Address by the Burgomaster of the municipality Overbetuwe Mr. A.S.F. van Asseldonk
at the 70th Commemoration of the contribution of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade to Market Garden
Driel, 20 September 2014
Your Majesty, President Komorowski, Your Excellences, veterans, ladies and gentlemen,
A warm welcome to you all. We are proud and honoured to have you here. Please allow me to continue in Dutch.
A war has many losers, perhaps even only losers. But the will and need to live in freedom gives both people and nations unprecedented strength.
I have been able to constantly add to my knowledge about what happened here during the Second World War since I was appointed as Mayor of Overbetuwe one and a half years ago.
Especially through meetings with eye witnesses which have often taken place. These meetings sometimes resulted in me being told stories which their own children and grandchildren hadn’t even heard before. That time has also been very well described in the letters which have been kept safe since the war. From men who wrote to their evacuated loved ones from the submerged Betuwe countryside. Impressive letters about fear, loneliness and worries, about homes destroyed by gunfire, drowned cattle and the lost harvests.
About everything they wanted to protect, but eventually still lost.
Hoping they would get out alive and longing to see their loved ones as soon as possible………..
This certainly made it abundantly clear to me that the Overbetuwe residents still had to endure many months of war violence after the end of Operation Market Garden. People lost a great deal during that period. People lost their jobs, their perspective. People lost their belongings, their homes, their farms, their land. People also lost family and friends and, in the worst cases, they also lost their lives.
But their confidence never faltered, nor did their hope for recovery: they believed in a new time when freedom and independence would once again be guaranteed.
It became clear that outside help would be needed to achieve this.
And our allies certainly didn’t let us down.
Young men from right across the world, from occupied territories, but also from countries which weren’t at war themselves, gave up their lives in order to fight for our freedom. To commit themselves to an occupied and oppressed nation, in unknown territory in uncertain times and always in a high-risk environment.
Operation Market Garden got people moving right across the world, in order to stop the nazi regime and give Europe back its freedom. The 1st Polish Independent Parachutists Brigade was a very special movement in amongst all those military movements.
Polish men travelled to England to receive training which would allow them to fight for the liberation of their homeland. But things didn’t quite go according to plan.
The Polish brigade was ordered to make their jump in the Netherlands, here near Driel, to provide their contribution. A deployment in an unknown area under very difficult circumstances.
They suffered some very heavy losses in September 1944, but also during the period which followed, as they received no acknowledgement or recognition for what they had done for our country.
It took years before people became aware of their heroic deeds. But this certainly wasn’t down to the Driel population. They instantly held the Polish brigade close to their hearts, both as liberators as well as heroes
And partly down to the enormous efforts by Cora Baltussen, the Polish brigade and its commander Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski were finally given the recognition they deserved and were entitled to. Driel never doubted this, knowing what they had witnessed first-hand at the time.
I am therefore very proud of the fact that the Driel population has always remained loyal to its liberators, which is still the case 70 years on.
The interest in this annual commemoration service is only increasing. The presence of many young people during the commemorations also indicates that what happened during that time is still very much alive after all these years.
Driel is and will always remain grateful to Poland for its freedom and this feeling is just as strong as it’s ever been today.
Thank you very much.