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Willemien Rieken was 9 years old when she first started to lay flowers at the grave of the British soldier who helped liberate her village
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As a nine-year-old schoolgirl, she laid flowers on the grave of a British soldier she had never met.

Willemien Rieken paid tribute to Trooper William Edmond for the ultimate sacrifice during the fight for freedom from Nazi oppression.

And in a moving memory that does not pass through time, Mrs. Rieken, now 84, still pays an annual visit to the final resting place of Trooper Edmond in her Dutch village.

This year marks the 75th anniversary since he was shot by a German sniper on the first day of Operation Market Garden after landing by glider behind enemy lines in the Netherlands occupied by Germany.

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Willemien Rieken was 9 years old when she first started to lay flowers at the grave of the British soldier who helped liberate her village

Willemien Rieken was 9 years old when she first started to lay flowers at the grave of the British soldier who helped liberate her village

When he died at the age of 27, his last reported words were to two comrades who came to his aid: "Tell my wife that I love her and go visit her."

He was buried in the war cemetery in the Dutch village of Oosterbeek, five kilometers west of Arnhem, where Mrs. Rieken lived with her parents and sister.

Operation Market Garden saw more than 35,000 British, Polish and American parachute and glider troops fall to the Netherlands to secure important bridges over the Rhine in a bold, but ultimately doomed, attempt to win World War II by Christmas 1944.

Trooper William Edmund died tragically during combat as part of Operation Market Garden
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Trooper William Edmund died tragically during combat as part of Operation Market Garden

Trooper William Edmund died tragically during combat as part of Operation Market Garden

Mrs. Rieken has never forgotten how to hide in a small cellar under her father's pastry shop for five days, while fierce fighting took place around their home and garden.

Eventually a German soldier tore open the cellar door, ordered them outside and interrogated them at gunpoint because he suspected they had hidden Allied soldiers.

They were released, but the experience left a lasting impression on Mrs. Rieken – just like her family's later grim discovery of four British bodies in their garden.

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After the war, the local residents organized a ceremony in which school children laid flowers at the graves of British soldiers who had been killed in battle. The young Willemien was there and in our black-and-white photo from that time he was kneeling at the grave of Trooper Edmond with her hair kneeling in tails.

Now she is a grandmother with gray hair, but she still visits his grave once a year at the beginning of September in the run-up to the anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem.

It is located at the Oosterbeek war cemetery, where a total of 1,684 Commonwealth soldiers from the Second World War were buried or commemorated.

Divorced Mrs Rieken, a retired secretary, said: "I remember seeing the paratroopers come down when I was playing with the other children.

& # 39; Then they went along the main road in Jeeps towards the bridge in Arnhem. But a few hours later my parents told my sister and I to go inside. We could hear all the battles in the yard – shots were fired and bombs went off. I remember holding my father's hand very tightly.

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"These men made a great sacrifice for us to help us get our freedom. That's why I put flowers every year at William Edmond's grave. I will never forget what they did for us. & # 39;

75 years later Willemien is still on a pilgrimage to Edmund's grave to thank his brave efforts to free her village from Nazi oppression

75 years later Willemien is still on a pilgrimage to Edmund's grave to thank his brave efforts to free her village from Nazi oppression

75 years later Willemien is still on a pilgrimage to Edmund's grave to thank his brave efforts to free her village from Nazi oppression

The purpose of Operation Market Garden was to penetrate north from Eindhoven to Arnhem and further into Germany. Although British paratroopers reached the bridge in Arnhem and seized one end of it, they were heavily in the minority by the enemy, particularly an SS Panzer Tank Division that they had not expected there. What followed was a remarkable, costly rear-guard action immortalized in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far, starring Dirk Bogarde and Michael Caine.

Since Mrs. Rieken's moving tradition of visiting the cemetery every year, the original crosses marking the graves have been replaced by tombstones. A rusty helmet with the name Trooper Edmond has recently been excavated by local historians and is now being held in a museum in Arnhem.

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Trooper Edmond, from Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, served in the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron. He died on September 17, 1944. His wife's name was Janet and his parents William and Joanna.

Because the attempts of Mrs. Rieken to trace the descendants of Trooper Edmond have not been successful, she believes that his relatives are unlikely to be aware of her visits to his final resting place.

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