Follow the footsteps of freedom

In square by town hall, Nijmegen, Netherlands. 
Picture: Stephen Scourfield The West Australian
Photo of Stephen Scourfield

Joining the Liberation Route Europe in Nijmegen.

Victory in Europe was declared on May 8, 1945, at the end of World War II, and there are still living traces of liberation across Europe.

A sign on the banks of the Waal River in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, not only keeps the remarkable story of Operation Market Garden alive but links this place to others across Europe.

For it is part of Liberation Route Europe — an international remembrance trail connecting key spots in the liberation of Europe during the final stage of WWII, as the Western Allied Forces advanced.

Liberation Route Europe goes from southern England through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands to Germany and Poland, with a southern route starting in Italy.

Here at Nijmegen, it marks the biggest airborne battle in history. Operation Market Garden, in September 1944, and including the Battle for Arnhem, involved thousands of aircraft and armoured vehicles, and hundreds of thousands of troops. It was a massive engagement, with the Allies’ 21st Army Group led by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and the German Army Group B under Walter Model, a field marshal. It was also born out of the success of the D-Day landings in June 1944 and the Battle for Normandy. 

The Allies assumed they would then make a steady advance inland. But Operation Market Garden is recorded as the only real attempt by the Allies to use airborne forces strategically in Europe.

There remains debate as to whether it was a success but, while some see Operation Market Garden as a major Allied defeat, historians say it, and the battle of the Scheldt, contributed to the liberation of the southern part of the Netherlands, while the north remained occupied until 1945.

A spokesperson explains that the constantly extending Liberation Route Europe forms a link between the Battle of Britain in southern England to the beaches of Normandy, the Belgian Ardennes, the south- eastern regions of the Netherlands, the Hurtgen Forest and Berlin.

“The route then continues to the Polish city of Gdansk, where a democratic revolution for overcoming the division of Europe was launched nearly two generations later. Since 2016, the Liberation Route Europe started the development of the southern route, starting in Sicily,” the spokesperson says.

“Liberation Route Europe reaches across national borders that have divided our continent for far too long. Our aim is to combine the Liberation Route with innovative and sustainable tourism products and special offers, in collaboration with our international partners, to make this core part of European history more visible and more accessible for visitors.”

While individuals can use to plan and visit sites, Liberation Route Europe is also working with dedicated tour operators. 

It is possible to group tours following themes; for example, Battle of Britain, Berlin to Gdansk, from Normandy to Bavaria via the Ardennes Forest, follow the footsteps of the American and Allied Forces.

For now, I am happy to wander the banks of the Waal on this gently sunny Sunday morning, aware of all we owe.

 The end of the liberation of Europe started here.

Fact File


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