Britain’s oldest para veteran who jumped into Holland at the battle of Arnhem has died – just days before his 102nd birthday.
Victor Gregg, who lived in Springvale, Swanmore until moving to a care home, dropped into Holland on September 17th in 1944 as Allied forces tried to seize bridges in an audacious move to shorten the war.
He was one of 582 men who jumped into Holland with the 10th battalion, the Parachute Regiment in Operation Market Garden. Just 36 survivors returned to the UK – the rest were either killed or captured after less than a week on the ground in a mission.
The battle was depicted in a film by Sir Richard Attenborough called A Bridge Too Far.
More than 10,000 allied soldiers were dropped by parachute miles behind enemy lines but the Germans were waiting for them and the allied paras were hit hard with 1,495 killed and 6,525 taken prisoner.
Just 1,892 British paras from all units across the 1st Airborne Division escaped. The initial drop was mainly unopposed but by the time the 10th battalion landed on the second day a German SS unit was waiting for them.
As the paras tried to withdraw Victor was captured by the Germans and became a prisoner of war. As a POW he survived the bombing of Dresden and got back to England in 1946.
Victor, who was born in London in 1919. He joined the army in 1937, serving first in the Rifle Brigade in Palestine and North Africa, notably at the Battle of Alamein, and in Italy.
He wrote a trilogy of memoirs: King’s Cross Kid, about his working-class childhood in London between the World Wars; Rifleman, about his life on the front line from Alamein and Dresden to the Fall of the Berlin Wall; and Soldier, Spy, about his life as a demobbed soldier returning to civilian life and all the challenges that entailed.
Victor, who became a bus driver after the war, recalled: “As we approached the drop zone I think we were all quietly anxious, the Germans were firing at us and as we jumped some chaps were shot dead in the sky, it was awful.
“Blokes were running around to find their mates and moving to forming up points on the drop zone, but the Germans were relentless and many of our men were killed where they landed.
“The days that followed were horrendous, we were almost wiped out. We quickly ran out of ammunition and food and we were forced to take supplies from those who had passed away, just to make sure we could continue the fight against the Germans.
“By day six my two mates on the gun with me were dead, we were exhausted out of ammunition and finally captured and taken off to a prisoner of war camp, we did our best.”