Europe prepares to celebrate 75 years of freedom from Nazi occupation
Europe's new Liberation Route Hiking Trail is dedicated to peace and learning
Sunday 10 February 2019
"I had a vision that one day a 3,000 kilometre hiking trail to rival that of the Camino Way would link London and Berlin," said Jurriaan de Mol, founder and initiator of Liberation Route Europe.
He was also instrumental in establishing the Europe Remembers Campaign which, later this year, will mark the 75th anniversary following the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands just months prior to the end of the Second World War.
Mr de Mol is also a five time veteran of the famed International Four Day Marches to Nijmegen. As the world's largest multi-day walking event – around 40,000 people take part each July – he was happy to chat to me about the LRE Hiking Trail at the Liberation Route Europe Conference which took place at the Claridge Events Hall in Brussels on Thursday 7 February.
The scheme was originally launched in 2008, while the plan for the LRE Hiking Trail was taken up by Daniel Libeskind, the famed Jewish American architect whose triangular-style route markers called 'Vectors', will mark the way through up to five countries ahead of the trail's completion which is to be finally inaugurated in 2020.
However the trail quickly became reality in the Netherlands where the Dutch hiking organisation, Wandelnet, installed some 200 key information points which, by using a mobile phone app, you experience both history and heritage via audio spots, thus keeping alive the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for freedom.
We actually tried one of the information points when we visited the ‘Welcome in Holland’ Mesch Memorial audio spot which was also the first town in the Netherlands to be liberated by the advancing US Army.
"It's becoming a proper remembrance trail," said Mr de Mol. "It connects all the regions that the Western Allied Forces took back in 1944 and 1945 and one day will stretch all the way from the South of England, through France, the Belgium Ardennes and into Luxembourg and then into Netherlands.
"The idea is to reach Berlin, although Gdansk in Poland and even a Southern Route sees interest already established in this Italian section which will stretch all the way from Sicily," he added.
As with the Camino de Santiago or Way of St James – which marks a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in North-Western Spain – there are multiple starting points on the LRE Hiking Trail.
Many have already experienced sections of the trail while it's particularly interesting to those who have tackled the annual Nijmegen March. Mr de Mol explained that depending on age and gender, the Nijmegen participants will walk either 30, 40 or 50 kilometres each day, covering a total of 200 kilometres.
"The 'Vierdaagse' (that's Dutch for four days) has actually been in existence since 1909 but the town of Nijmegen became its permanent home in 1916," Mr de Mol explained. "In 2016 it was the 100th anniversary of the walk and by day four my legs had all but given out… it was only the beer that kept me going!" he joked.
Among the guest speakers at the conference were Second World War British historian Professor Richard Overy, prolific military writer Peter Caddick-Adams, Helen Patton (granddaughter of US Wartime hero General George S Patton) and award-winning Dutch filmmaker Sytze van der Laan whose film The Resistance Banker - a true story about bothers Walraven and Gijs van Hall - is now high on my viewing list.
One of the most passionate speeches was made by Martin Schulz, a former President of the European Parliament and a current Member of the German Bundestag as well as being a Patron of the LRE Foundation since 2012. He said: “The memory of our past shapes the way we see our present and work towards our future.
"The Liberation Route is a milestone project that I gladly support and that I hope will help keep the memory of our continent vivid and alive. I hope that the Liberation Route Europe can attract even more international support in the upcoming years for the Hiking Trail’s inauguration in 2020," he added.
The Liberation Route Europe Foundation is designed to help preserve history and to connect hundreds of points of interest, monuments, heritage sites and cemeteries across Europe while promoting peace and reconciliation following the horrors of the Second World War.
Marking the Centenary of the Armistice in Flanders Fields
Saturday, 13 October
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the First World War officially came to an end with the signing of the Armistice. The guns fell silent and a war that lasted four years and four months, finally came to an end. This year, Flanders remembers the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice with a series of special events as well as permanent memorials in Flanders Fields.
Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate
Since 1928, buglers have sounded the Last Post under the arches of the Menin Gate memorial in remembrance of the fallen, at precisely 8 p.m. every evening. This moving ceremony has become part of the local daily life in Ypres, however to mark the Armistice, there will be a special Last Post on Sunday 11 November at 11a.m. The ceremony will also be screened live from the Market Square.
The poppy will forever be an iconic symbol of remembrance. on 11 November St. Georges’ Memorial Church in Ypres will be inaugurating an impressive waterfall installation of 8,000 handmade poppies which will flow from the church tower into the garden. Built in 1927 to honour fallen British and Commonwealth soldiers, this Anglican church is itself a unique memorial to visit, providing a place of quiet reflection.
Field of Remembrance
In the build up to the Armistice remembrance events, The Royal British Legion has been planting thousands of artificial poppies in green spaces above the ramparts, next to the Menin Gate. Each bears a personal message of gratitude to the First World War generation. For those looking to leave their own message, there are poppies available to plant at The Royal British Legion shop on the Market Square.
VISITFLANDERS will also be looking at how this and other remembrance events in the region, will continue to preserve the memory of this important period in our history. Buglers will continue to play the Last Post at Menin Gate for ‘in perpetuity’ whilst cemeteries and memorials will continue to be visited by thousands.
Battlefield walks started in the region in 1919 with Talbot House creator, Tubby Clayton and this interest in the region, will continue to live on. Hill 80's findings help impart the story about the importance of preserving history ‘for future generations’ as well as preaching a message of peace and reconciliation and Visit Flanders looks forward to sustain this interest beyond the end of the current centenary commemorations.