Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Just a couple of minutes ago, I could slap myself on the head for not having the appropriate cable right now to extract a number of photos from my digital camera, for on its memory card are several very relevant shots related to the battles around Nieuwpoort during WWI. Those photos were of commemmoration plaques of British and French soldiers who fell defending the Belgian coast town of Nieuwpoort in 1914-1915 - in Europe, Armistice Day as it is called here, or at least in my country, is still very much a "Great War" related event, as opposed to the broader concept it seems to have in Anglosaxon countries.

However, when I remembered I had a set of recent shots of WWII vets I thought I could just as well post from them. I took them in Oosterbeek near Arnhem, The Netherlands, about one month and a half ago. A business trip had taken me to Germany and, matters concluded there, I discovered I could make the return trip in about the same time going over Arnhem. It was the perfect occasion for a quick visit to Hotel Hartenstein in Oosterbeek, which was the HQ for the British 1st Airborne Division during those fateful days in September 1944, when Operation Market Garden was in full swing and upon it success depended whether the war could be ended that same year.

However, Market Garden faltered. The fact that a 100 km long corridor had been wrestled from German control did not matter, for it was leading nowhere. The British 1st Airborne Division was virtually annihilated, with barely 2,200 troops making it back to Allied lines. As all WWII buffs know, Market Garden required the capture of five crucial bridges across Dutch canals and rivers, and crossing the last and northernmost one across the Rhine in Arnhem would put the Allies in a situation from where they could storm unhampered either by natural obstacles or the Siegfried Line across northern Germany to Berlin. Of the about 10,000 paras and glider troops which landed near Arnhem on September 17 and subsequent days, only around 600 or so, constituting the bulk of Lt. Col. John Frost's battalion plus some scattered divisional subunits, made it to the bridge across the Rhine in Arnhem's centre. Unable to capture it entirely, they dug in around the northern end where they withstood the German armoured onslaught for several days. When they were finally defeated, what remained of the 1st Airborne concentrated in the village of Oosterbeek, some six kilometers west of Arnhem, whence the survivors were finally evacuated across the Rhine not one week later.

Today, Hotel Hartenstein in Oosterbeek's west has been beautifully restored, and it houses a splendid museum full of dioramas and artifacts. When I arrived there in the afternoon of a late September day, there happened to be a few vets around - which was no coincidence, since the fateful events of September 44 took place almost day to day 65 years ago. Below you see a snapshot of three Brits, I assume once all belonging to 1st Airborne, together with a Dutch lady. The troopers must now be in their late eighties - as for the lady, she said she was a teenager living in Oosterbeek at the time, so she must be in her late seventies. Meeting with these old warriors who, in the mist of time, liberated her from the yoke of nazi tyranny, was obviously a very moving moment for her - as it was to all of us tourists standing around.


A few passes further, behind the hotel, I took a photo of this small monument. In outward appearance it is not impressive, however upon reading the text with which it was emblazoned I felt I could not simply walk by it:


How... utterly true. But then of course, so many men laid down their lives back then not just for their friends, but for an entire population. Men not only from the 1st British Airborne, but also from the British XXX Corps, allied aircrews, and last but not least from the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, units which TODAY... sixty five years later, are AGAIN in the field, fighting an enemy which is every bit as inhuman as the nazi oppressor.

To all those warriors from past and present times, I - we - want to say

"Thank you for your Service".

God bless.


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