A Dutch town is bestowing a unique honorary citizenship on more than 300 British soldiers who died fighting to free the Netherlands during the Second World War.
The special honour was granted to the 328 men buried in the Commonwealth and War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in Brunssum to mark the 75th anniversary of the town’s liberation.
More than 100 of the solders’ relatives travelled from the UK, and as far afield as Australia and Canada, to attend the ceremony yesterday.
Honorary citizenship is Brunssum’s highest municipal honour, with only 15 citizens having received it in past decades, and this was the first time it was awarded posthumously.
The inscription on the soldiers’ medal of honour reads: “Their lives. Our freedom”.
John Davies, from Perth, was just three weeks old when his father, Rifleman Sidney Arthur Davies, was killed aged 23 on 9 December 1944, and then buried at Brunssum.
“My mother, when my father was killed, she received a wallet which had been in his possession when he died and in the wallet was a letter from my mother to my father telling him that I had been born,” he said.
Mr Davies explained his father, who served with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), was wounded in fighting near Geilenkirchen in Germany and died at the Brunssum dressing station.
He added: “I’ve always strived to do the best I can and I always think of my father when I do these things because I never knew him, but I can try my best to make him proud of me.
“It is very moving for us to know people remember and I know the Brunssum people will be coming to this cemetery for many, many years.
“War is a terrible thing. Look at what happened. Look at the sacrifices that were made. Let us never forget that happened but let us come out.”
Bombardier George Sebastian Pitfield, of the 94th Dorset and Hampshire Yeomanry Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, is believed to have been the first casualty buried at the Brunssum cemetery after he was fatally shot aged 26 on a scouting mission on 13 November 1944.
His niece, Anne-Marie Williams, from Wareham in Dorset, said his widow Phyllis did not get over her loss and never remarried despite living to be 96.
Ms Williams said: “The first time we came here I fell in love with Brunssum. We have made so many friends. The hospitality of the Dutch people is amazing.
“I feel very proud to feel that my uncle sacrificed his life for other people and it is amazing that the people of Brunssum still remember that today 75 years on.”
Out of all the 328 British soldiers buried at Brunssum, just one is yet to be identified.
The southern Dutch town, near the German border, now has a population of 28,000 and is home to a Nato base.