The price of lib­erty in the Nether­lands

In ad­vance of Ar­mistice Day, part two of Ron Smith’s trav­els in the Nether­lands fo­cuses on the sto­ries of those who lived through the war years

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - YOUR LIFE -

Cel­e­brat­ing 75 years of peace and free­dom in the Nether­lands by fol­low­ing the ad­vance of the Al­lied troops across the coun­try was a re­mark­able ex­pe­ri­ence. It is the per­sonal sto­ries that re­ally bring home to you what it was like. Op­er­a­tion Mar­ket Gar­den – the Arn­hem bridge bat­tle that the Al­lies lost – re­sulted in the “Hunger Win­ter”, when the Ger­mans re­moved all food from the Nether­lands to send to Ger­many.

Be­tween 20,000 and 25,000 Dutch peo­ple died of star­va­tion over the 1944-45 win­ter.

As Al­lied troops re­treated, the po­si­tion was hope­less. At Ooster­beek, troops had to cross a river at night. Para­chutes were shred­ded to cre­ate a one-mile white tape. The men had to wrap their boots and move qui­etly, fol­low­ing the tape to the river then at­tempt to cross. Many lost their lives. In the vil­lage, ev­ery sin­gle house has an Air­borne flag on dis­play, paid for by each house­holder. The old church, which has Ro­man stonework, has a bul­let hole in the big Bi­ble on the lectern.

There is a large war ceme­tery at Arn­hem/ Ooster­beek, with many Pol­ish graves. While I was there, a bus load of Pol­ish guides and scouts were plac­ing a Pol­ish flag on each grave, with a pic­ture of that par­tic­u­lar solider. They were the 7th Scouts, with red berets, named af­ter Gen­eral Sos­abowski, com­man­der of the Pol­ish para­chute brigade. They told me they have been com­ing since 1986 – and ex­plained Poland was still un­der Rus­sian con­trol then and it was ac­tu­ally il­le­gal to leave the coun­try. Keep­ing the war alive to young peo­ple is es­sen­tial. Not be­cause of the war, but be­cause of free­dom. It is nor­mal but not au­to­matic, it must be ap­pre­ci­ated and guarded.

In Ooster­beek, 88-year-old Jan Loos spoke of the war. It started with Ger­mans walk­ing through the town one day, he said; life con­tin­ued, he went to school as nor­mal. He learned not to draw at­ten­tion to him­self and watch what he said. Then, in 1944, para­troops landed. There was shelling and bomb­ing, and with neigh­bours, his fam­ily took shel­ter in a cel­lar. Af­ter three days with­out food, wa­ter, toi­lets, elec­tric­ity or heat, a Ger­man voice shouted to them to come out.

The bridge at Ni­jmegen, which 48 Amer­i­cans lost their lives tak­ing. Ev­ery sin­gle sun­set, the 48 street lights on this bridge light up one af­ter the other

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