Yes, there had been many overwhelming surprises and opportunities along the way on our Liberation tour, and today would be no different. While I had been with our boys at the Peace Palace, Glenn and our new driver, Cees (pronounced 'Case') had been organizing a day that would take the strain off of what was to be a long drive to Groningen & Leeuwarden.
Instead of attempting the long drive, we would do something that no other tour operator could have been able to organize in the short time it had been open - today, we would visit the brand new National Military Museum of the Netherlands.
But first - a stop in Wageningen for some good cheese, some light shopping, and a stop at the Hotel de Wereld. It was on May 6 1945, 70 years ago, that the German general Blaskowitz finally surrendered to the Canadian general Charles Foulkes, which ended the Second World War in the Netherlands. The Generals negotiated the terms of surrender in the Hotel de Wereld.
^ The group outside of the Hotel de Wereld, complete with our 70th Liberation flag.
^ A pretty good visual of just HOW many cameras took that image - Somebody should be paying me commission here - I've got a pretty good photography hustle!
^ Ted Duncan, who plays a big part in our Battlefield community - poses with Ray Lewis with his 70th Liberation flag in front of the Hotel de Wereld.
To the Left: Hotel de Wereld 70 years ago - damaged by the effects of German occupation and the Allied efforts to liberate them. Seeing the town of Wageningen in all of its beauty today - it is hard to look back at this picture and see how it was a mere 70 years ago. So much has changed. So much history had been made.
Fun Fact: There is of course a famous photograph taken of The Canadian General Foulkes with the German commander General Blaskowitz in the Wageningen Hotel de Werled. In our collective memory a photographer snaps a photo where the signing took place to determine the "unconditional surrender of all German forces in the Netherlands." At the same time he immortalized the status of the present commander of the Interior Forces, Prince Bernard, as co liberator of our country.
This event marked the "liberation of the Netherlands" and contributed to a considerable extent at which we still May 5 to celebrate our freedom.
But the document had not been signed at this time. It was in fact 24 hours later that Blaskowitz finally signed it, in silence and in the absence of Prince Bernhard and a photographer, in the auditorium of the Agricultural finally the surrender of all German forces in the occupied Netherlands. >>>
^^^ The "McLaren Clan" poses for us with George Skerkowski, (from left to right, Keean, Earl, & Heather McLaren) in front of the Liberation Monument in Wageningen. The monument signifies the relief Wageningen finally recieved from starvation when the Canadians first started to provide food drops to the area. In the first week of May part of the town of Wageningen transformed into a huge storage area for food relief. From there, on May 5th, 750 Canadian lorries started to distribute food which returned consistently every 30 minutes.
Below, you can see my reaction after learning where that gorgeous aroma of cheese and fresh meats had been coming from. V V V
Exploring the National Military Museum - A pretty incredible excursion!
Situated on the former air base at Soesterberg, the National Military Museum opened on the 11th of December, 2014. The museum had been commissioned as an effort to display the The Netherlands Army Museum and the Netherlands Air Force Museum merging their largest collection pieces into a new museum at the airbase.
^^^ Walking to the front entrance of the massive museum - we were already blown away by just how huge the entire complex was.
^^^ The 45-hectare airbase was the birthplace of aviation in the Netherlands. It bears traces of WWII history and NATO use, and also has important natural qualities. The establishment of the new museum at the site is sized to let the landscape play an important role. The design team made a plan that excites, and invites the visitor to experience stories of the Dutch armed forces. The landscape forms the very real backdrop for the exhibition inside the museum, with its fully glazed facade. The museum and its surroundings tell multiple stories: the history of the place, the geographic context of lines of defense and training areas in the surroundings, and the intense relationship of the military and its tactics with the landscape. The area has become an exciting landscape where open and secluded and sturdy and sensitive qualities form a unity (Source: Topos Magazine, 2015) The use of gabions to create terrace edges, opena up WWII bomb craters and the restoration of representative buildings to make the past visible again. Vistas provide a clear orientation and a varied experience.
^^^ After paying the 9.75 euros - don't worry! The museum welcomed our veterans free of charge - we stopped in awe at the top of the three terraced museum. George takes a picture - in his colorful legion jacket which I loved almost as much as our view.
^^^ With only three hours to explore the entire museum, I quickly leave the group and run around to get as much as I can out of my camera. Like a child in a candy store, I sprint from one exhibition to the next, getting as much out of the experience as possible. There was just so so much to explore, I couldnt get enough of it!
...Out of the 549 photos and videos I took from just this excursion alone (whoops, aplogies to my ever escaping camera storage) I had a hard time narrowing it down to give our Battlefield Blog an idea of what it was we experienced. I think the following is a good introduction, but if you are an enthusiast of the history, aviation, or the battlefields, I HIGHLY suggest coming here and seeing it for yourself. My photos just don't do it justice!
^^^ Every exhibit room was jaw dropping - with brilliantly clear & colorful projections of real footage playing on almost every wall. The museum displayed real equipment in real situations, which had been used war time from the earliest periods of history to recent day. Even the dummies used in the exhibits seemed life like - manufactured from the same authenticity as seen in Madame Tussauds wax museums.
^^^ The lighting used was not only effective, it was empowering, making the vehicles and their handy work look all the more extraordinary. It emphasized how much power and work went in to the production and execution of each and every military vehicle.
^^^ Excellent, just what I was looking for...Let's get started shall we?
The posters you see in this photo above aren't actually posters - but instead moving images - real footage of events taken throughout the military history in the Netherlands. Impactful doesn't even begin to describe the scene...but to look up and see the ejecting seat found in one of the earliest military jets makes you say "WOW" out loud.
^^^ The model maps and cities were by far the most intricate and extensive layouts I had ever seen - they told a story of the time and place in 1945 across cities such as Arnhem, Overloon, Wageningen, Rotterdam, and Nijmegen. This model layout took up the expanse of the entire room, with lights to mark bomb raids and areas providing relief. It gave a perfectly extensive outlook to what we had been learning throughout our tour so far. A truly complimentary interactive learning tool.
^^^ The projection rooms would leave you breathless. It displayed footage I had never seen before in all of my research from the affected areas in Holland from German occupation, and the allied fight for liberation. Footage of hungry children begging for food, the damage caused in Rotterdam, the damage caused in Arnhem where allied forces attempted to cross the bridge too far, and many other areas and stories.
^^^ A woman looks up at large missle that struck a field near her home, showing just how massive these missles were.
^^^ One exhibition room went through the different models of the ejection seat for pilots use, from modern day to the first ever created.
^^^ The museum was a perfect atmosphere for children - with interactive video games and displays that introduce them to what the real history was like. Even adults took part in the fun.
^^^ Excellent, just what I was looking for.
^^^ Exploring the lower level was even more mind boggling. Just look how huge these missles were compared to the people below. To have these flying overhead must have been terrifying. As a matter of fact, to see all of this equipment operating in real life had to have been a terrifying sight. You can read books, you can look at pictures, you can watch videos - but to see this equipment, in real life, to look up in awe - that really is the only way to truly 'get' an idea of what it must have been like.
^^^ This although a bulky aircraft, is one of my favorite (Don't worry, the spitfires & hurricanes are still higher on my list) This is the Dornier 24K and was a flying boat fully operational from 1936-1943. This model is the Dutch version of the aircraft designed by naval officer C. Sanders. It was built under licence at Aviolanda in Holland. The nay used the Dornier to carry out long distance patrols over the vast Neterlands East Indies archipelago. The flying boat was also used to supply remote outposts and maintain liasons. The aircraft could hold six crew, with three gun and look out points operational on the front end, tail end and mid-body of the aircraft.
^^^ There was an engine exhibit - again, it boggles the mind. This is a Rolls Royce Merlin MK-73 on display. What an unbelievable piece of kit. Arguably the most well known aircraft engine from World War II - to see it in real life was remarkable. Fighter planes such as my favorite Spitfire and the P-51 Mustang flew with the V-12 liquid cooled engine, but so did multi-engined bombers like the famous Lancaster. Behind it, beautifully posted on the walls, the exhibit went into detail about all the intricate parts that needed to put into place to make this marvelous engine come to life.
^^^ Battlefield travellers father & son team Adam and Glenn Grenier go off on their own explorations - and take a moment at an iconic piece of the Berlin Wall.
^^^ Gotcha. I'm on my way.
^^^ It was easy to find the rest of the group - a crowd had followed them wherever they went, with many Dutch families and thier children wishing to say hello and pay their respects. "I'm counting my blessings right now to be in such a place with the men who had helped operate the equipment that led to their liberation." Said one kind gentleman who came by to say hello.
^^^ Looking back at the massive helicopter - its wings folded back in almost a gallant pose - I continue, with my head raised, to gawk with my mouth wide open. It was then, one of our Battlefield travellers, Gordon Gray from Halifax, Nova Scotia, walks up and stands beside me.
"You know I used to fly one of those" He says nonchalantly. I turn to him, gawking even more than I had been before, mouth still open. "I beg your pardon?" I ask. It's true. Gordon had flown with the Royal British Forces. He also trained military personell on how to operate them. And so ensued a plethora of questions I had for him, ending with "Can I please have my picture taken beside it?" His agreement to that photo was one of the best moments. The moment goes beyond extraordinary in all of my experiences.
<<< The staff couldn't tell me all that much about this tank, only that they had dug it out of the mud near by and think that it operated as early as 1941. The airbase had used it for shooting practice for years until it was eventually decommissioned and moved here last year.
^^^ The propoganda posters were another facet I found interesting. Once the Germans took over Holland, posters asking for the Dutch support and volunteer work in the war showed up on every corner. The posters attempted to portray a 'friendlier' side of the German effort. Many volunteers soon dropped out of the volunteer effort after witnessing in actuality the very poor working conditions in the German workhouses.
^^^ The Nike Hercules missle was operational in the years 1967 - 1984, and was a truly terrifying piece of equipment. The device used tracking radars to track and effectively destroy its targets such as aircraft or other missles. It blast its missles to an altitude of over 30km. During the Cold War, the United States gave the Netherlands 8 of these Nike Missles, which served its purpose to bring down a formation of bombers.
^^^ Looking out onto the airbase - you could easily spend days exploring the entire expanse.
^^^ There were some pieces of the collection that were just too big to be displayed anywhere inside the already massive complex. Pieces such as this Breguet SP-13A Atlantic: 250 Kon Marine.
^^^ Bumping into Emmy and Joanne, I get a wave as the two explore the museum inside & out together, sharing many stories of their experiences witnessing some of this equipment in real life. Joanne had survived the blitz in London at the young age of 13, where as Emmy, at 14 was in Amsterdam, a first hand account of the German occupation there.
^^^ Keean on his tip toes looking on the inside of this military vehicle.
^^^ Although an impactful visit, I left the museum with a clear message in my head: nobody wished for war, at any point in history - and the museum, as impressive as it was, made an effort to show they wish never to glorify war - but to make a point that it was a terrifying subject that deserves attention. The subject very much requires our understanding, to ensure that it never happens again. Like the Dutch have always said, "War belongs in a museum, and not on the Battlefield".