After 61 years, Private Foster is laid to rest

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The Independent Online

Arthur Foster's quiet determination to survive on the front line in the Second World War knew few bounds. Missing presumed dead after a day of heavy casualties in the Netherlands on 20 September 1944, he escaped by disguising himself in women's clothes and made it back to barracks.

Arthur Foster's quiet determination to survive on the front line in the Second World War knew few bounds. Missing presumed dead after a day of heavy casualties in the Netherlands on 20 September 1944, he escaped by disguising himself in women's clothes and made it back to barracks.

His efforts were in vain. The day after Pte Foster's reunion with the First Battalion of the King's Own Royal Border Regiment, he was killed when a steadily shrinking patch of territory overlooking the Rhine at Westerbouwing was overrun by the advancing Germans. He was 27.

His remains were buried by his comrades in a shallow grave, where they lay undiscovered for 60 years until the demolition of a barn at Oosterbeek uncovered them last year. Yesterday, in a gentle breeze and beneath blue skies, the young rifleman was re-interred with full military honours near the battlefield which claimed his life.

Hundred of mourners came to see the coffin, draped in a Union flag, lowered into the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery - including his niece Margaret Sheldon, 65, of Bolton, Greater Manchester, to whom his heroics were unknown until a call from the Ministry of Defence last year.

Mrs Sheldon, whose father David (Arthur's brother) died 30 years ago, had been expecting only a modest ceremony. "It has been deeply emotional," she said.

The discovery of her uncle's remains has introduced her to a man remembered by the men he fought alongside as quiet, unassuming and unfalteringly courageous. "We were from different platoons but I'd been in Liverpool and he from Lancashire so I knew him well," said former Pte Johnny Peters, 82. "He was as alone as we all were, out there on the battlefield. When your commanding officers are all dead it can be a desperately lonely place and you just reform as best you can."

Pte Foster was the youngest of four children born to Thomas and Margaret Foster in the parish of St Thomas, Bolton, on 25 January 1917.

He left a job as an engineer's labourer to enlist into the Border Regiment, on 23 November 1939, two months after the outbreak of the war.

He was sent to regimental HQ at Carlisle where he met Lily Shirt. They married on 18 April 1940. Nine days later, he and his battalion were sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. He survived four years of combat in France, was evacuated from Dunkirk, fought in Sicily and Italy and was then sent as part of the First Airborne Division's Operation Market Garden - launched on 17 September 1944, to help capture the main road crossings over the Rhine in Arnhem.

He is believed to have died when a bullet or shrapnel penetrated his helmet. He is the fourth soldier in the area to be found in the past 12 years.

Before his coffin was lowered, Sgt Mark Walton from the regiment read the words of Winston Churchill: "In attack most daring, in defence most cunning, in endurance most steadfast, they performed a feat of arms which will be remembered and recounted as long as the virtues of courage and resolution have power to move the hearts of men."

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