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, 76 years ago

Driel, 21 September 2020

 Dear Veterans who watch this ceremony by livestream,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It feels strange to be standing here on an almost empty Polenplein.

The contrast with last year could hardly be any greater.
Crowded stands.
Prince Charles’ historic arrival.
And the presence of three Polish veterans:
Mr. Kubinski, Mr. Staszkiewicz and Mr. Cisek.
We will always cherish the memory of that very special commemoration service.

We were immensely looking forward to the presence of these veterans again this year.
These men who actually fought for our freedom.

It goes without saying we feel incredibly saddened by the absence of these veterans.

This extraordinary year has given us all a little taste…
…of what it’s like to have to give up at least part of our freedom.
Our country simply hasn’t had to experience anything like this since the war.

It has certainly served to remind us that our freedom isn’t something we should be taking for granted.

And we can therefore definitely also imagine the joy everyone must have felt when the Polish parachutists were dropped above Driel’s meadows and orchards.
These soldiers had been instructed to distrust the local population.

But that soon proved to be completely unnecessary.
When the Polish Parachute Brigade’s chaplain knocked on the rectory door at the Roman Catholic Church in Driel…
…Priest Poelman opened the door…
…kissed the man on both cheeks…
…and handed him a beautiful antique crucifix, with the words ‘I am giving you this crucifix as a reminder of our liberation from the Nazis’.

And when they embarked on a patrol to Heteren…
…to their complete amazement they were enthusiastically greeted by thirty excited citizens with festive bouquets.
Knoppers, the Mayor at the time, gave a speech – which the Poles obviously didn’t understand a single word of – and handed over the key to the town hall with a bow.
After all, Heteren and Driel belonged to the liberators!

However, the joy unfortunately turned out to be short-lived.
The Polish parachute brigade had been given a truly impossible task: cross the river and strengthen the Oosterbeek lines.

The Driel ferry had vanished without a trace when they arrived.
They only had a few rubber dinghies.
Without paddles.
That was literally all there was.
With pioneer shovels, rifle butts and even with their own bare hands…
…a small part of the brigade managed to reach the other side.

They fought a very unequal battle, suffering horrendous losses.
Yet the arrival of this brigade was a fantastic morale boost for the trapped paras across the river.

Plus they also formed a bridgehead here in Driel for four whole days, allowing for many allies to be evacuated across the Neder-Rijn.
They would undoubtedly have been lost without the steadfast actions of the Polish Parachute Brigade.

And it goes without saying Driel’s residents helped where possible.
We are naturally already familiar with Cora Baltussen’s extraordinary efforts.
But two other names I’d like to mention are 17 year old Henk te Dorsthorst and his friend Antoon Clappers.
They dug trenches together…
…and helped lay mines, closing off the southern access to the village.

Back in those days some fantastic foundations were laid for a very close relationship with the Polish veterans.
There are now only a precious few left of these veterans.
Mr Kubinski died a couple of months after last year’s commemoration service.
He had been staying with the Röben family every year since 2004.
They used to love looking after him and always made sure he didn’t want for anything.

Mr Kubinski thoroughly enjoyed this and would do everything he could to be part of it every year.
Including last year, even though his health had quickly started to deteriorate.
Hendriët Röben told me it seemed incredibly unreal to them that he was no longer part of the commemorations this year.
But also that she feels it’s very important to continue to remember.
And I wholeheartedly endorse that.

Sergeant Michal Iwaskow from the Polish Parachute Brigade described the importance of this very poignantly – and I quote:

“Let’s pay tribute to the members of the parachute brigade who fought so bravely. And let us also honour the citizens of Arnhem, Oosterbeek and Driel, who suffered heavy losses and lost many family members and possessions. A fight against tyranny always leaves crosses, despair and destruction in its wake.” – end of quote.

Today we’re putting those words into practice.
We’ll be reflecting on the immense sacrifices which were made for our freedom.
Let’s make sure we continue to do so in the years ahead.
Thank you very much.