Antoon Verbekel, Argyll and Highland Sutherlanders, Army Air Corps, Arnhem, Auschwitz, Bailey bridge, British Army, Dorsetshire Regiment, East Yorkshire Regiment, Freedom Museum, Military Police, Monmouthshire Regiment, Netherlands, Operation Market Garden, Pete Hoekstra, Peter Leech, RAF, Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal engineers, Royal Household Corps, Royal marines, Royal Navy, Royal Tank Regiment, Royal Welch Fusiliers, Somerset Light Infantry, St-Petrus Kerk Uden, Uden, Uden War Cemetery, War dead
Monday, 16th September was a wet day, and fortunately we did not have to go outside of the monastery, having a full day of rehearsals and a concert in its chapel that evening. I took very few photos, just two, of guests at our concert.
The first is of 97-year-old British veteran, Private George Avery, 71st Field Company, Royal Engineers. (My grandfather served behind the trenches in the Royal Engineers in the First World War, and in the Second my father in the RAF and my uncle in the Royal Navy. How I wish, like so many, that I had asked the questions when I had the chance. And, additionally this day, I was conscious that it would have been my mother’s 100th birthday.)
In September 1944 the Royal Engineers prepared for the drive north to Arnhem, and in February 1945 built the longest Bailey bridge in the world. Private Avery was at Auschwitz shortly after Liberation and says he will always remember that.
Here he is in those days. Same cheeky smile!
The other photo I took minutes later, of the US Ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra. He was born in the Netherlands, but moved to the US when he was three. He had been at the Freedom Museum the day before and had been urged to come to our concert if he was free. Here he is addressing us before the concert, with his wife, Diane, and ‘our’ American, Bill.
The chapel was full, with nearly 300 in the audience, the Ambassador unnervingly just feet away from us as we sang. Here our conductor, Peter Leech, is giving us concert feedback at the beginning of our rehearsal the next day, as we sat in our same places.
Tuesday 17th September. After lunch at the monastery, we set off in the coach for Uden. We were greeted there at the Commonwealth War Cemetery, right in the middle of the town, by a former mayor, Mr Antoon Verbakel. He has been for many years the chair of a group concerned with honouring those buried there, some 700, the vast majority of whom are British. He told us of the history of the cemetery, and said that, while their annual war remembrance ceremonies ares in May, he personally comes to the cemetery at the same time as – and he choked with emotion at this point – as our Queen is honouring the dead in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday. He presented Peter with a book he had written giving the story of the cemetery, after which we were free to walk around.
And many hundreds more, including servicemen from New Zealand and Australia.
It was time to walk to the parish room of the St-Petrus Kerk, where we would give our second concert. This was not just any old kerk. It was the size of a cathedral!
It was just as big inside as it was outside, as we discovered during our rehearsal.
Between rehearsal and concert, we were as bad as the youngsters…
For the concert, the church, while not packed, was very full, probably the same number as the night before. We were delighted to see Private Avery and his family there again in the front row, joining in, along with the rest of the audience, our encore, an arrangement of ‘We’ll meet again.’ The Dutch know it as well, if not better than the British do.