Celebrated veteran returns to Melton for annual paratrooper reunion

Dennis Collier, a member of 156 Battalion Parachute Regiment stationed at Melton during the Second World War, who survived after being declared dead during the Battle of Arnhem in Holland EMN-151210-161913001
Dennis Collier, a member of 156 Battalion Parachute Regiment stationed at Melton during the Second World War, who survived after being declared dead during the Battle of Arnhem in Holland EMN-151210-161913001
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One of the guests at the latest annual reunion of paratroopers stationed at Melton during the Second World War miraculously survived the fierce Battle of Arnhem after initially being declared dead.

Dennis Collier was one of the members of 156 Independent Parachute Battalion who was flown behind enemy lines in September 1944 charged with securing the strategically important road bridge over the Lower Rhine in the Dutch town.

He escaped a massive explosion by diving into long grass after being fired upon by German machine-gunners and had to ‘play dead’ for seven hours with enemy troops close by.

Dennis, who is now 93, was eventually taken prisoner but in the confusion his Army colleagues thought he was dead - they sent a telegram to his mother and a military gravestone was even put up at Arnhem to commemorate his service and death in battle.

He escaped from Dachau Prisoner of War Camp, near Munich, but was re-captured. Dennis recalled telephoning home after being released at the end of the war and being flown back to London for hospital treatment: “I rang my neighbour, because my family didn’t have a phone, and he said ‘You can’t be in London - you’re dead’.”

Dennis will remember the many colleagues who did not return from the fighting at Arnhem, which was codenamed Operation Market Garden, at a service at Saltby Airfield tomorrow (Friday) at 10am, which will be followed by an evening dinner at the Royal British Legion in Melton.

Another service will be held at St Mary’s Church in the town at 11am on Saturday with serving paratroopers joining veterans, their families and dignataries.

Afterwards the party will make their way to the town’s Pera headquarters, the site where 156 Battalion were stationed during the war, for the unveiling of a commemorative plaque.

Anyone with a connection to the paratroopers stationed at Melton during the war is invited to attend both the services at Saltby and Melton, which will both be conducted by Rev Brian McAvoy.