Our first day on the road took us to Nijmegen and the Liberation museum in Groesbeek where we were greeted by Canada's CTV news crew - who came specifically to speak with Bud, Frank, George, & Ray.
Picture top left: Bud is showing correspondent, Ben O'Hara-Byrne of CTV news his photo as a 22 year old in uniform, while at the Groesbeek Liberation Museum today.
Our group had arrived early, and to our delight the museum opened specifically early just for us - having organized a film of the area and free walk around to explore Holland's true depictions before, during, and after their profound experiences in the war. "Yes," veteran Ray Lewis says to me, as we pause at the old hull of a German submarine - he walks with me around the museum, arm in arm alongside Karen, the museum's head co-ordinator. "After the war, I had found a nice, brand new German motorcycle, just lying there in the commotion. I took it and drove around for ten whole days. It was marvelous - until an order came through saying that anyone with enemy equipment of any kind would have to stand guard on duty for another two years in Germany. I didn't want to do that after everything we had been through - so I drove it into the river." He looked at me and grinned as he said "It's probably still in there". Meanwhile, Bud Weeks had wheeled over to a Sherman tank. To our driver Luc's surprise, Bud climbed out of his wheelchair and CLAMBERED on to the tank, climbing along the side! Jaws dropping everywhere, Bud seemed unaware, banging at the tank, muttering "These tracks are all plastic - awful! When you hit fire - it all melts to the ground. What were they thinking?" Shaking his head, he climbs higher and higher, to the fright of everyone on the ground. "What are you doing!?" Luc finally shouted as he tried to climb up into it. "I want to see how she runs!" Bud hollered back.
Luc paused before shouting back "I don't think it works anymore!"
Top Picture: Yep, that's Bud. Climbing a tank. Hahaha, you can tell that Sharon Weeks, Bud's daughter was about to faint from the sight of him! In the forefront, George Skerkowski.
The museum in Groesbeek was an astounding place to visit - even for me after being there before and saving the brochures and posters from all those years ago. But my attention was focused on the CTV interviews, and especially Ray Lewis, who had a special surprise to share with me.
During the war Ray had done many extraordinary things - and although he has left some things to rest forever in his mind - he still can tell of the highlights in his great adventure. After a 2 week training in England, Ray was at sea for 14 days before arriving in Italy to fight on the front of the Italian campaign. The sight upon arrival was quite different from today - and upon arrival, the troops docked up against a half submerged medical ship, which they used to hop off the ships side before taking canvas bag boats to the shore.
Under heavy artillery, Ray still can't believe he survived with only some shrapnel in his leg - every man who had taken over his role, either before, after, or during his recovery, had been killed. After surviving Italy, Ray worked his way through to Holland, where he stayed with a family for such a length of time he can't remember. There in the family, was a girl of thirteen. She gave him a pendant and continued to write to him during his time fighting & liberating the Netherlands. It has been 70 years, but he's kept the letters she had written - and shared them with me, which I now would like to share with you.
Top Pictures: Ray let me take pictures of Marella's letters to him. After 70 years they certainly have lost touch - however he assumes now that she may be a grandmother of her own. He told me how suprised he was by her letters - only 13 years old and in a foriegn language - her writing is superb, and although the grammar is rough you can understand what she is saying. The extraordinary part? Her send off: Canada for ever! "They really were starving" Ray told me. "They really were. We would put out barrels of our scraps: crusts of bread, coffee grinds, really, whatever we had wasn't much to begin with - but the children, no matter how old, would run to us and eat whatever we had. It was awful how desperate the situation was."
"The important part of Holland's history that I think we all have to remember," Karen, the head co-ordinator reflected upon with me "Is that Holland never was involved in the first world war. The Dutch really truly thought that war and strife and starvation and suffering would never ever effect them. It makes you think, if it could happen to them at that point, it could happen to any country. The next generation needs to be very mindful of that."
Top Picture: Ray & I on our walks around the museum - I owe this picture, which I found in my inbox this evening, courtesy of Ruth Pearson.
Bottom Picture: The lovely mini tour we recieved from Karen. "The Dutch had three options during the occupation: Join the Germans, keep quiet and try to survive, or RESIST. Those who attempted to join the Germans were heavily punished after the war." Ray agrees, noting how strange it was to see, among a celebration, Dutch people, having their hair cut off, having fellow countrymen throwing anything they could at them as they were paraded through the street".