Veteran’s got a new mission

Peter Durrant from Gosport has amassed an amazing 'collection of pictures of'Grenadier Guards. Picture: Malcolm Wells (123208-1203)
Peter Durrant from Gosport has amassed an amazing 'collection of pictures of'Grenadier Guards. Picture: Malcolm Wells (123208-1203)

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WHEN D-Day veteran Peter Durrant sits down and reflects on his life, he feels a great sense of pride.

The 87-year-old, of Rowner Road, Gosport, was part of the Operation Market Garden allied military campaign during the Second World War.

He survived a grenade attack in the Dutch town of Nijmegen before finishing his service and returning to Portsmouth to work for Brickwoods brewery in Portsea.

Now, with the help of his doting son Brian, Mr Durrant has turned his sights to collecting hundreds of photographs and thousands of names of Grenadier Guards servicemen up and down the country.

His home is full of photos and memorabilia of the regiment, of which he was proudly a part of.

‘I have hundreds of photos and about 8,000 names’, Mr Durrant said.

‘First of all the photos were from the Second World War, but it got so big that I came up with the idea of putting on a stall at the Grenadier Guards day to show everyone the photos.

‘It went like wildfire – everyone was coming round looking at the photos.’

The photos, most of which are black and white, depict servicemen in official squad line-ups and operating in conflicts. He also has photos from Grenadier Guards days and poignant gatherings.

His passion for collecting the extensive history of the regiment started by chance. He spotted a dedicated page for servicemen and women on Teletext.

He explains: ‘When they had service pals on Channel 4 Teletext, it used to come up with people in any regiment looking for things.

‘Something came up about the Grenadiers so I asked them to put up if any Grenadiers have squad photos that they could send to me.

‘Two years ago I had 6,025 names and since then I have added another couple of thousand.’

His son Brian, 58, said his father’s collection proves to be a popular attraction at reunions.

He said: ‘In the early days we would have hundreds around the stall looking at them.

‘Dad decided to bring these little autograph books along and said for everyone to leave their names and numbers in them. If anyone swaps photos, they can get in contact that way.

‘I remember a lady came up and said to dad that she had her grandson with her.

‘There was a photo of her husband that she had never seen before. Everyone was in tears – it was fantastic.’

Mr Durrant, who has eight children and was married to Phylis for 50 years before she passed away in 2006, still vividly remembers his experience fighting in the war like it was yesterday.

He was 18 when he arrived in France in August 1944 before moving on to Belgium.

He was part of the offensive on the battle for the Nijmegen bridge on September 20, 1944 – just five days after his 19th birthday.

‘I can remember when we advanced up to the main circle at Nijmegen we came under Spandau fire,’ Mr Durrant recalls.

‘We had to get down on the ground. A lot of Dutch people took out furniture on the houses and into the circle. There was a radiator alongside where I was with a cabinet and concertina doors on it – I’d never seen one of those before.

‘When we went across the road, we were standing on hot bricks as the Germans were setting fire to houses.

‘I can remember a tank was on the corner and a turret came up. We got across the road and went through houses with a lot of steps.

‘A German must have been the other side of the wall and saw us go down the steps. He threw a hand grenade over the top.

‘We got picked up by a vehicle. Some got carried in the back, others walked. As we were going back through Nijmegen to get out of the fighting, there was an Irish Guards officer that stopped us.

‘He said take this man back on a stretcher. He was strapped in but we said we haven’t got the room. We held on to the four legs of the stretcher until we got to where they dress you.’

Mr Durrant remembers waking up in a hospital in Woking before being transferred to a hospital in Dunfermline. It took him six weeks to recover before going back to the Victoria Barracks in Windsor.

He retrained with the intent to fight the Japanese but the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the conflict.

His army journey saw him travel to Palestine and Jerusalem before he left the forces in late 1947.

He spent 41 years working for Brickwoods before retiring.

Mr Durrant enjoys keeping in contact with friends, family and former servicemen on the internet, in particular Facebook, and is always looking for more people to share photographs of Grenadier Guards with him.

· If you have old or recent photos of Grenadier Guards and would like to help Mr Durrant with his collection, e-mail briandurrant113@hotmail.com.

MISSION CONSIDERED A FAILURE

ALLIED forces launched Operation Market Garden in September 1944 with the aim of bringing the Second World War to an end by Christmas.

But the resistance they faced from enemy troops proved too much and the campaign is viewed as unsuccessful.

The three divisions of the 1st Allied Airbourne Corps landed in Holland on September 17, 1944.

Field Marshal Montgomery wanted to enter the country over the Rhine, which required the operation to seize bridges across the Mass and two over the Rhine.

During the campaign, the bridges at Nijmegen and Eindhoven were taken, but Allied troops faced stronger resistance in Arnhem, as the Germans countered.

There were 9,000 Allied troops at Arnhem but only 2,400 were left when they were ordered to withdraw on September 25.

The bridge over the lower Rhine in Arnhem is now named the John Frost Bridge, named after Major-General John Dutton Frost, who commanded the British forces that reached it.

The 1977 war film A Bridge Too Far is based on the operation.