Letter - October 2001
saw my return to Holland to share in commemorations of the Battle of Arnhem.
Due to advancing years and failing health, perhaps only 300 British
veterans were able to join us this time, though many thousands of British and
Dutch were still gathered at the drop zone when we parachuted in and I led a
simple Service of Remembrance. Some
locals, children at the time of the Battle, told me their memory of seeing the
sky filled with white parachutes and wondering in their innocence why it was
snowing in September.
the Battle of Arnhem had been won in September 1944, the war in Europe might
have been over by the end of the year. The
Allies would have beaten the Russians to Berlin, and the post-war division of
Europe and the subsequent Cold War period avoided.
Extra resources would have been released to fight the Japanese in the
Pacific, and the world may never have had to witness the atomic devastation of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki… But such
theories are speculation because we did not win the battle for one Dutch bridge;
"a bridge too far" some called it.
Battle was desperately hard fought, but ultimately lost.
British and Polish Airborne Forces were outnumbered three to one, but
fought on until they could fight no more. Four
out of five were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
The Battle's loss was also a tragedy for the Dutch civilians who went on
to suffer great cruelty and deprivation over the harsh winter that followed
before the war eventually came to an end. Many
starved to death. A most moving
memorial stone now sits at the edge of Arnhem.
It was raised by the British veterans themselves and is an apology to the
Dutch people for their failure. They
gave everything they had, but everything they had was not enough.
war ended the British returned to Arnhem fully expecting bitterness and
recrimination. What they found were
Dutch children carefully tending the graves, and their parents telling them
stories of how these brave young men had fought and died so far from home trying
to bring freedom and peace for people they never even knew.
was a tragedy. It was a disaster.
You run out of words to say… But
somehow it's been strangely redeemed. I
saw a little Dutch Muslim girl lay a bunch of flowers on the grave of a British
soldier. His headstone bore the
Star of David.
was reminded of the passage from St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
Many things will cease at the passing of this world, but Faith, Hope and
Love will never end. They have the
touch of heaven about them. They
conquer all. They outlast all
September 2001 saw global events take a terrible turn. On our TV screens we all saw live, one event of such implication that some prophecy it may yet tip the whole world into deep darkness. A war may have to be fought. Young men may die in a foreign land. Some battles may even be lost. But don’t let us ever ever believe that these things will be the last word. The sadness of these times will pass away. For when the dust of all battles clears only Faith, Hope and Love will be left still standing.
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