Solemn moments to remember Arnhem events of 70 years ago

The wreath-laying ceremony at Osterbeek cemetery last Sunday

The wreath-laying ceremony at Oosterbeek cemetery last Sunday

Last weekend was the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of of the Battle of Arnhem. JOHN CHEETHAM was there with a delegation from Croydon

The important folk there last weekend were the veterans of that battle in 1944 – not the most glorious chapter in our military history but one in which, as so often, the bravery of troops on the ground shone out against the confused leadership of the top brass. As did the welcome and stoic resistance of the Dutch inhabitants of the city.

With each passing year, there are fewer of the veterans of 1944 making their way to meet their comrades in arms – but they are there and are applauded as the men and women who are our living link with history.

I have attended the commemoration weekend for the past decade.

In Airborne Square on Friday evening this year, I saw Croydon’s Mayor, Councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed, lay a wreath at the foot of the shattered pillar from the old Law Courts as a part of the formal proceedings drawn to a close by a contingent of young Dutch school children whose circle of flowers surrounded the official tributes. Very moving – then a march past and for the official delegates on to a bunfight in Arnhem’s civic offices. I went and had a meal with my Dutch hosts and friends, Wim and Meike, Frans and Ria. Thank you all for your warmth and hospitality.

The next afternoon it was the turn of the small town of Driel, on the outskirts of Arnhem where, in the presence of King Alexander of the Netherlands and President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland, we remembered the incredible bravery of the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade under their charismatic leader General Stanislaw Sosabowski, whose son and grandson laid flowers in his memory whilst the King, President and other leaders together with young people laid wreaths.

Purley’s Colonel John Power with his delightful wife Anne escorted me as we laid flowers from Croydon’s Polish community. I confess to not doing “humble” very well or very often but I did then.

Croydon's Mayor Manju Shahul-Hameed and her consort with one of the Parachute Regiment Arnhem veterans

Croydon’s Mayor Manju Shahul-Hameed and her consort with one of the Parachute Regiment Arnhem veterans at last weekend’s commemoration

On Sunday morning, to the military cemetery at Oosterbeek for the official memorial service where again Dutch school children tended and lay flowers simultaneously at the graves of some 1,700 British and Allied forces who gave their lives at Arnhem, Driel, Ede and Oosterbeek in September 1944.

Now, where does all this fit in with the twin town / sister city relationship of Croydon and Arnhem? Not just a memorial to incredible bravery 70 years ago but a recognition of links between people in both communities – including Croydon’s John Ruskin College and various sporting and community groups.

The formal twinning relationship is the prerogative of town and city councils but I would suggest that the sister city relationship needs to be delivered by the wider community supported by their town halls, who each have a modest public budget for this purpose. With the recent change of leaderships in Arnhem and Croydon, this is possible but perhaps it’s up to you, dear reader to encourage this to happen.


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