Nearly seventy years after he was killed in action, the remains of Private Lewis Curtis of 5th Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment have been reinterred at Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery in the Netherlands.
Private Curtis served in North West Europe and was killed on 2 October 1944 during an artillery barrage in the aftermath of Operation Market Garden.
He was born in 1924 in Liskeard in Cornwall, and attended Liskeard Church School and worked in the Co-Op before enlisting in the Army in Colchester on 4 March 1943.
In September 1944, the 4th and 5th Battalions of The Wiltshire Regiment took part in Operation Market Garden, the allied drive to capture a series of bridges over key rivers in Holland to allow an advance over the Rhine and into the industrial heartland of Germany.
After the airborne landings on 17 September, the 5th Battalion was ordered forward to Nijmegen and moved up the captured road, known as the ‘corridor’, to the city. As the days passed it became apparent that Operation Market Garden was not going to succeed as hoped, and the advancing British forces, including the 5th Battalion, began to dig in.
On 27 September, B Company took up a defensive position at De Laar Farm just west of a crossing over the north-south Nijmegen-Arnhem railway line, which was held by D Company.
The first three days of the battalion’s occupation of the area were quiet, with occasional shelling and some sightings of German troops to the north and east. But on Sunday 1 October the artillery barrage began in earnest, and the battalion had to call in mortar and artillery fire to fend off an attack by German tanks and infantry.
The German forces then withdrew to regroup, and at 0330hrs on the morning of Monday 2 October attacked again in earnest.
D Company’s position was hit hardest, and two-thirds of its men were forced to withdraw to B Company’s position at the farm.
The Germans followed with a tank attack and artillery bombardment on the farm. B Company fought fiercely to repel the attack, but in the fighting about half of the men in both B and D Companies were killed or injured, among them Private Lewis Curtis of B Company.
The fighting continued into the next day, with the remnants of B and D Companies mounting a successful counter-attack supported by tanks to recapture the 5th Battalion’s forward positions. The 5th Battalion was relieved by the 4th Battalion later that day.
Private Curtis was buried in a field grave at De Laar Farm, but grave markers were washed away when German military engineers blew up a dyke on the River Rhine to flood the area, leaving the resting place of Private Curtis unmarked.
Then, during excavations in 2003, when the area was being cleared to make way for a housing estate, Private Curtis’s remains were discovered. The Royal Netherlands Army’s Recovery and Identification Unit were able to identify his remains from dental records in 2008 and preserved them for reinterment.