Laura Hondebrink
Welberg, municipality of Steenbergen
Battle 1944
Before 1 November 1944, the seven year old Rien van Broekhoven had been unaware of the severity of the war. His parents’ house in the village of Welberg had been impounded but the forced relocation to his neighbours had not bothered him much. He spent his days playing in the woods, cycling through the bomb craters near the village and attending school in the village café. At the end of October, the liberation of Brabant was in full swing. The villagers of Welberg had keenly awaited this moment.

In ‘Master’ Baartmans’ air raid shelter

In the night of 31 October 1944, the first Canadian troops of the Alqonquin Regiment arrived in Welberg. They were under the impression that the German army had withdrawn and that they had liberated the village. Some of the villagers chatted to the Canadians in English; one of these people was the village chaplain Henrikus Marinus Kock. Their joy proved short-lived. The German troops launched a counterattack and managed to retake Welberg from the Canadians. The villagers, including chaplain Kock, were forced to seek protection from the violence and hid in the air raid shelters. The chaplain found shelter in head teacher ‘Master’ Baartmans’ basement.

The chaplain was not alone. Little Rien and his brother and parents also hid in Baartmans’ basement, along with the village priest and a handful of others. Outside Rien heard the bombs falling whilst the people inside were praying. Suddenly Rien heard footsteps. The basement door was kicked in with an enormous thud and the German soldiers entered. They were looking for chaplain Kock.

The chaplain’s betrayal

The German soldiers accused the chaplain of betrayal. Several German captives saw him talking to the Canadians. The captives were released after the German counterattack and had not forgotten the conversation between the chaplain and their enemy. The soldiers took chaplain Kock out of the basement and to a village café where he was tortured.

When Rien left the air raid shelter he saw chaplain Kock lying on the ground, between the café and mesjeu Baartmans’ house. He had been dumped, bleeding, with a dagger in his stomach. When Rien walked by, the chaplain was still alive. Rien watched the priest give absolution (forgiveness for the earthly sins) to Piet Kock, the chaplain. The German soldiers did not permit anybody to help the chaplain and he died that afternoon.

Later, Rien heard from the café owner that the chaplain asked for water before his death. Koch met that request by handing him a wet towel.

After this murder the fighting around Welberg was not over yet. Rien and his family were forced to hide in the town’s hospital. After intense artillery fire, the Canadians managed to liberate Welberg and push through to Steenbergen. Rien survived the war, unlike chaplain Kock. A street in Welberg was named after him: the Kapelaan Kockstraat.

Remembrance Bell Frame
(Image: Willemjans, 2012, Wikimedia Commons)