– Tuesday 18th September 2018 –
A busy schedule today for the veterans, a long day out but lots of time for them to relax. We have been cared for excellently so far by our hosts, the veterans are very grateful of this.
This Morning we headed off to the ‘Wings of Liberation’ museum to meet International students and have tea and cakes which of course the veterans always love! A warm welcome was received and a question and answers session took place. We had the chance to hear some incredibly moving stories. Guy Whidden telling us that he had dropped in the area close to where we were. His squad had been mortared and that he was the only man left alive. Today would be an emotional day for him. Guy is a true gentleman, softly spoken and very mild mannered. For years he had been physically fit, he loved to swim. He spoke to me how he would have loved to have swam the English Channel but he never had the chance. Back home he is still affectionally known as ‘coach’ by so many people. 74 years ago he was part of the 101st Airborne Division, HQ company that came to the Netherlands. He said some people think that because he was HQ company that he would be safely out of harms way, this was far from the truth. Guy has told me how they were always targeted by artillery and mortars, many of his friends being killed an wounded. He would also support the other companies in a machine gun role. Guy ended up as a colonel, he worked his way up through the ranks quickly.
In the museum I took the chance to carry on a conversation from the previous day with Jack Myers, 692 Tank Destroyer Battalion. We stood next to an M4 halftrack, he had served on one for a few months towing his gun around before they were finally given a self propelled gun. Jack is so enthusiastic and loves to share his stories, he breaths energy and is fun to be around. Jack and his crew would tow the 76mm around and he said they got there tactics spot on and could set up pretty quickly. They also had to practice how to retreat and be able to withdraw in less than five minutes. To me that sounds a significant amount of time, especially if you were in a hurry and under fire. He says thought, “we never withdrew, we kept moving forward, we were not going to retreat.” The gun was not only used as an anti tank weapon, he explained how they would also fire on targets such as high buildings being used for observations or even to support ground attacks to soften up targets. He is now 95 years old and he loves to come visit Europe with other veterans, he is clearly loving his life always greeting me with handshakes and high fives.
We had a chance for a full group photo today in front of a C47, all the veterans lined up and were then joined by the students.
Before lunch we stopped off at Paulushoeve Farm, this was surrounded by the drop zone and landing zone for the 101st Airborne. I had a small opportunity to spent some time on my own here, I decided to walk away from the group and walk into the fields of the area to walk the drop zone. I had the chance to reflect and think about what it would be like to have lived close to Zon and have seen around 5000 paratroopers dropping in to the fields. This was then followed up by gliders landings in support. This drop zone was selected as to would be easily identified from the air due to the name of the farm written on the roof of the barn. I thought of Guy Whidden and how he must have been feeling returning to this area, thinking of his friends who he had lost.
Lunch was taken in an old convent, and we relaxed for nearly two hours a nice break. We then headed off to meet the Fire Brigade at Eindhoven who greeted us with a fire truck and sirens playing. After another few hours of meeting the firemen and eating dinner we made our way to the town hall square where a liberation commemorative service would take place.
The parade started with the Dutch military, civilian groups and re-enactors. Four hundred torches of light were carried short in to the square and a flame of Remembrance was lite on the memorial. A short service was conducted and the veterans thanked by the crowds.
A big thank you to Ben for kindly taking the time to share his experiences of returning to the battlefields to pay his respects along with a few of those that fought there 74 years or so ago during Operation Market Garden and also helped liberate this country during the Second World War.
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Stayed tuned for more, as Ben will be providing a daily write-up of this commemorative tour across the Netherlands. Until then though, why not enjoy the first episode of this three-part series on our Podcast, where we talk with battlefield guide Mike Peters about Operation Husky, the Glider Pilot Regiment and everything to do with the invasion of Sicily by the Allies in 1943.
Photo Credits: All photos were taken and kindly provided by Ben Mayne – all rights reserved to Ben Mayne.