Liberators ReuniteTHEY all saw the fires raging in the city in front of them, silhouetting the huge mounds of rubble which was all that was left of the buildings.
Corporal George Roberts was waist high in water.
So was Private Jim Barnes.
Sgt Frank Cork made his way stealthily along a railway line ... only to come face to face with a group of Germans well armed with brand new weapons. He reckons that should have been the end of him and his men, but to his continuing amazement the Germans surrendered.
They were all men of the East Lancashire Regiment taking part in the liberation of the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch. They were ordered into a surprise night attack on the German-held city in October, 1944, as part of the 53rd Welsh Division.
Next week they return to Holland as heroes. They will be greeted and feted as Liberators, and the reception they will get in five days of reunions, comradeship, solemnity, remembrance and festivity promises to be greater than the thankful welcome they got from the Dutch all those years ago.
The Dutch organisation which has tracked down 500 Liberators, including the men from Pendle, promises: "We gave them a big welcome in 1944; now we shall give them a hearty welcome again."
Jim Barnes, of Barrowford, was only 23 and a private in A company. His fellow soldiers from Pendle were not much older.
A former master plumber and now caretaker for the Marsden Building Society, he is taking his wife, Kathleen, and brother, Peter, with him.
"I am looking forward to the comradeship, the chance to meet folk I have not seen for 40 years," he says.
For years, and completely unknown to Mr Barnes, the man tending a neighbouring allotment at Hodge House was in 's-Hertogenbosch at the same time, but with another company of the East Lancashires.
George Roberts, of Reedyford Road, Nelson, was in D company. Now 70, he says: "It was only when we attended a remembrance service in Blackburn Cathedral earlier this year that I saw Jim and discovered he been at 's-Hertogenbosch as well. The Dutch have gone to a lot of trouble to track down those Liberators still living. I think it will be a wonderful reunion."
It was Mr Frank Cork, of Irvine Street, Nelson, and the oldest local Liberator at 71, who had the head-on encounter with the Germans.
"It was a rough ride into the city," he recalled. "There was only one bridge left intact and we were travelling along the railway line in tracked vehicles carrying mortars like lumps of drainpipe. One of my men called to me that there was a load of men in front of us - and there were, Germans with brand new weapons. It was our good luck they surrendered, but will never understand why they did so."
Leader Times Series, 18th October 1985 | 3