Winds defeat Arnhem veterans: Former paratroopers grounded by bad weather in practice for 50th anniversary of airborne assault on Rhine

POOR WEATHER thwarted plans by seven old soldiers to begin parachute training yesterday as part of a tribute to comrades of Arnhem.

The former paratroopers - aged from 68 to 74 - spent a frustrating day pacing up and down at the joint services parachute training centre at Netheravon, Wiltshire.

Low cloud and strong winds forced cancellation of their 12,000ft jump above Salisbury Plain, marking the start of training for parachute veterans set to re-enact the airborne assault on Arnhem.

The practice was proposed after several veterans had criticised the RAF for refusing to provide an aircraft for them in the memorial drop on the lower Rhine in September next year.

'The RAF are refusing to help us because they have a policy that they will not drop civilians,' the organiser, Geoff Holmes, 73, said.

'We are all trained parachutists and we are undergoing strict training for the jump. It is a bloody shame and we are hoping the RAF will change their minds.'

An RAF spokesman said: 'The situation is that the RAF never takes up civilians in service aircraft because parachuting is a dangerous sport and we are not insured to carry them.'

About 60 Arnhem veterans will make next year's memorial mission to the town featured in the film A Bridge Too Far for the 50th anniversary events on 17 September.

The drop will mark the airborne assault by British and Polish troops who fought a heroic but vain battle to secure the bridgehead for the British armoured advance. About 7,000 were killed, wounded or captured.

Veterans from South Africa, Australia, the United States and Canada aim to raise pounds 250,000 for charities supporting airborne forces and their dependants in Britain and the Netherlands.

More than 100 have volunteered for the jump. After medical checks and retraining an estimated 60 will eventually take part.

The veterans have been promised three private aircraft - including a Dakota which flew in the battle itself - to use for the jump but need at least one more.

(Photograph omitted)