War veteran Sandy Cortmann dies at the age of 97


ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND – Market Garden veteran Alexander ‘Sandy’ Cortmann died on Saturday night at the age of 97 in his hometown Aberdeen in Scotland, 75jaarvrijheid reports. Last year, Sandy became nationally known in The Netherlands and the UK when he attended the 75th Commemoration of Operation Market Garden for the first time in 75 years. Until then, he was unknown as a war veteran. This is the remarkable story of an unknown and forgotten hero, who would became famous in the last months of his life.

Today, on May 25 – Memorial Day in the US, we are honoring a special hero who passed away last Saturday on May 23, 2020 at the age of 97. His name is Alexander ‘Sandy’ Cortmann from Aberdeen, Scotland. A true, but forgotten WWII hero.

During this special month of May, Europeans traditionally are celebrating the 75th commemoration of the liberation of Europe and the victory of the allied nations over Nazi-Germany. The Netherlands are celebrating this on May 5, the UK on May 8 and Russia on May 9.

As if it was meant to be, it is precisely in this month of special celebrations that this one special war hero will be free forever.

75th Commemoration of Operation Market Garden

Last year – on September 21, 2019 – HRH Prince Charles of Wales and HRH Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands watched how Scottish war hero Sandy Cortmann jumped out of a plane for the very last time in his life, by performing a tandem jump with the British Army Parachute Demonstration Team ‘The Red Devils’, during the 75th Commemoration of Operation Market Garden at the Ginkel Heath, just outside the town of Ede in The Netherlands.

Feelings of guilt

Sandy was not sure if the people of The Netherlands would be happy to see him visit the country again, where he jumped out of a plane as a brave young man at the age of 21, for the freedom of the Dutch people by fighting against the Nazis and to end World War II in The Netherlands and Europe.

This special country for Sandy unfortunately would become the place where he would lose many comrades who weren’t that lucky to survive the battles, on their way to the bridge of Arnhem. Some of them even didn’t survive the jump out of the planes.

His time in this country would have a profound impact on Sandy’s life.

Sandy was not alone in feeling unsure to visit the country after the war. More war veterans felt unsure to return to The Netherlands, because they felt like they had let the Dutch people down, due to the failure of the operation to liberate the Dutch from Nazi-Germany before the end of 1944.

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Sandy’s tandem parachute jump with the British Army ‘Red Devils’ Parachute Team. Video: ITV News

A Bridge Too Far

As a 21-year-old, Sandy volunteered for a secret mission in the Summer of 1944. It turned out to be ‘Operation Market Garden’, which would become the largest airborne operation in history.

Operation Market Garden was not a success – many soldiers died trying to reach the famous bridge in Arnhem. It turned out to be a bridge too far for many American, British and Polish paratroopers.

More than 41,000 paratroopers from airborne divisions of the U.S. Army, British Army and Polish Army participated in Operation Market Garden. Among them were 15,000 – 18,000 casualties.

Somehow the Nazis were aware of Operation Market Garden – the Allied Forces’ risky plan to end WWII before Christmas of 1944, by conquering the major bridges in the country, making a way to penetrate Germany and to defeat the Nazis from the ground.

Instead, only the southern part of The Netherlands was liberated, resulting in many people suffering from the horrible hunger winter in the northern part of the country. It was until May 5, 1945 that the Netherlands would be finally liberated from Nazi-Germany.

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The story of Operation Market Garden. Video: JERRY TAHA AVIATION

Unknown war hero

Sandy never returned to The Netherlands after the war. He was feeling guilty towards the Dutch people, had to deal with his trauma of the war, but he also wasn’t registered as a veteran either.

Bob Crocker – president of the veterans club in the UK – discovered Sandy by coincidence. “An agent called me. He had to settle a case about local youth and disturbance at the home of one Sandy Cortmann. That agent said Cortmann was a former member of the parachute regiment and was a Market Garden veteran,” Crocker said in a regiment newspaper earlier.

Sandy was not officially registered as a soldier participating in Operation Market Garden. References to the Scotsman and the Second World War were found through the archive of the museum in Duxford. Sandy is even in a famous photo from the Battle of Arnhem:

On September 17, 1944, Sandy Cortman (front left) parachuted onto Dropping Zone (DZ) ‘Y’ and fought his way with other paratroopers to Arnhem.

After the war, Sandy became a plumber and married his girlfriend Joan at a young age. They had 2 children. Sandy survived them all.

The forgotten hero gets his final honor and fame

The Dutch regional tv-station Omroep Gelderland honored Sandy during a special ’75 years of freedom’ program, on the way to May 5, 2020 – the 75th anniversary of the liberation in The Netherlands.

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Sandy simply could not believe his own eyes, when he saw the amount of heartwarming cards, sent by Dutch people to thank and honor this extraordinary man. Video: 75 jaar vrijheid

The veteran stole the hearts of many people with his great smile and they were charmed by Sandy. He could count on a lot of sympathy from many people and that’s why Omroep Gelderland started a campaign for him to honor this unkown hero in the last days of his life.

Sandy received more than 350 cards. A mail bag filled with cards from the Province of Gelderland was delivered soon to his nursing home in Aberdeen. Sandy was overjoyed and quite surprised to receive so much love from the Dutch.

One last jump

The veteran was followed closely during the 75th commemoration week of Operation Market Garden in the third week of September 2019, when Sandy set foot on Dutch soil for the first time after 75 years. He visited the 75th Market Garden Commemoration on September 21, 2019 and made a last parachute jump above The Ginkel Heath.

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Sandy’s first visit to The Netherlands after 75 years, being concluded with a brave and spectacular last jump with UK’s finest – The Red Devils. Video: 75 jaar vrijheid

On this field – just outside the town of Ede and about 10 miles west of Arnhem – many British soldiers jumped out of their planes, while the American soldiers were deployed in the area south of Arnhem and Nijmegen.

Last visit to honor friends

Sandy’s comrade Gordon Matthews was killed in action at the age of 20. During his first and last visit to The Netherlands after the war, Sandy first visited Matthews’ grave at the war cemetary in Oosterbeek. “I just wanted to see the graves of my friends who died here. That was the main reason for me coming to the Netherlands,” Sandy said to Omroep Gelderland last September.

  • War veteran Sandy Cortmann dies at the age of 97
  • War veteran Sandy Cortmann dies at the age of 97

The veteran experienced so much trouble during and after ‘The Battle of Arnhem’ that he did not feel the need to return to the Netherlands for decades.

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War veteran Sandy visits grave of his comrade for the first time. Video: Omroep Gelderland

But 75 years later he still wanted to visit the country again to take a look at the places where he fought 75 years earlier. “I see it as a completion of my life and to finally let the ghosts of Arnhem rest.”

The Airborne War Cemetery in Oosterbeek, just west of Arnhem, where 1,754 mostly British and Polish soldiers are buried, who died from September 1944 to April 1945 during Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Arnhem. Photo: P.J.L Laurens / Wikimedia Commons

Last veterans

Sandy was one of the last Market Garden veterans, a true war hero who fought for our freedom in The Netherlands. These brave veterans are getting rare these days, 75 years after the war. They were young men back then, in ages ranging from 17 to about 25 years. The ones left today are their nineties now.

Many died during Operation Market Garden. From the others who survived the war, a few are still left nowadays.

Remembering our heroes – lest we forget

It’s a pity really, that Sandy and other Market Garden veterans were unsure to visit the second most important country in their lives – The Netherlands. There was no need to feel unsure, because the Dutch people are very grateful and have a lot of respect for these brave men who made great sacrifices and even gave their lives for our freedom.

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A special jump for an other special war veteran of Operation Market Garden – Royal Netherlands Army Captain Bjorn Coppers flying with the ashes of Stephen Morgan. Video: Omroep Gelderland

Every year on the third Saturday of September, we commemorate Operation Market Garden and we honor all the brave men who fought for our freedom.

75th Commmemoration of Operation Market Garden at The Ginkel Heath on September 22, 2019. Image: YouTube / ITV News

Last year’s commemoration was a special one. It was 75 years since Market Garden took place, very special in relation to the end of a remarkable story of one forgotten war hero, who was given a well deserved and proper ‘thank you’ by the Dutch people – only 8 months before he would pass away.

It’s our duty – now more than ever – to keep on passing these stories to younger generations, so this will never ever happen again.

We shall always remember and they will never be forgotten.

Alexander ‘Sandy’ Cortmann. Image: Omroep Gelderland

Rest in peace, Sandy. Fly high, war hero!


(Head image: Omroep Gelderland)

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