Emotional services mark the 75th birthday of an iconic wartime battalion

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Veterans and families of former servicemen have attended emotional services to mark the 75th anniversary of the formation of an iconic Second World War parachute regiment which was billeted in Melton.

A party of 80 paid their respects on Friday at a service at Saltby Airfield, where 156 Battalion flew from to fight at the Battle of Arnhem in Holland in September 1944 when heavy lossess were suffered.

Former Ambassador Michael A Winner, Sandy Saunders, Colonel John Waddy, Rev. Brian McAvoy and Standard Bearer John Gibbard meet up outside St Mary's Church prior to a service to mark the 75th anniversary of the formation of 156 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment EMN-161018-111032001

Former Ambassador Michael A Winner, Sandy Saunders, Colonel John Waddy, Rev. Brian McAvoy and Standard Bearer John Gibbard meet up outside St Mary's Church prior to a service to mark the 75th anniversary of the formation of 156 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment EMN-161018-111032001

And on Saturday, Melton’s St Mary’s Church was packed for a service of remembrance, which was followed by a parade through town accompanied by a Scottish piper.

John O’Reilly, son of 156 Battalion Arnhem veteran John Joseph O’Reilly, said: “The parade caused quite a stir in Melton on Saturday.

“It was a beautiful day and people stopped to listen to the piper and watch us marching through town.

“The service at Saltby was the biggest attendance we’ve ever had there - numbers seem to be increasing every year despite the regiment having been disbanded in 1944.”

The piper leads away the parade from St.Mary's Church, Melton, to mark the 75th anniversary of the formation of 156 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment EMN-161018-111043001

The piper leads away the parade from St.Mary's Church, Melton, to mark the 75th anniversary of the formation of 156 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment EMN-161018-111043001

At the Saltby service, 96-year-old Arnhem veteran Ted Short laid a wreath to honour his fallen colleagues. He was one of 2,500 paratroopers who flew from the airfield 72 years ago in a bid to help secure strategically important Dutch bridges.

After the service, the party had lunch at the Wheel Inn at Branston, followed by tea at Thoroton Hall, the home of Mr O’Reilly and his wife Michelle.

Military chaplain Brian McAvoy, who served in the RAF, officiated at both services, as he has done for annual commemorations of the battalion over the last three years.

Mr O’Reilly said: “Brian is the thread that knits all of the stories and emotions together in a sensitive and relevant manner, sprinkled with just the right amount of humour.”

The piper who led the parade through town after Saturday’s service was John Hoffman, a former member of the Seaforth Highlanders, which was one of the 23 regiments that made up the original 151 Battalion in India before it became known as the 156 Battalion.

Also in attendance was Captain Michael Wenner, the last of the officers who joined the original 151 Battalion, and Colonel John Waddy OBE, who led B Company into action at Arnhem before being seriously wounded.

Veteran Second World War glider pilot Dr Sandy Saunders also attended from his Burton Lazars home.

Following Saturday’s service and the parade, a wreath was laid by James Pockney at Sysonby Lodge, in the grounds of Pera, where the battalion was stationed during the war.

James is the grandson of Sir Richard des Voeux, the Colonel of 156 Battalion at Arnhem, who was killed in the battle and later awarded an MiD (Mention in Dispatches) for his bravery.