A WORLD War Two hero who parachuted into Arnhem has died of coronavirus after testing positive for the killer bug on VE Day.

Pete Watkins, 97, died in Beechcroft Care Home in West Hallam, Derbs, just three weeks after the nation celebrated Victory in Europe Day this month.

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His step-daughter Lynne Thornley said coronavirus was the “last straw” for the veteran, who frequently sported the trademark maroon beret of his regiment.

WAR HERO

Mr Watkins was a private in the 10th Battalion, Parachute Regiment, when he was first deployed in the War– dropping into Arnhem in the Netherlands on the second day of Operation Market Garden in September, 1944.

The hero vet was just 21 when his regiment was tasked to capture key bridges over the River Rhine and open up an attack route into Germany – although it ran into strong German opposition.

Mr Watkins and his comrades dug in at Oosterbeek for four to five days after which they were picked up by Canadian troops in a boat and transported away from the battlefield.

The hero counted himself “lucky” – with fewer than 50 people in his battalion surviving the operation.

There are now thought to be fewer than 20 surviving members of his regiment left.

'WE COULDN'T GO AND SEE HIM'

Despite his dementia, Mr Watkins' step daughter said he fondly recalled memories of his time in the armed forces, adding that the "thoughtful" and "caring" man always had a “twinkle in his eye”.

Describing the weeks leading up to his death, Ms Thornley said: “When we couldn’t go and see him in the last few weeks they brought a phone in so that I could call and see him and they took the phone in on the Friday before the Saturday he died.

“I was able to chat to him and tell him that all the family were sending love and that everything was ok and everybody just wanted him to have a nice, peaceful rest.”

Mr Watkins is entitled to a full military funeral, although this will not be possible under current lockdown restrictions.

What was Operation Market Garden?

  • In the summer of 1944 General Bernard Law Montgomery came up with an ambitious plan to cross the River Rhine and advance into northern Germany.
  • Codenamed 'Market Garden', the plan involved the 101st and 82nd US Airborne Divisions, and 1st British Airborne Division seizing key bridges in the Netherlands.
  • On September 17 the airborne divisions landed by parachute and glider.
  • Eventually all the bridges were captured in what was one of the biggest airborne operations in history.
  • Although it failed to achieve its objectives, Market Garden became one of the most famous battles of World War Two.

Paying tribute, Marion Rawlings, welfare officer for the Derby branch of the Parachute Regimental Association, said: “He is a great loss, he was a hero, like all those military gentlemen of that generation, he was just a wonderful man.

"Had he had all of his mental capacity, he would have been a kind of Colonel Tom (the 100-year-old armed forces veteran who was recently knighted for raising millions of pounds for the NHS by completing 100 laps of his garden).”

When the war broke out, Mr Watkins was a steel worker in Wales.

"He volunteered with the Welsh Regiment before transferring to the Parachute Regiment, before serving in Africa, Italy and India and at Arnhem.

Following the war, in the 60s, Mr Watkins moved to Ilkeston for work at Stanton Ironworks.

It was at the ironworks where he met his wife Joan, a train driver, before marrying her in 1964. Joan sadly died in 1995 aged 72.

Mr Watkins' step daughter says donations to the arboretum, in Alrewas, Staffs, and the SSAFA would be a fitting tribute for those wishing to pay respects to Mr Watkins.





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