Wallaby Gully resident and military enthusiast Peter McNeill joins paratroopers for 75th anniversary of Battle of Arnhem

AMAZING EXPERIENCE: Peter McNeill, of Wallaby Gully, took part in the 75th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Arnhem in The Netherlands.

AMAZING EXPERIENCE: Peter McNeill, of Wallaby Gully, took part in the 75th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Arnhem in The Netherlands.

Hunter Valley resident and military enthusiast Peter McNeill has recently returned from commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem in The Netherlands, having qualified as a military parachutist.

Mr McNeill - from Wallaby Gully, near Ellalong - spent a week at a specialist parachute school, learning all the intricacies of military parachutes.

He then boarded a genuine 75-year-old World War II veteran C47 transport plane (the military version of the legendary Dakota) and parachuted into one of the original drop zones from the Battle of Arnhem with thousands of people looking on.

About 1500 parachutists from the military and private training companies took part in the commemorations over two days, spread over several drop zones.

The Battle of Arnhem is best remembered by the 1977 movie epic A Bridge Too Far.

Mr McNeill said it was an "immense privilege" to be part of the commemorations.

"It was a very surreal experience," he said.

"We had to be in authentic World War II British parachute uniform complete with helmet to participate.

"To board the plane that was part of the original battle and then get to parachute out of it on a static line was certainly a memorable day.

"There were even still bullet holes in the plane from World War II".

Mr McNeill said static line parachutes are different to tandem skydiving, as there is no one attached to the parachutist as they exit the plane.

"It is up to you to make sure your parachute opens successfully and guide yourself to the ground," he said.

"I can't imagine what it would be like to be doing this and having someone shooting at you at the same time.

"Thankfully the only shooting on the day was with cameras!"

Mr McNeill and fellow Australian parachutist, Andy Seymour (from Melbourne) then spent two weeks visiting French World War I battlefields and the site of the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

Mr McNeill runs a private museum at Wallaby Gully to preserve military history. He is always interested in acquiring items for his museum and can be contacted on peteforsheds@gmail.com or 4998 1950.

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