Welcome by the Chairman of the Driel-Poland Foundation Mr A.J.M. Baltussen
at the 78th Commemoration of the contribution of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade to Operation Market Garden.
Driel, September 17, 2022

Dear veterans in Canada and Poland,
Sadly, your age and the state of your health do not permit you to be present at today’s commemoration. After two years of Covid-related restrictions, we have come to realize that, from now on, the commemoration in Driel will take place without your physical presence.
Fortunately, technology now enables us to let you witness that we still, 78 years later, continue to commemorate your commitment to our freedom.

Excellencies, Generals, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Driel-Polen Foundation, we would like to welcome you to this commemoration, during which we pay special attention to the contribution of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade to Operation Market Garden that took place 78 years ago.
Today we would like to greet also the next of kin of the veterans who are present here. We do hope that, in coming years, this group will grow bigger, to continue to honor their relatives with us.

Why don’t we take a closer look at the journey that many members of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade had to take before landing here in Driel on 21 September 1944.

7 months ago we were shocked by the enemy invasion of Ukraine.
83 years ago, Poland was surprised by similar aggression, at that time at two opposite borders.

On 1 September 1939, Germany started its occupation of Poland from the west.
On 17 September, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east.
These attacks were agreed upon on 28 August 1939 during the “The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.” On one hand, the pact enabled the Germans to occupy freely their eastern border of Poland. On the other hand, the Russians were given the opportunity to overrun the areas they had already claimed after the First World War. The advance ended on 6 October 1939 with the partition of the entire Second Polish Republic between Germany and the Soviet Union, and the annexation of both parts of Poland.

The night of 9 February 1940 was the night of deportations of the Polish population by the Soviet Union. Polish citizens from the Soviet occupied territories, well over 300,000 people in total, were deported to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Siberia. Many of them did not survive the journey due to the unbearable conditions and the inhuman treatment by the Soviet Union.

Nazi Germany also forced Poles to migrate. By the spring of 1941, at least 840,000 people had been evicted and bereaved. Between late 1942 and August 1943, another 110,000 Poles were forced to undertake a brutal relocation.

Because of the invasion by Germany in 1941, the Soviet Union entered the allied camp and Stalin made an agreement with the Polish government in exile. The captured Poles were released in 1942 and were able to join various Polish army units either in the Soviet Union or in the West. As a result of this agreement, tens of thousands of Polish prisoners of war were able to leave the Soviet Union. Many of them joined the army corps of General Anders who fought in Italy. Others made a trip to England to join the Polish army units of General Maczek and General Sosabowski.

The deportation in 1940 was a journey of about 4,000km. The journey of men who later joined the Polish army units in England led, via Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Persia, (now Iran), Jordan, Israel, to Egypt. From there they took the boat to South Africa, travelled along the western coast of Africa to finally reach Scotland. The journey that they started in April 1942 took them about six months. This journey was approximately 36,000 km long.

Those who joined the General Sosabowski’s unit had only one goal – to be deployed in the liberation of Poland.
The fastest, but at the same time the most difficult, way to bring Polish military units to the homeland was through airborne landings. Sosabowski became commander of the Paratroopers Brigade. The paratroopers would fight for Poland on Polish territory. That is also why the word ‘Independent’ is used in the name of the Brigade. The goal of the brigade was the liberation of Poland and the phrase “In a shortest possible way” (Najkrótsza Droga) was ingrained in the brigade’s morale.
The Polish government in exile in London wanted to deploy the brigade to support the planned uprising against the Germans forces in Poland before the Red Army would occupy Poland. Unfortunately, this could not be realized due to political pressure and logistical limitations.
The brigade was eventually used to execute Operation Market Garden in 1944. Some paratroopers landed in their gliders with their anti-tank guns on 18 and 19 September on the north side of the Rhine, together with British soldiers. The majority of them landed, however, here in this village on 21 September to help their British and Polish comrades who were fighting north of the Rhine.

The Soviet army advancing to Berlin did expel the German occupier, but instead of freedom the Soviet army brought new domination. In doing so, the agreement made in November 1943 between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill about post-war Europe was fulfilled. Poland’s new borders had been established and the era of occupation by the Soviet Union had begun.
For the Poles who fought in the west, returning to their homeland meant immediate imprisonment or worse. Most of them settled in Europe or moved to start their lives on other continents.

The journey was completed – the journey that a lot of them were forced to take through Siberia in 1940. In that case, Driel was only a stopover, the stopover that resulted in everlasting friendships.

The friendship that began in September 1944 between the Polish military and the people of Driel continues. Lots of proofs of this bond are present and noticed clearly in this village. When General Sosabowski and his brigade were blamed for the failure of Operation Market Garden, the people of Driel carried on supporting the Poles in their struggle for rehabilitation, which followed in 2006. The Military Order of William was awarded to the 1st Polish Independent Paratroopers Brigade.

The banner with the Military Order of William and the representation of the 6th Airborne Brigade are present at this commemoration every year. Thanks to them, and the next of kin of the members of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, we pursue this crucial friendship.