In September, 6 delegates, from the Bridgend Town Twinning Association, travelled via Eurostar to Hechtel – Eksel in Belgium to honour a friendship invitation. Bridgend has a “ Hand of Friendship “ link with this town, and each year at this time, the town fondly and strongly remembers how the Welsh Guards played a huge roll in its liberation from occupying forces.
The delegates were met at the railway station at Diest by local town twinning members who drove them to their accommodation for the weekend. This proved to be a newly built house in the holiday park de Lage Kempen. Situated in the forest it was a very peaceful and idyllic setting.
The weekend was packed with visits and activities. These included a walk and talk in the forest, explaining how the area is developing its “Natural Landscapes Programme ” followed by a visit to Eksel where the group learned about their 19th century itinerant merchants who became both famous and wealthy for selling a large number of products far and wide.
The main focus of the visit was to remember the liberation of the town, between the 7th and 12th September 1944, by the Welsh Guards. Each year at this time a memorial service is held there and poppy wreaths were laid by Mr Mike Jones on behalf of the Bridgend Branch of the Welsh Guards Association and by Mr Adrian Kendall, as Chair, on behalf of the Bridgend Town Twinning Association. Wreaths were also laid by the Mayor Jan Daleman, together with local dignitaries and military personnel. After a lunch enjoyed by all who had taken part in the ceremony, the Bridgend delegation were taken to an Air Show, which is the 4th largest show in Europe, and were entertained in the V.I.P. enclosure.
The weekend ended with the delegates travelling to Leopoldsburg and visiting Camp Beverlo, the largest training camp for the Belgian Army. The party toured the firing ranges, experienced lunch in the Mess and received a presentation given by the Camp Commander. The whole day proved to be very informative and enjoyable.
The delegation returned to Bridgend having had a successful visit containing some thought provoking and emotional moments. We now look forward to receiving our friends from Hechtel – Eksel in Spring 2018, who are keen to find out more about the history and geography of Bridgend and South Wales.