Battlefield Tourism – Battle of Arnhem & Operation Market Garden

Books and movies inspire us to travel to the same places where many of the greatest battles in history took place. It gives us the opportunity to reflect upon the harsh reality and tragedies of war, as well as the sacrifices that were made by the brave men and women who fought for freedom and human dignity.

The TV 10-part mini-series Band of Brothers, produced by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks and based upon the book by Stephen Ambrose, is primarily the story of “E” Easy Company, the 101st Airborne paratroopers, the success of Normandy, and the courageous role they played on the battlefields of WWII. Not only is it a story of war and its challenges, it is a story of the strong bond that is seldom broken or forgotten among men who band together to fight for the same cause on distant battlefields. We can relive some of the scenes from Band of Brothers in a visit to Arnhem in the Netherlands where the Allies in September 1944 fought the enemy, but failed to capture the bridges across the Rhine and stop the German invasion. One opinion is that the military plan supported by Eisenhower and Churchill might have worked and the casualties been fewer if they had heeded the information available from the locals about hidden German regiments.

The 1977 American film, A Bridge Too Far based on the book by Cornelius Ryan, featured an outstanding cast including Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, and many others, but it aroused considerable controversy as it seemed to portray the British at fault in the Battle of Arnhem.

In a visit to Arnhem, we will remember Operation Market Garden in the Battle of Arnhem, planned by Field Marshall Montgomery and commanded by the Scottish Major General Urquhart (portrayed by Connery in A Bridge Too Far). The 2-part strategy included over 35,000 Market airborne troops and Garden infantry who would capture 5 bridges, enter Germany through the Netherlands, and subsequently end the war (episode 4 in the Band of Brothers). The bridge at Arnhem was the final goal of Market Garden, a heroic endeavor by John Frost of the British 1st Airborne, but one that failed for lack of supplies and reinforcements from across the Rhine. This largest airborne landing in history ended in disaster with a catastrophic loss of over 7,000.

Arnhem, located about 50 miles east of Amsterdam, is a port city on the lower Rhine. It is a popular tourist spot and of particular interest to travelers who visit historic battlefields in Europe.

Museums:

Arnhem War Museum covers the military history of the Netherlands in WWII from the occupation to liberation in 1945. Exhibits of uniforms, equipment, documents, and some vehicles.

Hours: 10am – 5pm, daily except Monday, 25, 26, 31 Dec, & 1 Jan.

Admission: $8 – Adults, $7 – Children 5-12, free to WWII vets.

(First floor handicap accessible.)

Airborne Museum, the historic Hotel Hartenstein located in Oosterbeek about 4 miles from Arnhem, served as headquarters for Allied forces during the Battle of Arnhem. The museum features audio-visual commentary, photographs, uniforms, and dioramas of battlefield scenes in the large underground basement, as well as an old Sherman tank and other Allied and German artillery outside. The Hall of Fame has an impressive collection of photographs and portraits of many of those who served in the Battle of Arnhem. While here, you’ll get a real sense of the fear, the hardships, and the grief endured on the battlefield. An obelisk monument of soldiers and civilians representing Liberty stands on the museum grounds, while in a nearby park the bronze statue of a “Guardian” angel by Jits Bakker symbolizes hope and protection for all mankind.

Hours: 1 Apr-1 Nov, Mon thru Sat, 10am to 5pm; Sun & holidays, 12 to 5pm.

1 Nov-1 Apr, 11am to 5pm, Mon thru Sat; 12 to 5pm, Sun & holidays.

Admission: $11 – Adults, $10 (65+), $7 (13 -18), $5 (6-12). Museum shop & handicap accessible.

(Note: Maps available at the tourist information office in the lobby of the Museum and at various sites and locations in Arnhem if you choose to explore the battlefields.)

Tours: Travel back in time on a guided walk around the battlefield through the countryside to the banks of the Rhine. Another route takes you to the Airborne War Cemetery, where over 1600 soldiers of the Commonwealth, Polish, and Dutch are buried. As recently as 2003, bodies were recovered and carefully moved from hastily built battlefield graves to their rightful place in the cemetery. You can listen to stories of the battlefield as you walk along the Arnhem-Nijmegen Liberation route. Cycling and scooter tours are also available.

Memorials & Events:

Tourists will find numerous monuments and memorials commemorating the Battle and Operation Market Garden in Arnhem and nearby towns. The John Frost bridge, dedicated to the British Major General of the 2nd Parachute Battalion, is located about 3 miles from the Airborne Museum in the center of town. Frost and his 700 men were able to hold the “bridge too far” for 4 days before surrendering to the German army. (Frost is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the film.)

A monument from the 1st British Airborne honors the people of Gelderland (the province of the battlefield) and the Resistance for their unselfish acts of kindness in providing food and shelter, and for leading so many to safety. Not to be forgotten are the many Dutch women and girls who treated the wounded at the Battle of Arnhem.

The Needle Monument, built in 1946 by Jacob Maris, stands proudly beside the Airborne Museum. Other monuments include Heelsum, the first erected after the war, Hackett’s Hollow, the site of a bayonet charge, and an old pillar of the Justice Palace in Airborne Square near the bridge.

Every year from 12 to 20 Sep, concerts, wreath laying, church services, parachute drops on Ginkel Heath, and an airshow take place at Arnhem, Ede, Oosterbeek, and Heelsum. On the first Saturday in September, veterans, relatives, soldiers, members of the RAF, and civilians from over 15 countries take part in the Airborne March. Accompanied by bands and bagpipes, all ages can take part in the world’s largest one-day march past the museum, cemetery, and the drop and landing zones on the battlefields.

Prices: $10.50, or $7.50 if registering online. (Revenue goes to assist the next of kin in coming to the Netherlands.)

Accommodations: Several hotels offer packages for tourists, which include museum admission and bicycles to visit the battlefields and other attractions in and around Arnhem. Among these are the Arnhem Centraal, the Bilderberg Wolfheze, Dreyerood, and the Stayokay Doorwerth. (More information is available on each hotel website, although some may be only in Dutch.)

Getting there: Cross the channel from the UK, flights to Amsterdam, by car or train to Arnhem, and Rhine River cruises.

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Grief tourism

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