France, Belgium & the Netherlands

During the past summer and autumn months, Europe Remembers on Tour had the opportunity to visit multiple locations in three different countries – France, Belgium and the Netherlands – and follow the commemorations and celebrations of some defining events leading to the liberation of Europe, such as the liberation of Paris and Brussels, Operation Market Garden and the battle of the Scheldt.

The Battle of Normandy and civilians: July 12 - 15

“Normandy is most likely to be known for D-Day; the suffering of the civilians is much less known. This leg of Europe Remembers on Tour was meant to highlight the stories of those who were the innocent victims of the liberation of their own country and to the towns which paid a heavy tribute with countless destructions.”
- Rémi Praud, Managing Director of the Liberation Route Europe

Europe Remembers on Tour visited Normandy again, this time with a special focus on the civilian victims of the war. On our first day, we visited Falaise, and we listened to the story of the Falaise Pocket. The Falaise Memorial is dedicated to the fallen civilians in the war; the estimated number of victims is 20,000 civilian victims, a very big number, because people found themselves caught in the crossfire between the Allies and the Germans.

On our second day, we visited the memorial of Montormel, a crucial location because here Western Allies surrounded and defeated the Germans. A special role was played by the Polish, because they blocked and prevented the withdrawal of the German troops.

We then travelled to Caen, where the historian Stéphane Simonnet told us about the high price paid by the civilian population of the city in the battle for the liberation. During the bombings, the people sheltered in the former abbey, now the city hall, forming a city in the city. Later, we visited the prison of Caen, where the nazi killed a large part of the prisoners, their bodies never to be found. We then moved to Epron for the official commemorations of the civilian victims of the Battle of Normandy.

The Liberation of Paris: August 24-25

“Being in Paris for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the city was very impressive. There were so many people of different ages and backgrounds. Veterans and their families but also young people who have not experienced war came together to celebrate freedom.”
- Roxane Biedermann, Project Assistant

Paris Day 1: occupation, uprising and the role of foreigners

On our first day in Paris, we discussed with a local guide the problems of the occupation for the civilian population: there were shortages of food, the rationing system was in place, but also means of transport changed: as the metro was barely running, people increasingly used bikes to move in the city.

We remembered the deportation of the large Jewish community present in Paris, and we spoke about the uprising that was caused by a general strike which paralyzed the city, and about the key role of the policemen which took part in the resistance. We discussed the role of the Spanish troops of La Nueve to liberate the city, giving back importance to the role of foreigners, which is generally underestimated due to the big suffering of the French and their honor.

Paris Day 2: Army Museum, Museum of the Liberation and Freedom Parade

On our second day in Paris, we visited several historical sites such as the Army Museum and the Musée de la Libération de Paris – Musée du Général Leclerc – Musée Jean Moulin, which was recently moved into its new location at the square Denfert-Rochereau. We also interviewed French historian Stéphane Simonnet about the liberation of Paris in August 1944. He spoke with us about the role of Charles de Gaulle, the uprising of the Paris population which preceded the liberation, the role of the resistance and the victory parade held in the city on the day following its liberation.

Eventually, we took part in the very animated Freedom Parade and attended several commemorative ceremonies and the official ceremony in front of Paris City Hall.

Terneuzen: August 31

“Being in Terneuzen, where the nationwide kick-off for a year of commemorations and celebrations took place, felt special.”
- Wout van Aalst, Project Assistant

On August 31, Europe Remembers on Tour was in Terneuzen, in the Dutch province of Zeeland, for the official launch of the programme celebrating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. Terneuzen was the starting point for the liberation of South Holland.

Terneuzen was one of the sites where the Battle of the Scheldt was fought in the autumn of 1944, and heavy fighting occured there; the city was eventually liberated by the 1st Polish Armoured Division. Dutch King Willem-Alexander officially started the celebrations and was later joined by prime minister Mark Rutte. The event included concerts, speeches, and a mobile exhibition on the history of military engineering.

Belgium: August 31 - September 1 - 7

"Taking part in the events commemorating the liberation of Belgium was particularly important to me as a Belgian citizen. The events organised were of a unique scale for this 75th anniversary and it was great to see such an important mobilisation in Mons, Brussels and Antwerp."
- Roxane Biedermann, Project Assistant

The liberation of Mons, August 31 - September 1

Our journey to celebrate the liberation of Belgium started in Mons, the first Belgian city to be liberated by American troops on 2 September 1944. First, we visited the Mons Memorial Museum and its new temporary exhibition "1944 Immersive Experience", which can be visited until June 2020. Then, we attended the ceremony held on Mons’ Grand-Place for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the city.

The next day, we enjoyed a bike tour from Mons to Halle, passing through Ronquières and Ittre, following the footsteps of the liberators.

The liberation of Brussels, September 3 - 4

On September 3, we followed a guided tour centred on WWII in Brussels, which ended at Cinquantenaire Park where the Liberation Column North – a 700-meter long military column with nearly 70 WWII vehicles – had just arrived. We attended the official protocol ceremony held at Cinquantenaire.

The next day, the Europe Remembers on Tour team was in Molenbeek for the ceremony at the National Monument "To the Glory of the Piron Brigade". We ended at the Halles Saint-Gery for the Liberation Ball and the inauguration of the photo exhibition “Brussels, freed city”, which was created in cooperation with the Sege-Soma (Centre for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society).

Mechelen, Willebroek and Antwerp, September 5 - 8

On September 5, our journey continued in Flanders, where we visited the Kazerne Dossin in Mechelenand the Fort Breendonkin Willebroek. At both locations, we saw the advancing Liberation Column North. On September 6 and 7, we participated in Antwerp’s Liberation Days. We followed the Liberation Parade, we visited the Liberation Village where we could experience how life was during the wartime years, and we witnessed a unique joint parade of historic and contemporary vessels and aircraft over the Scheldt river.

Mesch: September 12

“It was a very nice experience to take part in the liberation celebrations at Mesch, the very first Dutch town to be liberated by U.S. soldiers.”
- Wout van Aalst, Project Assistant

Mesch, a village in the province of Limburg, was the first one to be liberated in the Netherlands due to its proximity to the Belgian border. Our team followed the celebrations for the 75th anniversary, which were also attended by some veterans from the Old Hickory division. In Mesch, we interviewed the major of the city, as well as two young boys who gave us a powerful insight respectively on the relevance of history and on the understanding of the importance of the motto “never again”.

Operation Market Garden: September 17 - 22

“It was very impressive to see how many people showed up at the different events and activities. This shows history is more ‘alive’ then ever.”
- Wout van Aalst, Project Assistant

Operation Market Garden Day 1: Best and Eerde

From September 17 to 22, Europe Remembers on Tour took part in the commemorations for Operation Market Garden, visiting several sights and attending ceremonies and events throughout the Netherlands.

On the first day, we walked 8 kilometers of the Airborne Hiking Trail, from Eindhoven to Best; then, we visited the Operation Market Garden educational basecamp, where schoolchildren could experience history in a lively way. Later, we visited the ‘Geronimo’ Museum and attended a memorial jump by US veterans and the ceremonies at the Windmill in Eerde, which served as an outlook post.

Operation Market Garden Day 2: en route to Eindhoven

On our second day, we walked for other 20 kilometers along the Airborne Hiking Trail, from Sint-Oedenrode to Veghel. In the afternoon, we visited the Wings of Liberation Museum and its special collection, as well as the Van Abbe museum; we listened to the stories of sacrifice of LL Colonel Robert Cole and Joe Mann at their respective memorials.

We made a special stop at Paulushoef, a farm that played an important role at the beginning of the operation: as told to us by an eyewitness, the people living there were the first to have a contact with the American soldiers that had landed near the isolated farm.

We ended the day witnessing the Liberation run from Valkerswaard to Eindhoven and taking part in the military parade in Eindhoven, where we saw the column of old military vehicles.

Operation Market Garden Day 3: Groesbeek, Grave

On our third day, we continued with a visit to the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek and to the nearby recently renewed Freedom Museum, which presents the memory of the war in a contemporary context, with a bigger perspective, making the visitor reflect on what is freedom for us today.

Our hike continued towards Nijmegen. We saw the frame of a Waco glider in Groesbeek, listened to the story of the importance of the bridges in Nijmegen and ended the day at the bridge of Grave.

Operation Market Garden Day 4: Waal crossing and Arnhem

On the fourth day of our Liberation Route trip over the Operation Market Garden region, we took part in the Waal crossing in Nijmegen! In the framework of the efforts to conquer the bridge in Arnhem, we stopped at the 'Poles in Driel' information center, a very important place to remember the amazing sacrifice of Polish troops and we ended the day with the Liberation Concert at the John Frost bridge in Arnhem.

Operation Market Garden Day 5: Ginkel Heath and the Sunset March in Nijmegen

Saturday, fifth day of our journey, was all about the mass parachute droppings in Ede, recalling the dropping of the Allied soldiers, which happened in very difficult conditions because of the fires that erupted in the area due to the battle.

Later that day, we visited the Horsa Glider at the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek and we interviewed a veteran, which was piloting similar gliders; he reminded us of the importance of freedom and loving each other. At sunset, we witnessed the Sunset March, a daily tribute to the American soldiers who died crossing the river Waal.

Operation Market Garden Day 6: Oosterbeek

Finally, our tour concluded with a beautiful commemoration at the Oosterbeek War Cemetery, where students from schools of the area laid flowers on all graves. After the ceremony we were present at the spectacular crossing of the 6th Polish Airborne Brigade at the Driel ferry at the Rhine. This as a reminder of the attempts of the Poles who tried to help the British soldiers who were trapped in Oosterbeek in September 1944.

The Islands: October 10 - 12

“Taking part in the commemorations in the Betuwe aerea was impressive, also keeping in mind the conditions that the Allies had to endure.”
- Joël Stoppels, Project Manager

From October 10 to 12, we traveled to the Betuwe area to continue our journey in the footsteps of Allied soldiers. 

After September 1944 and Operation Market Garden, the Betuwe, the floodplain between the Waal and Rhine river, became the boundary between Allied and German territory. The half flooded no-man’s-land came to be known as "Men’s Island", since almost all the women and children were evacuated and the land was surrounded by water.

For Europe Remembers on Tour, the team visited the site of the Crossroads Battle, Operation Pegasus I and Opheusden. We saw and heard how the soldiers of the Allied divisions held the ground in the area, what difficulties they encountered, and how they resisted artillery barrages, dangerous patrols, rain, wind, and bitter cold.

Battle of the Scheldt: October 24 - 25

“The commemorations for the battle of the Scheldt received a very large attention, which was good to see given the importance of this battle for the liberation of Europe.”
- Joël Stoppels, Project Manager

Battle of the Scheldt Day 1: Sloedam, Hoedenkenskerke, Ossendrecht

The battle of the Scheldt was one of the largest operations during the Second World War, and Europe Remembers on Tour team was present to the commemorations, in late October.

75 years ago, British, Canadian and Polish troops were ordered to clear the German defence around the Westerschelde, the access to the harbor of Antwerp, a crucial node for the supply of troops and equipment. On our first day, we visited the Sloedam and Hoedekenskerke. We explored the curious and engaging dilemma maze in Bergen op Zoom and visited the War Museum Ossendrecht. 

Battle of the Scheldt Day 2: Westkapelle, Bergen op Zoom

On our second day remembering the Battle of the Scheldt, we visited historical locations in Vlissingen and Westkapelle, including an authentic bunker, recently renovated, and a curious German camouflaged bunker, which looked like a civilian house from the outside.

We visited an exhibition on the role of the Norwegians to liberate the area, which is often forgotten, and later the renewed Liberation Museum Zeeland. On a last note, we attended the Liberation parade in Bergen op Zoom.

This week, from 12 to 16 December, Liberation Route Europe on Tour will take part in the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, as well as the celebrations in Bastogne, with its popular NUTS weekend. Follow our updates from these events on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), watch our daily video reports on our YouTube channel, and don’t forget to check out all the related and future events on our website.

Share this page