– Sunday 16th September 2018 –
Breakfast muster was at 8am, the men were all present and ready to go ahead of our first busy day. A sea of vast medals from numerous theatres and campaigns. Today was going to be a long day for us all but promised to be very rewarding and a chance to reflect and remember.
We set off at 9am to head for a Mass and Guild Service at the beautiful church at the Lambertuskerk, Veghel. We were greeted by the Shuttergilde (Shooters Guild). Historically groups of local trades men or hunters who were from the town/village. The veterans headed into the church and were seated ahead of the mass. The guild then accompanied the clergy into the mass.
After the service the Guild paraded in the church square and gave a wonderful display with flags. They depicted the slaying of George and the Dragon, demonstrating their hunting skills. From here the veterans marched to the 101st Airborne Division memorial in Veghel. The mayor gave an important speech on how it is a duty to remember the actions of the men and women of the Second World War an to teach the future generations of what took place so that we never forget. Local school children were present and helped lay wreaths at the memorial along with the head of NATO, the American and Israeli Ambassadors.
The veterans then returned back to the hotel for a wonderful champagne reception and lunch. The hospitality of the organisers, hotel staff and Dutch people towards us is amazing. Nothing is to much trouble to help the veterans, many shaking their hands and thanking them. In turn the veterans returning thanks.
Three of the veterans had a special day, the sponsor of the organisation treated them to a flight in a Spitfire. Vincent Speranza American 101st Airborne Division, Fred Glover British 6th Airborne Division and Guy Whidden, American 101st Airborne Division. They all came back with beaming smiles and telling me of the barrel rolls.
The night was a Dinner show, again hosted by the main sponsors ‘Jumbo’ a retailer in the Netherlands. It would be best to compare it to a red carpet event. A champagne reception awaited the Veterans again. Another treat for them was a flying display by two Spitfires and a C47 Dakota.
The twenty veterans were all introduced to the guests and then they joined their dedicated table to share stories. A big band and singers with 40’s music entertained us all evening. Some of the veterans went onto the stage and spoke of their times in the Netherlands. Each speech emotive and moving, greeted by standing ovations. The main theme from all of them were to remember the men who did not come back and to ensure that future generations are aware of what they did. On veteran saying, “we did not just fight for you’re freedom, we were fighting for ours too.” As always they are humble and play down what they undertook. Another veteran, Alex Polowin, Canadian Royal Navy said to me, “Did you notice how in my speech I never said ‘I’. I always use ‘we’ as we were a group of men all in this together, we all played our part.”
At 11pm we headed off back to the hotel, the evening had become memorable for many reasons. One after another the veterans improtu got up on stage and took it in turns to sing songs. British, Canadian and American songs, all sung together. The camaraderie that still exists today amongst them.
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 our latest video about the restoration of a D-Day veteran C-47 Dakota aircraft…
Photo Credits: All photos were taken and kindly provided by Ben Mayne – all rights reserved to Ben Mayne.