“It was a great time for a boy of eight years old.”
Not words you would normally associate with World War II, yet for Jan van Helden 1944 was a time when excitement ran through the region around Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
The Liberation Museum - experiencing the end of the war
Jan is one of around 100 volunteers at the Liberation Museum in the town of Groesbeek, not far from the German border. The museum guides you through the experiences preceding the war, during the occupation and the celebration of liberation.
With Jan at the helm our group were hanging on his every word.
At this point I have to plead some ignorance. I had no idea what an important role this area of the Netherlands played in the lead up to the end of World War II. Thankfully Jan began to fill in the blanks.
In September 1944 Allied paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were part of Operation Market Garden, an air and ground attack intended to bring an end to the war.
Unfortunately it wasn't a success and Allied forces remained in the Nijmegen area for a further eight months until the Netherlands were finally liberated from the German forces on the 5th of May 1945.
As interesting as the museum is, it was Jan's own experiences that brought the photographs and displays to life.
As that eight year old boy, Jan stood atop his house the day Allied troops dropped "like confetti" from the sky at the beginning of Operation Market Garden.
He relives tales of meeting Allied troops for the first time, bringing treats such as chocolate and chewing gum (which he duly swallowed having never experienced it before.)
Not many people can boast of learning to drive a jeep whilst sat on the lap of an American soldier. Jan can. An image that instantly pops into my head as towards the end of the tour we come across one on display.
The Liberation Route
The Liberation Museum is part of an initiative set up called the Liberation Route, a unique way of experiencing what happened in the area around Nijmegen.
Around the region over 80 audio spots designed as boulders have been placed where you can call a number and hear about what happened in that location. A sort of open air museum.
Whist the route only extends to this small pocket in the Netherlands there are plans to extend the route from South East England through to Berlin in Germany.
Now if only Jan could guide us along the way.
Wylerbaan 4, 6561 KR Groesbeek, The Netherlands
€10.50 (Adults) €5.50 (Children) bevrijdingsmuseum.nl
Our tour of the Liberation Museum was provided by RBTKAN, Regional Tourist Board of Arnhem and Nijmegen.