ARNHEM and YPRES, 2016 – Dave’s diary

People attending were:-

Alex and Marie, Keith and Miranda, Allan and Sue, Andrew and Amber, Julian and Ryan, Dave C, Keith I, Chris N, Donny.

Thursday 15th September

Lovely start to the day with clear skies and bright sunshine, hope it stays like this for the weekend.

The bus and van arrive together on cue, load and hop over to Tesco for fuel and we are off, heading for Podimore services to pick up Julian and Ryan, there they are waiting on the forecourt. Two comfort stops later and we are on to the M25 running down to the M20 for Folkestone. At least most of us are because someone decided to take the clockwise route around the M25. However, after a game of catch up, we all arrive safe and sound at the same time at the hotel where we meet up with Allan and Sue. After booking in we made our way down to an enjoyable and much needed evening meal.

Friday 16th September

Up with the birds this morning, down for a quick breakfast, smoked the dining room out by putting the toast through twice???  Panic over and on to the bus for the tunnel connection, as we arrive it starts to pour with rain. Rapid scuttle under the channel and hey-ho we are on the other side. No time wasted here as several of the pipers collected at the rear of the train for a practice session. Off the train on to French soil and the rain has stopped. A couple more comfort stops and into a traffic jam that has us wondering if we will get to Arnhem on time, but with Keith, Miranda and Mavis on the case of course we will, duly arriving at 4pm.

And now the fun begins, all the kit is in the van, most of the pipes are in bits in travelling cases so the first thing to do is stop for a briefing, then a rehearsal for the evening events due to start at 6.30pm. Time is running short and as we start getting our bits together someone is shouting to Kernow pipes and Drums to let them know dinner is being served, not much left by the time we get to it, but never mind because the 10 minute warning for the transport in to Arnhem has just been shouted.

On to the bus and on to the bridge, forming up does not take long and we march off together with bands from The Dutch Falcon Guards, The Netherlands R.B.L, Kernow, The Seaforth Highlanders, Bury St. Edmunds and several individuals from other bands.

As the bands move off, the eye is caught by the sign which reads “JOHN FROST BRIDGE” and the whole atmosphere takes on a different feeling as the realisation takes hold of just why we are here. Arriving on the other side, the band is marshalled into position for the Memorial Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony. Following the service and ceremonies the massed bands lead the standards past the assembled dignitaries before halting and standing down to await transport back to the headquarters.

Nice easy bit this, we boarded our own transport to go to the hotel first and barracks second but the man who should have known his G.P.S. did not and we ended up making a detour to the wrong hotel. Eventually we arrived at the barracks, plenty of spare beds in the allotted room, so it was a case of grab and crash.

Saturday 17th September (VERY EARLY)

Typical army barracks, there is always plenty of movement around so there is no requirement for an alarm clock. Up bright and early, facilities are good but suffer the usual shortages of no plugs for the wash sink and a hunt for a toilet with paper. Everyone was ready without chivvying along so it was out, on to the mini bus and a quick drive to the hotel to pick up the living-out detail before heading off to the Headquarters for a much needed breakfast. Better than the previous evening, we arrived first and were able to get a good table and a good fresh meal to start the day. Thank you all those responsible even if breakfast did turn out to be brunch.

After breakfast it was outside to tune up and practice for the afternoon event which was to be a 2 hour march showing off the band around the town of Arnhem, this was well received by the large crowds out enjoying the beautiful September sunshine. Mid way we were accommodated in the large open plan town hall where much needed light refreshments were passed around, only to be disturbed by the “5 minutes” warning and once again we were outside forming up to finish the stint. A long, but enjoyable, tour of Arnhem. Then, we were back on the bus for Headquarters to relax and get ready for the evening meal.

“5 minutes” went the call and again we were outside to prepare for the football match, different this time in that we paraded around the outside of the stadium, first anticlockwise then clockwise before assembling in the tunnel ready to go on to the pitch. We thought the pitch might be awkward for marching on but any worries proved groundless as the surface was brilliant, the mood in the crowd was good ……. the home team was winning.

Off the pitch and the band split in to two pre – arranged groups, one to welcome the Veterans and the other to play in or around the clubhouse later in the evening. This did not work out and most of the band stayed for the entire performance. Once again we were back on the mini bus dropping off the living-out detail at the hotel before heading off to the barracks.

Sunday 18th September

Morning off today so we miss breakfast, not a good idea, and head out to collect the hotel group before driving down to the cemetery at Oosterbeek to view the preparations for the ceremony due to start at 11.00am. Several hundred people were already collecting while the group ambled around viewing the magnificently laid out grounds. One person of note in attendance was Caroline Hibberd, daughter of Tony Hibberd who was one of those who fought on the bridge and who latterly hosted the Parachute Regiment open day at Trebah Gardens.

On the move once again, we went into Oosterbeek where Alex showed some of the group around the museum while the bigger half found a nice café and set about ordering up a much needed coffee and breakfast.

Back on the bus it was over to the Headquarters to tune up and prepare for the afternoon session, following a few complaints about the length of time parading on Saturday the start and finish times were amended. However, this time around shops were very quick to provide refreshments and after walking the streets yet again we finished up with a fantastic jamming session in the centre of Arnhem. Time wise it was still a two hour stint.

Returning to Headquarters for the last time, got stuck into a good dinner, played along with the other bands as a big thankyou to all of the supporters who had helped with the catering. After dinner KERNOW PIPES AND DRUMS went outside to get some practice in for the Ypres visit on the following day, the other pipe majors were excellent in coming forward to make sure we were all in tune for the event. A big thank you for that.  Then it was back to the hotel and barracks to pack and load the mini bus and van ready for departure on Monday.

Monday 19th September

Time to start working our way back this morning, so the barracks party make their way across to the hotel for a leisurely, almost English, breakfast. On to the mini bus and van fully loaded we set off.

In Alex’s words.

“Leaving Arnhem for our next engagement at the Menin Gate in Ypres, we detoured to visit Tyne Cot where Amber laid a wreath in memory of the DCLI, she was accompanied by Ryan who played the Battle of the Somme. This attracted quite a crowd of mainly young people who were visiting as part of school project. It was very obvious that the wreath laying and the playing of the pipes had an effect on the visiting youngsters.

“Prior to entering Tyne Cot, I had distributed a cross of remembrance to our entire group with the suggestion they find the grave of a fallen soldier on which to place it. Particularly one which had connections to a name or regiment or indeed a place.

“I placed my cross on a grave which read on the headstone the simple words “A Scottish Soldier.”… “Known only to God.” Ryan played Flower of Scotland, again attracting spectators. Having carried out this small act over a grave of a Scottish soldier whom we knew nobody had ever visited, somehow connected all of us to those who lay there.

“Tyne Cot is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Eleven thousand, nine hundred ad sixtyone men lie there. Eight thousand, three hundred and seventythree are unidentified.”

On now to Ypres and the Menin Gate, we had been supplied with packed lunches by our hosts and most people ate these on the way saving time. Arriving in Ypres and booking into the hotel we had a couple of hours to while away with tea and coffee being supplied in the rooms. When we started to assemble it soon became clear that several of the group were suffering from food poisoning so tuning up and practice was a bit chaotic, however, we pressed on and marched up to the gate where we waited before being invited in.

Menin Gate 2016 from Kernow Pipes and Drums on Vimeo.

When our turn came Alex marched forward playing “Danny Boy”, marching back he paused and saluted the wreath laying portal before re-joining the band. Then the five pipers who knew the tune turned inwards to play “The last of the Great Whales”.

Job done, with great satisfaction all round, we marched down into the town to entertain the crowd which had gathered.

Then, it was into the hotel we had used on the previous occasion for a well-deserved evening meal before making our way across the square to the overnight hotel.

Tuesday 20th September

Up early for breakfast and as we met up in the dining room it was soon apparent that others were going down with the food poisoning including Keith G. This meant that Miranda and Mavis had to manage on their own for the drive back. On to the train we were soon across to deliver Allan and Sue to our original hotel to pick up their car. Then it was off again with another comfort stop before dropping Julian and Ryan off at Podimore Services to pick up their onward transport. No sooner had I nodded off and we were back in the Holmbush Shopping Precinct where, alas, with fond farewells, another trip to Arnhem came to an end.

Many thanks to all of the drivers for a job well done (Keith G, Keith I, Miranda and Andrew, not forgetting Mavis-the-sat-nav).