Don’t you just love the beginning of summer? Your daydreams are full of things yet to come and there are so many memories waiting to be made. Nijmegen, Summer Capital of Holland, is the perfect place to start your summer. Our brand new island in the middle of the river is a magical place to lie back on a sunny summer’s day and dream away.
If you have the chance to visit our beautiful island today (4 May – Remembrance Day) or tomorrow (5 May – Liberation Day), perhaps you might take a moment to remember the dreams of a young man who came to Nijmegen in the summer of 1944: Bernard T. Woodland.
Bernard, or Barney to his friends, was a bright child who lived in the poor suburbs of Baltimore. He dreamt of becoming a teacher and making a better life for himself. Other children loved him and he was clever, very clever. He was cleverer than some of his teachers. One day Barney even outsmarted the head teacher. These days, you can never be too clever, but back then, boys of African American origin weren’t supposed to be bright and so, unsurprisingly, Barney got a bad school report.
But that didn’t stop Barney from dreaming about his life changing one day.
And so he made the dramatic decision to volunteer for the US Army. It might be hard to believe that a young man could dream of going off to fight in unknown countries. But if it’s your only chance of getting somewhere, wouldn’t you give it a go?
Barney was ambitious. Being fairly pale-skinned he managed to hide his origin and by forging his birth certificate he was assigned to an ‘all white’ regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division.
And so off he went, in the summer of 1943, setting sail for occupied nations, far away, chasing his new dream. He saw Tunisia (which he hated) and a little bit of Naples, in Italy. He was wounded, but recovered in the United Kingdom. Finally, in the late summer of 1944 he came to the Netherlands. Barney and his comrades in the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment were the first allied soldiers to set foot on Dutch soil. Barney landed in Grave, near Nijmegen and after a few days of heroic fighting, he was assigned a dangerous mission: to liberate the bridges of Nijmegen.
On 20 September, Barney’s company had to cross the River Waal. It seemed impossible but, like him, they were ambitious and they managed to reach the riverbank. On the very spot where our new island now stands, they fought hard and won. In Nijmegen we are grateful that they did. It was this mission that led to the liberation of Nijmegen.
Barney’s dreams ended here, on the last day of summer. He was severely wounded and died a few days later, at the age of 23. 47 of his comrades also died during this Waal crossing.
Perhaps you’ll think about Barney on Remembrance Day or Liberation Day. But don’t let it spoil your excitement for summer. Don’t let it stop you from daydreaming. And certainly don’t let it stop you from following your dreams this summer in Nijmegen!
Remember Barney by watching the beautiful sunset over the River Waal. You’ll see our new bridge, which connects the old city with our new island. It’s called ‘De Oversteek’ (The Crossing). Every day at sunset, 48 lights will be turned on, one by one, to commemorate the 48 soldiers who died here. Every night, one light shines for Barney. When you see it shining, be clever like Barney. Chase your dreams and invent new ones. That’s what good summers are all about.
Watch this beautiful film about the Light Crossing made by Martijn Schinkel for Dziga.