One peaceful Sunday afternoon (the date was Sept: 17th 1944 ), Chris and his friends, aged about 11 years old witnessed hundreds of men dropping from the sky, some in gliders and some by parachute.
About four years ago I paid my first visit to the Military Cemetery, known locally as the Airborne Cemetery, located at Oosterbeek on the outskirts of Arnhem in the Netherlands. It contains the graves of the men of the 1st Airborne Division who lost their lives in the Military Operation codeword Market Garden. Through the failure of previous intelligence, it turned out to be a disaster and many died.
I stood and looked at the seemingly endless rows of white gravestones and thought what a waste. Then suddenly I noticed an elderly man going from grave to grave pulling dead blooms out of the vases, and replacing them with fresh ones, from the huge bunch he was carrying. I thought he was a gardener, but after he came and talked to me, I learned he wasn’t. His story goes like this.
One peaceful Sunday afternoon (the date was Sept: 17th 1944 ), he and his friends, aged about 11 years old were ‘just messing about as boys do’ when suddenly hundreds of men dropped from the sky, some in gliders and some by parachute. In a moment all hell was let loose, and within three or four hours the beautiful little town of Arnhem was destroyed. Many civilians were killed and those who survived were left homeless. Chris Petter, as the boy was called, never forgot the sacrifices made that day by the young men of the 1st Airborne Division.
When he retired from his job as an official at the Bank he made a commitment to look after “his boys” as he calls them. He visits them every afternoon tidying up the graves and putting fresh flowers where needed. The Queen awarded him the M.B.E. two years ago for his loyalty and devotion to “his boys”.
He also arranges visits by the relatives of the dead, and organises services for them. In fact, all this has taken over his whole life, and he has many friends in the world even as far away as Canada. Chris Petter is an inspiration to me, and we have become firm friends. I am proud to know him. In his 70s now he still continues to visit “his boys” every afternoon.
AN ORDINARY MAN DOING EXTRAORDINARY THINGS