Today was the fifth "Nederlandse Veteranendag" in The Hague, an event which has grown rapidly, become national, and been warmly embraced by Dutch society, according to Prince Willem-Alexander in his foreword of the programme handed out to visitors today.
This is the second year we have visited the displays and celebrations hosted on the Malieveld, and witnessed the spectacle of the thousands of military men and women who form a procession through the streets of The Hague. It is a remarkable sight and an interesting glance into life in and history of the Dutch military.
What is striking is the contrast in veterans that parade on such a day - many divisions, many different military groups, and many different age groups. When I think about veterans, I tend naively to think about older soldiers who served in the World Wars. But of course, veterans are also those who have served in the recent conflicts across the world, some of who are barely out of their twenties.
The procession broadcast live on Nederland 1
A personal thrill for me was being an arm's length from Jan-Peter Balkenende, who suddenly appeared besides us in the crowd. More than that, he was happy to shake hands with people around him, and nodded and said hello to me. After I picked my jaw up, I got a few snaps. And if that wasn't enough, Crown Prince Willem-Alexander was also mingling in the crowd watching the Gele Rijders horse show. It struck me that the terrible events on Queens Day has done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the royal family and politicians to mix with the "people" and retain an aspect of Dutch tradition that is so special.
Here are some pictures from Veteran Day 2009 in The Hague that I hope captures the spirit a little: