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Local World War II Veteran and Arnhem Hero, Dies Aged 88

June 5th, 2013

June 1944 Aged 20yrs

On Friday 24th May, Lodge Brothers in Addlestone were proud to conduct the funeral of the late John Flanagan, World War 2 Veteran, who when aged only 20yrs, fought at Arnhem with the 1st British Airbourne Division.

John was born an only child in Helensburgh, Scotland on 13th September 1924.

As a young man John was an accomplished swimmer and diver. He formed part of a two-man diving comedy team at the outdoor swimming baths in Cumnock. He also represented the West of Scotland in the National Diving Trials.
When he left school he took on an apprenticeship in electrical engineering, giving him valuable skills and a trade that he utilised throughout his working career.

When he was old enough John volunteered for the armed forces during WWII and joined the Parachute Regiment serving with the 1st British Airborne Division (Brigade HQ). On 17th September 1944, just four days after his 20th birthday, he was dropped at Arnhem, Holland as part of Operation Market Garden.

This was a daring plan devised by Field Marshall Montgomery to shorten the war by seizing key crossings across rivers/canals behind enemy lines and to advance rapidly into Germany. John was one of about 500 troops to reach the bridge at Arnhem which was the primary and furthest target.

The lightly armed paratroopers were tasked with securing the bridge for 24 hours before reinforcements arrived. Unfortunately after several days of fierce fighting and due to the lack of ammunition and supplies the paratroopers were forced to abandon their position at the bridge as the reinforcements failed to arrive, having met far stronger resistance from the Germans than was anticipated.

John subsequently spent several days trying to escape the area. During this time he was given shelter and a hiding place for a few hours in the basement of the home of a brave Dutch family. John eventually made it to Oosterbeek where the Division had set up their HQ and a defensive position running down to the riverside. When it was decided to evacuate the HQ by crossing the river, John was able to swim across the fast flowing water that sadly claimed the lives of many of his comrades. He lost his helmet during the crossing and recalls it floating away down the river.

After crossing the river he spent two days hiding during the day and following a railway track at night before finding some American airborne troops who fed and clothed him.

Only some 2,500 troops eventually made the crossing leaving behind nearly 1,500 dead and more than 6,500 prisoners, many badly wounded.
Montgomery stated that “In the years that come, it will be a great thing for a man to be able to say “I fought at Arnhem””

The bridge at Arnhem became known as “a bridge too far” and in 1977 the operation was the subject of a major Hollywood film of the same title.

Although John made several pilgrimages back to Arnhem over the years to meet old comrades and to pay his respects to the fallen, he rarely talked about his wartime experiences and only recently revealed to his son that he had actually been wounded by shrapnel at Arnhem, rolling up his shirt sleeve to reveal a scar.
After recovering from Arnhem, John became an officer’s driver and inherited an Airedale dog named Gearbox that used to sit in the passenger’s seat of the jeep, whilst the officer would often be relegated to the back seat.

After being demobbed, John joined BOAC (now British Airways) as an electrical engineer at the newly opened Heathrow Airport. He worked there until he retired 33 years later, during that time he worked his way up to the position of Senior Production Engineer.

After the war John met Lily at the Hammersmith Palais, a very famous ballroom. For a while he commuted to and from Scotland before eventually settling in Hounslow, Middlesex. In 1951, John and Lily got married and took their honeymoon in Brighton. Together they spent 62 years happily married, had a son, David, and two granddaughters, Katie and Laura.

John was a quiet and sincere man. He was always happy with a smile on his face and was totally devoted to his family.

John visits a friend's grave at Oosterbeek Cemetery

John (right) with another Arnhem Veteran