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Dutch welcome for war hero Walter

PUBLISHED: 17:34 15 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:38 03 July 2010

Old soldier Walter Broom was among a dwindling number of veterans given a heroes' welcome by the population of the Dutch town he helped to free from brutal German occupation 65 years ago.

Old soldier Walter Broom was among a dwindling number of veterans given a heroes' welcome by the population of the Dutch town he helped to free from brutal German occupation 65 years ago.

The 93-year-old and his son Robert made the day-long journey to S-Hertogenbosch to mark the milestone having attended three previous anniversary events.

This year's celebrations, he said, far exceeded the earlier commemorations with the Dutch pulling out all the stops in what was their poignant final salute to the 53rd Welsh Division.

Their heroic efforts helped to liberate the regional capital ending more than four years of German occupation which saw local children reduced to eating tulip bulbs and scratching around the railway tracks for odd bits of coal.

But the memories of those dark days had been eclipsed Mr Broom said by the unstinting gratitude of townsfolk who lined the streets to applaud and garland with floral tributes the 41 veterans who travelled to the town to say their last goodbyes.

Flashing fireworks and solemn ceremonies set the tone of the three day visit - joy mixing with sadness as the liberation was celebrated and the dead - many of them civilians - remembered.

Mr Broom, said amid the smiling faces there were many tears as widows in wheelchairs thought of the husbands who were by their sides at earlier anniversaries. And for him many of the names carved in the memorials brought to mind the vigorous young men, many of them fellow sappers, who once answered to them.

“It was the last one and they made a special effort to make it good for everyone. Everywhere we went the people were more than friendly. They lined either side of the road and were all clapping and giving us flowers. We were made so welcome. Everywhere we went they put us first. There were choirs, parades, a band and they had arranged seats for all us liberators as they called us. Overall it was quite a joyful occasion,” he said.

His only sadness was that he was the only one of his field company to attend, adding: “Five years ago there was quite a crowd of us.”

Mr Broom was awarded a liberation medal for his role in freeing s-Hertogenbosch which involved rebuilding a bridge that set the stage for re-enactments and a fireworks display during his visit.

Over the years Mr Broom has got to know the town and some of its inhabitants well after a less-than promising introduction which began on October 27 1944. Then, in the aftermath of D Day, his role was to rebuild bridges and canals, with little time for sight-seeing during his five day stay. At the time he had no idea of the significant role the town would come to play in his life as he travelled through Europe doing what he could to repair the wreckage of war. However the town has never forgotten the heroic efforts of Mr Broom and his comrades.

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