It’s that time again. That time I run back to my blog and write one of those rare long accounts of what I’ve done. It must be another We Happy Few 506 tour. Why yes, dear reader, you are correct. This time, though, it was right around the corner in my own country. Relatively, anyway – a one-and-a-half-hour drive in the rain on Friday to reach our hotel (the fancy Pullman) in Eindhoven.
Armed with camera gear (I consider myself a replacement at best) in the absence of our regular tour photographer Stu, Geertjan and I set out for the drive over. On a whim, we stopped at the airport to pick up Natasha before finally arriving at the Pullman. There was a little hick-up with the accessible room, but they sorted it out before the night’s end, so I won’t make a fuss in this blog.
I didn’t do much the first evening apart from eating spicy pizza at Happy Italy and popping into the supermarket for some supplies for the weekend. I gave Matt and Mark (Huberman, our Band of Brothers actor guest) some art, which I hope they liked. Do you guys think it’s getting old? Should I stop?
Day one: In the footsteps of Easy Company
The following day, we sat down for breakfast. I went the English Breakfast route (minus the beans on toast or tomatoes – gross). It was cold, so I abandoned it halfway. I brought some fruit for unexpected hunger pangs on the road and then set off towards the bus on the other side of the building. It took a bit to figure out the bus, as railings are never quite convenient, but eventually we settled on the first row, on the left – later right.
Our first leg of the tour focused on Band of Brother’s Easy Company. I was already familiar with this part from the very first tour. Still, our tour guide, Reg Jans (the legend,) took us to places within the towns and villages that I had never been to before, like the very centre of Nuenen (where van Gogh was not born, actually, Webster!), where we saw Café Schafrath. It’s the cafe that you see in episode 4. Little did I know – I only just found out – that my mom and dad attended numerous raging parties there in the seventies.
Other stops included the St. Antonius mill in Eerde, the Joe Mann Memorial Stone in Best (and other Joe Mann-related sites), the Robert Cole monument near the dropzones in Best, Paulushoef in Son where we were shown and told about Forrest Guth’s Purple Heart, the amazing Landgoed Schoonderlogt in Elst and the ‘Crossroads’ in Heteren.
A Sunset March at the Waal crossing
The next part of the journey took us closer to (my) home and involved a little surprise. Our trusty bus (liberally put, those who were there will know) took us to Nijmegen. With rain pelting down on us and wind lashing at our faces, we crossed ‘De Oversteek’. Literally, The Crossing, this bridge took us from one side of the Waal river to the other. What followed was something extraordinary—a Sunset March. We were met by a fully uniformed veteran, who led the way back over the bridge. As we followed him in columns of two on the bike lane, 48 streetlights came on one by one as we walked across in silence—one for each American soldier who died in the perilous crossing on September 20 1944—a fantastic thing to be a part of. As I’m writing this, 3294 Sunset Marches have already been completed. A veteran has made the crossing every night since the start of the ‘Crossing Lights’ project on October 19 2014. We concluded our day at the monument below the bridge (only accessible via some stairs, thanks boys for helping me down).
Day two: British Paratroops
Day two of the tour was dedicated to the British troops, and all locations we visited were within 40 minutes of my home, yet I had never purposely visited any of them. Shame on me. The first stop was in Heelsum, where the 1st Airborne division landed on September 17 1944. We also saw the dropzones in Renkum and Ede, from where we followed the stories of commanders Frost, Dobie and Fitch, as well as Urquhart to Arnhem and Oosterbeek. And I didn’t even photograph the goddamn bridge! While each of their stories were amazing and heroic, I won’t all relay them here, though I implore you to research them.
Ivor Rowberry's Letter
There is one story, though, more specifically, one letter, that has stuck with me since. The letter that Private Ivor Rowberry wrote to his mother. While at the Old Church in Oosterbeek, Mark H. read it for us. Find below a wonderfully moving audio recording made available by Reg Jans.
There’s a twig in my eye. In yours, too, don’t lie. He was only 22 when he wrote that letter, five days before a mortar grenade hit and killed him. I was barely beyond crawling at that age. (Feel free to joke about how I’m still barely beyond crawling now. It’s funny, okay?)
Our second-to-last location/story was at the home of Kate ter Horst, also known as the Angel of Arnhem. I don’t remember much of it because I was exhausted and somewhat numbed by Ivor’s letter. Sorry, Reg, you’ll have to tell me again.
But there could have been no more fitting ending than the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetry where we met once again with the heroes whose stories we’d heard during the day. Another place I had shockingly never been. A place both haunting and peaceful. Humbling, too, to see the young (!) soldiers in their final resting places with epitaphs by their families who missed them most. I don’t think that if I ever have an epitaph, it would be quite so moving.
The tour's Epitaph
This tour ranks way up there on the list of tours I’ve been on, maybe because it is right around the corner. It makes it all the more real. As for the people on this tour. Well, I promise I was only crying over breakfast because I was really tired, not because of how much I will miss every single one of you. I was just really tired. Shut up.