Dick Goodwin, Honorary Vice-President of the London Taxi Benevolent Association for the War Disabled, has written this overview of the trip, where he talks about the one memory that will stay with him forever….
Well, we’ve been back from The Netherlands now for about two weeks. The dust has settled and hopefully everyone has had a chance to relax after what was a tremendous five days and an event that surpassed all expectations. Our veterans were treated as visiting royalty, motorways and roads were closed, crowds cheered and flags waved. We were greeted by Ambassadors, Defence Attaches, Bergermeesters, Senior Military Officers, not forgetting the Dutch Royal Family.
The Dutch were quite amazing in their enthusiasm and affection towards our veterans. Those veterans who had not until now experienced the unique place they hold in the hearts of our Dutch friends were overwhelmed by the profound depth of feeling. It was deeply moving and humbling to be part of something so unique. Our magnificent London – and Birmingham – taxi drivers proved to be as popular as the veterans. The convoy of iconic vehicles was a show stopper. Great ambassadors for the cab trade!
Although the initial plan was to keep the itinerary as gentle as possible, events seemed to happen at an amazing pace. After driving in convoy from the Hook of Holland on Thursday, we began with lunch at the Bronbeek – the Dutch National veterans’ home in Arnhem – along with the local Bergermeesters, the British Defence Attaché and three members of the Dutch Recovery and Identification Unit. This team still today perform amazing work when soldiers’ remains are found, often using dental records from the war for identification. This allows the soldier to have a proper burial and give his family a grave to visit.
We then drove to Oosterbeek Commonwealth War Grave Commission as guests of the Mayor of Oosterbeek for a small wreath-laying service. Conducted by Padre Paul Abram, this was so moving it had to be seen to be believed. Johnny Peters, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment, read some very poignant words. Joe Patient DFC, Glider Pilot Regiment, read the epitaph. The Mayor, accompanied by local school children, led the veterans to the Cross of Sacrifice and laid the first of many wreaths.
On Friday, at the National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek, we held a Remembrance Service, conducted by Reverend George Parsons and Padre Paul Abramnear, by a CWGC headstone inscribed to the Unknown Soldier. The wreaths were laid at the headstone by our veterans, many with tears in their eyes. The look on their faces as they hung onto every word spoken by George and waited to lay wreaths for their fallen comrades is the one memory of the weekend that will stay with me forever.
After an early supper back at our hotel, The Papendal, a cold evening awaited us at the Dutch National Remembrance service at the Grebbenberg near Rhenen. The veterans braved the chill in what turned out to be a compelling service for the fallen of The Netherlands.
Saturday was an amazing day. Starting at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek, the Dutch people, along with hundreds of children, greeted us with an avenue of flag-waving which took your breath away. A completely overwhelming welcome! The local municipality turned the grounds into a village fete, the veterans met local Dutch people and exchanged gifts with the children.
We were then whisked off to Wageningen for the National Liberation Parade. Here our veterans were loaded onto London Double Decker buses for the 5km parade. The weather wasn’t very favourable (it rained) so we were very apprehensive. When we approached the parade, we were stunned at the reception: 150,000 people were standing in the rain waiting to greet our veterans. It was a truly astonishing sight and one the veterans will never forget, as is reflected in their subsequent letters to our committee.
A return to The Papendal for a formal ‘thank you veterans’ dinner, a remarkable evening with local guests and entertainment. Everyone came together to make for a very enjoyable night. (We might give the impromptu talent show a miss next time!)
The final morning, after a group photograph at The Papendal, we bade the staff farewell and set off for our journey back to the UK. Once on board the ferry we conducted a small service and lay wreaths on the sea. On arrival in Harwich we had to say goodbye to all the veterans and taxi drivers who had joined us over the past five days. Many friendships were made during this short, but so memorable a trip. These will continue for years to come, such is the nature of our veterans and our taxi drivers.