Yesterday I spent a marvellous day with a friend in the vicinity of Arnhem, tracing the remnants of Operation Market Garden, which took place in September 1944. There are quite a few museums and memorials dotted around the area, showing that the people there haven’t forgotten the soldiers who tried to drive out the Germans at a great cost. Arnhem bore the brunt of some heavy fighting between the British 1st Airborne Division (with the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade attached) and the German SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen”. British paratroopers were dropped around Arnhem and given orders to secure the bridge over the Rhine. My beloved Yankees from the US 101st Airborne Division landed further south near Eindhoven, and the US 82nd Airborne Division landed near Nijmegen. All sorts of activities are organised on Market Garden’s anniversary in September, but sadly this is the first year that I’m keen to go and I’m not even going to be in the Netherlands in September. Hmph. One day I’ll do a full tour of the whole area all the way down to Eindhoven.
Arnhem was not bombed like Eindhoven and Rotterdam were, but it was shot to pieces during the Battle of Arnhem, which raged from 17-26 September 1944. The battle has gained recognition through the famous film A Bridge Too Far and the book it was based on, which is by Cornelius Ryan. The contested bridge over the Lower Rhine, which runs through Arnhem, was in British hands on September 17, but as reinforcements took too long to arrive, the Germans were able to gather more resistance than expected by the Allied commanders. The small British force that held the bridge, commanded by Major General John Frost, were overcome by the Germans after four days of fighting, after which the Germans promptly blew up the bridge and secured the Allied failure to advance into Germany.
We had a beautiful day for it–first sunburn and first ice cream of the year can be crossed off. We started out at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek, which is one of the top WW2 museums in the country. It’s located in a beautiful villa named Hartenstein, the former headquarters of the 1st Airborne Division which was commanded by General Major Roy Urquhart. It featured plenty of memorabilia and interesting stories from Allied and German soldiers, Dutch evacuees, and army commanders. In the basement was an “airborne experience,” a room full of mannequins and fake debris, sound effects and videos to imitate the conditions in Arnhem during the war. Very cool and nicely done. After we finished at the museum we walked to the Allied Airborne cemetery not far from there. It’s always humbling to see rows upon rows of solemn white tombstones, some of which are still visited and given fresh flowers every week of month. Next we took a tram to the city centre of Arnhem, had lunch and walked towards the famous bridge, which has been rebuilt and was renamed John Frost bridge. Just below the bridge was an information centre about the Battle of Arnhem, and nearby stood a Howitzer dedicated by the 3rd Parachute Regiment to the people of Arnhem. From everything we saw at the museum, it is plain that there were no hard feelings about the demolition of the city, and only love and respect between the soldiers and the citizens. Loads of people were actually evacuated on German orders, leaving Arnhem a ghost city where the Germans could fight without citizens getting in the way. We followed the bridge towards a large roundabout named Airborne Square, where another memorial stood. In the distance rose the beautiful St.-Eusebius Church, whose clock tower was heavily damaged during the Battle of Arnhem. The church itself didn’t remain unscathed: parts of its roof burned down in firefights between the Germans and the British.
On our way home we did our own bit to honour the British and popped into a sort of “Ye Olde Teashoppe” to buy some Twinings tea.