The city that never forgot
21 june 1984A film being made by the grateful citizens of a Dutch city will commemorate their liberation at the hands of Welsh soldiers in World War II. The battle of 's-Hertogenbosch was one of the most important tackled by Welsh soldiers during the war. The proceeds from the film will be used to finance a grand reunion of the veterans of the battle. Here MARIO BASINI recalls the occasion and talks to some of the survivors.
BENEATH A Celtic Cross memorial in a Dutch city nestling in a network of water channels and dykes the ashes of a Welsh veteran of World War II lie buried.
Like scores of other ex-members of Wales's own Infantry division, the 53rd, the name of 's-Hertogenbosch was etched on the heart of former Corporal Charles Vaughan of Dolgellau. When he died recently, he asked for his remains to be buried at the scene of the division's greatest battle.
He and his comrades spent six hellish days back in October 1944 prising the city out of the grip of defenders determined to die for the Fatherland.
It took a series of daring assaults against fortress-like fortifications and days of hand-to-hand fighting in the city's narrow streets before they succeeded.
's-Hertogenbosch has gone down in the annals of British military history as a classic example of a battle fought by infantry backed up by armoured units.
Special editionThe two elements combined with such precision that almost 20 years afterwards Territorial Army units were using the battle as an exercise to train its staff officers.
And the Dutch, too, have never forgotten their liberation at the hands of the Welsh soldiers. On the first anniversary of the battle, shortly after the end of the war, the citizens of 's-Hertogenbosch held a celebration at which members of the 53rd were special guests.
The city produced a special edition of its newspaper to mark the occasion. Seven years later, its proud citizens erected the Celtic Cross memorial to commemorate the members of the 53rd who died during the fighting in World War II. Each October, 's-Hertogenbosch holds a special ceremony to commemorate the battle.
But such celebrations pale into insignificance besides the latest moves the city bas undertaken to mark its liberation.
It has commissioned a special video film reconstructing the battle. The video will include film shot at the time of the battle and now stored in the Imperial War Museum, interviews with survivors and still photographs.
Proceeds from its sale will help to finance a grand reunion of veterans which will be held in 's-Hertogenbosch next year to coincide with celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the founding of the city.
The battle which inspired such lasting ties of friendship between the Dutch and the Welsh soldiers was an important landmark in the allied push across Europe following the invasion of Normandy.
Its primary objectives were to open up the nearby port of Antwerp to allied shipping and to protect the northern flank of the bridgehead recently established at Nijmegen.
It began on October 22 with an attack on German positions around the city. Soldiers belonging to The Welch Regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Monmouthshire Regiment took part.
Among other units involved were the East Lancashire Regiment which then formed part of the 53rd, and tanks of the Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards.
Major Arthur Lewis was commanding "D" Company of the 4th Welch. His 160th Brigade was to take Nuland, about six-and-a-half miles from the city.
They attacked with the support of tanks and crocodiles (Churchill tanks, armed with flame throwers). Just 150 yards past their start line, they came onder heavy artillery fire. But only five of his company were wounded.
As they approached Nuland, they found the enemy dug into trenches. His company had to go in with grenades and fixed bayonets.
Major Lewis, from Langland, Swansea, a retired bank manager in civilian life, then sent a section of his company to investigate a great deal of movement on the road in front of him.
His men returned with four times their number of prisoners. Among them were the commander of the German 745 Grenadier Regiment with his staff and bodyguard.
Later, as darkness settled around Major Lewis and his company, they set up their headquarters in a house on the edge of a wood. Suddenly, they found themselves under counter-attack. "That was the worst moment for me," he recalls.
Later still, Major Lewis and his men went into the city to help mop up the Germans there. His exploits during his time in Europe won him the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre.
Sergeant Hughie Thomas, of Llangefni, in Anglesey, was with the 7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers when he found himself close to a canal which runs through 's-Hertogenbosch.
They came under attack from German automatie fire during the night. He and a mate were sent out to pinpoint where the attack was coming from. Sergeant Lewis found himself stranded alone in the middle of a road flanking the canal. It was five minutes before his mates could rescue him. "They were the Longest five minutes of my life," he remembers.
After that he took part in the fierce door-to-door fighting which was needed to clear the Germans. "You came face to face with the enemy then," he recalls.
For Major David Morgan, the battle of 's-Hertogenbosch spelled the end of his involvement in the war. Major Morgan, of Swansea, commanded a company of the 1st/5th Welch during the battle.
He was charged with capturing a strategic road bridge in the city. To his astonishment, he found little resistance and they quickly made it to the bridge. But when he looked around for reinforcements, they were nowhere to be seen.
The bridge came under attack from the Germans and they destroyed it. He and his men found themselves stranded. His company had been decimated. Members of the Dutch resistance tried to smuggle them out of the area. But they were forced to surrender. Major Morgan spent the rest of the war in a PoW camp at Brunswick.
Dick Ryan was a 22-year-old lance corporal at the time of the battle. Cardiff born and bred, he worked at the City Hall when he decided to join an armoured division. After his training, he applied to join the Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards on the advice of a member of the family.
At 's-Hertogenbosch, he found himself part of the armoured support for his compatriots in the 53rd Division. He was a radio operator Sherman tank, fitted with a 17-pounder gu? was one of several American tanks drafted i? support the Cromwell vehicles of the rest of the regiment.
During the battle, he and his comrades were asked to support the 2nd Monmouthshire Battalion. They began by opening fire ? dyke. That particular action went so we ? whole company of Germans surrendered to ? Welch soldiers. But later the tanks found the selves onder threat of being bogged down in? soggy landscape. The obvious path into the ? was down the roads. But they had been m?
So the tanks took the only alterna? They mounted a 15ft bank and drove along the railway line into the city. They felt to? exposed to the withering fire of German ? tank guns. But to their astonishment, the ? never opened fire.
Instead, Lance Corporal Ryan and his man helped the 2nd Monmouthshire soldiers to reach their objective - a series of vital bridges in the city.
The battle ended on October 27. But it ? not to be forgotten. During the period of ? battle, 1.700 German prisoners had been taken. The division's dead numbered around 145?
Ever since, the name of 's-Hertogenbosch lived on in the memories of the Welsh survivers and of the thousands of Dutch they liberate.