Address by the Burgomaster of the municipality Overbetuwe,
Mr. Drs. A.S.F. van Asseldonk at the Commemoration of the contribution
of the 
1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade to Operation Market Garden, 74 years ago
Driel, 22 September 2018

Dear veterans,
Dear surviving relatives,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to extend a warm welcome to the three Polish veterans who are here today. Your presence here means so much to us.
Our heritage of freedom has been built on your brave sacrifices.

We are deeply grateful to you!
Your story is the one we’ll be commemorating today.

Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s been 74 years since the soldiers of the Polish Parachutists Brigade were dropped over the meadows and orchards of Driel.

On 21st September 1944, the fifth day of Operation Market Garden.
With an impossible task: to cross the river and strengthen the Oosterbeek lines.
They had hoped to be used in the Battle of Warsaw. But they ended up fighting in another country. For another nation. For us.

And whoever may think the efforts of these heroes are slowly in danger of being forgotten about will be left utterly disappointed.

There is still a huge amount of interest in their brave actions.
Here in the Netherlands. But definitely in Poland too.
Take Captain Ludwik Zwolanski, for example. Various activities bear his name.

We know Zwolanski as the one who managed to establish the very first contact with the recently landed parachutists.
He had landed his Horsa 899 near the Ginkel heath as early as Monday 18th September 1944. In order to serve as a liaison officer within the British headquarters.

He waited for the arrival of his compatriots in front of the Driel landing zone with a number of radio operators. He desperately tried to establish radio contact for hours after the descending parachutists had disappeared from view.
Unsuccessfully. He felt there was only one option left for him. To cross the Rhine. Swimming.
There was no dinghy available.

Captain Zwolanski took off his uniform and tied a camouflage net around his head and shoulders. Dressed only in his underwear……and armed with a revolver and a commando knife……he made his way across to the cold water’s edge.
He briefly hesitated. He could see light traces of German bombs making contact all around him. And so he bravely waded into the two hundred meter wide river.

He arrived on the other side wet and muddy. He was known as the ‘black bandit’ as a result of his dark appearance.
As he didn’t know the password, he cursed so loudly that a fellow officer recognised his voice and made sure the sentry allowed him to pass through.
He directed him to General Sosabowski’s command post.
Zwolanski entered, politely saluted and introduced himself.
‘Captain Zwolanski reporting for duty, General’.

Ladies and gentlemen,
The arrival of the Polish parachutists was a fantastic moral boost for the enclosed para’s.

They also formed a bridgehead, here in Driel, for four days, allowing many allied forces to be evacuated across the Lower Rhine.

They would have been lost without the Polish soldiers’ steadfast actions.
It’s partly down to their efforts that we have lived in freedom for as long as we have.

Freedom which Dutch soldiers have also been fighting so hard for during the past decades.

Driel is home to more than thirty veterans.
Both men and women who have worked in recent conflicts and wars.

They too fought for other people, in another country.

Take Patricia van der Does, for example. She left for a mission to the former Yugoslavia in 1997. A country torn apart by a terrible civil war.
Patricia was only 20 years old at the time. She describes her motivation as follows – and I quote:
“You want to help people, do your bit. I was prepared to give my life for this. You start off on your journey with that conviction.”

Jurgen Janssen also embarked on a mission in 2005 with that same conviction.
To Iraq. To the province of As-Samawah.

As an air gunner in a helicopter, one of his jobs was to collect the injured.
There was a major threat.
An Italian air gunner was shot down three days before he was due to fly his first mission.
A helicopter was a highly desired trophy, so he was regularly shot at from the ground.
At one point Jurgen was surrounded by a group of armed men.
All this has resulted in him looking at life very differently now and he describes this as follows:
“I am now much more thankful for the little things in life. For running water. That you can simply pop into the supermarket without needing to look over your shoulder. You normally wouldn’t stop and think about things like that. We really don’t know what freedom is here, because we’ve never lost it.”

I completely agree with Jurgen. We often don’t quite realise just what an incredible gift our freedom is.

And the price others have had to pay for this. Patricia and Jurgen didn’t return to the Netherlands unscathed. What they saw, heard and experienced out in the war torn areas they visited has certainly left its mark.

Protecting our freedom may well seem like something far removed from our own personal lives.
But when you consider that a number of our villagers did this for us……that they were prepared to give their lives……then it certainly starts to feel very close to home.

Or when you stop and think that Captain Zwolanski swam across the river just a few hundred meters from here. And back again too. He eventually did survive those hellish days.
Others were captured, injured, or even made the ultimate sacrifice: with their lives.

Our Polish heroes went to the absolute limits.
And for this we are still intensely grateful.

Dziękuję bardzo!