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I have just spent a week in the Netherlands, commemorating with an ‘International Liberation Choir’ of 24 singers, the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, also known as the Battle of Arnhem. “In the summer of 1944, the Allies launched a daring airborne operation to secure the River Rhine crossings and advance into northern Germany. Although it ultimately failed to achieve its objectives, the determination and courage shown by the airborne troops and the units that assisted them made Market Garden one of the Second World War’s (1939-45) most famous battles.” (The opening of the National Army Museum’s account. See also the Imperial War Museum’s story in pictures, and a very full account in Wikipedia.)

Friday 13th September. I had had about two hours’ sleep the night before, reading far too late about the Operation, and about the authenticity of the film, ‘A Bridge Too Far’ which I had just watched, (very authentic, except that Montgomery is let off lightly at the expense of Browning), and worried that I would not wake up at 3.15.

Arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, I boarded a train to Arnhem, where I arrived about lunchtime, despite a 75-minute delay at Bristol Airport for lack of buses from terminal to plane.

No-one with me on the upper deck of the train. Am I on the right one?
The very flat Dutch countryside
The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal accompanies the railway line as far as Utrecht, used here by a pleasure boat,
and here by a commercial one.
Examples of the double-decker train I was on, and a regional train.
Given that this was the Netherlands, I saw hundreds and hundreds of bicycles during the week. But this was the only tandem tricycle I saw, here on the railway platform of a station we passed through.

Fortified by an excellent mushroom and cheese omelette at the Robin-Hood bistro café …

Again I have the place to myself!

… I caught the no. 300 bus to Huissen, for a short walk to the Dominican monastery where most of us were to stay (several lived near enough not to have to) and to rehearse.

View from my window.

The main function of the monastery, which now has only four monks, is as a modest guest house for groups and individuals. Far from a spartan cell, my room was comfortable and a very decent size. Showers and loos were a short way down the corridor, but there was a basin in each room.

I spent the rest of the afternoon settling in and relaxing in my room, before meeting the others in the dining room for a very early evening meal. The choir was 24-strong: 12 Dutch, 9 British, two German and one American. Sadly the only Polish representative had had to drop out shortly before the week, and the organiser, the amazing Beatrix, had not been able to find a Canadian singer at all. These six countries were those involved in Operation Market Garden in 1944. The British conductor, composer, and lecturer, Peter Leech, directed the music.

Saturday, 14th September. I explored the grounds for a few minutes before breakfast.

We were not the only guests. When we arrived there was also a group in residence studying meditation for the weekend, and others came and went during our stay.

The whole of Saturday was spent discovering and rehearsing the repertoire for our concerts. Early on, the director of hospitality led Marianne Schuurmans, mayor of Lingewaard (the municipality which includes Huissen, link is to map), and the prior of the monastery into the chapel to welcome and thank us. In excellent English.

We had the splendid library to ourselves for our breaks.

Not surprisingly, our moving programme told of war, of death, of remembrance, of commemoration, and of peace and hope. It included works by composers and poets of the six nations, including Tallis and Parry, the Canadian Kathryn Rose, Huub de Lange, J C Bach and Hugo Distler, the Polish early baroque composer Bartolomiej Pekiel, the American Peter C Lutkin, and three pieces by Peter Leech. I was choking as we first sang through his ‘In Flanders Fields‘, a poem by the Canadian physician and lieutenant-colonel John McCrae, apparently well-known but which I had never come across before.

After another early evening meal, there was time for a wander round the town.

I was delighted to catch the tail end of a carillon.

Back to the monastery.

I saw an information board which told me that it had been founded in the 19th century, and had played an important role in the war, when much of the territory around had been flattened. The clean and peaceful present-day surroundings were such a contrast.

Model of the monastery and its guest house in the vestibule.