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Caught in the Crossfire

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The Dutch in Wartime: Survivors Remember is a series of books with wartime memories of Dutch immigrants to North America, who survived the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands.

Book 7, Caught in the Crossfire, covers the experiences of civilians living in the area where Allied paratroopers landed during Operation Market Garden (the Battle for Arnhem, a Bridge too Far). The towns and villages in which they live become the battlefield. They are bombed, shelled and shot at. But despite the danger and destruction, they welcome the liberators and help them where they can.

Designed and written to be easily accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds, these books contain important stories about the devastating effects of war and occupation on a civilian population.

Edited by Anne van Arragon Hutten.

103 pages
Historical background, 2 maps and 15 wartime memories.
ISBN: 978-0-3968308-8-4
On the cover: ‘Liberation Monument’ in Overasselt, designed by Leo Gerritsen and Henk van Hout, commemorating operation Market Garden. (Photo: Manon van Kuijk-Smits)


Birthday in a cellar

My parents, four brothers, two sisters and I lived at 65 Spoorstraat (Railway Street) in the town of Boxmeer, North Brabant. Our living quarters, a bakery and a grocery store were on the main street. In 1944, our occupation by the Germans seemed to be coming to an end. My father woke us up one time to look at a retreating army.

There were trucks pulled by horses, full of pigs, sheep and cattle, all taken from farms. Another day we woke to find a cannon across the street from our store. We watched as the Germans loaded the gun and pulled the rope, and fire spewed out. The reply came from the road to St. Anthonis. The Allied forces fired back and the Germans fled. Then came what is now known as Operation Market Garden.

It was the 17th of September, shortly before my 10th birthday. The sky was full of parachutes with soldiers, small trucks and jeeps. It was a spectacle I will never forget. A fighter plane buzzed overhead and started firing on the locomotive of a train on its way to Germany. Suddenly the engine boiler spouted steam and the train slowed to a halt. The engineer jumped out and dove into the ditch. Tanks pulled into town and were stationed on the railroad tracks and the main road to Beugen. British and Canadian troops were everywhere.

Some Germans threw out their guns from their hiding places at the coal distributor and were taken away. Other Germans were fleeing across the fields into the bush. All this time there was shelling all around us and we would go and look at the damage being done. The house across the street was severely damaged. Our eyes couldn’t see enough of all that was going on around us. The news came that two boys were seriously injured, and later died. We were rounded up.

My parents decided to sleep in the cellar overnight. Every day my father would go out to see what was happening. Each day he returned safely. I remember mother commenting that we would surely be safe by my birthday on September 26. But at ten years old I was still trapped in the cellar. On October 1 my father came back and said it was safe. The Allied forces were now in control of Boxmeer. We thought the war was over, but it was not to be. The Allies made the decision to evacuate Boxmeer, since the Germans were not prepared to retreat across the river Maas. They kept coming back into town at night to plunder. My three brothers, one sister and I were given a bag of clothing and told to retreat behind Allied lines. Since we had relatives in Rijkevoort we headed there. My parents decided to go later by bicycle. They took my youngest sister and brother and other belongings. As we were walking the shelling started again. We were forced to take shelter in the bush behind a farmhouse. But we arrived safely at my uncle’s place.

Anthony van Kempen
Toronto, Ontario