Saturday, September 20, 2014

Commemoration at the Engineers Monument

Today we attended the ceremony at the Engineers Monument (25th Anniversary of the Engineers Memorial 1989 - 2014).  Alice has played a very important role in this commemoration as year after year she places 7 roses in wooden boats in memory of the 7 Royal Canadian Engineers of the 23rd who lost their lives in Operation Berlin.

 If you zoom in, you will see the Old Church.

 One of our favourite Stormboat Kings!!!  Donald Somerville with daughter Darlene.
 Hercules flying above ceremony.
 Monument for the Engineers.

 Alice shows Donald the newspaper article from Uncle Tony's commemoration.

It poured rain, but not one person left until the program was over.

Airborne Commemorations

Our first stop today was to attend the Commemoration of the XX1 Independent Parachute Company in Oosterbeek.  The men of the Independent were British and were a part of the Market part of the Market Garden initiative.   The monument is situated in Oosterbeek where the XX1 met with fierce resistance from German soldiers.  It was an intense battle lasting many days.  Many innocent dutch citizens were killed, many lost their homes and many soldiers were killed or badly injured.  There was a serious lack of supplies and communication with other allied forces was badly inhibited.

 The monument.
 Jonathan Eastwood, son of the late First Lieutenant David Eastwood, told the story of the fierce battle that ensued in Oosterbeek.

Next stop, the Airborne Museum.

 The Museum was the headquarters for the airborne troops.

 Some of the weapons used in the war.  This gun required three men to haul, one for the gun, one for the stand and one for the ammunition.
 Part of a map describing the strategy for Market Garden.

 The basement of the Museum is a simulation of what the Market Garden initiative was like.  The padre, the medical personnel and wounded were left behind in the evacuation in the Old Church which we will show you later.  They were captured by the Germans and were most likely, once able, sent to POW camps.

 Overhead, there were sounds of bombing and German soldiers talking.  It was terrifying.
 This white ribbon was as the one used to guide the trapped troops to the Rhine River to evacuate.

Many troops were rescued by the Storm Boat Kings (among the rescuers was the 23rd Royal Canadian Field Engineer - Uncle Tony being one of them)  It was called Operation Berlin.

Off to Old Church
As mentioned the The Dutch Reformed Church was used by the airborne troops as cover from the Germans and to house their medical team and the wounded soldiers. They were under heavy fire by the Germans.  On Monday September 25th, the airborne troops were told to evacuate from the church onto a treacherous route toward the Rhine.  There they would be rescued by the allied forces in boats (the 23rd being among them).

 Check out the bullet holes!

The route to the Rhine River...keep in mind it was a much different terrain at that time.

Finally, the Airborne Commemoration in Arnhem
This was a commemoration for both the British and Polish Airborne Troops.  The ceremony was extremely well attended with almost 70 Veterans in attendance.  It was so amazing to see at the end of the ceremony, a parade of veterans marching to the cheers of thousands of people on each side of the street.  Many even left their wheelchairs as proudly they marched - heads held high in pride.  The clapping did not stop until the final veteran made his exit from the parade.  In the evening, in an attempt to attract more of the younger generation, a light and sound show was put on a dyke next to the Rhine River in Arnhem.  There was a large screen attached to the bridge and a full orchestra on stage.  It was an incredible evening as the veterans appeared on the water in the Jules Verne cruiser - ready to watch the show.  They received a standing ovation by the crowd (thousands) who were first seated on the grass...

 Parachutes propelled by men and small motors - each carrying flags from various countries.

 In the evening a light and sound show.  The large screens on the bridge told the story of the Battle of Arnhem through the eyes of children and the dutch citizens.  It was very artistic and extremely well done.
 The veterans arrive in the Jules Verne.
 Dancers on bridge - look closely.  Various artists performed such as a country singer, trumpeter, opera singer and a fantastic orchestra.
During the story of the war, the fireworks were launched to represent the airborne - each red light here is carrying a small parachute...

Some Speeches from September 18th - The Unveiling of the Antonio Barbaro Monument.

Here is the link to the interview Alice van Bekkum gave the morning of our Uncle Tony's commemoration.

"The Untold Story of Lance Corporal Antonio Barbaro," by Alice van Bekkum 

A good looking young man he was... 
Loved by his family, liked by the girls and appreciated by his friends. 
Antonio George John are the names his parents gave him. He was the youngest of seven brothers and one sister. Both his parents were Italian immigrants; they first met each other in Canada and got married.
His usual name was Tony; he was a talented, promising Technical High School student. Where he shined in baseball, footbal and hockey. Tony liked to drive a motorcycle.
His penmanship, recently found on a letter to his brother Mike was outstanding. Tony’s also talented niece, Deb inherited his draught box which she still cherishes until today. 
Anthony Barbaro, a retired Mounted Policeman, is named after his uncle.  He wrote to me:  “Although I never had the honour of meeting Uncle Tony I want you to know that he came from a very loving family, and we honour his memory. Uncle Tony's death was a very difficult subject for my grandparents, who spoke very little English and they did not speak much of their youngest son, because it was very difficult for them. Nor did his brothers and sister. The few times that I asked my Dad, Sam Barbaro, who also served overseas in the War, about the circumstance of his brother’s death he would only say that he drowned in Holland and would fill up with tears and walk away.”
As a fifteen year old boy Tony played trumpet in the Giovanni Italiani a l'Estero Band. Which was organized through the Roman Catholic Church for the young externally Italians.  A fellow member of the band was Salvatore Palone, who is still alive today.  He met Tony in London while on leave, six weeks before he drowned. He calls Tony a really nice guy who was always smiling and happy.
Sal gave his picture of the Band to Kelly Egan, a reporter of the Ottawa Citizen, who published that photo of Tony and traced the relatives. Which finally ended up into the unveiling of this monument today.
Since Tony joined the Army in August 1942 he was attached to the 23rd Field Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers. At the end of that year he was sent to a draughtsman course in Saint John New Brunswick.
The 23rd Field Company was embarked for the UK in July  1943. At different locations the soldiers were trained in building bridges. In March 1944 Tony met his brother Sam, who was a Sergeant at the Overseas Records in London. One year later Sam received the message of his brother’s death…
Tony drowned close to this place of the monument, only twenty-two years old. His mother received a letter from his Padre, who said: “He generously gave the only life belts in the boat to his companions. As his Roman Catholic Padre I dare say he was one of the best of my flock. He sacrificed his life to give his companions a better chance to live.”
Antonio Barbaro gave his live like many other soldiers, on behalf of our freedom. 

Loved by his family in Canada and from now on remembered in The Netherlands.

Thank you speech by Win (Barbaro) Mackenzie - on behalf of the Barbaro family.

Mr. Mayor Gradisen, Canadian Defence Attache Colonel Hogan, Veterans Donald Sommerville and John Meeusen, The Village of Mook, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls of Adalbert School.

My sister Deb, my niece Cassie and I are honoured to be here today as representatives of the Barbaro family. 

There are not sufficient words to adequately express our gratitude to you, Mr. Mayor, the Committee members and the people of the Community of Mook (and Middelar) for all the thought and work that went into establishing this monument for our Uncle Tony. We are deeply humbled that our Uncle would be so remembered. It is unfortunate that his parents and siblings have all past on - we know that they would have shared these feelings.

The description declaring Antonio “to be an ICON of the soldiers and inhabitants who fell in and around this village on the Maas during WWII” is such an honour. To be declared as an icon of the inhabitants who also fell, is a recognition and symbol of the very special relationship that exists between the peoples of Canada and the Netherlands.

So many families, both Dutch and Canadian, suffered the loss of a loved one who fought in the war and, together with those Dutch non-combatants whose lives were also taken, should always be honoured and forever remembered.

We recognize that many people were involved in bringing us to this momentous day and we thank each and every one of you. Special thank you to John. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the force that brought us here, Alice van Bekkum - her undeniable curiosity, energy and just plain ‘wanting to know’ led her to pursue the story of our Uncle Tony. Her relentless investigative work took her to a reporter with our local newspaper in Ottawa which led to a printed story that included an interview with our youngest brother Tony, named after our Uncle and a proud retired member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Following publication of the story, her continuing pursuit of knowledge about this young soldier, our Uncle Tony, now involved us, his family, and provided us with a new perspective on a part of life that he and the people of the Netherlands endured during WWII. 

Because of you, Alice, we have learned so much more about our Uncle and with each new piece of information, he became ever so real in our lives. The many e-mails from Alice with various information about our Uncle and this commemoration have been shared with many members of the Barbaro family, of which we are numerous and they too are in awe.

Our ‘THANK YOU’ to you Alice and to the many other persons who made all of this possible, seems so inadequate - please know our gratitude and that of the Barbaro family, is heartfelt - because of your interest in our Uncle, someone you never knew, we are here and we will be forever grateful.

Let us never forget the people of The Netherlands and Canada who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom. In the words of Kelly Egan, “Memory may be what you hold, but remembrance is what you do.”
Thank you all.

We will never forget!

September 18th, 2014 is a date that will be remembered by us for a lifetime.  It was a day filled with emotion and overwhelming feelings of gratitude.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of our Uncle Tony.  We will try to share our experience with you in both words and pictures.

The day was sunny and warm and as we arrived at the ceremonial site in Mook on the shore of the river Maas where our uncle was drowned, we could not believe our eyes.  Draped over the monument was a large banner picturing Antonio Barbaro.  Local residents lined the street overlooking the river and the children from Adalbert Basisschool, roses in hand, were awaiting the beginning of the ceremony.

We were welcomed by many folks, including the Mayor of Mook, the Canadian Military Attache, the Master of Ceremonies, and many invited guests.  Without Leen and Alice by our side to support us, I am not sure we would have ever been able to “hold it together.”

The commemoration program was amazing.  It was so professional, well organized and extremely thoughtful.  No detail was left undone.  Every speech was well rehearsed and aptly captured the history of Uncle Tony’s contribution (Operation Berlin) and sacrifice during the war.  Most poignantly, Alice spoke of Antonio - his personal story, of a young handsome man who loved to draw, play music and who was so loved by his family.  

The monument was unveiled at the beginning of the program.  It is a piece of an original 1944 Bailey Bridge - the type of bridge Uncle Tony and his comrades from the Canadian 23rd Field Engineers were repairing to support Operation Veritable.  We could not take our eyes off this monument throughout the ceremony.  It is a profound visual reminder of the importance of bridges in the liberation of Holland and of the engineers who built and maintained them.

Next, the unveiling of the commemorative plaque.  Donald Somerville, a comrade of Uncle Tony and a member of the 23rd who is now 92 years old, Win, Cassie and I were called upon to unveil the plaque next to the monument.  It was draped with the Canadian flag.  When the flag was lifted the four of us were completely stunned by what we saw.  The plaque is not only a work of art, skillfully crafted and detailed, it tells a beautiful story of a fine young soldier who gave his life so that his comrades would live.  In that moment, we felt that Uncle Tony was with us.  We were so moved and so proud of him that we were brought to tears.  We have traveled many miles to be in that moment.  We hardly knew our uncle, except for a few pictures and stories from our dad.  But on this day, at that moment, we were overwhelmed with gratitude - both to the Dutch people who have really never forgotten him but for the chance to know him, be with him and to honour him as a family.  In that moment, we wished that our entire Barbaro family could be with us to see and to feel what we now know.  Words can hardly describe the experience.

Finally, we boarded the DUKW, which is an amphibian vehicle used in the war to go from land to water.  We were taken down the Maas River along with a piper and Donald to lay a beautiful heart shaped wreath.  Alice used vines from a neighbouring forest and had 22 roses placed on it - one for each year of Tony’s age.  Amid the sweet sound of the highland pipes, Win, Deb, Cassie and Donald, who saluted his comrade, placed the wreath in the Maas, at the tragic site where Tony drowned.  And as the sun set, we watched the wreath float away.  Our hearts were heavy but there was an unbelievable sense of peace and closure that is hard to describe.  

When we could no longer see the wreath, we headed back to shore.  And in the evening, coffee in hand, we reviewed the days' events with Alice and Leen. Of the commemoration to our Uncle Tony, we are humbled by the overwhelming generosity of the people of Mook and for their dedication to and respect for our Uncle Tony who they have made an icon of their village.  
Alice and Leen have taken us to many 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland events, including a visit to the Liberation Museum in Groesbeek.  We have learned so much about Market Garden and the impact it had on the families of Holland, the allies who fought - those that sacrificed their lives and those who have lived.  We are in awe of the great respect the Dutch have for the veterans of the war and have witnessed, first hand, their love and gratitude for all the sacrifices made.

We will never forget.  We hope that our family members will visit Uncle Tony’s grave in Groesbeek Cemetery and the monument and plaque in Mook.  It is not good-bye and as Kelly Egan said in his article in the Ottawa Citizen November 10th, 2013: “Memory may be what you hold, but remembrance is what you do."

The day began with Alice's interview with a local television station on the monument site.  Leen taped it for us so that we could watch it in the evening.  Alice did a great job - we were all cheering her on!
Leaving for the ceremony.
 Alice and Cassie in the early 1945 Ford GPW Jeep!
Cassie and Leen - off to the ceremony!
Reception before the ceremony.  Win showing the Mayor of Mook - Willem Gradisen, the wonderful photograph book she prepared to bring to Alice.  It is full of old pictures of Uncle Tony and his family.  Here you can see our grandmother - Catarina Barbaro.
Donald Somerville (Veteran 23rd Field Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers) and Ryan Barr, grandson of the deceased Harold Barr also a member of the 23rd.  Again at the beautiful reception before the ceremony.

Arriving at the ceremony.  Here you see the banner covering the monument.  The banner will be displayed by the monument during the annual Njimegen four day march as participants pass by Mook along the march route.  Uncle Tony will be forever remembered through this famous event.
 The Mayor of Mook, Win, Alice, Cassie, Donald and Deb.
 The Sergeant-at-Arms: March of Colours accompanied by piper to begin the ceremony.
 Mr. John Meussen, master of ceremonies.

Memorial Speech by Mayor of Mook Willem Gradisen.
The Untold Story of Lance Corporal Antonio Barbaro by Mrs. Alice van Bekkum.  Mr. Maarten Dekkers, historian and guide from the Liberation Museum gives some historical background.
Student from Adalbert School recites beautiful poem in Tony's honour and memory.
Unveiling of monument by Mayor and Colonel Michael Hogan, Defence Attache Canadian Embassy.
Unveiling of plaque by Win, Deb, Cassie and Donald Somerville.
A moment by the plaque.

Monument and plaque.
 Laying of the wreaths.
 Wreaths from municipality of Mook and Middelaar, Canada by Defence Attache, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 005, Donald Somerville, and the Barbaro family.
Win speaks on behalf of the Barbaro family!  (speech will be posted shortly)
 Piper and Sergeant-at-Arms: March of the Colours ends ceremony.
 Group picture of special guests.
 The amazing plaque.
The girls on the DUKW. An amphibious vehicle. 
 Donald and Win share a special moment.
 The railway bridge in Mook and site of Antonio's drowning.
 Although the Maas looks peaceful here, there were times when the water would rise to the number 4.
Donald throws his rose in the water near the location of the bridge where Uncle Tony drown.  It was such a profound moment as he said good-bye to his comrade. He said to Win, it was like a moment of closure.
A picture of the wreath Alice had made for us to place in the Maas River.
 After placing the wreath in the water, we see it now floating peacefully toward the Rhine.
 We couldn't help but think that should there have been just one more life jacket.......

 Good-bye Uncle Tony, rest in peace.  We shall never forget you.  The Act of Remembrance:
"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:  Age shall not weary them,  nor the years condemn.  At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We shall remember them."
 Returning from our time in the DUWK.
The monument with wreaths.
 We re-visit the plaque before leaving the ceremonial site.

When we have more time, we will post copies of the speeches and direct you to some of the videos we took of the ceremony.  
What an amazing day and we hope that you will take a moment to post a message.