‘A Bridge Too Far’ for two cousins serving, in two different armies, at Arnhem, writes Con McGrath


SEVENTY-FIVE years ago Allied forces were involved in one of the most famous battles of the Second World War around the Dutch town of Arnhem.

On September 17, 1944, 35,000 Allied men were flown 300 miles from English airbases and dropped 60 miles behind enemy lines in the Netherlands. These paratroopers and glidermen were to secure key bridges and towns so that approaching Allied ground forces could sweep easily through the country and onwards to Germany.

However, this operation – code name: Market Garden – met with unexpected German resistance, and the Allied ground forces were unable to reach the airborne men as quickly as they had hoped.

This epic military disaster later became the subject of a famous book, “A Bridge Too Far” by Dubliner Cornelius Ryan, which in turn was made into a feature film, directed by Richard Attenborough. This 1977 film epic starred a host of big star names including Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Dirk Bogarde, Anthony Hopkins, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Byrne, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, and Dublin born Frank Grimes.

The man Robert Redford played in the film was Major Julian Aaron Cook of the US Army, a son of Nelson Pingney Cook and Honora Gallagher. During the battle for Arnhem, Major Cook would meet up with his cousin, Sergeant Harry Gallagher, from Coundon village, County Durham, England. At Arnhem both cousins would distinguish themselves and be decorated for bravery.

In an article for ‘The Northern Echo’ newspaper, Chris Lloyd outlined the story of these County Durham-linked cousins:
In the 20th Century, American, Nelson Pingrey Cook, was touring northern England as a commercial traveller, he also seems to have been promoting baseball as he went. (When the 1901 census was taken, he was recorded staying in the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Spennymoor, County Durham.

His travellings must have taken him to the market town of Bishop Auckland in County Durham, because according to a family story, he had such a fine meal in the Wear Valley Hotel in Newgate Street that he demanded to give his complements to the chef in person.

Out came the hotel cook, 26-year-old Honora Gallagher, a Coundon lass from a large Irish family. They fell in love, and in 1902, the cook became a Cook as they got married at St Wilfrid’s Church, Bishop Auckland.

They settled in Coundon and had four children. Then in 1909, they decided to return to Nelson’s home, a farm in Mounty Holly in Vermont. They sailed from Liverpool on board the Ivernia and, although their eldest John died almost as soon as they arrived, more sons followed. All were given J names: Joseph, Jerome, Jermyn (who was given Brancepeth as a middle name) and, finally, in 1916, Julian – the half-Coundon boy who grew into an all-American war hero.

BORN at Mount Holly, Vermont on October 7, 1916; the future war hero attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, and graduated as an officer, with the rank of Second Lieutenant, in 1940. He volunteered for the airborne forces in 1942, joining the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (504th PIR), which became part of the 82nd “All American” Airborne Division.

Cook made combat jumps into Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio before taking command of the 3rd Battalion of the 504th PIR just prior to Operation Market Garden. The regiment, due to heavy losses in Italy and a lack of airborne replacements, did not participate in the Allied invasion of Normandy.

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