Wil Rieken has died

An Airborne icon has died. Wil Rieken. She passed away on Friday 24 July 2020 at the age of 85 in Doorwerth. Wil belonged to the first "Flower children" of Oosterbeek, who laid flowers on the graves of the fallen British soldiers during the first Airborne commemoration in September 1945.

We can hardly imagine that Will isn't there anymore. We remember the nice encounters we had with her in the Airborne Museum, at the VVAM book table at the book fair or when we walked around with her over the Airborne cemetery where she told us stories about the British paratroopers buried there. Wil Rieken was the hostess at the Airborne cemetery. She also volunteered at the Airborne Museum for more than 25 years.

Wil Rieken experienced the war as a 9 year old girl. In the war years her father was a pastry cook. The family lived behind the shop on the Utrechtseweg in Oosterbeek, not far from hotel Hartenstein. The hotel, which now houses the Airborne Museum, was the headquarters of the paratroopers. She experienced the exciting days of Operation Market Garden. In those days the family lived with the neighbors in the basement of the house, which was in the line of fire. The house changed hands several times. One time it were the Germans and another time the British. They were chased out of the cellar by the Germans because they wanted to see if there were any Englishmen there. Another time father Rieken went to the living room and saw three Brits in the living room who had lost their unit. One of them was Harry Boardman who, years after the war, met Wil Rieken and gave her his medals to keep. Later she gave the medals to the Airborne Museum. While there were still British airborne in Oosterbeek, the inhabitants had to evacuate on 23 September 1944. A German took the Rieken family out of the cellar. In their garden, fallen Germans were piled up against a wall. There were four fallen Englishmen on the ground. They had to step over them. They were buried in the garden and are now in the Airborne Cemetery. There followed a hike to Beekbergen, after which they continued to Apeldoorn. At her grandparents house she experienced the liberation six months later. It was one of the happiest days of her life. On 3 July 1945 she returned home.

Our memory of Wil Rieken

Meeting at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek: Wil Rieken, Wybo Boersma and my wife Elly 29 March 2014
My wife Elly in conversation with Wil Rieken at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek 29 March 2014
Book fair at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek 30 May 2015
Wil Rieken behind the book table 19 March 2016
Wil Rieken behind the book table 18 March 2017
Book fair Concerthall Oosterbeek - Meeting with Wil Rieken 17 juni 2017
Airborne Day in the Concerthall Oosterbeek - Elly in conservation with Wil Rieken 11 November 2017
Airborne Day in de Concertzaal te Oosterbeek: Wil Rieken, Willie Keus 10 November 2018
This photograph I took of Wil Rieken behind the book table during the book fair on the Westerbouwing 2019.