RCL Branch 005 and me. by Alice van Bekkum

Alice van Bekkum

Looking for concerned people……

Why should you become a member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005?….sometimes it just happens. Read the story of a concerned Legion-member, Alice van Bekkum. From whom even has been written in Canada (Ottawa Citizen – newspaper).

In the year 2002, at the General Cemetery in Gorinchem, I discovered a lonely war grave and that was something I wanted to learn more about. It appeared that it was the war grave of Harold Magnusson, a Canadian Engineer.

I found the website www.marketgarden.com containing a ‘Roll of Honour’ on which all victims of Operation Market Garden were noted and I contacted the webmaster. We exchanged information with each other and after I had received a photo from Magnusson’s family I asked them their permission to send it to the website.

In August 2004, after I had agreed to that, he passed my information on to journalists from the AVRO (who shortly prior to that had broadcasted an article concerning ‘The Roll of Honour’) and informed them that I had discovered something special.

And it turned out that they also found my story special. It became apparent that I had found the men who then, at the same time, had recovered the body of Magnusson from the ‘Lek’ river as well as the body of the Polish parachute trooper Czeslaw Gajewnik. In November 1944 as 11-year-old boys, they were pointed to something floating in the middle of the river which looked like ‘bags of flour’. By chance, a day earlier, a horse-drawn carriage transporting bags of flour had ended up in the river. Using the rowboat belonging to the ferry they pursued their objective. However that objective turned out to be the two bodies of soldiers who had been missing since the end of operation Market Garden.

The reporters were keen on turning it into a documentary, but their desire was to have the Canadian family come over. They expressed that they found it a pity that I had not looked for the relatives of the Polish soldier. They informed me of this during the initial conversation on August 11th. Shortly after that an avalanche of events came my way. In a short period of time much needed to be arranged. The family coming from Canada even had to apply for passports. With the wrapping up of the last recordings on September 13th, during the week of the 60th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, after which the broadcast was to take place on September 16th.

After it was clearly established that the sisters were to come over I got a brain wave. A memorial service had to be held for the twin brother of their mother who was now coming over. I spoke about this with webmaster Andries and he suggested to request RCL Branch 005 for their participation and a Colour Party.

The RCL Branch President of that time was bombarded by me with all kinds of questions as to how a memorial service should be conducted and organized. Beyond the fact that in the course of the years, as a host family for veterans, I had attended many memorial services, I had no military background.

But organizing something like this on my own? I took the plunge because after all it was for Harold and not for myself…… right?

Well I succeeded in making ends meet: A Reverend, Boy Scouts, a piper, a trumpet player, extended opening hours at the cemetery, a sound system and a Colour Party. Amazing all the wonderful people I found, who without compensation were willing to cooperate!

But one thing I almost forgot … there had to be an authorization from the Mayor and Aldermen of the municipality of Gorinchem for the commemoration memorial and furthermore for the TV recordings at the cemetery. We only received this by September 7th … and a burden fell from me!

And then the day came. It was a worthy commemoration at the end of a day of recording. The entire day had been one with wonderful weather but when we got to the cemetery we felt the first drops. “The tears of our mother” spoke both daughters of Harold Magnusson’s twin sister. She had always suffered much grief from the loss of her ‘other half’.

Herdenking begraafplaats 1The rain by now was gushing down so much so that the piper later expressed that during the rain fall he was seriously concerned about the welfare of his instrument. Even the sound system fell silent shortly after the wreath laying. I spoke out: exactly like that night when Harold was killed, due to the rain pour the spark plugs of the boats engine had quit after which the boat floating helpless in the middle of the river had received a direct hit.

At the end, in a nearby school cafeteria I had arranged coffee and something nice to express my thanks to everyone. Furthermore now everyone could dry up again.

This in 2004, was my first introduction to RCL Branch 005.

Soon in 2014, it will be ten years that I have been involved with RCL Branch 005 and with commemorations for fallen Allies such as Canadian soldiers. An involvement as such that I have been persuaded to sign up as a member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005 … despite my non-military background I am able to contribute my part and represent the ideas of the Legion.

We will remember them … we have to remember them!

Also read: Kelly Egan: in the Ottawa Citizen, Nov 13, 2013, click here

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