Monday, 1 September 2014

Arnhem - 22nd August 2014

Most of this post is dedicated to our visit to the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek, it's worth a read but quite a serious post.

The morning we left Ermelo we changed our plans. Our original intention was to drive through Arnhem, over the famous bridge and then on to Dusseldorf to spend a couple of nights on a campsite on the banks of the Rhine. However I thought that if we were going to Arnhem it would be good to have a look around and perhaps visit a museum or something. Iain, the historian amongst us said that he already knew the history of Arnhem so just wanted to look at the bridge, but I had other ideas, just because he already knew everything!!! it didn't mean that I did. I had a look on the internet and found a couple of museums, one open-air about the lives of the people of Arnhem and The Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek which is dedicated to the “Market Garden” operation of WWII in September 1944. Iain was happy to go but said that he didn't think I would have wanted to. Well I know that I'm not very good at researching an area before we go there, I generally just let him decided where we are going, it's much easier that way if you know what I mean. I tend to see something and then find out about it, which does of course mean that often you miss a lot of it.

So anyway, if we were to visit the museum we wouldn't want to go as far as Dusseldorf that day. A a change of plan was needed so we decided to stay on a Aire just south of Arnhem and then miss out Dusseldorf completeley moving on directly to the Romantic Rhine area.

Firstly we had to get fuel and Nol had taken us to the cheapest garage around the day before and it was down a very small lane. I'm glad it was dead straight and there was nothing coming towards us, I would have just had to bully my way through. One problem we had on the journey is that our new Garmin doesn't ask every journey which route you would like to go and when we had been in Breda, I had set it to shortest distance because we used it for cycling, so it had defaulted to the shortest distance for our journey, which of course is not what you want with a big truck. We ended up going down some pretty small roads before I realised but once we reset it we were off on the right road again.

We don't go to many museums because quite often we are walking with the dog when we come across them and of course dog's aren't allowed so sometimes it is a pain travelling with a dog. But the weather was cool so we knew that she would be ok in the van for a few hours alone. The museum in Arnhem is easy to find and we managed to park in a side road and took a short walk across the road to the entrance.

You are allowed to take photos inside the museum, but not to use a flash, however I find these places so moving that I feel it's almost disrespectful to the many people who lost their lives to be taking pictures, also sometimes you just want to absorb the atmosphere and remember the experience.

To view the museum properly you go to the top floor first where there is a short film to explain the events of September 1944. The mission to liberate Arnhem failed miserably and I'm no General but even I can see why. It was a pretty stupid idea. Drop your paratroopers 7km from their target, give them a small strip of land against a river to travel and then be surprised when they get cut off and re-enforcements can't get through. Many people must have come across the film “A Bridge Too Far” which depicts the battle that ensued. There is an impressive display of armoury and equipment in the museum, from both sides. I was really struck by the ugliness of the flame throwers that were used on both sides, the thought of these was awful. There is also a huge display of medals, including the names of some servicemen who were awarded 6 Victoria Crosses for their part in the battle.

You can also read through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission book of all the dead, showing where they fell, where they were originally buried and what happened to them. Some didn't fall in the battle itself, but died after the war from their time as a POW and some during the retreat by drowning in the river. It was such a tragic loss of life.

The middle floor is dedicated to the stories of the people of the town. Some 1000 civilians were killed during the 2 weeks of the battle. The whole town was evacuated and there are stories of the local people who were forced to leave and didn't return until after the end of the war. Many of the stories were of children and there were displays of the things they took with them. Bikes without any tyres, a small suitcase and one doll that a little girl couldn't leave behind. There was one story of a boy who took his cat, but had to abandon it the following day. They also told that they didn't know which direction to take but wherever they went there were dead soldiers everywhere most of which had been burned, probably by the flame throwers that I mentioned before. One man had chosen to stay behind and there was a display of his photographs of the scene and of the looting that took place once the town was emptied. Of course he risked his life just being there. Another said about how they had to slaughter their animals before leaving. I found this floor very interesting and Iain was ready to move on much quicker than I was.

Downstairs was the “Experience” museum which was very cleverly done. You sat down for a briefing as if you were one of the soldiers taking part. It was all very upbeat, promising success and that the operation would bring on the end of the war. Then you walk through the exhibition as if you were walking through the town, you can go into buildings, there are cars with models of dead soldiers in them, honestly it's horrific and does warn you that before you go in. It really brings it home. Towards the end you go through the retreat, showing pictures on the wall of people trying to get across the river. Right at the very end there is a graph on the wall of all the people involved in the battle. Each person involved had a mark on the wall and it really hit it home to me. I have done a quick graph of what it looked like. The high point was so far up the wall that it was difficult to see the top. Only a third of the troops involved actually got back.

Having come out into the daylight again we sat outside and reflected on what we had seen. It's difficult to believe that despite having lost 1,000 civilians and then many more starved during the following winter because their homes and livelihoods had been lost, yet they still commemorate the efforts of the Allies and thank them for “trying”. Of course by the time Arnhem was finally liberated there was hardly anyone left in the town to celebrate.

I think the reason this has struck me was because that museum is where it happened. We had crossed the street that the troops had used to get to Arnhem, we were walking around the grounds of the Hotel that had been the HQ and you could really “feel” the horrors of the battle. We do have museums and memorials in the UK but they just don't have the same effect as we were lucky enough not to have been invaded and therefore you don't get that “feel” of it all happened here.

I'm afraid that I've been a bit of a Phillistine during my life, not really that involved in any “stuff” that didn't affect me directly, but Iain loves his history and I must admit it's been quite an education for me. Unfortunately Iain doesn't always appreciate that people don't know as much as him and that something that is quite simplistic to him is actually education for someone else. He loves to watch history programs on TV but just sits there moaning about how simplistic they are and I end up telling him to shut up and listen because he might actually learn something!!!

I remember going to Rome with him, it was our first trip together and he knew all about it and never wanted to hire those headsets to tell you all about the place. I of course was trying to impress and didn't like to admit that I knew very little, so I just wandered around learning nothing and smiling

We've done quite a lot of war “stuff” over the past few years, we've visited war cemeteries, both British and Allied; we've done the Normandy beaches and seen the mulberry harbour; we've been to the Menin Gate a couple of times; we've been to the Blockhaus, where I couldn't go into the wagon that was used to transport the Jews and we've been to Epercles, where a man sat crying his eyes out during one of the films; but nothing struck me quite like the museum in Oosterbeek. I think I've had enough of war stuff now, but we must never forget.

So we were off again. The satnag showed us a route which would take us over the wrong bridge but Iain said that was OK, he just wanted to see it. But somehow it changed it's route suddenly and there we were crossing the “right” John Frost Bridge. It looks just like it did in the '40's.

The John Frost Bridge

Once across the bridge we blindly followed the satnag but for some reason the co-ordinates were wrong. We ended up down yet another blind alley which turned out to be about 5 miles from where we should have been. Re-programmed we set off for the Aire. Now this was not somewhere that you would just stumble across, in a residential area, next to a lake. We missed the entrance first time round though, and that's when we discovered that the satnag, once having delivered you to your destination, doesn't re-program when you go past but simply gives up as it has already done it's job – one to remember!!!

August in Arnhem

The Aire was ok, but pretty bleak, we were the only van there and of course it was raining – again.

Never mind, we slept ok and then set off the next day for the Romantic Rhine, which I can tell you wasn't very romantic when we got there!!!!  But that's for my next post...............................

1 comment:

  1. Good article Wendy, might be somewhere we will visit in the future.

    Many Thanks