Colleagues pay tribute to our hero of Arnhem 

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                           GONG SHOW: Gunner Hulls and David Eliades at the First Tuesday celebration

The man who was responsible for spotting that his former Daily Express colleague, sportswriter Sydney Hulls, was entitled to the three 1939-1945 war medals the Ministry of Defence had failed to grant to Gunner Sydney Hulls, has paid a handsome tribute to our 92-year-old Arnhem veteran.

Sportswriter DAVID MILLER writes on the Sports Journalists Association website:

There are two qualities which have particularly made Sydney Hulls a special sporting journalist and a valued companion: affability and enthusiasm. For many years he wrote with characteristic dash, on boxing and athletics, for the then envied pace-setter, the Daily Express. 

Sydney was 92 in June, not long back from a Mediterranean cruise, still attending gatherings of the Boxing Writers Association, and the monthly First Tuesday reunion of Express veterans at the Bank of England pub hard by the Law Courts in London, once a haunt of Fleet Street’s finest. 

An epic little-associated event in Sydney’s early adulthood – and the 71st anniversary of the September 17, 1944  assault on Arnhem – is that he flew in the dawn departure leading wave of 1st Airborne Division’s ill-fated attack on Arnhem: an Allied disaster in which only a fifth of some 10,000 British and US Paratroopers were not killed, wounded or captured.

The ensuing ten days of unremitting attack and counter-attack, house-to-house in the Dutch streets – vainly attempting to capture the three bridges across the Rhine, lacking promised ground reinforcements, soon without food and even water, and by the fourth or fifth day nearly out of ammunition and often armed only with rifles captured off fallen Germans – was indeed hell on earth.

We in Fleet Street would later seldom, if ever, hear Sydney mention his overwhelming trench warfare engagement with Hades; his terrifying night-time evacuation back across the Rhine in emergency canvas dinghies, many officers and medics remaining to care for the injured in captivity – the catastrophe described by Julian Thompson, himself leader of 3rd Commando Brigade at Goose Green in the Falklands War – in his Parachute Regiment history ‘Ready for Anything’, as memorable for “uncommon valour as being the common virtue”.

Invalided out of action on return home, Sydney was simply glad to be alive.  All Paras are volunteers.  Sydney, a gunner with Royal Artillery, had volunteered his life on the line for an extra three shillings (15p) a day and as he set out to carve a peace-time existence he had no knowledge or even thought of campaign medals. 

Seventy-one years on, several of his Fleet Street colleagues have thought it appropriate, in this anniversary year of victory celebration, to mark Sydney’s selfless Para exploit as our guest at an informal luncheon – an exercise for which, it will be remembered, he has been as accomplished as with his pen.

I remember our arduous three day journey in 1974 to New Zealand for the Commonwealth Games, hitchhiking round the equator, trying to find an operational airline during the fuel crisis and 25 per cent inflation.  After fraught pauses in Brussels, the Gulf, Colombo and Singapore, we finally landed at our modest bed-and breakfast chalet in homely Christchurch. Before unpacking, with the relieved exclamation “Ah! That’s better”, Sydney downed a boot-full of G&T in one gleeful gulp.  Twelve hour-time differences are a news-juggling complexity, and Sydney, having voluntarily courted death, would prove himself to be a stress-immune companion.

My recent chance enquiry with a sailing club colleague and former Para commander, revealed that, while the War Office had declined to grant a campaign medal for the Arnhem calamity, there were indeed three 1939-1945 medals for which the unwitting Gunner S. Hulls was eligible.  Parachuting, so to speak, from the bureaucratic process, the MoD Medals Office conjured the three medals within one week instead of the customary two months. 

So, on the 71st September anniversary of Arnhem, our unassuming hero of 1944 enjoyed our luncheon, not on parade, but with the almost boyish satisfaction of the nation’s silent ‘thank you’.


© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre