's-Hertogenbosch - My Memories

Ray Squires

Holland in the month of October, 1944. I was a radio operator/loader in a Mark VII Churchill flame throwing tank, used in assault support of infantry, called "SHARK".
The tank was the troop leader's tank of 12 troop 'C' Squadron, 141 RAC (The Buffs). We started the battle for 's-Hertogenbosch on a Sunday morning. Just another Dutch town in a flat countryside, but I was in for a surprise. The love/hate relationship I developed for the city and the surrounding countryside started that Sunday morning. The fighting was hard, men were killed on both sides, civilians and even children were killed. I lost friends in tanks next to mine before reaching 's-Hertogenbosch.
In these actions my troop, 12 troop, seemed to have lost two tanks and the officer in charge of my tank left and we finished with a corporal Jock Robb. The tank was now attached to Andrew Wilson's troop.
The final approach to the city seemed to be through Hell. Dead Germans and their horses, smashed houses and trees and the littered equipment of war. After a very short lull, people came from their ruins and commenced to carve up the horses. One man had a complete horse's leg balanced between the saddle and the handle bars of his cycle. The leg was partially covered with a german ground sheet.
Looking down a side street I noticed a crowd watching a woman who was sitting whilst her hair was being shaved off.
After crossing the canal and then the river, (or was it the river and then canal?), after various skirmishes we were pulled out of the town to service the tanks for the next day. Returning through the stretch we had traversed that morning, I noticed most of the horses had been completely butchered.
I think the biggest shock was to see people washing their houses with water from hose pipes.
The next day and perhaps for two days, I remember waiting with the infantry, who were dug in around us in a green square. I suppose it wasn't a true square, more a triangle with trees and buildings on two sides and a road and wall at it's base. I think there was flood water behind the wall. (I think it must be next to the resistance memorial).
During the day the triangle was mortared continually and the infantry took a beating. Men were killed and wounded. During one lull we were amazed to see a civilian dispensing coffee round to the infantry and tank crews.
The triangle after a short time became our forward base from which we were called by radio to carry out flaming attacks in the town.
The most frightening attack we did from the base and I shall remember it till I die, was the flaming across the canal in support of the infantry, our position was next to an Esso petrol station, I can still see the Esso sign.
It was reported that a German self propelled gun was on the other side of the canal waiting for us. I think we had already knocked out the brother to this gun on a level crossing at Rosmalin some days previously. Frankly I did not want him to share our success, so I put smoke down to hide us from him. I think I used every smoke shell in the tank.
Further clashes in the town were fierce, but I would wish to record some of the moments which will always remain in my mind:
  1. A monk attempting to lead school children to safety across a footbridge over a canal. I can still see his brown habit, bare feet in the leather sandals and his monk's hair cut. After making 3 or 4 trips he was hit by shrapnel from a mortar shell. I think he was killed. A very brave man.
  2. A member of the resistance force leading a number of tanks into the factoy area. Whilst he was on foot and unprotected directing our fire onto targets. Every time the guns were fired he was blown over by the explosion. Another brave man.
  3. A little house in a side street which was a haven.
  4. The greatest thing of all was the friendly and kind people.
If some of my descriptions of places and happenings seem vague, please forgive me. Most of my view was through a periscope on a tank turret and it is a long time ago.
Thank you Den Bosch for all the memories, both good and sad of the past.
Thank you Den Bosch for all the good memories of our recent celebrations.

Erfgoed 's-Hertogenbosch (0824.865)