Oosterbeek, The Netherlands – It has been about two years since the sympathetic John Jeffries passed away. The Second World War veteran was a welcome guest in our community and whoever met him will probably not have forgotten him.
Thursday Frans Ammerlaan of the Market Garden Foundation handed over his ashes to Seb Philip and Chris Willmott, Friday they will take John on his last journey with the Market Garden Challenge. First cycling 115 km from the Belgian border to Oosterbeek on two old bicycles from the Second World War. Then walk 40 km at the 75th Airborne Walk the next day.
John was a Market Garden veteran. Serving with the Royal Corps of Signals, he was part of the 4th Parachute Brigade. On September 18, 1944 he landed with his parachute on the Ginkel Heath. He was shot before he even had his feet on the ground, floating in the air, but he didn’t feel anything until he hit the ground. Wounded, he lay their in the midst of the battle. With a ball of cotton and disinfectant in his wound, he was later carried off the heath on a stretcher. He was taken to the Tafelberg in Oosterbeek.
Not for long, as the Germans attacked and eventually captured the building, making John and many others prisoners of war. He was liberated by the Americans after staying in several German prison camps.
He didn’t want to talk about the war for a long time. In good spirits he had come here to defeat the Germans and how wrong it went. Like many other veterans, he too struggled with a sense of guilt, but when he returned to The Netherlands at the end of last century, he quickly learned that he and his comrades were not blamed at all. In fact, he was a hero!
From then on he came every year, talked about his experiences at schools and was always cheerful. But also serious if necessary. John had no small amount of courage, he demonstrated that by jumping out of a plane again in 2017, at the age of 95, above the Renkum Heath and a bit earlier in England (see previous link).
Thanks to the Taxi Charity, contact with other veterans was also maintained later on. Because of his enormous lust for life, he was a welcome guest to the drivers and carers of the Taxi Charity on their trips, lunches or dinners. Because they are also looked after in the UK.
Seb said before: “Chris and I are honored to have the ashes of WWII veteran John Jeffries with us during this challenge. John was a beloved member of the Taxi Charity family. He always enjoyed the charity commemoration trips to the Netherlands.”
Talking about the war became easier for John. He once said: “I just got shot in the buttocks you know!.” He had to laugh loudly about himself: you come down with your parachute and great bravura to chase the Germans away, you pontifically get shot in the buttocks!
That’s gonna be something
The urn with John’s ashes was handed over to Frans Ammerlaan by his family. He is the Dutch rock and support for the Taxi Charity and John was a special person for him too. The urn is handed over to Seb who handles it carefully. Just a little while and then they’re on their way to Belgium to leave for their 115 km long journey. John gets a ceramic poppy to join him on this special journey.
The bikes are checked again. Cycling back and forth a few times for the pictures and then something wasn’t completely right. Is there a bicycle repair shop over here? Is that a question in the Netherlands? Well of course! The Oosterbeek bicycle repairman must have been surprised when two World War II folding bicycles were standing in front of him, but that didn’t seem a problem. The gentlemen were helped smoothly and the bikes are ready for the start.
We take a closer look at the saddle. Doesn’t look that comfortable. That’s gonna be something. Will that be okay? And, how would their bottoms feel Friday after 115 kilometers? They shrug.
Probably not as bad as John’s in September 1944!