The Rhine perimeter – September 1944

The Battle of Arnhem of September 1944 is commemorated and remembered annually in the municipality of Renkum and the surrounding municipalities. The fighting on and around the bridge, the battles around important buildings such as the former Hotels Hartenstein, Schoonoord, and Tafelberg, and of course the Oude Kerk (in English: Old Church) in Oosterbeek are etched in the memory of many. The retreat across the Rhine to the town of Driel also attracts a lot of interest.

The retreat

What is less well known and less in the spotlight is the heavy and rapid retreat of the military forces from the perimeter in Oosterbeek to the Rhine, as well as the circumstances under which this happened. In fact, in the dead of night from Monday 25 to Tuesday 26 September 1944, more than 2,300 soldiers retreated to Driel on the other side of the River Rhine.

White Ribbon

White ribbons along the route, made from parachutes, marked the way to get to the river. These ribbons therefore became a literal lifeline for the military. If you lost sight of the ribbon or lost the person you were following, it could mean that you got lost – or worse. For many ordinary young men, soldiers, this ribbon became a lifeline.

Exhausted from the fighting, they had to make their way to the banks of the Rhine through forests and the floodplains. They were hungry and sleep deprived, the weather was bad, pouring rain and it was a pitch black night. They journey was also made worse as they were targeted on their way by murderous artillery fire.

Because the Battle of Arnhem and the capture of the bridge had failed, many became disillusioned. It was also difficult for them to leave a village that had been badly damaged in the battle and to leave their wounded friends behind.

Almost all the remaining, mostly British, soldiers moved to the Rhine near the Oude Kerk to make the crossing. Unfortunately many did not survive this trip.

In 2003, a small monument was erected at the place where the men boarded the small boats manned by engineers. Unfortunately this monument is not normally accessible from the Oude Kerk and the path leading from the church which is known as ‘Kerkpad’ in Dutch.

The withdrawal and this historic site are of great significance. In fact, this place marks the end of Operation Market Garden. It is not only a memorial to the many young soldiers who had to flee in September 1944, it also marks the place where many more died or were taken prisoner of war.

When fleeing is the only option

This place where people stop and think is also a place that reminds people that many refugees throughout the world are still looking for a good and safe shelter. People, whether they are young or old, men, women and children, who have had to leave their home or country. People who have had to leave family and friends behind to save themselves. Who, on their journey, have had to endure the hardships of war, hunger, fear and uncertainty. And a journey where there may not be a white ribbon that can serve as a lifeline.

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