Commemoration in Amersfoort May 4th 2014
Report: Philip van Leeuwen
Pictures: Marit Stellaard, Nationaal Monument Kamp Amersfoort
Some six months ago, made necessary by unfortunate circumstances, I had to pay a visit to the cemetery of Amersfoort. There I made the discovery that the grounds of the here so-called ‘ Rusthof ‘, also accommodate a large number of military graves. More than 400 fallen soldiers from both World Wars, coming from many foreign nations, have found their final resting place at this location. This part of the cemetery has accordingly been divided into sections of ‘Countries of Origin ‘. Here, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the graves of 234 soldiers coming from different countries of the British Commonwealth and as I discovered among them 60 Canadians. The entire site is exceedingly marvellously landscaped and lies among a beautiful, mature vegetation.
The discovery of the graves of these Canadian casualties made me aware that in future ceremonies, a delegation coming from The Royal Canadian Legion should not be permitted to be absent. After a short consultation with the Organising 4 and 5 May Committee of the city of Amersfoort, I was cordially invited to, on behalf of our branch, lay a wreath during the upcoming May 4th Remembrance Ceremony.
The ceremony, from start to finish, takes place almost entirely in silence and is quite different from what we usually are accustomed to. Departing from the visitor’s centre of former World War Two concentration camp Amersfoort at around18.50 hours an immense long procession sets in motion towards the statue of ‘The Stone Man’. This image is erected at the end of a 350 metres long former shooting range which during World War II, under barbaric conditions was completely excavated by prisoners. Later countless prisoners of Kamp Amersfoort were here executed and temporarily buried. At the foot of this statue with the official name, “Prisoner standing in front of the firing squad”, wreaths were laid, after which the entire procession again continued its way but now in reverse order. The head of the procession had already entirely made its way back over the full 350 metres to discover that the tail end of the procession had yet to start with that part of the silent march. Reliable sources make note of more than 1600 visitors.
The silent march then took to the public road and upon completing the distance of approximately ¾ kilometres it arrived at the military graves of ‘Rusthof ‘. At the entrance the many flags of the countries from which all victims came from were hanging at half mast. Accompanied by an orchestra the mayors of the cities of Amersfoort and Leusden laid wreaths, the national anthem was played and the two minutes of silence were observed.
The procession once again set in to motion and after passing through the graves of Dutch soldiers, where wreaths were laid, we reached the area ‘The Commonwealth’ section of the cemetery. There, simultaneously with a member of The Royal British Legion, the two of us laid our wreaths at the foot of The Cross of Sacrifice. This under the watchful eye of the front part of the participants of the silent procession. A solemn visit to the neighbouring Russian field of honour brought the event to an end at approximately 8:15 pm.
In Amersfoort, I was permitted to take part in a memorial service held at a magnificent location together with an enormous amounts of participants. It turned out to be something new and not quite that what we are accustomed to. Nevertheless a commemoration in which a firm participation on our part would certainly be well in place. In fact, the Honour Guard and the better part of the tiny ‘military’ presence has, to date been fulfilled by five members of the British Legion who annually come over from England. A bunch of great guys. The members of the ‘Dutch League of Brothers in Arms’ with whom I later spent some time, also insisted on a supplement from the ranks of The Royal Canadian Legion branch 005.I only hope that I can find the correct words to inspire the comrades of our branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and to spark their enthusiasm so that in future participation on our side will be expanded in Amersfoort. Because truly………. here is where we belong, here we are in place and here we can mean the difference.It was an honour and a pleasure to have been in Amersfoort.Herdenking in Amersfoort op 4 mei 2014
Verslaglegging: Philip van Leeuwen
Foto’s: Marit Stellaard, Nationaal Monument Kamp Amersfoort