If you saw or read “A Bridge Too Far,” this is the bridge. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, do. (As a matter of fact, I just downloaded it to read on my flight home). And if you’re ever in Arnhem, do not fail to visit the Airborne Museum, which is devoted to that battle and is located at the heart of where tens of thousands waged a battle that was truly epic in scale, tragedy and valiance.
My trip here, with an excellent guide (thank you, Avalon Waterways, the quality of the guides and the excursions shows the advantage being part of the Globus Family of brands) who had clearly steeped herself in the story of a battle that took a terrible toll, was yet another example of how travel can take you not just through space, but through time.
The museum itself is deceptive, located in the now beautifully restored villa that had served as Allied headquarters–but the tank on the drive tells you what this place is really about. Our guide set the stage well, first having our bus drive past one of the three landing fields 35,000 paratroopers jumped or flew into. One German reportedly looked up and said, “But it never snows in September,” because there were so many parachutes in the air. Then we drove down the eight-mile road they had to hike. The museum itself features displays, video interviews with veterans with photos and newsreel footage of the battle spliced into their recollections. Then you descend into three floors that are a multi-media restaging of the battle using stage sets, newsreel footage, dramatic lighting, recordings of bomb blasts and men shouting. It’s quite effective.
After visiting the museum, we drove to one cemetery holding the remains of some of the British, Canadian and Polish soldiers (the Americans are buried together in another cemetery in a different part of the Netherlands). Our guide walked around with me, showing me how some headstones are clustered together–these were flight crews who died together. There were many headstones with no names; the soldiers could only be identified by their country. But one was identified. At its base, I read these words: “Stars shine on the grave of the darling son I loved but could not save. Mum and Betty.”
I saw pebbles atop one headstone, a British soldier who was a Jew. He’d been a few years older–in his late 20s, many others were just 19, 20 and 21–he’d left a wife and son behind. Tucked into a small bush at the base of his gravestone was a yahrzeit candle, a memorial candle, and behind that, a photo of a family today, clearly multigenerational,come back to honor the grave of the man who must have been their father and grandfather.
Men die, but life-and memories–continue.