Address by the Minister of Defence of the Netherlands
Mrs Ank Bijleveld-Schouten
at the Commemoration of the contribution of the
1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade
to Operation Market Garden, 75 years ago
Driel, 21 September 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,
Your Royal Highness The Prince of Wales,
Veterans, military personnel,

I’m glad that we’re all together here today;
Your Royal Highness, I know that your presence here today means a great deal to the veterans and military personnel from Poland.
We have gathered here today to commemorate the courage of the men of the First Polish Independent Parachute Brigade.
Seventy-five years ago, they stood ready to jump, over Driel.
Those men had flown over the North Sea; they had waited days until they were finally able to get airborne.
And they already had a long journey behind them.
Because they had been exiled, they had fled their country.
They had reached England by way of such countries as Spain, Romania, Russia, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the United States.
Among them were people who had been in the Soviet labour camps.
They had made long and arduous journeys, they had endured cold, hunger and pain.
All to be able to don the grey beret – to wear it into battle.

They could never have imagined that their long journey would bring them here: in an aircraft over the Netherlands.

Their general, Stanislaw Sosabowski, had trained them for something else.
They wanted to pay tribute to their fallen compatriots …
…who, earlier, in 1939, had fought so hard against the Germans.
Now, 5 years later, they wanted to help to liberate Warsaw.
But they had received orders to take part in Market Garden.
An operation that some regarded as ambitious and impressive.
And others – such as General Sosabowski – considered grotesque and dangerous.
But whatever they thought of it, those Poles fought like lions.
Anyone who knows military personnel knows that their loyalty is beyond question.
They do what is asked of them.
They carry on when others stop.
As Minister of Defence, I know that all too well.
And yet it never ceases to impress.
Those men were asked to fight for our freedom while the people of Poland were crying out for their help.
Some hoped that the jump from the aircraft, over a country more than 1000 kilometres from their motherland, would bring them a step closer to home.
Many of them just did what they were asked to do.

Even though it was, as their general referred to it in secret, a leap of faith.
Because they were not dropped at Elden, but at Driel;
The ferry on which they were supposed to cross the Rhine had disappeared; when they tried to row across in rubber boats, they were shot at by the enemy.
Nothing went according to plan, but the Polish men gave their all.
Men like Tadeusz Cisek.
Here with us today.
He too was dropped in Driel on 21 September.
He was in his early twenties.
A handsome young man, if the photos are anything to go by! J
Tadeusz Cisek had also come a long way.
He was deported to Kazakhstan in 1940 and was a prisoner in a Soviet camp.
From Russia, passing through countries such as Iran and Syria, he eventually reached England.

Today, he is 96 years old.
And he is visiting these commemorations in the Netherlands for the first time.
It was a long journey for him from his home in the United States.
Corporal Cisek, I thank you.
You and your comrades from the brigade travelled a long road to fight for our freedom.
But you have had to wait a long time for our formal recognition.
The then Queen Beatrix awarded the Military Order of William to the First Polish Independent Parachute Brigade in 2006.
And the Bronze Lion, posthumously, to your General Sosabowski.
At last, our lion embraced the Polish eagle.

Corporal Cisek,
I am humbled by your courage and strength, and that of the two veterans next to you:
Henryk Kubinski and Konstanty Staszkiewicz.
We will never forget our Polish friends.
My own home town of Goor was also liberated by Polish troops, by the First Polish Armoured Division, on 8 April 1945.
I live near to the memorial.
At commemorations such as today’s, we are reminded of how much we owe to our allies for our freedom.
And that it is because of our alliance that we live in freedom today.
Because unity deters.
That is precisely why NATO maintains a strong presence in Poland and the Baltic states, with Dutch involvement too.
Together we protect our freedom.

Honoured veterans,
You fought for what we hold dear.

Thank you. Dziękuję.