Address by the Burgomaster of the Municipality of Overbetuwe,
Mrs Patricia Hoytink-Roubos
at the Commemoration of the contribution of the
1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade
to Operation Market Garden, 75 years ago
Driel, 21 September 2019
Your royal highness,
Mr. Cisek, Mr. Kubinski and Mr. Staszkiewicz,
It’s so special to look into your eyes today…
…and to realize that with those same eyes…
…you’ve seen the misery of the Second World War…
…75 years ago.
Your presence here means so much to us.
We are deeply grateful to you!
It’s your story we commemorate today.
Please allow me to continue in Dutch.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When Corporal Staszkiewicz flew over our country on 21st September 1944…
…he could see the signs of fierce battles below him.
Burning buildings, shell holes…
…and smoke rising up from the burning army vehicles on Hells Highway.
After all, Operation Market Garden had been going on for four days at this point…
…and during those intense days of fighting…
…he had been forced to sit tight with his comrades from the 1st Independent Polish Parachutist Brigade…
…until the right moment arrived for them to be deployed…
…in the fight against the enemy.
Fiercely determined, but incredibly nervous too, he waited for the green light to make his jump.
The time had finally come towards the end of the afternoon.
Corporal Staszkiewicz plunged into nothingness, fighting against the airflow.
“We fell down like ripe autumn apples”…
…one of his colleagues described very aptly.
Corporal Staszkiewicz landed near an orchard…
…on the edge of Driel…
…and to this day he clearly remembers…
…feeling incredibly thirsty because of all the nerves…
…and grabbing an apple from that orchard before continuing on his way.
At the time he promised himself to would go back to pay for that apple…
…but he never got the chance.
Mr Staszkiewicz, don’t worry, you’re very welcome to that apple…J
Some of you experienced the arrival of the Polish soldiers as Driel residents at the time.
This includes Joke Gerritsen-Martens.
She’s with us here today too.
Joke was 13 years old in September 1944 and lived in Leedjes, close to where the Polish soldiers landed.
They had dug an air-raid shelter with two of their neighbours.
A large and deep hole, with rugs on the ground and a wooden ceiling.
When the Polish parachutists made their way down to them…
…they had already been sitting in the shelter with ten other people for three long days.
Cora Baltussen suddenly appeared at the entrance that evening of 21st September.
Together with a number of Polish soldiers.
Joke can still remember that day like it was yesterday.
Cora asked whether Joke’s dad could show the Polish parachutists the way to the Driel ferry.
Unlike her father, Joke knew no fear, so she quickly grabbed her dad’s hand and went with them.
Through a dry ditch, towards the dike.
When they got there they realised the ferry was gone…
…and only a few soldiers managed to get to the other side of the Lower Rhine.
And yet the value of the Polish effort can never be underestimated.
The arrival of the Polish was a fantastic moral boost for the trapped paras. They also formed a bridgehead here in Driel for four days, allowing many allies to be evacuated across the Lower Rhine.
They wouldn’t have made it without their steadfast action.
Ladies and gentlemen,
75 years have now passed and the stories of these Polish veterans still inspire us every single day.
These people make us proud.
They give us hope.
They remind us of the importance of our old ideals, like courage, faith, sacrifice and unity.
They encourage us to constantly review and update these old ideals.
Allowing us to create a society within which we look after each other, work together and which absolutely everyone can belong to.
Those are the values they fought for.
Their efforts mean we’ve now been able to reap the benefits of freedom for 75 years.
Many soldiers gave their lives for this.
Mr Staszkiewicz has been visiting the Netherlands to honour them for thirty years.
He stays here in Driel with the Kaihatu family.
And he visits the graves of his fallen comrades in Oosterbeek.
And those emotions come back up to the surface each and every time.
He will never forget them.
And we’ll make sure we never forget them either.
We are very grateful!