Speech during the commemoration of the deployment of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade by the Mayoress of the Municipality of Overbetuwe, Patricia Hoytink-Roubos,

on Saturday 18th September 2021 in Driel.

Excellencies, Generals, Ladies and gentlemen,

Sadly there are no Polish veterans here today at the Polenplein.
However, we do have the 92 year old eyewitness

Pater (Arie) Linsen in our midst.
Pater Linsen, we are so happy to have you with us today and that you are able to lay flowers at the monument on behalf of the Driel population.
You were 16 years old when the soldiers of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade came down here on Thursday 21st September 1944.
I understand you can remember it all as if it were yesterday.
You eventually had to leave the village on Sunday 24th September.
It had simply become too dangerous to stay any longer.

That certainly also proved to be the case when the Polish soldiers experienced a black day on 25th September 1944.

The Polish headquarters in Driel received a shocking message at midday.
The trapped British troops across the river were to be evacuated.
The Poles had to prepare for their departure from Driel and be ready for ‘other tasks’.

Only a few Polish soldiers had managed to cross the river and strengthend the British lines due to the lack of boats.
They had regained their positions in the heavily damaged Driel.

Some Polish soldiers were still digging in, when the worst German artillery bombardment,

Driel would ever experience, started.
This firing continued throughout the entire day.
Grenades were fired towards Driel from both, the north and the east.
An ever increasing number of men were either killed or wounded.

The shrapnel even penetrated the emergency hospital in the parish hall, where Cora Baltussen was hit in the head, left shoulder and side.
At a certain point she was no longer sure whether the blood on her clothes was her own or from one of the wounded people she had continued to care for, despite her own injuries.

The Polish soldiers’ situation became increasingly desperate as the day went on.
They were forced to move a few times in order to escape the intense fire.
Their last move was to their positions at the Baltussen factory.

Annoying was the fact that the groundwater was penetrating the one-man foxholes.
The Polish soliders tried their best to stay dry with branches or hay at the bottom of the holes, and their rain capes on top of this.
I can well imagine, they would have started wondering, what the point of it all was, back then.
They had hoped to be deployed in the battle for Warsaw.
But instead they had been dropped in Driel with an impossible task. Cross the river and reinforce the Oosterbeek lines.
Their efforts were completely ignored after the war had ended.
For example, the 1e Polish Independent Parachute Brigade was not invited to participate at the great victory parade in London.
And Major-General Sosabowski was discredited.

We now know that the arrival of the Polish soldiers was a fantastic moral boost for the trapped para’s in Oosterbeek.
We now also know they formed a bridgehead here in Driel for four days, allowing many allies to be evacuated across the Lower Rhine.
And when we zoom out even more, we can safely say that the deployment of these Polish soldiers, has helped us to live in freedom for 77 years now.

A freedom which Dutch soldiers have also fought for in recent decades.
Thirty Dutch veterans are living here in Driel today.
Men and women who have been involved in recent conflicts and wars.Including Major Scheers.

Major Scheers has been sent on 2 missions.
To Afghanistan in 2010 and Mali in 2016.
He was the commander of an international team to guard and secure the camp of American and Australian soldiers in Uruzgan in Afghanistan.
The camp was shelled with rockets, 36 times, during the five months he spent there.
An initial rocket was usually followed by a second one.
Major Scheers would then have to raise the alarm within a very short period of time, manage the crisis teams and prepare the fire brigade and medical team.
He had to make decisions under great pressure and within very short time scales.
In situations like that there is absolutely no room for doubt, fear or panic.

Or, like Major Scheers himself put so beautifully – and I quote:
“When your hair catches fire, you have to stay calm enough to put your head under a tap.”
In Afghanistan he found out that, what he had always practiced for, became very useful when it mattered.
This has resulted in him, still looking back, on that mission with great positivity.
Also because he managed to make a difference for his comrades and the Afghan people.
That year saw the end of the Dutch contribution to the ISAF mission in Uruzgan.
Our country did continue to make a smaller contribution to the Resolute Support mission after this.

The Driel Captain Beeksma took part in this mission in 2018.
The Afghan government independently organised elections in that year.
For the first time in 35 years.
The election committee had to work closely together with the Afghan military and police to guarantee security during the elections.
Captain Beeksma contributed to the establishment of this cooperation.
The elections in 2018 went more smoothly than expected.
And many people waited for hours at polling stations to vote, despite intimidation by the Taliban.
That’s how badly the Afghans wanted to vote for a democratic country.
This makes it incredibly sad to see how much the situation has completely changed in just a few months’ time.
We have all followed it with utter amazement and dismay.
And many soldiers may well be wondered what the meaning of their deployment was.

But they all performed their tasks in good conscience.
Or, as Captain Beeksma told me:
“As a soldier I may well have questions concerning our deployment, but I simply try to carry out what I have been instructed to do to the best of my ability. So I still feel we all did a good job, even though it was only locally and on a temporary basis.”
I have a huge amount of respect for this.
Just like I do for the soldiers of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade.
They gave the residents of Driel hope for better times.
It can’t have been easy for them, to have been deployed here in the Netherlands.
And do so, they were not unable to help their compatriots in Warsaw.
But still they gave everything they had.

The Polish soldiers wanted – just like Major Scheers described so beautifully – make a difference, save colleagues and protect the population.
They were prepared to make the highest sacrifice for this.
For our freedom.
Today we look back on this with great respect and gratitude.
And let’s make sure we always continue doing that.

Thank you very much