They don’t make them like this any more

Daily Mail - - Comment - by Guy Walters

EVEN IF the 25-year-old Cap­tain in the Gre­nadier Guards had wanted to say a prayer, his voice would have been drowned out by the throb­bing of the five Chrysler en­gines that pow­ered his 40-ton Sher­man tank.

The young of­fi­cer would have had good rea­son to call on the Almighty, be­cause his troop of Sher­mans was about to cross the most dan­ger­ous bridge in Europe.

There was a strong like­li­hood he would ei­ther be killed by ri­fle or ma­chine-gun fire, an­ni­hi­lated by an anti-tank gun, or be sent plum­met­ing with his crew into the river be­low, af­ter the bridge had been blown up by its Nazi de­fend­ers.

The young cap­tain’s name was Peter Car­ing­ton — and he sur­vived his ordeal. But only af­ter dis­play­ing lead­er­ship and courage of such dis­tinc­tion that it won him the Mil­i­tary Cross.

Peter Car­ing­ton — per­haps bet­ter known to­day as Lord Car­ring­ton — went on to be­come one of our most im­pres­sive post-war politi­cians, hold­ing of­fice in the gov­ern­ments of six suc­ces­sive Con­ser­va­tive Prime Min­is­ters, start­ing with Win­ston Churchill.

His death this week, at the age of 99, is a re­minder of how Bri­tain’s po­lit­i­cal class has changed. For in stark con­trast to so many of to­day’s self- cen­tred politi­cians, Peter Car­ing­ton’s be­hav­iour was ruled by duty, both to his fel­low man and to his coun­try.

His ex­tra­or­di­nary courage in war was matched by an in­tegrity in pub­lic life that has all but dis­ap­peared to­day. His res­ig­na­tion as For­eign Sec­re­tary un­der Mar­garet Thatcher three days af­ter Ar­gentina in­vaded the Falk­lands in 1982 is still re­garded, nearly 40 years on, as the last honourable po­lit­i­cal res­ig­na­tion.

An of­fi­cial re­port ab­solved him of all re­spon­si­bil­ity, yet he re­fused to blame any­one else — not diplo­mats, in­tel­li­gence agen­cies or un­der­lings.

As he wrote in his mem­oirs: ‘ The na­tion feels there has been a dis­grace. The dis­grace must be purged. The per­son to purge it should be the min­is­ter in charge.’

Lord Car­ring­ton was also un­com­monly mod­est. For what he con­spic­u­ously failed to men­tion in those mem­oirs was the story of how he won his MC fight­ing the Nazis — can you imag­ine any politi­cian be­ing so re­tir­ing to­day?

It is a story that should be told, how­ever. For it re­veals so much of what we have lost with his pass­ing, and with the pass­ing of his gen­er­a­tion. De­spite his youth when cross­ing that bridge in his tank, Peter Car­ing­ton had been a peer for six years since the death of his fa­ther, Ru­pert, the 5th Baron Car­ring­ton, who had also served in the Gre­nadier Guards.

His fa­ther’s ser­vice to King and coun­try had been in World War I, dur­ing which he had fought with dis­tinc­tion and was wounded twice.

THE 6th Baron had a lot to live up to. He also just wanted to live. The bridge he was hop­ing to cross was in the Dutch town of Nij­me­gen, and it spanned the mighty river Waal.

The date was Septem­ber 20, 1944, and Car­ing­ton and his tanks were a key com­po­nent of the bold Op­er­a­tion Mar­ket Gar­den, Field Mar­shal Bernard Mont­gomery’s au­da­cious plan to seize nine strate­gi­cally vi­tal bridges that led to the Rhine, cul­mi­nat­ing in the bridge at Arn­hem.

If the plan suc­ceeded, the war — in that now no­to­ri­ously over-op­ti­mistic phrase — could be over by Christ­mas.

The bridge at Nij­me­gen was just ten miles from Arn­hem, where Bri­tish para­troop­ers had been hold­ing out for days. If the Bri­tish and the Amer­i­cans could cross the Waal and link up with them, then Op­er­a­tion Mar­ket Gar­den might be a tri­umph.

If not, then it would be seen as a to­tal fail­ure. The stakes, Cap­tain Car­ing­ton well knew, could not have been higher. The pres­sure was vis­i­ble to those who saw him that day. ‘I can still see Peter Car­ing­ton’s face as he looked down from the tur­ret of his tank be­fore go­ing over,’ re­called Lieu­tenant Tony Jones of the Royal En­gi­neers. ‘He looked thought­ful, to say the least of it.’

At around four o’clock, the tanks moved for­ward. The lead tank was com­manded by Sergeant Peter Robin­son, and as soon as he started cross­ing the 700-yard bridge, he came un­der at­tack from an 88mm anti-tank gun po­si­tioned on the far, north­ern bank.

Even though he had been warned the bridge may also have been mined, Robin­son pushed for­ward along with Car­ing­ton and the rest of the troop.

‘It was pretty spec­tac­u­lar,’ re­called one on­look­ing colonel. ‘The tank and the 88 ex­changed about six rounds apiece, with the tank spit­ting .30 trac­ers all the while. Quite a show in the gath­er­ing dusk.’

What the ob­serv­ing of­fi­cer did not know was that Car­ing­ton’s small col­umn was be­ing fired on by an­other 88, as well as by anti-tank rock­ets and small arms. The Gre­nadiers were lit­er­ally charg­ing into a hail of lead.

‘I fol­lowed him over,’ Car­ing­ton would later la­con­i­cally re­call. ‘And I thought they were go­ing to blow the bridge up at any mo­ment.’

Thank­fully, he was not to die that day. In fact, he was to en­joy an­other 74 years of life.

His death this week rep­re­sented the end of an age of a whole gen­er­a­tion of politi­cians — from, it should be stressed, both the Left and the Right — whose teeth were cut get­ting a Mil­i­tary Cross and fight­ing for the coun­try against the scourge of Nazism.

They were a gen­er­a­tion of giants com­pared with to­day’s men and women in the Com­mons, whose only ex­pe­ri­ence of the real world amounts to a spell at univer­sity study­ing Pol­i­tics, Phi­los­o­phy and Eco­nomics and work­ing as a pol­icy wonk.

In all the trib­utes to Lord Car­ring­ton, the most com­mon ex­pres­sion of ad­mi­ra­tion is a vari­a­tion of the words ‘they don’t make ’em like that any more’. In­deed they do not. To­day, we have Cor­byns, Camerons, Ca­bles and Coop­ers, but no more Car­ring­tons.

Of course, to­day’s gen­er­a­tion of politi­cians have never had to wear khaki and fight for their coun­try.

But there is no doubt that those who did fight in the hellish theatres of the world’s first truly global con­flict brought a qual­ity to pub­lic life that is lack­ing in those who fol­lowed.

In all the obit­u­ar­ies of Lord Car­ring­ton — the very model of a Tory hered­i­tary grandee — it is hard to find an un­kind word.

This was a man who gave him­self to pub­lic life, in a va­ri­ety of hugely im­pres­sive roles, in­clud­ing High Com­mis­sioner to Aus­tralia, De­fence Sec­re­tary, For­eign Sec­re­tary, and Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of NATO. He had a whole al­pha­bet of let­ters af­ter his name, and was uni­ver­sally ad­mired.

This was a man who had all the qual­i­ties lack­ing in so many mod­ern politi­cians — true tal­ent, nat­u­ral diplo­macy, panache, hu­mour and above all, mod­esty.

These did not de­rive sim­ply from a pa­tri­cian sense of no­blesse oblige, but were in­dis­putably forged dur­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence of war and sol­dier­ing.

HOW many of to­day’s politi­cians, at the age of 20, have been forced to dis­play gen­uine hu­mil­ity, not just for a few min­utes, but for a mat­ter of months?

For that was what hap­pened to Car­ing­ton, who de­spite al­ready be­ing a peer of the realm, found him­self ig­nored for three whole months in the Of­fi­cers’ Mess of the Gre­nadiers af­ter he had joined the reg­i­ment as a sec­ond lieu­tenant fresh from Sand­hurst.

‘This was in­tended to knock out of the new­comer any false feel­ing of grandeur or achieve­ment,’ Car­ing­ton later wrote in his mem­oirs.

‘No word spo­ken, no glance of aware­ness that one ex­isted. To break the si­lence one­self, to say “Good morn­ing”, would have been re­garded

Miss­ing from the mem­oirs of Lord Car­ring­ton — the last min­is­ter to re­sign on a point of hon­our — was that he won the MC in the Bridge Too Far bat­tle. With his death, we re­veal the story he was too mod­est to tell and con­trast his val­ues with those of to­day’s preen­ing, ve­nal po­lit­i­cal class as in­suf­fer­able im­per­ti­nence. One moved like a ghost.’

Be­cause of­fi­cers in his reg­i­ment un­der the age of 21 were not al­lowed to go to war, Car­ring­ton had to wait un­til 1944 be­fore he would see com­bat.

With the Guards Ar­moured Di­vi­sion, he joined the cam­paign to lib­er­ate france in June 1944, and saw his first ac­tion in Op­er­a­tion Good­wood, which aimed to cap­ture part of Caen in nor­mandy and a vi­tal nearby ridge.

RE­GARDED by some mil­i­tary his­to­ri­ans as the largest tank bat­tle fought by the Bri­tish, Car­ring­ton was right in the thick of it.

‘Very soon, our tanks were be­ing hit by Ger­man dug-in tanks and anti- tank guns,’ Car­ring­ton re­called, ‘ sited skil­fully and in con­sid­er­able depth on the edge of the vil­lages, by the barns, and in the cop­pices.

‘What we did see was our own blazing hulls [tank bod­ies] — our bat­tal­ion lost over 20 tanks from one cause or an­other in the first hours — and very soon we found our­selves halted.’

Car­ring­ton would be lucky to sur­vive the op­er­a­tion, dur­ing which 314 Bri­tish tanks were lost.

Partly be­cause of those losses, he would never have much love for the Sher­man tank.

‘i think look­ing back on it, all through the war, our tanks were re­ally in­fe­rior to the Ger­mans,’ he later ad­mit­ted in an in­ter­view. ‘right to the end, we were in­fe­rior. the Pan­ther and the tiger tank were very, very much bet­ter.

‘the Sher­man also had a rather dis­tress­ing habit of catch­ing fire

very eas­ily and you know a lot of peo­ple “brewed up”, as we said. It was a hor­ri­ble thing, the Sher­man tank, when I look back on it.’

Just think, that un­der­stated ex­pres­sion ‘brewed up’ means be­ing burned alive.

How­ever, Car­ing­ton had lit­tle choice of what tank he was to serve in, and it was in a Sher­man that he found him­self on that fate­ful day of Septem­ber 20, 1944 cross­ing the bridge at Nij­me­gen.

De­spite his dis­like of the tank, it did not let him down.

The troop steadily ad­vanced, their Sher­mans grue­somely run­ning over the bod­ies of the men they had mown down.

As Antony Beevor writes in his lat­est book, Arn­hem: The Bat­tle For The Bridges, 1944, the Gre­nadiers ‘later found their tank tracks cov­ered in blood’.

Much to Car­ing­ton’s amaze­ment and re­lief, his tanks reached the far side, and bet­ter still, with­out the bridge be­ing blown up by its de­fend­ers.

‘My sense of re­lief was con­sid­er­able,’ Car­ing­ton would later write in his mem­oirs. ‘The bridge had not been blown, we had not been plunged into the Waal, we seemed to have si­lenced the op­po­si­tion in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity, we were across one half of the Rhine!’

If any ev­i­dence were needed of Car­ing­ton’s mod­esty, it is the fact that his mem­oirs do not men­tion what hap­pened next — the ac­tion that won him a Mil­i­tary Cross.

Such ret­i­cence is cer­tainly ad­mirable, but also mad­den­ing for his­to­ri­ans, and about the only ac­count we can draw on is the rec­om­men­da­tion made for the award that can be found in the Na­tional Ar­chives.

WHAT ap­pears to have hap­pened is this. When Car­ing­ton and his troop of tanks were on the north­ern end of the bridge, he learned that the Ger­mans were try­ing to cut them off back at the south­ern end.

‘On his own ini­tia­tive, [Car­ing­ton] crossed the bridge in his tank and en­gaged the en­emy, driv­ing them off, and re­mained hold­ing the far side of the bridge un­til re­lieved by an­other tank,’ the rec­om­men­da­tion states.

Un­less an­other ac­count emerges, we can­not know pre­cisely what Car­ing­ton did, but it was un­doubt­edly ex­cep­tion­ally brave and gal­lant.

He risked the necks of him­self and his crew in or­der to save the men un­der his com­mand, and he would have shown ex­cep­tional lead­er­ship.

In an in­ter­view, Car­ing­ton would only say: ‘We had a cer­tain amount of fight­ing.’ Again, that char­ac­ter­is­tic mod­esty.

By the time Car­ing­ton re­joined his troop, he found him­self link­ing up with some soldiers from the United States 82nd Air­borne Di­vi­sion, who had pad­dled across the Waal in can­vas boats and had suf­fered hor­ren­dous losses.

Later, one of these Amer­i­cans would claim that he was frus­trated by Car­ing­ton’s un­will­ing­ness to pro­ceed im­me­di­ately up the road to Arn­hem and link up with the Bri­tish para­troop­ers.

‘I cocked my Tommy gun, pointed it at his head and said: “Get down that blan­kety-blank road be­fore I blow your blan­kety-blank head off,”’ Cap­tain Mof­fatt Bur­riss later said in an in­ter­view, in which he would also claim that Car­ing­ton then ‘ducked into his tank and locked the hatch’ .

The story seems a lit­tle tall, and even if it is true, no blame can be at­tached to Car­ing­ton, whose or­ders were clear — he had to stay where he was so the hold on the bridge could be con­sol­i­dated.

Fur­ther­more, there was a real risk that his en­tire troop could be knocked out by an anti-tank gun that was thought to be nearby — and, had that hap­pened, the Ger­mans could have eas­ily re­taken the Nij­me­gen bridge.

Even though Op­er­a­tion Mar­ket Gar­den would be a fail­ure, Car­ing­ton had cer­tainly done his bit. The rest of his war would be qui­eter, how­ever.

‘We had one or two skir­mishes, or bat­tles, with the 15th Panzer Gre­nadiers and I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber be­ing more un­will­ing to stick my head out of the tur­ret than I had been a month be­fore,’ he later said.

‘You know you felt at the end of it it’d be aw­fully silly to get killed just as the war was end­ing.’

Peter Car­ing­ton, of course, sur­vived, and shortly af­ter the war he left the Army and started his il­lus­tri­ous po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

As he would later write, he was mo­ti­vated by a ‘re­solve that if dis­union, weak­ness and com­pla­cency con­tributed to the hor­rors that we wit­nessed, they never shall again’.

In days like these, we need the likes of Peter Car­ing­ton more than ever.

Sol­dier­ing on: Op­er­a­tion Mar­ket Gar­den, as de­picted in the film A Bridge Too Far and, in­set, Cap­tain Peter Car­ing­ton, who fought in the bat­tle, with Iona McClean on their wed­ding day in 1942

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