When you are nearing 90, will you still have the miraculous glint that you see in the piercing blue eyes of war hero John Bosley and will you be able to mesmerise an audience as you recount events from long ago with precise detail?
The warmth in his voice; the articulate use of words; and the modesty intersected by humour and a smile that is childlike in its innocence disguise the horrors that John witnessed sixty-nine years ago.
As a tall well-trained but inexperienced 19-year-old soldier with a talent for the French language, a passion for aeroplanes and the fitness of an Olympian, John had what it took to join the ranks of the battle-hardened 11th Parachute Battalion in April 1944. However, all the training on earth could not prepare anyone for the terrifying sequence of events he and his young comrades would face five months later.
On Monday 18th September, John was part of the second wave of Para troops to land at Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden, the allied operation to seize strategic bridgeheads in Holland. Delayed by fog in England and unaware of the catastrophe that was unfolding ahead of them, John and his colleagues would find themselves landing in a region heavily defended by crack troops of the SS 9th and 10th Panzer Tank Divisions. Landing under heavy enemy machine gun and mortar fire on heathland that was ablaze must have resembled hell on earth.
The Battalion suffered heavy losses on the first day and in the bitter fighting over the following days, the unit that was formed just months earlier would effectively be wiped out. Dropped many miles from the objectives for fear of anti-aircraft flack, the troops had to march then battle door to door in a desperate bid to take the town of Arnhem and relieve comrades trapped in the centre of town and holding onto one bridge despite overwhelming firepower.
John lost many friends in the nine days of fighting and was seriously wounded on the front line at Oosterbeek close to the hospital and eventually taken prisoner. Not content with capture, he escaped and made it back to Allied lines and was demobilised after the war. He went on to join the Wiltshire Police, serving the community for 30 years.
I cannot begin to imagine what molecular code exists in the DNA of men and women like John Bosley that enables them to cope with horrors such Arnhem. I do not believe it is mere coincidence that John, whose father fought in the Great War and was decorated for his valour in 1914, it is something in that genetic code.
I and my colleagues from the Advisory Board had the honour of meeting John Bosley and some of his band of brothers at Arnhem on the 69th anniversary of the operation when I was a guest of the Parachute Regiment and the Afghanistan Trust. Seeing so many serving members of Army alongside their veteran colleagues was a reminder that courage and camaraderie flow through the military like an electric current through copper. The spirit and energy they generate are never lost, it is merely stored and used to fuel the new incumbents.
Today Translations is proud to support the Afghanistan Trust which supports the many Paratroopers and their families who have suffered following active service in Afghanistan. We would also like to thank Colonel Stuart Tootal, Gary Sullivan OBE, Mr Colin Smith and his team at the Trust, and all the gentlemen of the Parachute Regiment, young and not so young for their hospitality and the sterling work they do.
The Afghanistan Trust Festival of Remembrance will be held on 6th November evening at St Dunstan’s on the Strand. For more information about this night of words and music for remembrance, visit http://www.glenart.co.uk/