In September 1944, a mighty shock force of battle hardened Allied troops dropped from the skies into enemy-occupied Holland in what was hoped would be the decisive final battle of World War II. Landing miles behind the German lines, their daring mission was to secure bridges across the Rhine so that ground forces could make a rapid dash into Nazi Germany. If all went well, the war could be over by Christmas.
But what many trusted would be a simple operation turned into a brutal losing battle. Of 12,000 British airborne soldiers, 1,500 died and 6,000 were taken prisoner. The vital bridge at Arnhem they had come to capture stayed resolutely in German hands.
But though this was a bitter military defeat for the Allies, beneath the humiliation was another story — of heroism and self-sacrifice, gallantry and survival, guts and determination unbroken in the face of impossible odds.
In the two-thirds of a century that have passed since then, historians have endlessly analysed what went wrong and squabbled over who was to blame. Lost in the process was that other Arnhem story — the triumph of the human spirit, as seen through the dramatic first-hand accounts of those who were there, in the cauldron, fighting for their lives, fighting for their comrades, fighting for their honour, a battle they won hands down.