– Monday 17th September 2018 –
The veterans schedule for today, in the morning was to meet 600 local school children and in the evening to attend a service of commemoration at the small village of Eerde.
We returned to the venue of the previous evening, again hosted by Jumbo Supermarkten B.V. They had arranged for the 20 veterans to meet local school children and talk about their experiences. The objective was for them to say thank you, listen and learn from the past and hope that in the future we take on what other generations had gone through and they can built a better world.
I spent the session with Trooper Alan King, 1st East Riding Yeomanry and Alex Polowin, Canadian Royal Navy. Alex was 17 years old when he signed up to join the Navy, he laughs that he had lied about his age and said he was 18. He didn’t want to be left behind, he had a very good reason for that. Alex was born in Lithuania and lived there till he was around 3 years old. His family were and had suffered from persecution by the Nazi’s, Alex was of Jewish Heritage. He had served on three separate ships during the war and Alex believes that of two of those ships he is the last remaining man that is able to tell the stories of what took place. He served on the Atlantic Convoys and on D-Day sat on the western flank of the channel protecting the invasion fleet. He is very proud of this fact and says we played our part and ensured the men could get safely ashore to begin the liberation of Europe.
One thing Alex has pointed out to me several times over the trip so far is this, “whenever I speak have you noticed how I always say ‘we’? I never like to refer to things as ‘I’. We were all in this together and we all played our part, each Nation of the Allies.”
The children asked some thought provoking questions and were very respectful. They were clearly educated on the subject matter of World War 2 and are grateful for their freedom that the Allies jointly bought to their country.
Alex played us a tune on his harmonic, a song that all sides during the War knew and sang. This is a favourite of many of the men, ‘Lily Marlene’. He was also proud to say he has a street name after him in Canada and he is knocking on the door each of the new houses to introduce himself and welcome them to the street.
After a great lunch which I shared with Guy Whidden, 101st Airborne, HQ Company we headed off for some time to relax at the hotel before the evenings commemorations event.
At 7 pm we headed off to the service at Eerde, a beautiful small village which was bitterly fought over in the early days of Operation Market Garden. This was known as the Battle of the Sandunes, the windmill was destroyed on the 24th September. In the windmill on the 18th September ’44 Jacob Wingard was killed at 11am in the morning. In the street also between the windmill and the houses, a British Sherman Tank was knocked out and destroyed on the 24th September. Three of the tank crew are buried in the cemetery of the church at Eerde. Sadly I did not have time to go and visit the men to pay my respects.
Next to the windmill which is now rebuilt, and a working mill is a memorial to the American 101st Airborne Division. The memorial is flanked by two small parachute features that were illuminated. This created a stunning back drop, especially with the evening skies behind. The veterans marched to the memorial and took seats, they were joined by a Captain of the US Army who was based in the Netherlands. After a service of wreath laying, music and National anthems the veterans were invited to the windmill to have tea and biscuits. A chance for them to meet the local villagers who had come to say thanks.
On a personal note, I stood at the back of this service and observed taking this all in. To me it felt like that the whole village had come to a stand still, everybody had left their house and come to pay respects at the memorial. The elderly were present along with very small children, this was an annual pilgrimage that collectively the whole village makes. My mind began to wonder and I thought how it would feel for your country to be occupied and appressed, I cannot relate to this. Great Britain were fortunate not to suffer this unlike mainland Europe. I obtained a sense that it was the villages duty to attend and never forget. They are eternally gratefully for the liberation, the children of the local school adopt the memorial each year to care and tend for it. We have nothing like this back home, I feel we cannot directly relate to an events like this. To be present and share this is an honour. Within the space of three days I have already grown to have a greater appreciation of the Netherlands during WW2.
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.
You can also find out more about Ben by following him on Twitter.
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.