Second World War Arnhem hero who made daring escape from Prisoner of War camp dies

A Second World War hero who was one of the few paratroopers who made it on to Arnhem Bridge, and later escaped a prisoner of war camp, has died.

Les Ransom was just 21 when he took part in Operation Market Garden in 1944 which saw paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines in the Netherlands.

It was their job to secure key bridges and towns as the Allies advanced.

On September 17, he landed in a field 8km from Arnhem with no idea that the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions were still in the town.

What followed was some of the fiercest hand-to-hand combat of the Second World War.

Within minutes of reaching the River Rhine Les was fired upon by German soldiers aboard a passing boat.

Scrambling over a 10ft wall to escape, he looked at the two men sitting either side of him who had also fled the fire storm.

“When I looked at them I realised they were Germans,” said Les.

“We just looked at each other and they got up and went one way and I went the other.

“That was my first lucky escape.”

Les spoke to the Mirror back in November as the Covid pandemic stopped him visiting Arnhem for the first time on the anniversary for many years.

The 98 year-old recalled his time when he had been attached to the First Airborne Division and he described as the troops retreated into the town, running from building to building and stepping over dead bodies as they dodged bullets and explosions.

After almost 24 hours, Les was so “dog tired” that he found a bed in an abandoned police station – and incredibly slept for two hours.

He said: “When I woke up it was daylight and the whole town was still blazing away. I ran outside where some of the other men were and we went into a building next to a church.

“The next thing I knew shots came from the church tower where a sniper was hiding. We couldn’t get sight of him but he was above us and could see us as we ran up the stairs. He got one of our men in the rear end.

“The sniper was giving us hell. I felt something hit my scarf and when I reached up I saw it was a spent bullet. The next minute a shell went through the church, probably from one of our men, and the shooter bit the dust.

“For days we kept moving from house to house. The fighting was really close. One of our men was wearing a kit with grenades on him and when he was hit by a sniper he disintegrated, right before my eyes.”

After four days Les and three other paras found themselves in a house surrounded by German troops. Exhausted, starving and reduced to drinking water from radiators, they finally gave themselves up.

Les said: “We could either surrender or fight to the death and that seemed daft by that point. We were beat.”

Les was taken to a Prisoner of War camp in Holland before being sent to Dresden to work for the Nazis in a tram repair shop .

But the conflict was far from over.

When Dresden was flattened by Allied bombers in February 1945, Les was again lucky to survive after an unexploded bomb landed outside the billet he shared with 20 other prisoners.

It was then he made the decision to escape.

Les said: “I told the German guard I was leaving and he raised his rifle and threatened to shoot me. I said ‘well shoot me then’ and walked off.”

“I expected a bullet in the back but it never came.”

For almost a week, Les hid in woodland and ate anything he could scavenge from abandoned German lorries as he made his way to the Czech republic where he was taken in by a kind family.

One day, he spotted a Dakota land in a nearby disused airfield.

For the next four days he lived on beans in the control tower until another plane arrived – and hitched a lift back to France, before being transferred home to Hull.

Les, of Woodmansey, East Yorks, would usually lay a wreath at his village church before travelling to the cenotaph in Hull on Remembrance Sunday.

In 2020 he stood on his doorstep to mark the event and joined the Mirror’s We WILL Remember campaign, which encouraged Brits to take to their doors for the 11am two-minute silence.

Normally he would have enjoyed a few pints with comrades from the 299 Association which brings together new and old parachute, commando and special forces veterans.

The 299 Association posted a photo montage to their website, paying tribute to Les.

The grandfather-of-six, who has survived two wives, said: “I’ve led a charmed life really.

“I got out of Arnhem with my skin.

“My family joke that if anyone ever wrote a book about me they’d call it ‘lucky s**’!”

Last night Les’ daughter Maryanne, 41, and her brother James, 39, paid tribute to him.

Maryanne, of Cottingham, Hull, said: “Dad had James and I late in life and alway said he would never see us grow up, but he was around long enough not just to see that, but to see us get married and both have our own children.

“That’s what he wanted the most.

“We will all miss him dearly. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I felt like he’d be here forever.”