Friday, July 20, 2018

Fullbore Friday

Yes, he was THAT Brit officer holding the tanks in A Bridge Too Far.
Even if the 25-year-old Captain in the Grenadier Guards had wanted to say a prayer, his voice would have been drowned out by the throbbing of the five Chrysler engines that powered his 40-ton Sherman tank.

The young officer would have had good reason to call on the Almighty, because his troop of Shermans was about to cross the most dangerous bridge in Europe.

There was a strong likelihood he would either be killed by rifle or machine-gun fire, annihilated by an anti-tank gun, or be sent plummeting with his crew into the river below, after the bridge had been blown up by its Nazi defenders.

The young captain’s name was Peter Carington — and he survived his ordeal. But only after displaying leadership and courage of such distinction that it won him the Military Cross.

Peter Carington — perhaps better known today as Lord Carrington — went on to become one of our most impressive post-war politicians, holding office in the governments of six successive Conservative Prime Ministers, starting with Winston Churchill.

His death this week, at the age of 99, is a reminder of how Britain’s political class has changed. For in stark contrast to so many of today’s self-centred politicians, Peter Carington’s behaviour was ruled by duty, both to his fellow man and to his country.
One thing I dearly miss and have brought up now in then here since 2004 is that not enough of those of my class to whom much have given, give back as Peter Carington (Lord Carrington it seems, with two "t's" did. What service.
His extraordinary courage in war was matched by an integrity in public life that has all but disappeared today. His resignation as Foreign Secretary under Margaret Thatcher three days after Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982 is still regarded, nearly 40 years on, as the last honourable political resignation.

An official report absolved him of all responsibility, yet he refused to blame anyone else — not diplomats, intelligence agencies or underlings.

As he wrote in his memoirs: ‘The nation feels there has been a disgrace. The disgrace must be purged. The person to purge it should be the minister in charge.’
Every nation should be served by such men.
Despite his youth when crossing that bridge in his tank, Peter Carington had been a peer for six years since the death of his father, Rupert, the 5th Baron Carrington, who had also served in the Grenadier Guards.

His father’s service to King and country had been in World War I, during which he had fought with distinction and was wounded twice.
Let's get back to that scene from A Bridge Too Far (played my a much older actor).

A little more context on what the man's combat record was like. There are a lot of people out there who will throw shade at Carington, I won't. 
The date was September 20, 1944, and Carington and his tanks were a key component of the bold Operation Market Garden, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s audacious plan to seize nine strategically vital bridges that led to the Rhine, culminating in the bridge at Arnhem.

If the plan succeeded, the war — in that now notoriously over-optimistic phrase — could be over by Christmas.

The bridge at Nijmegen was just ten miles from Arnhem, where British paratroopers had been holding out for days. If the British and the Americans could cross the Waal and link up with them, then Operation Market Garden might be a triumph.

If not, then it would be seen as a total failure. The stakes, Captain Carington well knew, could not have been higher. The pressure was visible to those who saw him that day. ‘I can still see Peter Carington’s face as he looked down from the turret of his tank before going over,’ recalled Lieutenant Tony Jones of the Royal Engineers. ‘He looked thoughtful, to say the least of it.’

At around four o’clock, the tanks moved forward. The lead tank was commanded by Sergeant Peter Robinson, and as soon as he started crossing the 700-yard bridge, he came under attack from an 88mm anti-tank gun positioned on the far, northern bank.

Even though he had been warned the bridge may also have been mined, Robinson pushed forward along with Carington and the rest of the troop.

‘It was pretty spectacular,’ recalled one onlooking colonel. ‘The tank and the 88 exchanged about six rounds apiece, with the tank spitting .30 tracers all the while. Quite a show in the gathering dusk.’

What the observing officer did not know was that Carington’s small column was being fired on by another 88, as well as by anti-tank rockets and small arms. The Grenadiers were literally charging into a hail of lead.

‘I followed him over,’ Carington would later laconically recall. ‘And I thought they were going to blow the bridge up at any moment.’

Thankfully, he was not to die that day. In fact, he was to enjoy another 74 years of life.
A life of service well lived.


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