This is the first part of my fathers story. He was only 11 years old when Nazi-Germany attacked the Low Countries and France. My father lived in the Dutch village of Tegelen, just south of the city Venlo and only 4 km's from the German-Dutch border. This is his story...
By Piet Houx
The day war broke out
On the last day before the German surpise attack, on May the 9th 1940, my uncle and aunt celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. The whole family was there. It was a big celebration and my many uncles, aunts, cousins and myself had an excellent time. It was already late in the evening, and dark, when we were picked up by a cab-driver from our own town to drive us all back home. Me, my parents, my younger brother Wim and my two younger sisters Marie-Jose and Ghislaine. We didn't own a car in those days.
Driving home, we were regulary stopped by Dutch soldiers. They were controlling the roads and we had to show them some ID. I found this very strange, it never happened before.
Much later than planned, we arrived. At about 23.00 hours. We went to bed and fell asleep. But not for long. Almost exactly at midnight, the sound of explosions gave us all a shock. It was the end of a silent night. We heard the smashing and loud sounds of detonations... with rather long intervals.
My father jumped out of his bed, rushed to the frontdoor and went outside to see what was going on. He wasn't the only one. Our neighbours and other people of our village were also on the streets. Everyone was confused. And trying to find out where the sounds of those explosions were coming from and what the hell was going on. Nobody knew. After one hour, the silence returned. Very suddenly. And everyone went back into their homes... trying to sleep again.
We were later told that the nightly explosions were coming from the "Kaldenkerkerweg" (road leading to Kaldenkirchen, Germany). The Dutch army had been trying to block this road by blasting trees... in an attempt to delay the German advance.
A Dutch soldier climbs into a tree with a pull-rope for the explosives.
At 04.00 o'clock in the early next morning, our dreams were disturbed for a second time. We heard planes flying over the village. And we also heard gunfire, coming from the boards of the Maas river, at just 2,5 km's from our home.
We all jumped out of bed, because this time we felt that there was something terrible about to happen. Once again, my father went outside. I stood beside him when two Dutch soldiers approached. My father asked them what was going on. But they couldn't answer him. They said they were scouts, on their way to the German border trying to find out if German soldiers crossed the border. Most probably, those two poor guys were about to become the first Dutch POW's soon after.
We didn't see them return.
Instead, we saw the first two German soldiers approaching from the same direction where the two Dutch soldiers had gone 30 minutes earlier.
It was Friday, the 10th of May. A beautiful, sunny morning. It didn't take long before everyone was on the streets again. But this time, everyone stayed close to their homes, not knowing what was going on. I stood with my friends close to the wall of the house. It gave me a feeling of (false) security. I thought that the bullets couldn't hit me with a wall in my back. Not that I actually saw any fighting, but I heard the sounds of heavy fighting nearby at the Maas river and that was frightening enough for me.
A little while later, we saw a German motorcycle combination with three soldiers and a machine-gun on it. They drove several times from the villageborders to the church, and back again. They were probably on a reconnaisance mission too.
We would soon see more Germans. That afternoon, the "Muntstraat" (streetname) was filled with all kinds of German vehicals and horses. Germans were collecting water for their horses and went from door to door. I think they were just "common" farmer folks, because the Germans used to recruit them to take care of the horses.
The shooting near the Maas-river didn't stop before 16.00 h. in the afternoon. This proves that the Dutch didn't give up without a fight! Some German soldiers told us later that they admired the Dutch fighting spirit. As a direct result of their bravery, the Dutch POW's were handled with respect.
The story of one particular Dutch soldier would soon become famous. His name was Wiarda. Surrounded by the Germans and with all his buddies killed, he went on fighting all alone in his casemate in Blerick (neighbourtown of Tegelen). All day long, till the very last bullet. He surrendered in the late afternoon.
To be continued...
Photos used: http://www.leger1939-1940.nl/
This post has been edited by Bart: 04 July 2003 - 06:23 AM