A FATAL APPOINTMENT
Sint Anthonis, the corner where the Lepelstraat turns into the Kolonel Silvertoplaan
Elias van der Plicht
September 1944: the allied troops arrived in the south of the Netherlands. The first communities in Limburg and North Brabant had been liberated. However the occupiers did not surrender without a struggle. German soldiers formed a solid line of defence between Boxmeer and Weert. With the River Maas on one side and the marshes of the Peel on the other, this was not easy terrain for the British and the Americans to control.
One week after D-Day David Silvertop crossed the English Channel. The 32 year old British commanding officer of the 3rd battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment already had plenty of experience in mainland Europe by playing a key role in the liberation of Antwerp. He then received the order to relieve the British troops in the Netherlands after the failed airborne landing offensive Operation Market Garden had been abandoned.
On Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 September the British patrols reached Sint Anthonis. The residents of this country village thought they had been liberated, but that hope was short-lived: by Monday morning the village was dominated by German military. That happened a lot in those turbulent days. Groups of soldiers from both sides marched from one place to another, meeting each other but sometimes missing each other, and sometimes they were billeted close to each other without any of them knowing.
On that Monday, 25 September, Silvertop’s 3e battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment arrived in Sint Anthonis. The Germans quickly made themselves scarce. Silvertop and his men decided to wait for reinforcements from the British 159th brigade. Just outside the village reconnaissance troops from this main unit discovered five German tanks coming from Gemert. Shots were fired in both directions after which the five tanks tried to retreat.
Wrong place, wrong time
Three of the armoured vehicles drove at full speed towards Sint Anthonis followed by the British. The village centre was full of the English so there was no option other than to speed through the streets while shooting and trying to escape.
Precisely at that moment David Silvertop was standing at a crossroads in the village. There was a top level consultation: Brigadier General Harvey had summoned Major Thompson and battalion commanders Orr and Silvertop to discuss strategy. Why they came together at this unprotected place remains a mystery. The situation was tense and there was sporadic shooting. The three German tanks only noticed the soldiers at the last moment. The one at the back drove into the Breestraat, rammed a house and came to a standstill.
One of the Sint Anthonis residents saw how the four men were leaning over their maps. ‘Suddenly I heard shooting and saw the German tank come out of the Lepelstraat. A German soldier wearing a green camouflage jacket shot with his machine gun like a madman from the tank. Harvey escaped with a few scratches, Thompson received a bullet in his lung but survived, Orr was severely wounded and died later that day in hospital – he was able to say that it had been a stupid idea to discuss this in the middle of a crossroads. Silvertop was also hit and was killed on the spot. A classic example of wrong place, wrong time.
A bit further on the British captured the two remaining German armoured vehicles. What had happened made the allies in Sint Anthonis nervous. When a short time later a number of British tanks entered the village, they were almost shot at by their own units.
Two German prisoners of war were instructed to dig a grave for officer Silvertop at the graveyard next to the church on the Brink. The British posthumously promoted him to Colonel. The street in which he died was named after him. And in 1955, fifty years after the liberation of Sint Anthonis a monument was unveiled on the spot where Silvertop paid for a liberated Netherlands with his own life.