, on each occasion taking up an exposed position with complete disregard for his own safety.
Left: The Distinguished Flying Cross (left) in an RAF group which has the RAF award, the Air Crew Europe Star, with the additional ribbon clasp ‘France and Germany’ to show service in NW Europe after 6 June 1944
On 25 September the enemy made a concerted attack on Cain's position, using self-propelled guns, flame throwers and infantry. By now the last Piat was out of action and Cain, already badly wounded, had only a light 2in mortar. However, by a skilful use of this weapon and daring leadership of his few remaining men, he completely demoralised the enemy who, after an engagement lasting more than three hours, withdrew in disorder.
The other (posthumous) VCs reflect the same level of gallantry, that to the only RAF recipient, Flight Lt. David Lord being a good example. On 19 September, the Dakota piloted by Lord, was hit by anti-aircraft fire in the starboard engine while on a supply sortie to Arnhem. Fire spread over the whole wing, as Lord spent 10 minutes making two passes over very small drop zones (which, unknown to him, had already been overrun) to drop eight ammunition panniers. Just after he had dropped the last, the fuel tank exploded and tore off the wing and only the navigator F/O Harry King survived. He became a PoW and only after his release did the details of the action become known. Lord received a posthumous Victoria Cross in November 1945, the only one awarded to Transport Command during the war. In 1949, the Dutch Government awarded King a posthumous Bronze Cross.
Left: The France and Germany Star – the basic British campaign award for Market Garden. It was issued unnamed but is sometimes found privately engraved
The standard campaign medal awarded to British personnel (and to Canadian and Polish forces) was the France and Germany Star, one of the series of British campaign stars awarded for service in World War II. Issued unnamed and with a plain reverse, its ribbon colours reflect the heraldic colours of Great Britain. Despite its name, the medal was also awarded (as in this instance) for service in Belgium and Holland. Examples are easy to find on the market at around £15 but being unnamed have little attraction to collectors, though those in groups with a definite provenance (named medals or documents) which link to Market Garden are very collected and can be expensive, depending on the recipient and his circumstances.
Right: The US medal for campaign service in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The bronze stars indicate participation in a designed major action and the bronze arrowhead participation in a glider or parachute assault
The American equivalent for campaign service was the Europe-Middle East -Africa medal. 19 operations were selected as being of particular note and participants in these wore a small bronze star on the ribbon for each qualifying theatre. Rhineland (from 15 September 1944 and including the Market Garden operations) was one of those chosen to be marked. In addition, a small bronze arrowhead emblem was authorised for those who had participated in a combat parachute jump or glider landing – as in Market Garden - eg to 101 and 82 Airborne Divisions who captured their objectives at Eindhoven, Veghel and Nijmegen. These medals are easily and cheaply available on the market though, as with the British awards, good provenance, documentation and background information can greatly increase their value.
The United States of course had a range of established gallantry awards which were available for Market Garden, such as the Silver Star and Bronze Star, the Distinguished Service Cross and equivalent medals for their air forces. Of their highest award for gallantry, the Medal of Honor, two were awarded – to Pte First Class Joe Mann of 502 Parachute Infantry, 101 Airborne Division, for gallantry at Best on 18 September and to Pte. John Towle, of 504 Parachute Infantry, 82 Airborne Division, for gallantry at Oosterhout, on 21 September 1944. Both were posthumous.
Left: The US Medal of Honor – the highest US award for gallantry in action. This is the pre-1945 breast badge; since 1945, it has been worn as a neck badge
Given the status of the award, the US equivalent of the Victoria Cross, it comes as no surprise that their citations make extraordinary reading. To take one example, Pte. Mann who ‘… distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty’ on 18 September near Best: ‘… his platoon, attempting to seize the bridge across the Wilhelmina Canal, was surrounded and isolated by an enemy force greatly superior in personnel and firepower. Acting as lead scout, Mann boldly crept to within rocket-launcher range of an enemy artillery position and, in the face of heavy enemy fire, destroyed an 88mm, gun and an ammunition dump. Completely disregarding the great danger involved, he remained in his exposed position, and, with his … rifle, killed the enemy one by one until he was wounded four times. Taken to a covered position, he insisted on returning to a forward position to stand guard during the night. On the following morning the enemy launched a concerted attack and advanced to within a few yards of the position, throwing hand grenades as they approached. One of these landed within a few feet of Pte. Mann. Unable to raise his arms, which were bandaged to his body, he yelled “grenade” and threw his body over the grenade, and as it exploded, died. His outstanding gallantry above and beyond the call of duty and his magnificent conduct were an everlasting inspiration to his comrades for whom he gave his life.’
Right: The Polish Order of Military Virtue, awarded in various classes to Polish and British recipients for Market Garden
A famous unit engaged in Market Garden was 1 (Polish) Independent Parachute Brigade of the Free Polish Forces. Market Garden saw the Brigade sent into action in support of the British 1 Airborne Division at Arnhem. Apart from British medals and honours which Polish personnel might receive, the Poles had their own range of national awards and some were conferred not only on Polish combatants but on British and other Allied personnel. The most important of these was the highly respected Order of Military Virtue (Virtuti Militari). Founded in 1792, it was (and is) Poland’s highest military decoration for courage in the face of the enemy. 11 were awarded to Polish and British recipients for Market Garden, along with approximately 200 of the Cross of Valour and approximately 30 Bronze Crosses of Merit.
Shortly after the war Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands proposed to confer on the Polish Brigade her country’s highest honour, the Military Order of William, as a unit award. However, for political reasons this was not done, though interestingly, the American 82 Airborne Division had received the Order as early as 8 October 1945. It was almost 62 years later, in May 2006, that the Polish Brigade was finally granted the Order for its distinguished service and outstanding bravery during Market Garden. This was one of only 11 unit awards of the decoration.
Many recipients of British awards also received decorations from the Allies. Some examples, with approximate numbers for Market Garden are:
US Legion of Merit 1
US Distinguished Service Cross 12
US Silver Star 10
US Air Medal 6
Dutch Bronze Lion 32
Dutch Bronze Cross 41
Dutch Flying Cross 23
Left: The American Distinguished Service Cross
Lt. Colonel BHP Jackson of the Glider Pilot Regiment, already a veteran of the airborne assaults on Normandy, had received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the American Silver Star. This Allied award was conferred for Market Garden though, like many other foreign’ awards, was not gazetted until much later, in this case in November 1947. The recommendation for Arnhem states: ‘Major Jackson during the whole of the very severe fighting in the sector held by the unit showed a splendid spirit of fighting leadership. In spite of twice being blown from his trench by point blank fire from S.P. guns, he continued to encourage and inspire his men with pugnacious spirit and with complete disregard for personal safety set a magnificent example to all ranks. On 23 September, he was wounded again in the leg by a splinter. Despite these wounds he continued to show great unselfishness and refused to be evacuated. Major Jackson displayed great personal gallantry and his efforts were instrumental in holding a vital sector at a vital time.’
As another example, a recipient of an American decoration was Flight Sgt SH Webster, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, awarded the American Air Medal for gallantry as a Dakota pilot in 48 Squadron during the Arnhem operations.
The general Battle Honour, The Nederrijn (Lower Rhine) was later granted to 35 units for the operations in that region between 17-24 September 1944, but more specific Battle Honours were also granted. Arnhem 1944 was conferred on the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the South Staffs., the Border Regiment, the Dorsets, the Parachute Regiment, the Glider Pilot Regiment and the Canadian Ontario Regiment. Much later, it was accorded to 473 Squadron RAF, which flew Dakotas on re-supply missions and towed the gliders used by airborne troops. The honour Nijmegen was given to the Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards, Grenadier Guards and Irish Guards, Veghel to the Royal Dragoons and Best to the 8 Hussars and six infantry regiments.
The Germans, of course, considered the defeat of Market Garden as a major victory, their last in World War II. Although no campaign medals or distinctive theatre awards were instituted by the German authorities, they did award large numbers of their standard gallantry and distinguished service decorations, like the Iron Cross. There are no figures available for the award of the Iron Cross in the lowest grades, 2nd Class and 1st Class, purely for Market Garden, which were presumably on the usual lavish scale, but no fewer than eight men were awarded the highest grade of the decoration, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. In addition, there were eight awards of the German Cross in Gold or Silver and seven Honour Roll clasps.
It goes without saying that awards for Market Garden with provenance are well collected and, as with all gallantry medals and groups, depending on the recipient and the circumstances of the award, can command high prices. Basic campaign medal groups, like the campaign stars in a named box to a known recipient, are researchable and much more cheaply available.
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