One of Britain’s last veterans of the Second World War Battle of Arnhem has died at his home in Lutterworth.
Lewis “Lew” Kemp, who was 89, had his funeral at Nuneaton crematorium this week.
It was 70 years ago, as a 19-year-old member of the Parachute Regiment, that Lew and his comrades had been dropped into Holland in a bold, but doomed, Allied attempt to shorten the war.
Operation Market Garden, as it was called, was a brave failure. Lew himself was wounded and captured by the Germans, and spent the last nine months of the war as a half-starved prisoner at Frankfurt Stalag 11A.
After the war, Lew lived quietly in Lutterworth, marrying Freda and having two children, Linda and Stephen.
He drove lorries for BRS and then worked as a heating engineer.
It wasn’t until 40 years later that he allowed himself to return to Arnhem, and he only gradually started talking about his war exploits.
Lew’s close friend Alec Wilson, who spoke at Lew’s funeral, has written a book about Operation Market Garden, called I Played The Piano And Made The Tea.
Mr Wilson’s own father was an Arnhem veteran, and the title of the book was Mr Wilson senior’s answer when asked what he did during the war.
The truth was different.
Arnhem was bloody and vicious and haunted most men who were there.
Lew was born in 1924 and lived in Peatling Parva.
In 1943 he was called up into The Leicestershire Regiment, but on hearing that volunteers for the newly-formed parachute regiments received two shillings extra pay per day, he became a ‘Red Beret’. He was part of 156 Battalion, based in Melton Mowbray.
On the morning of Monday, September 18, Lew found himself aboard a Dakota at Saltby Airfield. This was the start of Operation Market Garden.
Two hours later the teenaged soldier was floating into Holland under heavy enemy fire, eight miles from his battalion’s target, Arnhem Bridge.
Mr Wilson said: “After two days’ fighting, the battalion of about 600 men was now down to about 100.
“Commander of Lew’s ‘C’ Company, Major Powell, spotted a small hollow in the woods occupied by a large number of the enemy. Powell ordered ‘fix bayonets and charge!’ “
“Years later when Lew returned to remember his comrades who fell there, he would find it almost impossible to bear.”
Lew was wounded by shrapnel and captured, the day before his 20th birthday.
“I think many Arnhem veterans felt very guilty about the huge damage that their assault and the Germans’ defence had made on that part of Holland.
“But Lew later found that the Dutch welcomed the Arnhem veterans as heroes.
“And one man told him ‘If there’s a fire in your house, you don’t blame the firemenfor trampling on your flowers’.”
For many years Lew took part in the annual Arnhem commemorations by dropping again by parachute into Holland. Lew also became a president of The Leicestershire Parachute Association. Mr Wilson said: “Arnhem was a heroic disaster, and it haunted everyone.
“But Lew came to terms with what had happened to him, and he was a lovely, lovely guy – very entertaining and just a very nice guy.”