Lest we forget

Flag at half mast, the Palace, Amsterdam

Flag at half mast, the Palace, Amsterdam

Today is memorial day in the Netherlands, so all the flags around town were at half mast, the one shown is on the top of the Palace on Dam Square. I did see some flags outside people’s houses as well.

It’s a serious event, and commemorated across the country with two minutes silence at 8pm. Everything stops, even people in the street, cars are supposed to stop and pull over, trams stop, and all the Dutch TV stations broadcast the national memorial service from the Dam.

The first year I was here I didn’t know anything about it and happened to be in a bar, my friends and I kept talking oblivious to the annoyed looks of the Dutch, eventually we realised we needed to be quiet, but it wasn’t until I could speak to a Dutch friend the next day that I understood how rude I’d been. I’d never knowingly have been so disrespectful!

Army setting up seats on the Dam

Army setting up seats on the Dam

I saw the army setting up seats on the Dam in preparation for tonight’s service, rows of hard benches for all the guests. The service begins at 10 to 8, with a speech, followed by the laying of wreaths by the Queen and the Crown Prince, then a trompettist plays taps to introduce the two minutes of silence beginning at 8pm. At the end of two minutes everyone sings the first verse of the Wilhelmus (national anthem).

Then comes one of the most touching aspects, there is an annual poetry competition for school pupils on the theme of memorial and the winner reads his or her poem as part of the service.

Following this representatives of all sorts of organisations lay wreaths in memorial for all those who have died in all wars, for some years now this has, controversially, including German victims of the second world war.

It’s a simple and moving service – and the wreaths will stay on the podium bit of the Dam for a few days. It’s particularly important for tomorrow which is Liberation day, it’s a holiday once every five years – which means tomorrow is a public holiday.

There are memorial services all over the Netherlands (Dutch only), some commemorate specific battles or events, but you will see flowers and wreaths laid at various monuments this evening including the Anne Frank statue outside the Westerkerk.


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