|Abstract||September 1944 found the Detachment of Civil Affairs,
to which I had been assigned, halted at a small village
Gavere near Ghent, Belgium. We had proceeded rapidly from
Arromanches, Normandy. The enemy was falling back rapidly
over the Rhine, possibly fearing being over run by the Russians
from the East and being cut off by General Patton and his tank
columns from the South. We did not know why we had been
halted but it was not long before we learned the truth.
At the farm house "Vogelzang" in which we were billeted, we
heard on the radio that Operation Market Garden with view to
taking the strategic Njimegen Bridge at Arnhem had failed -
believed due to leakage of secret information to the enemy.
The rapid advance of the Allies had been halted. After a few
days we moved into Ghent and were billeted at Albertlaan,
busily carrying on training. Before long I was instructed to
join another Detachment at Brasschaet on the Belgium / Netherlands
border. I arrived at the Rendezvous Point late evening and was
petrified hearing machine gun fire near at hand - believing that I
had gone too far forward, as I was only armed with a .45 revolver,
I retraced my steps until I found a command post and sought advice.
I was escorted to HQ 1st Corps, and was told that I must not
proceed any further as isolated enemy units were in the area.
I was given accommodation for the night, and met an officer who came
from Kent. In conversation he told me that he came from
Rochester, where I had lived previously. By coincidence I was to
meet this same officer again some years later at Herne Bay where he
had been appointed Clerk to the Council ( Mr Bagnall ). Next
morning I was told that my Detachment was at Breda, North Brabant,
and set off to report there, finding them temporarily housed at the
Orange-Nassau Hotel. Work began in earnest then getting the police
and fire brigades running satisfactorily.
The enemy had blown up the Telephone Exchange and wrecked the
only nearby airfield. The 1st Polish Armoured Division under
General Maxters were in charge of the town. After a, few days
I was moved from the hotel, and Detachment took over private
premises in Juliannastraat, one of our officers was Baron van
Boetzalear who as a friend of HRH Prince Bernhard who on one
occasion visited out Mess for dinner with the Queen's
Commission. I was billeted with Mr. and Mrs. Willem Blankars at
Prinsesstraat, and I had some of my happiest times at their residence.
Mr. Blankers was a leather merchant of some means and very generous.
He had buried stocKs of champagne in his garden to avoid confiscation
by the enemy, and each evening whilst in his home we would celebrate
with a drink.
Unfortunately I did not get along very well with my Officer Commanding,
who did not like policemen, and quite naturally I did not disclose the
good fortune of my billet to him. After a couple of weeks our work
finnished in Breda, and with our convoy of two 15cwt trucks, one 3
tonner and a pantechnion labelled "Cigarren and Cigaretten" stocked
with coals sugar, cocoa and wines (abandoned by the enemy) set off
for Waalwijk on the Maas. Here I was billeted with a family named
Spierings at Juliannastraat. Mr. Spierings was a veterinary surgeon
and, had three children. The town was controlled by the Algonquin
Regt., Canadian Highlanders, and during the day was subjected by
sporadic mortar fire from across the Maas. During the night we
could hear tie enemy moving transport. One of our difficulties was
not being able to converse or write the Netherlands language, and we
were told, that an interpreter named Ruth van den Brink would be joining
us. We were very surprised to learn that he was a male, very masculine,
and over 6 feet tall. [ missing words here ]
One of my jobs at Waalwijk was to commandeer motor vehicles
not being used by their owners. This entailed visits to all
garages and listing the vehicles with all details, compensation
would be given to the owners. At one factory, I found a 1940
Cadillac saloon, with only a few kms on the clock. It was devoid
of wheels, and the owner Mr Vierwiel was loathe to part with it.
After much persuasion he agreed to let us have the automobile if we
could find the wheels. He agreed that he had had them removed and
that they were hidden in his factory. A search was made without
result. However he gave me a clue, and the wheels were found
behind a false wall in his office. The wall was screened by cigar
cabinet the idea being that the person searching would be more
interested in the cigars than tapping the wall. The outcome was
that the Cadillac was requisitioned, and was later being used by
General Montgomery in Germany.
Our work finished in this area, we were sent back to Zeeland in the
East Scheldt. After stopping off at Bergen-op-Zoom our next town
was Tholen on the island of same name. Here we found that the
bridge linking to the mainland had been blown up, and detachment of
the Royal Engineers were busy establishing a pontoon ferry to
enable vehicles etc., to get on and off the island. We established
our quarters at the Hof van Holland and made contacts with the
police, fire brigade and local authority. The burgemeester had
defected to the enemy with one named Mussert who was a leader in
the "Ondergrund" movement, but had been acting a dual role by
supplying secret information to the enemy. It was suspected that
it was he who had given information of the "Operation Market Garden"
to the enemy, Other islands nearby, Schouwen, etc., were still
occupied by the eneay, and it was necessary for us to be extra
vigilant. Members of the Ondergrund assisted admirably in
patrolling the sea walls, etc. The island had been
flooded by the enemy before their departure, and the water pumps and
their leather belts damaged. Repairs were put in hand at once,
and we were able to obtain replacement leather belting from our
contacts in Breda and Waalwijk. It was a depressing sight to see
the houses in various parts of the island flooded to a depth of 4
to 5 feet, and covered in slime and barnacles. The month was
October and the houses had been flooded since August.
There were several villages on the island, St. Maartensdijk,
St. Annaland, Philipland and Oud Vossmer where the Roosevelt family
originated from, and their ancestral home Huis Roosevelt is
preserved in the village.
One of the great worries of the fishing community was the fact that
they had been unable to follow their occupation on account of the mines
in the East Scheldt. There were huge stocks of oysters which would be
lost if they could not be removed before the frost set in. I was able
to get in touch with the Naval Authorities at Ostende, and permission
was given for limited fishing, provided that the fishermen were
accompanied by members of the forces. Enemy units were still on
adjacent islands and made raids on Tholen from time to time. I
accompanied the fishermen, and became friendly with two officials of
Firma Baay and Bona Fides. Mr Jon Bal of Bona Fides invited me to his
home and I met his wife and children Maria Anna and Henrik, Mr. Bal had
been a member of the Netherlands Army and I greatly admired two Delft
plates on his hall wall. They depicted the insignia of the Netherlands
Navy, Army and Air Force and bore the inscription "ETAPPEN EN
VERKEERSDIENST 1939-40" and commemorated the heroic stand made by those
forces prior to being over run by the enemy in 1940.
I understood that the inscription was "Halted but still working"
possibly relating to the Ondergrund Resistance movement. The plates
had been manufactured clandestinely at Delft and circulated to members
of the movement.
Christmas was spent in Tholen and the weather became very 'severe.
The East Scheldt was frozen over in places and Tholen harbour was
impassable. At one time it was thought that we would have to
leave the island and withdraw to the east and the Battle of the
Bulge was going on which could have cut us off. However this was
overcome and the Detachment was ordered to proceed to S'Hertogenbosch.
I was ordered to remain on the island and was appointed Militair Gezag.
There was one unit of the 1st Polish Armoured Division left for defence
and I had an interpreter, Willy Brents, a young lady medical student,
daughter of the local postmaster. Apart from my duties I constantly
received orders from the military to despatch barrels of oysters to
their messes as contact with the Russians had been made and there was
By the end of March the enemy were falling back rapidly. I was instructed
to rejoin my Detachment at Denbosch. Farewells were made and the
Burgemeester and Secrataris of Tholen presented me with a volume of the
History of the Gementebestuur van Tholen. The Bal family gave me one of
their Delft plates, which I have greatly prized and reminded me of those
heroic people of the Netherlands who endured so much suffering during the
years of 1939-45.
Douglas J. Gurton
Lieutentant, Civil Affairs