When the Taxi Charity organised its first trip to the Netherlands in May 2012, we could not have imagined the incredible reception our World War II veterans would receive.
The enthusiasm, warmth and respect shown by the Dutch people, especially at Oosterbeek, was overwhelming. Everyone involved on that memorable trip agreed we simply had to return – which we did two years later.
And we have visited every year since: each May for Dutch Liberation and again in early September for the annual Airborne Walking March, known as Wandeltocht, the world’s largest one-day commemorative march with some 35,000 participants.
Last year we also attended commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem.
Sadly, our planned visits for this year had to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, our Dutch friends, Frans Ammerlaan (Treasurer, Market Garden Foundation) and Roger Beets (Chairman, Airborne Commemorations Foundation) wanted our veterans to know they had not been forgotten.
So, during April, Frans asked the mayors of the Airborne Region municipalities and Wageningen to send a personal message of thanks and support for our veterans. The response was instant and soon hundreds of cards were ready to send out.
The cards began dropping through letterboxes six weeks into lockdown. A timely arrival, as they came at the time when veterans found themselves stuck at home, resulting in many feeling isolated and alone.
A truly magnificent gesture by the Dutch mayors which undoubtedly helped raise veterans’ spirits across the UK.
More recently, after hearing that Dickie Forrester (2nd Bt. Kings Royal Rifle Corps) had had his coat stolen, long-time Taxi Charity supporter, Monique Heckman, immediately sent us a donation to help pay for a new coat.
Every December, we receive hundreds of Christmas cards from people all over the Netherlands, which we happily distribute to our veterans.
The Dutch people’s thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit is deeply humbling.
In my opinion, their most moving example of remembrance occurs each Christmas Eve at Arnhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery, where local children place a lighted candle at every grave, and during the Airborne Memorial Service, children lay flowers next to each grave as they have done every year since 1945.
So, it came as no surprise to discover that this year the Dutch Airborne Commemorations Foundation have produced a special booklet commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, which they have posted to our veterans.
The booklet contains messages of thanks from the mayors of the Municipalities of Arnhem, Ede, Renkum and Overbetuwe, together with their regrets that the veterans cannot be with them this year due to Covid restrictions.
In the booklet there are several photographs from last year’s 75th anniversary, some of which are included in this article.
Roger Beets’ introduction reads as follows:
The legacy of those who gave their lives during the Battle of Arnhem September 1944, remains in our hearts and minds forever. Despite the fact that you will not be able to attend this year’s remembrance ceremonies, rest assured that we will do everything it takes to commemorate those who gave their lives for our freedom. This year, next year and all years to come.
We will always remember. Lest we forget!
With kind words and good deeds such as these, the Dutch have again demonstrated so magnificently that our veterans are remembered and always will be.
Taxi Charity for Military Veterans
Arnhem veteran Geoff Roberts (7th Batt. KOSB, 1st Airlanding Brigade. 1st AB Div.) meets a child of freedom. Photo: Cynner Leiweakabesy
Children lay flowers next to each grave. Photo: Berry de Reus
Lighted candles at every grave. Photo: Cynner Leiweakabesy
Arnhem veteran Ron Johnson (‘E’ Squadron, Glider Pilot Regiment) with Frans Ammerlaan, Treasurer, Market Garden Foundation. Photo: Arjan Vrieze