Arnhem: Tour of Duty

The Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek, Arnhem.

The Airborne Cemetery at Oosterbeek (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve just finished watching the second and final part of this very interesting programme, taking a group of young people from Croydon and training them as 1940’s Paras. The programme culminated in parachute jump from a C-47 Dakota over Arnhem during the annual anniversary celebrations. My, how I wish I was ‘young’ again!

My impressions are that it was a very well put together and well thought out programme. Staffed by ex-Paras and youth workers – an interesting combination! – the young people were put through a taster of the physical training required to join the 1940’s Parachute Regiment. Some of the kids found the physical training pretty hard – are we softer nowadays?… answers on a postcard. Modern day favourites such as the log race were in evidence. The kids were also taken out on a mock exercise with re-enactors, but unbeknown to them a group of German re-enactors had set up an ambush, very similar to the kind that might have taken place in Arnhem during September 1944.

We also got an insight into the social problems of being young nowadays, when three were sent home for sniffing aerosols. Obviously pretty stupid and dangerous, not to mention wasting an opportunity of a lifetime. But then again, whilst the 60’s generation thought they were ‘expanding their minds’ on LSD and speed and god knows what else, their parents during the war had probably taken far more Benzedrene in the course of duty. The programme makers also made a decent effort to get the kids to wear contemporary uniforms, eat contemporary foods, and such like.

The parachute training was also fascinating. Some of the kids in particular had trouble getting to grips with the parachute landing – feet and knees together, roll etc (I can remember my Grandad telling me that!). Their trip to Brize Norton in particular was an eye-opener – jumping out of a mock-up fuselage, and from the old-style fan, which would have been familiar to second world war Paras. No barrage balloon jumps, however! Most of the kids seem to have taken the parachuting side of the programme well in their stride.

On the whole, this was a very grood programme, and exactly the kind of living history that brings teaching to life and really enthuses young people. I wasn’t too sure about the reality TV feel, how when individuals had to leave for various reasons it had the feel of Big Brother and being evicted.

The veterans accounts were very moving, however. But most of all I found the ending of the programme very touching – the young lads sharing a pint with some of the veterans at the crossroads, and placing flowers on the graves in the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek. It really seemed to me like the young people ‘got’ the spirit of the programme. I hope all the nay-sayers are happy.

Arnhem: Tour of Duty can be watched on the Channel 5 website

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Arnhem: Tour of Duty

  1. The authentic food was a nice touch. It helps put you in touch with the time period. I used to horrify my mates in our British re-enacting unit – I had been inducted into re-enacting (initially doing German) by an authenticity freak, so I carried a block of cheese, a small roll of hard salami, and some rye bread in my kit (standard German rations). My new-found “squaddies” pulled out their plastic containers of supermarket bought prepared salads and meals, complete with flatware. They were HORRIFIED when I pulled out my pocket knife and proceeded to slice off pieces of salami and cheese, without benefit of silverware or fancy platters. They couldn’t figure out how I could tolerate such “crude” settings. If you’re going to “keep it real”, I say go 100%!

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