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For VE Day -“Have courage, God is with you”

Mad with joy we walk through the garden and climb up on the roof so we can see more, grasp more of what’s happening. We can hardly believe it. Can it really be true? Is this the long-awaited end to our sorrows. Does this mean freedom?

Yes, I am sure that the above quotation could so easily speak for us all when the time comes that the lockdown can finally end, but actually the person who said those words said them in September 1944 and is someone whose faith made such a huge difference to British Paratroopers during their time of need, which we celebrate on VE Day.

Known by veterans as simply the ‘Angel of Arnhem’, Kate ter Horst was a Dutch housewife and mother of five children who lived under the German occupation of Holland. To try and shorten WWII, the Allies carried out Operation Market Garden, (the basis of the film A Bridge Too Far’)  the intention of which was for troops to parachute in, seize strategic bridges and advance into the industrial area of Germany. The Operation was not a success with nearly 2,000 allied men killed.

However, Kate ter Horst was someone who made a real difference for critically wounded British servicemen and their morale. She gave up her house, an old rectory, where she looked after her own children, to be a Regimental Aid Post as field hospitals could not cope. It was a horrific scene. Her walls were pockmarked by rifle fire, and outside in her garden there were the decaying corpses of 57 soldiers. In total around 250 soldiers of the 1st Airborne Division, most between the ages of 20 and 25, were cared and looked after by her and medics.

For those boys in pain or dying she always had a cheerful word and sympathetic ear. She would remind them: “Have courage, God is with you”, and she could be seen going through her house sitting with young soldiers, comforting them by reading aloud from the KJV of her Bible. It was said of her that “this tall slim Dutchwoman with the blonde hair and the calm blue eyes became known as the ‘Angel of Arnhem’, and that her fine voice and familiar prose calmed the fears of all who listened to her’.

Her favourite passage came from Psalm 91 and which brought men particular solace, and was said to bring light to the darkness: ” Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come night thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways”.

One soldier who was cared for by Kate wrote of her “I noticed how the whole room brightened up at her arrival and how the soldiers hung on to her every word”. More poignantly, one mortally wounded young soldier, just before he died from his injuries said of her: “She’s wonderful. Just like my Mum!”

Kate refused to accept that she was any kind of heroine- she said that “the real angels were the ones who fell from heaven-the brave men of the Airborne Division”.

Kate survived the war and lived until she was 98 dying in 1992.

At the bottom of her garden in Oosterbeek, in the shade of a cedar tree, she put up a statue of a Pegasus. It is the symbol of the British airborne forces.

Tags: Kate ter horst, A Bridge Too Far, Angel of Arnhem, Operation Market Garden