A day spent travelling from London to Arnhem in The Netherlands meant a lot of time gazing out into the countryside and just taking note of the changing landscape. Leaving London meant travelling by Eurostar train under the English Channel - a whole 20 minutes in which you wouldn't even know where you are. Next thing we knew we were in France but didn't take long and we were in Belgium! But that's train travel in Europe I guess. So far a very flat landscape and now up here in The Netherlands it seems even flatter! Weather is a little so so, bit damp, cool and dreary but nothing that's way too cold, fortunately. met up with the other 40 odd in this group on the first night in - this is the bi-annual reunion for the UK and Australian Army Air Dispatchers most of whom are now well into their 60's and 70's so a gathering like our first night here, meant a few drinks and a few tall stories!
On Saturday we headed off to a couple of significant memorial museums and and sites of interest where at the end of WW2, the allieds tried to cross 3 bridges to move into Germany - 2 bridges were crossed but the Brish forces were tasked with the 3rd bridge here at Arnhem and failed miserably, resulting in thousands of lives lost over a couple of weeks. The movie "A Bridge Too Far" will now have much more meaning to it when I next sit down and watch it having been to that 3rd bridge.
The past 2 days I have sung more hymns, said more prayers and sat through more memorial services than I have in 20 odd years!!! The reason for this reunion was for this annual reunion here at Arnhem which I guess one could relate to the ANZAC services and memorials we have at home. Today's service at the Oosterbak Cemetery is one which I will always remember though - about 5000 odd people at this Commonwealth Graves Cemetery and near the end, hundreds of the local school children all moved into place in front of all the gravestones in the cemetery and laid flowers on every grave site - that was a true 'wow' moment!
I personally found myself standing in front of 2 Australian soldiers headstones, and bent over to read the inscription and poem and to also admire the flowers around this particular grave and take a couple of photos for the boys in our group - it was in fact a B.Williams from Australia (my maiden name is Williams!). In doing so an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked if I knew of this particular soldier. I didn't of course but he explained to me how he died and that the Dutchman who had buried him 66 years ago, had returned to this gravesite just 12 months ago to remember him. The gentleman then mentioned that for the past 12 months he had been searching for this Soldier's relatives in Australia. He then gave me a sheet of paper telling me who he was and that he then had lots of catching up to do with others so I shook his hand and we both went our ways. I then had a read of what he had just given me and discovered that this gentleman had been awarded a British MBE for his services in researching those graves of unknown and untended headstones in that amazing cemetery. He had obviously spotted me to begin with looking at the headstone and having been searching for records of that particular soldier wondered why I was taking the interest.
Anyway, I have passed this on the the guys we are here with from Australia and a couple of them would be keen to see if they can help this 'gentleman' out. Let's hope they can. But what an amazing encounter for me.
The countryside here, having now been here a couple of days is absolutely beautiful! The woods and trees are huge and the whole area around here in beautiful and green! even the kiwis with us have said how they always thought NZ was green but this place is REALLY green! Unfortunately (or fortunatley) the local timber mills do not touch the trees in this area - they are too heavily embedded with shrapnel from WW 2 to be of any use to anyone.
The cattle and sheep in the fields ar FAT!!! Every one of them! Sheep seem to not have their tales docked off, dogs come and go in and out of restaurants with their owners, everyone is tall, the countryside is so flat that everyone pushbikes everywhere. There are dedicated laneways for pushbikes and they have their own sets of traffic lights to which they all abide by. As we do, we wander over footpaths all the time here without realising that we are in fact on bike paths! We soon get shoved aside!
The weather has been quite cool - I've had my wooly jacket on every day so far, but touch wood, the rain has stayed away although it seems to always be very threatening.
Tomorrow we head off to Amsterdam - Anne Franks House, the Heineken brewery and of course the red light area with the girls in the windows! Will report more when all that is over!
All well this end, can someone PLEASE email us and let us know you are out there somewhere!!!! Have to say I miss hearing from those back home with just the every day gossip - so if you've got any - pass it on!!