C-130 Hercules, Canadian War Cemetery Groesbeek, Dutch Military Pipes and Drums, Freedom Museum, George G Blackburn, Groesbeek, Magritte, Operation Market Garden, OPeration Market Garden commemorations, Pannenkoeken Restaurant de Duivelsberg, paratrooper, Prince Charles, Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, South Windmill Groesbeek, Wiel Lenders, Wylerbaan
Wednesday 18th September. Before we set off for today’s events, Mariske, on behalf of all of us, presented Beatrix with some flowers to thank her for all the hard work she had put in, on a purely voluntary basis, to organise our splendid week. What a lot she had had to think about! And later, we gave a her a restaurant voucher, which will have enabled her to have good company with her as well.
Beatrix had certainly organised a full day for this our last day! After the presentation, we once more embarked in our coach, armed with packed lunch, music and costumes, and travelled again to Groesbeek, passed the Freedom Museum, and shortly afterwards stopped on the road at Wylerbaan, like many other vehicles, to catch a few minutes of a parachute drop, the first of several sessions that day. I manage to get these photos through the coach window.
That session over, we were able to move on the remaining few hundred metres to park, and walk a short distance to the spectators’ ground, encountering many people coming away from the session of which we had seen just a little.
It was time for lunch. It was going to be a while before the next demonstration.
In due course we were diverted by hang gliders, some, Beatrix told me, (translating from the Dutch commentary), with people making their first drop, in tandem. (Remind me to add that to my list of unfulfilled ambitions.)
I spotted some red berets eating their frites, and went over to talk to them. It turned out they were German paratroopers, volunteers for the day. They had already done one jump each and were due to do more. (I never did find out exactly who was taking part in the demonstration that day, but I had the impression there were no UK or US paras there. Perhaps they were being saved for the following weekend, when Princess (formerly Queen) Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Charles were attending the commemorations.)
I asked if I could take a photo of the badge of the spokesman, and got his smiley eyes as well.
The next session of parachute drops was about to start. I moved down to the fence to get the fullest view. Here they come.
And I switched to video to get the full passage of four planes, each spewing out a dozen or so paratroopers, followed up by a fifth plane, whose purpose was not clear to me.
The planes then circled round several more times to pass again and release more paras.
In due course we had to remember our musical obligations. As we left I spotted a group of four more soldiers in uniform, chatting together. One would not be photographed, but the others agreed. It turned out they were Dutch military police.
As we walked away I got this beautifully sunlit photo of one of the C-130 Hercules. I just love it’s bottle-nosed dolphin nose! Its registration is G-273, and I’ve been able to find out that it belongs to the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
During our time in the country we had seen virtually none of that icon of ‘Holland’: windmills. But we did pass this one as we drove to our concert location. It turns out it was South Windmill, now one of many war memorials in Groesbeek. ‘In the cupola of this mill was planned the Spring offensive of 1945 by 400,000 British and Canadian soldiers… that … allowed irresistible Allied armies to cross the Rhine and end the war. … [T]he crucial role of this mill as the prime observation has been immortalized ….. by George G Blackburn, who as an artillery forward observation officer spent much of the winter of 1944-45 in its cupola.’
It was good to find that we were to sing in a more modest-sized church that evening.
After short rehearsal, we got back into the coach to be taken to a pancake house (the Pannenkoeken Restaurant de Duivelsberg). Because of coach access problems, this involved a short walk though a nature reserve.
Not only was that pleasant, it was worth it!
It had been intended that we visit a Canadian war cemetery before the parachute drop, but time had run out, so Beatrix fitted it in now.
Post Script. I have since learned that although this is called the Canadian War Cemetery, in addition to the 2617 graves of known servicemen, the memorial is to 1,047 missing soldiers whose bodies were never found. They died during operations in northwest Europe after August 1944 when the River Seine was crossed. Their names are on the red brick memorial, and include 942 British, 102 Canadians, 2 South-Africans, and one British aviator.
There was plenty of time back at the church for us to get ready, and we were amused to be able to watch the audience coming in via CCTV!
It was standing room only for the concert, with welcome and introduction by Wiel Lenders, (Director of the Freedom Museum). His also were the thanks and valediction (‘We’ll meet again’ had again gone down very well), at the end of which each one of us was presented with a (paper) carrier bag with souvenir booklets and other items.
We departed separately after breakfast the following morning, and I spent some hours in Amsterdam. That will be the subject of the final blog in this series.