When Tom Moffat enlisted in the air force at a mobile recruiting unit in Quesnel in 1942, he couldn’t have imagined, 72 years later he would be an honoured guest to remember the remarkable effort of the Allied Forces during Operation Market Garden (OMG), an airborne military operation fought in the Netherlands and Germany in mid-September 1944.
During the Second World War, all Allied Forces bomber crews were under the direction and control of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command (BC) and that included Moffat who was assigned as a bomb aimer with a primarily British crew and flew 11 missions in a four-engined heavy bomber Lancaster.
As 91-year-old Moffat was preparing for a solo trip to Africa he received an invitation to the Netherlands’ 70th Anniversary Commemorating Operation Market Garden. He was one of two Canadians invited to the celebrations. Only 10 honoured guests were invited including two British, two Americans, two Germans, two Polish and two Canadians which represented the cross-section of nations which participated in the OMG 70 years ago.
The offensive began on Sept. 17, 1944 with a plan devised by Field Marshall Montgomery to hasten the end of the war. In total, 35,000 U.S., Polish and British paratroopers were flown 63 miles behind German lines in an attempt to capture the bridges between Lommel in Belgium and Arnhem in Holland.
Although the operation was considered a failure, the Dutch people are eternally grateful to all the Allied Forces for their efforts to free the Netherlands and defeat the Germans.
Moffat remembers OMG as a distaster.
“In one mission, Montgomery dropped 5,000 paratroopers across the Rhine River to capture the Arnhem bridge before the Germans blew it up but supporting British troops didn’t arrive in time and the Germans captured and killed many paratroopers,” he said.
Despite those memories, he was thrilled to be invited to this auspicious commemoration. Lorne Constantineau from Ontario, an army sergeant who participated in several of the OMG battles was the other honoured Canadian guest.
Celebrations including festivities at six different battle sites.
However, before the commemorative activities began, Moffat was treated to a very special private celebration. He was met at his hotel by three Dutch Legion members including Harm Kuiiper who escorted Moffat to a soccer stadium where he had dropped food from his Lancaster bomber in April 1945.
“It was quite a thrill,” Moffat said.
“I remember we had to fly very low [20 feet from the ground] and almost didn’t make the drop because so many people were there and we were afraid of hurting someone.”
The drops occurred during three days of amnesty to help the starving Dutch people, he added.
“We dropped five tons of food at a time,” Moffat said.
“I was part of that because I was under RAF Bomber Command. American and Polish bomber command also dropped food. People rushed from the stands to get the food and we were afraid we’d hit someone. We almost chose to drop the food in the street.”
Moffat said he was treated like royalty during his recent trip to the Netherlands, but during the war he said it was just his job to do what he did, along with all the other enlisted personnel.
“Delivering that food was a nice change but we were just doing as we were told to do,” he humbly said.
The people of the Netherlands see it differently and continue to keep their gratitude and memories alive with such celebrations.
One of the six sites was the re-creation of paratroopers and glider landings. They offered one of the honoured guests to take a glider ride and Moffat was the only one to volunteer.
“We went from zero to 100 km an hour in six seconds,” he said with a smile.
When asked if he was at all frightened by this experience, Moffat responded with a twinkle in his eye.
“I wasn’t scared, I was confident and relaxed, it was great.”
While in the Netherlands, Moffat celebrated is 92nd birthday and received a huge card from his fellow honoured guests during one of the nightly banquets. At his table the night of his birthday was General M.J.M. VanUhm, Deputy Commander of the Royal Netherlands Army who handed Moffat a birthday gift.
“We were treated so well and felt very honoured to be a part of these celebrations of missions that were pivotal in ending the war,” Moffat said.
One very special moment for him was seeing the 98-year-old American honoured guest, James “Maggie” Megellas, the most highly decorated living American soldier, who led a re-enactment of the capturing of a bridge. Megellas had led the original mission that captured that bridge in 1945.
Moffat holds the memories of this trip close to him but says he probably won’t accept any more invitations (one invitation was extended while he was in the Netherlands) claiming he’s getting too old, however he spoke
fondly of his plans to visit Churchill, Manitoba to see the polar bears.