A VETERAN who braved one of the most daring military operations of the Second World War has died at the age of 93.
Ex-Para Joe Hardy was among the last survivors of the ill-fated Battle of Arnhem, which saw 10,000 airborne soldiers parachute into Nazi-occupied Holland.
The battle claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 Allied troops and was later re-told in the film A Bridge Too Far.
However, he still regarded volunteering for the Parachute Division as “the best thing I ever did”.
His son Steve, 58, paid tribute to his father, who died after a long illness.
“He was always very modest about what he went through,” he said. “He never made a big thing of it. He always said he was a survivor, not a hero.”
After landing at Oosterbeek, three miles away from the target at Nijmegen, Joe and his comrades were forced to take cover from unexpectedly heavy German resistance. He eventually managed to join fellow survivors at an airfield.
As well as the huge death toll, thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner.
“He landed in a bomb hole, beneath ground level, and that was the only reason he survived,” said Steve, from Springwell, Sunderland.
“They majority of them were shot and killed on the way down.
“He eventually crossed the Rhine in a boat with two Polish lads. When they got to the bank, he went right, they went left, and they never saw each other again.”
The ex-corporal served with the 1st Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry from 1940-43 and had seen two years of desert warfare when the battalion was transferred to Malta and the call came for volunteers for the Paras.
After training in Palestine, he came home in January 1944 to join the 1st Airborne Division.
Joe was then on his way to Holland for Operation Market Garden, which started on September 17, 1944, and aimed to capture a series of strategically important enemy-controlled bridges.
It was on the second day that his battalion set off – but the element of surprise was over and the enemy was waiting.
Speaking on the 60th anniversary of the attack, Joe said: “We were already four hours late and the Germans were there to meet us right along the drop zone.
“As I was dropping I saw some awful things. Aircraft were shot down and men were jumping out.
“It was a beautiful day. We hadn’t expected the Germans to be waiting. Some of our lads didn’t even hit the ground.”
Joe, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s, died on Monday, December 12. His funeral is taking place at Sunderland Minster today, at 1.15pm.