Return to 's-Hertogenbosch October 2004

Tom Kelley

In October 1944 I was in the 53rd Welsh Division, we had advanced to the river opposite Arnhem, attempting to relieve the 1st Airborne Division. As a result of the failure to take the bridge, we were in a very narrow corridor which we had to enlarge. Our divisional task was to attack the city of 's-Hertogenbosch and this started on 22nd October, my 20th birthday. My uncle worked for the publication Blighty and he sent me a bundle of copies, bound together, about an inch thick, which arrived just as we set out. I put them in the front of my battle dress, as armour, and to read later. My regiment, the 1st Oxf. & Bucks. Lt. Infty. Were to clear the woods surrounding the town. The battle lasted until 27th October.
The 53rd Div. Association has returned annually to commemorate the battle, but this October, the 60th anniversary was the first time I have gone back, and the first time I have actually been into the town. My wife and I went over Monday to Saturday to join about 80 Liberators, as we were described, and their companions. We had four busy days starting with a boat trip on the canals, these are five hundred years old but have been renovated in the years to 1985. When someone wanted a house they erected a bridge over the canal and built the house on it. We were each given a badge with our names on them and Liberator, which were passports to the city.
Our coach took us to various memorials, then to lunch in the Town Hall, in the evening to a large church for a concert with the local choir and the Chepstow Male Voice Choir, it was crowded. The next morning we were in the Cathedral, once again packed with veterans and local people. The children came to the altar with a poppy cross for each of the 144 soldiers killed, as their names were read out. A Requiem for WWI I, which had been composed by a local woman was sung in English, followed by Going Home. We were clapped by the standing audience as we left to walk to the Town Hall, through crowds of clapping people, many of whom wanted to shake hands, each of us was given two separate red roses and a flower arrangement. When we got to the Town Hall there was another lunch, and we were given copies of the local paper containing individual pictures of each of us. All of this appeared on Dutch TV and TV Wales. To a service in a war cemetery where many of our dead were buried, a photo opportunity for a book being written about the battle, then an evening at Heineken's brewery, unlimited food and drink. I had three glasses of orange juice, then a sing song.
Friday to a War Museum, and in the evening a splendid concert, with wartime songs and newsreel of the liberation. We were each presented with a medal. Much of these events I have reorded on my camcorder. A woman in the party had come from Australia, and wanted to meet someone who knew how her father was killed when she was 19 months old. He was our commanding officer, and I had seen him a few minutes before he was shot. A most memorable but exhausting time.

Erfgoed 's-Hertogenbosch (0824.347)