War veteran, Ted Rogers (Merchant Navy), writes about the recent trip to the Netherlands from his perspective...
The London Taxi Benevolent Association for War Veterans took 80 war veterans to the Netherlands from the 2nd of May to the 6th. This was the Return of the Liberators of 1945 - the forces which had taken part in the war and as a result the Netherlands was liberated from the scourge of the Nazis.
In addition to the veterans, there were about 80 relatives and volunteers to assist them, as some of them were in wheelchairs or had difficulty walking. There was also a medical backup and a film unit. This was quite an enterprise!
We set off on Saturday, at 5.00pm on May 2nd from the Union Jack Club in London which is opposite Waterloo railway station and drove to Harwich where we were entertained at the Railway Club and given food before departing on the ferry.
We travelled overnight to the Hook of Holland on the ferry in four berth cabins. I was on 11th deck with another veteran and two drivers.
The ferry, which was called the Hollandica, was an enormous size and could take 1200 passengers and up to 250 vehicles on board. It was about 64,000 gross tons and compared well in size with the new aircraft carriers being built in Britain.
When we arrived at the Hook of Holland we were met by a police escort with 10 policemen on motorcycles. From then on we were looked after very well as they blocked all traffic from interfering with us even on the motorways where they blocked the motorway entrances and so we had a free run on the road itself.
At midday we arrived in Arnhem to be welcomed by the Dutch dignitaries and VIPs at the Bronbeek Veterans Home. Here they gave us a good lunch and I met General Meines and his companion who was called Sylvia. General Meines had worked with the British forces.
We then went to the Hartenstein Airborne Museum at Oesterbeek where we met many of the local people and enjoyed entertainment which was provided by the Museum authorities.
We then went on to the Papendal Hotel where we were staying and after an evening meal we had entertainment from a local male choir with many of the wartime English songs in which we joined.
Next day was Monday and at half past nine we went to the wreath laying ceremony at Groesbeek memorial. This was a site of war graves and many of them were Canadian soldiers. There was a new monument and we had a ceremony for laying of the wreaths at this monument and prayers were said led by Fr George, an Anglican priest who was the chaplain and also a veteran himself. What is interesting is that the prayer of St Ignatius Loyola our Jesuit founder was recited and he was called the Soldier Saint in recognition of his early life. Several Scots soldiers in kilts were present playing the bagpipes and we had a trumpeter who sounded the Last Post.
We spent the afternoon at the National Liberation Museum at Groesbeck where we met the mayor and the British Ambassador to The Netherlands. I asked if he had known Tim David and he said he had and was sad about his early death. We then had lunch and met many Canadian students and cadets who were there to celebrate the 70th anniversary and to visit the Canadian war graves. It was here that I saw the first time a member of the Canadian Mounted Police (Mounties) in full uniform which was very interesting.
We then returned to the hotel for an evening meal and a memorial service afterwards.
However I cut this out as I had made arrangements to meet with my friends, the Vanwesenbeecks, Joost and Marta and their two girls Nella and Lieke who had been with me in Zimbabwe many years ago. We went to a hotel away from our residence so that we could have a quiet dinner and reminisce. It was wonderful to see them again after quite a long time and to find that they’re doing quite well. Joost and Marta have retired by now and the two girls, now well established ladies, have their own families.
On Tuesday there was a special celebration for the members of the group who had fought in the battle at Arnhem (cf. film, A Bridge too Far) and Operation Market Garden who were mainly paratroopers of whom there was a considerable number in our veterans group. The main body left at midday for the National Liberation Parade at 3:00pm at Wageningen. When we arrived it had started to rain and this steadily increased after we had been given food packages. By the time the parade was to start it was raining very heavily and it was decided that we should return to the hotel.
There was a special dinner that night with entertainment by a local choir and a local band during the meal. They played many wartime songs to an enthusiastic response.
On Wednesday 6th May we had a group photograph which was very difficult to take owing to the large number of people and the absence of steps. We then travelled to the Hook of Holland for the 2.30pm sailing and we boarded the same ship the Hollandica. There was quite a storm on the way and the ship rolled but on the whole it was quite steady. However it did mean that walking along the decks with a stick it was necessary to have some extra support.
Shortly after leaving the port there was a wreath laying ceremony on the sea for all those who died in the seas and oceans. But on account of the strong wind some of the wreaths flew up into the air before landing in the water. This was quite a spectacle!
What did I learn from this visit?
First of all, the reception by the local Dutch people was stimulating. They were full of gratitude to us for having helped liberate them from the war against the Germans. They waved at the convoy and when we stopped would sometimes come to the window wanting to shake our hands.
Secondly. The contact I had with many of the veterans. My travelling companion in the taxi was Roland Dane. He had fought in the Netherlands and recognised places that he has been in. He wore the veterans’ uniform of the Scots Highlanders and had a nifty beret with a red cockade. He was a good companion and more spry than I at the same age. The driver of our taxi, Stewart, was most helpful in helping us in and out of his car and going to find us when it was time to leave. He was always cheerful and doing a good volunteer job in his taxi when he could have been on the streets of London earning money.
Thirdly. Of those whom I meet, the veterans were mostly from the army and especially the paratroopers but there were some navy men and I was the only one from the Merchant Navy, though another had served on merchant ships as a signals man for a commodore merchant ship. Perhaps there were others, but it was difficult to get to know them all in a short time. Also I had my normal hearing problems and could not hear except in one-to-one situations.
All were very friendly and got on well together without any arguments. The daughter of one of the paratroopers who landed at Arnhem told me that for many years her father would not talk about his war experiences… he seemed to be traumatised by it.
Finally. The whole organisation of London taxis and their drivers, organised by the Taxi Charity, who did this work for charity and the helpers who assisted them was excellent. They must have raised a considerable amount of money for this trip as we were not charged for anything. It was all done cheerfully. Love is not dead when such people are around.