Military funeral for a war hero – 70 years on
The body of a Cornish soldier killed during one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War is to be re-interred with full military honours.
Private Lewis Curtis, from Liskeard, was killed in action in Holland on October 2, 1944, during a German artillery barrage against an Allied push called Operation Market Garden.
A member of 5th Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment, Private Curtis joined up in March 1943 and was immediately thrown into the struggle to recapture north-west Europe from the Nazis. After landing in Normandy, the 19-year-old took part in several major battles, including the assault on Hill 112, Mont Pincon, The Odon Box and the crossing of the Seine at Vernon.
By the time his regiment reached Arnhem, it had lost 250 men. Private Curtis was killed by a German artillery barrage during a battle for a level crossing close to the town. Historians have subsequently described the action as "the fiercest fighting 5th Battalion had ever experienced".
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The remains of Private Curtis, who attended Liskeard Church School and worked in the Co-op before enlisting, were found in a shallow field grave in 2003. The Dutch Army Recovery Team identified him using British Army dental records.
Now, almost 70 years later, a young man who left his home in East Cornwall to fight in the defence of freedom, will be accorded a full military funeral with some of his family present, close to the spot where he fell.
On October 3, members of 5th Battalion The Rifles will form a guard of honour to Private Curtis at Arnhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery in The Netherlands. The remembrance service will be attended by his niece and nephew and their families, with music provided by the Royal Netherlands Army National Reserve Band.
The Battle of Arnhem was a decisive moment for the Allies in September 1944. After sweeping through France and Belgium, forces were poised to enter The Netherlands. Field Marshal Montgomery ordered a single thrust over the Rhine and Operation Market Garden was launched on September 17. Paratroopers attempted to secure key bridges and towns, including Arnhem, Oosterbeek, Wolfheze, Driel, and the surrounding countryside.
However, British forces met fierce and prolonged opposition from the 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer Divisions. After four days, the small British force at Arnhem bridge was overwhelmed and the rest of the division became trapped in a small pocket north of the river. After nine days of fighting, the shattered remains of the airborne forces were withdrawn in Operation Berlin.
It was during fighting as part of Operation Berlin that the 5th Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment came under sustained artillery bombardment and Private Curtis was killed at De Laar Farm, just south of Arnhem.