‘My journey in Holland’ by LAC Karen Mellows, 501 RAuxAF Sqn
From the 3 to 6 May 2016 members of 501 Squadron travelled to Holland to represent the Squadron by participating in a memorial service for Flight Lieutenant Regis Deleuze, a 21 year old pilot who was killed after being shot down during the Second World War in 1945.
We had been offered to be a part of this, the second trip to be organised, following last years trip being so well received by those who went. I did not hesitate to put my name forward as I was keen to represent the Squadron at any time I could. We travelled by minibus to Harwich and from there caught the overnight ferry to Holland. Once there we drove on to Haarskamp base, Gelderland, staying there overnight.
In the evening we went out to the Beverweerd estate in Werkoven where the memorial was to take place. Regis Deleuze was a young 21 year old pilot from Belgium who flew with 501 Squadron and sadly died after crashing into the trees lining a track in the Dutch countryside, just months before the end of the war. After his death, the site of the crash was marked by those living nearby. In 1977 this small site was found by a 10 year old girl who found out all about the pilot and has taken on the maintenance of the site over the last 40 years becoming its guardian. She has made a modest but moving memorial at the place where Regis was found.
It is a beautiful, peaceful countryside setting and there is a definite sense of calm there. A good place to reflect and remember both him and all others who gave their lives to try to help in the fight for freedom and peace for the future. We were able to play our part by parading up the track to the memorial site and participating in the short service of remembrance. As we started our walk we were surrounded by many, many people who had come to the service from the local towns and villages to pay their respects, much as we do on our Remembrance Day. They were adults of all ages and children too, all feeling the importance of such an event.
Personally I was filled with a huge sense of pride, a feeling which grew as we stood to attention through the national anthems of Holland, France and then Britain. This was the first time I had had the chance to be a part of a parade. I was representing myself, my Squadron, my nation and the Queen and my chest could not have been any more puffed out with overwhelming pride if it tried. This feeling was then joined by that of sheer sadness as the ‘Last Post’ was played by a single bugler. The significance of the piece has to me, as with most, always conjured up the question ‘why?’
I found the whole service very moving and respectfully put together with a few short pieces of music played whilst flowers and wreaths were placed and then just a couple of speeches. Afterwards the crowd were able to talk amongst themselves before slowly they dissipated and went their own ways. We were warmly and proudly accepted and fondly spoken with following the service. It was lovely to see so many attend and to see how another country turns out to pay their respects for those who did so much, so many years ago.
The following day we were able to go to Wageningen, the town where Germany signed its surrender to the Allied Forces at the end of WWII. The Dutch celebrate Liberation Day on 5 May each year with services and parades across the country. Wageningen also has a free music festival and a massive show with military bands playing and many stalls about different groups as well as a huge selection of restored old military service vehicles. It was a stunning, sunny day as we walked around enjoying everything the show had to offer. We also wandered down into town and had fun dancing with the locals, soaking up the atmosphere where a live band were playing in the afternoon sun.
At the end of the show the parade started, and as we weren’t actually marching in it this year we lined the street with the rest of the crowds to enjoy and show support for those who were. They were many. Current serving personnel and many veterans all in their best parade uniforms, medals shinning on their proud chests as they went by. The sometimes two or three deep crowd cheered and clapped as each troop passed. You could hear and see the honest sincerity of happiness and thanks with which the parade was received. As the troops marched passed Flight Lieutenant Wilmot was approached by someone asking if a they could borrow some members of his Squadron to go in their Jeep during the parade? The answer was yes and I was asked to be one of said members. I wasn’t about to turn down this opportunity.
“Take part in the parade, you say? Sit in the back of a restored American Jeep and smile and wave at the crowd as you go by, you say? Ok then, count me in!!”
I couldn’t believe it. Talk about feeling lucky. I watched with the rest of the Squadron as the different bands and troops went by and then came our turn to go. I climbed into the back seat of the Jeep and off we went, smiling and waving as we pulled out and joined the march. I thought it might be hard to continue to smile for the slow two mile journey but I was wrong. The feeling of elation and warmth coming at us from the people in the crowds was amazing. People shouting thanks and waving, taking pictures from not only the sides of the road but from the windows of the houses on the streets, from balconies further back, even from roof tops. Everyone taking any opportunity to catch a glimpse of the representatives of the services and nations which came together to liberate them and their family members from the tyranny of German occupation almost three quarters of a century ago. Children lined the streets, running up to the Jeeps to hand out flowers or to ‘high five’ the occupants, going away excited to have managed it. All too soon we arrived back and our journey was done. We thanked our hosts and returned to the rest of the Squadron.
I couldn’t stop smiling. I had never expected to be so utterly well received. I haven’t ever had an experience quite like it, I suppose it might be what a celebrity might feel. I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity and felt very humbled by the whole experience. It is most certainly something I will never forget.
The whole trip was a resounding success. I spent time with my unit for four days, enjoying good food, good company and great weather and in a lovely country. Most of all I got to participate in representing my country in one of the most important ways. This was the type of reason I joined the RAF and I cannot wait to do more of these types of significant trips of heritage again.