The Final Push, the fight to liberate the Netherlands – March 30th 1945

Destroyed bren

The story continues on our series following the liberation of the Netherlands in the final months of WW2 and the thoughts and diary on a Living History Event that follows in it’s footsteps.

These articles are written by Rob van ’t Oost, a member of Keep Them Rolling, a WWII Vehicle association in het Netherlands. They are translated by Joris Nieuwint from War History Online.

Friday, March 30, 1945:

Good Friday was another cold day, the British officers notes that their troops had not a single dry thread on their skinny bodies had were tired from all the walking on those damned Dutch sandy trails….

The morale of the troops was getting better by the day, however, the confidence that the war could be over soon increased by the day. This confidence also ensured that the clashes with the retreating Germans were fought cautiously, rather plaster the place with mortars first then send in the infantry immediately.

A Canadian soldier wrote in his diary, he was surprised about so many properly dressed ladies and gentlemen on the street that night………….. The English would later that weekend experience the same things in different towns. Not surprising at Easter, but for our Liberators there was no calendar, only the defeat of the Germans.

The first villages in the southern Achterhoek were now liberated. The Liberation of the Eastern Netherlands had really and irreversibly started. The troops of the 2nd British Army are already well on the move inside the Westmünsterland. The British 51st Division with its tanks are on course towards Rheine, Osnabrück and Münster, the center of gravity of the Allied attack in this sector.

Units of the 30th Corps and the 1st Canadian Army are instructed to dispose of any German pockets of resistance in the eastern part of the Netherlands and thus cover the flank of the attack on the Ruhr.

The guns rumbled in the distance that day, citizens were afraid the frontline would “roll over them”, with all imaginable consequences. It buzzed with rumours and the roar of the guns was in the air. Those who have lived in occupied territory saw the Germans retreat on stolen bicycles and carts, all they could take was seized. A citizen mentions in a letter to his sister living in the west of the country, that this sight is very different to that of their entry into the May 1940……….

Our liberators and liberated did not come out of the battle unharmed; near a woodcutter at Te Paske a Bren Carrier with 10 soldiers aboard drove on a landmine. All lost their lives……

Near the Barlo hamlet was the family farm Weenink it was heavily fortified by Germans and an artillery gun caused a lot of grieve on the Allied side. The English called in the Royal Air Force in the farm and the cannon was destroyed by a squadron of fighter bombers. Seven civilians, including 5 children of the Weenink family lost their lives.

Liberation was paid dearly.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010:

At the bivouac in Delden it is very busy. Luckily it’s dry, but the thermometer will today indicate no more than 2 degrees Celsius. I got up early and am numb of the cold because of my (wrong) sleeping. I feel like I have a huge hangover, the stomach plays up and have no appetite for breakfast. In an attempt my stop my thoughts and raging nervous stomach I walk to the Hollywood Canteen. There are piles of bread there, the sponsorship of Hennie Egberink apparently works! He would provide all participants with enough sandwiches throughout the period. A little further on are Rene and Mariska with their son eggs with bacon frying, which are also up early, I realize. Brother Ed and Miriam keep watch and support them at times when everyone suddenly would like a couple of fried eggs…….. Their coffee is in great demand.

I wonder how it is that the machine suddenly starts running, the machine that is called this event. The men and women behind the eggs and coffee laugh even as, my bad feeling and the nervousness spontaneous evaporate. I try to eat something and am surprised it actually is tasty!

Tents are erected for the Field Hospital, the registration tent is rigged and I see a big Diamond T with 3 cans of 1000 liters of diesel each, for the generators.

Then the generators catch my eyes, there are cables, meters long and a lot of those familiar “mushrooms”.

I walk to the toilets and see Bauke Schuurman the toilets clean. “Jeez man, what a mess in there,” I call out to him in admiration. “Yes Maybe so, but it must be done”.

I nod in agreement and am full of sincere admiration….. What a job to take upon yourself.

Jan Bruinewoud arrives a little later and in his wake Bauke, they warn me that we should leave for Ruurlo for the first Liberation ride of the longest event ever organized by KTR ……….

Yuck, that bad feeling comes back, I take my script along as if to show that I have everything under control. Nerves take over again, please let our first ride go well……

Rob Nieuwpoort and Bauke know me a little longer, they call almost in chorus: “Now you’ll stop with that pacing up and down, we are getting nervous, let’s have coffee first.”

In the corner of my eye I see how Ed Brink has seen all this and nods approvingly…………. Those guys won’t let me down, they are fantastic!

The ride to Ruurlo lasted more than an hour, Bert Leuverink was already waiting for me. My question if everything was under control he answered approvingly, the route had already been discussed with the bikers and cops who would accompany us. The column was largely set up, Bert and all his men were in complete control.

The exit road was cleared, the road is closed and the first meters of this part of the Liberty Tours were driven………………….

A fantastic beautiful sight to see 50 vehicles to drive away from the camp. A first Goosebumps moment.

We drive first to Beltrum for a ceremony, then there is coffee with cake. Then on to Eibergen for another ceremony, the traffic is stopped for us everywhere and we get a lot of. In the village Haarlo a cup of soup awaits us, but also pastries and herring with onions …………. Whoops, that’s just not good for me. Participants with less stress eat everything, how they get away with it I wonder. I give my portion to a member of the Able Company, he is still young and looks a lot fresher than me. The air of the onions doesn’t do me any good and I walk away.

Through beautiful routes mostly across sand paths we imagine our Liberators driving across the same routes. I clearly see the picture from the Program Booklet before me, young, tanned, lean British soldiers soaked clothing and shoes wet, sunken eyes and often young, very young faces. They conjure a smile on their face when the cameraman takes a picture of them……………

Lost in thought, we reach the Ruurlo Castle again, where we await another meal in the Orangery. I congratulate Evert, Hank and Max, Bert and the others for a successful journey and a great organization.

Meanwhile, it was already dark when Bauke, Jan and I drive back to Delden for the night, my “hangover” is gone, what pleasure. But how these men, no boys, must have felt when they were here? They had the Normandy landings already behind them, had perhaps been in Caen and Falaise Pocket? The admiration for our Liberators had been increased without having seen one…………….

Rob van’t Oost

Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.