January 6, 2018. After flags were laid at the graves of the known soldiers from PEI at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, we travelled along The Liberation Route with our friends Ad and Noor Scheepers. History lives and breathes here, and if you are unaware of the past, you can take things at face value.
One example…I’m fascinated by windmills. Not the ugly behemoths that we see now, but the older windmills that are still seen in Europe. One of these is in Groesbeek, and is now a shop, and I wanted a photo of it. Ad told us that during WWII the windmill had been used first as a reference point by the US 82nd Airborne Division and later as an observation point in 1944 in preparation for Operation Market Garden. This was an Allied military operation, from September 17-25, 1944 that succeeded in liberating Nijmegen and Eindhoven, but failed in liberating the last bridge held in Arnhem, which would enable troops to the Rhine into Germany. If you’ve seen the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’ (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Bridge_Too_Far_(film)), then you may be familiar with what is discussed in this blog entry.
From Groesbeek, we followed the Liberation Route to Klein Amerika (Little America), a high spot near Groesbeek. For some reason, Klein Amerika had this name long before WWII! This was the area where parachutes and gliders landed in preparation for Operation Market Garden, to capture the bridges held by Germans during WWII. In addition to the 505th of the US Army’s 82nd airborne division who landed here, the 1st Canadian Army guarded the area in the winter of 1944-1945.
Today, Klein Amerika has a memorial park, complete with jeeps and a replica of a Waco glider, and an information panel that plays newsreels about the events of the battle and its preparation.
Ad told us a story he’d heard about a commander of the British Airborne Division who landed in Klein Amerika and sneaked across the border to Germany. He came back safely and when asked where he’d been, said he’d gone to Germany to be the first Brit to “piss on the Germans”. We’ve not been able to confirm this story, but with the border so close by, it could be true.
We followed the Liberation Route across the border into Germany and then ended the tour at a café in Milligen, where the Rhine and Waal Rivers meet. It was fascinating to see how much shipping is done by boat here!
Now that we had a better idea of what troops faced in trying to liberate this part of The Netherlands, we were even more honoured to be working on this cenotaph research project. In our next blog entry, we visit another Canadian War Cemetery, this time in Holten.
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© Daria Valkenburg