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Charlotte gives emotive speech at 156 Parachute Battalion Association gathering

Charlotte O'Reilly Charlotte O’Reilly, a Year 11 student at Stamford High School, recently gave a speech at the annual gathering of the 156 Parachute Battalion Association at St Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray, on Saturday 12th October 2019. The service was conducted by retired RAF Chaplain Brian McAvoy MBE.

Wearing her grandfather’s medals, Charlotte spoke of the bravery of Jock Sneddon whose story has only recently come to light.  Jock had given his life to enable his small party of men to get to safety, illustrating the ‘never give in’ spirit of the Battalion.

Charlotte’s grandfather was in the 156 at Arnhem.  Cut off behind the lines, his story culminates in the largest escape through the German lines during World War Two.

On 22nd October 1944, 140 Allied soldiers gathered in the woods near Charlotte O'Reilly the village of Renkum, masked in the dark, approximately ten miles from Arnhem.  As they closed on the River Rhine, they were discovered by a German patrol in an exposed position in line, crossing a water meadow.  When the Germans raised their weapons to fire, Charlotte’s grandfather, who was at the front of the column, charged straight at them firing his Bren gun, scattering them and causing casualties.  With disaster averted, the long column of men moved on, finding their contact and the waiting boats nearby.  They crossed the Rhine to the safety of the Allied-controlled south bank.

The 156 Parachute Battalion suffered 75% casualties, the highest percentage loss of the nine battalions that fought at Arnhem, with 103 killed and the rest either wounded or captured.  Just 36 of the original 605 men returned from the battle and with so few, the Battalion was disbanded.

75 years on, the spirit of the Battalion is kept very much alive by the many descendants of the 156 soldiers who gather in their memory every year.