Sunday 15th September. We were free for the early part of the morning as the chapel was being used for eucharist. So I went out for a short walk with Clementine and Mariske. The first thing I saw of note was a huge pile of sugar beet, a first for me.
After a late morning rehearsal and lunch, we piled into a coach to be taken to what had, until recent renewal and enlargement, been called the Nationaal Bevreijdingsmuseum (National Liberation Museum). Having just reopened on 1st September, it was now called the Vreiheidts Museum (Freedom Museum). The Museum was the sponsor of our entire weeklong visit. The journey to Groesbeek took about 45 minutes.
As we arrived, a Dutch Band, calling itself Bill Baker’s Big Band, was playing American dance music of the ‘forties.
We stood and listened for a while, before moving to the museum itself.
Once inside we assembled in the café, were given vouchers for refreshments to be taken later, and were welcomed by the Director of the Museum.
As planned, we moved back to the performing area,
and sang four short items from our programme, not under the tent but in front of it. The woman singing with the band had been amplified and I was a little concerned that the audience would not be captured by our acoustic sound, but they were, and were highly appreciative. I was delighted to find that we had been singing under the EU flag.
After refreshments, we were then free to look around the museum. This was very comprehensive, and dealt fully with the build-up to WWII, its roots in WWI, poverty and unemployment, the rise of Nazism, and moved on to the course of the war, particularly as it affected the Netherlands. Here are just a few of the many photos I took, some of them not as focussed as they might have been by my less than steady hand in dim light.
As I went round, I felt so strongly that our current politicians, many of them a near generation younger than me, should be obliged to visit this museum to understand what the EU is really all about, and why it was created.
This was ironically brought home even more as we realised that our route home was actually taking us through a small corner of Germany. Only the yellow street signs told us we had crossed a country border.
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.