The battle of Arnhem, and the advance along "Hell´s Highway" by the relief column, reached it´s 60th anniv. in September 2004. As a keen World War Two battle reenactor, I marched from the Belgium border to Arnhem, getting lifts in military vehicles part of the way, wearing the original uniform and webbing of a soldier from an English line regiment.
The "after-action" report is here for all to read, followed by the photos taken by me along the route in the photo section.
Thursday 16th September 2004.
"Joe´s Bridge". I arrived at the Belgium border at 16:15, my wife and I searched for Joe´s Bridge, which marked the starting point of the offensive, but were unable to find it, although it could not have been more than 10 minutes walk away, because we had found the canal bank.
Time was getting late, so I decided to make a start with the walk. My wife helped me on with my kit before returning home, I was now on my own, and although I hoped to get a lift on a military vehicle, nothing of the sort was planed, it was just left to chance.
After starting with a very fast pace, I noticed after an hour that one of my toes was rubbed raw, I stopped to apply foot powder ( original ww2!), but this toe would plague me throughout the whole trip, sometimes making it painful to even stand up. Just after 5pm I reached the Valkenswaard CWGC Cemetery, and saluted the war dead. Half hour later I arrived at Valkenswaard, but still had to make Eindhoven before 8pm, as I was due to meet a "contact" at the museum who was putting me up for the night.
Made Eindhoven with 5 minutes to spare! I then spent the night at Carlo Gramser`s flat, who together with his friends made me very welcome. An early start in the morning, after looking at Carlo´s WW2 German motorcycle, I was brought to the outskirts of Eindhoven, as it was suggested that I would have difficulties finding the correct road north. (Thanks Carlo, I will collect my British Army Tea-Mug, when I visit you again).
Friday 17th September 2004.
Tried to keep to a brisk pace, but my foot was hurting badly by this time, so stopped for a break, and powdered my feet. Saw my first military convoy, and waved as they passed... this gave me new energy, and I was off again, this time I changed into my steel helmet. At 11:30 I met a woman from a Dutch newspaper( Klikneuws.nl) I was photographed and interviewed.
It was my intention to stay away from the modern roads and keep to the original narrow roads that were running along side, thus keeping to the original ground that the 30th Corps travelled on. One runs the risk of getting lost, when roads suddenly vanish, only to start again a kilometer further on. Thinking I was lost, I rejoined a path leading through a forrest, taking a drink of water, I saw a road sign, it read "Corridorweg", I knew I was back on track!
At 3pm I reached a low point, my feet hurt, with no energy left it was just will-power keeping me going... the pain, got to keep going! one foot in front of the other, push yourself to the limit and then further still... I started to sing songs to keep my mind active. A few minutes later I reached the town of Grave, I saw an aircraft flying low in invasion markings, there were two motorcycles heading in my direction, despatch riders in British WW2 uniforms. "How far to the Bridge lads?" Two kilometers, I can do that. As I got to the bridge, I heard military music and joined a group of veterans.
Unable to walk much further, I met a group of Belgians in Brit. WW2 uniforms who said they would take me the rest of the way to Oosterbeek in their Jeep, we drove around various battlefields Mook, Groesbeek etc, before arriving in the camp site at Oosterbeek.
Imagine my joy when I met one of my friends at the camp entrance, Rob van Meel. Rob allowed me to join his vehicle convoy for the rest of the weekend, I travelled around for the rest of the weekend in a Dodge Truck driven by Jerome, whom I got on with very well, and would like to meet him again.
We went out to the pub, about a dozen of us in the Dodge, it was really great! We got back about midnight, and got up about 6:30 next day.
Saturday 18th September 2004.
Spent the morning visiting the drop zones, and in the afternoon took part in the "Race to the Bridge", which we almost missed due to a policeman forcing Jerome to join a convoy of which we were not part, and it was even going in the wrong way! In the evening, yes, it was down to the pub again!
It will be noticed in the photos that I am wearing the insignia of the 3rd Infantry Division (East Yorkshire Regiment). I noticed several Bren Gun Carriers and an Armoured car, which were loaded with reenactors from England, wearing 3rd Div. insignia! We had a great chat.
We saw a minibus pass the pub loaded with drunken Brits, with a real size model cow on the roof, they had the side door open and two of them were holding onto the cow. It must have been stolen from a butchers shop I think? The real laugh came half hour later, when they passed in the other direction, with a police car following... take it back to where it belongs lads!
Sunday 19th September 2004.
After washing, and a coffee drunk from a mess tin, I went with Rob to Driel and looked at the Polish museum set out in the church for the 60th anniv. On arriving back to camp, I walked down to the crossing point at the edge of the Rhine, stood with my boots in the water, alone and thought about what it must have been like, being able to see soldiers on the other bank and not being able to cross, perhaps being taken prisoner, for the sake of a hundred meters of water?
At mid day I marched to Oosterbeek with a Dutch reenactment group, the timing was called out by an "officer" and it was done very good. We said our goodbyes, and I moved on to the Hartenstein Museum, we had seen Prince Charles there only the day before. I visited the museum in full kit, and it was difficult to move around the museum with a large pack on!
At about 3pm I was met on the front lawn by my wife, and my four day adventure was at an end, I have many memories, and made many friends, which I am sure I will meet again when the reenacting season starts again next year.