MARY PROTECTS HER CHILDREN
West Brabant was strategically important for the German army, and also for the Allied forces. From Friday afternoon on 6 October 1944 three Canadian battalions advanced towards Woensdrecht, passing right through the village of Hoogerheide. German soldiers sat waiting in foxholes and in the corn fields. A battle ensued which lasted for days. Meanwhile many villagers were trapped like rats, including those in the neighbourhood of Zandfort.
In the autumn of 1944 Marie Musters lived in the Hoogerheide in Zandfort with her nine children. Her husband Sjef de Moor who had transported goods by horse and cart at Woensdrecht airfield had died unexpectedly in 1941, so Marie was now all by herself. She was worried about her children, being so close to Woensdrecht airfield with the imminent danger of air raids. When the older children walked to school she would watch them for ages, said her fourteen year old daughter Nelleke.
On Friday afternoon 6 October 1944 while Marie was boiling potatoes on a stove outside in the yard, the sounds were becoming more threatening. Were they from aircraft? No, the sounds were on the ground. Bullets. Grenades. The oldest sons noticed it first. ‘Mother, turn off the stove!’ There was no alternative, they would have to go into the air raid shelter that had been dug in the garden years before: ‘At first it was a sort of robbers’ den for the younger brothers. Later on it was extended, more straw on top, more earth on top.’ They ran through the garden and into the cellar.
For many days Marie and her nine children spent more time in the air raid shelter than in the house. They weren’t the only ones in search of a safe haven; several neighbours hid with them in just a couple of square metres. Sometimes Marie shared some food, there was a shelf in the shelter full of biscuits. A statue of the Virgin Mary watched over everything. It was an anxious time in the shelter. Nelleke heard everything that flew overhead and attacked, but she couldn’t see anything: ‘We all huddled together in fear.’ The shelter took a direct hit. The impact caused the statue to fall over and hang crookedly on the shelf.
After the direct hit some German soldiers suddenly appeared at the shelter entrance on Sunday morning 15 October. They were not more than a couple of years older than Nelleke’s oldest brother Giedus who was eighteen. They were carrying guns ‘Raus, schnell’ (Get out, quickly). Marie wanted to go back into the house to pack some belongings but they wouldn’t let her. Get away from here! Marie and her nine children had to leave the house and the shelter with no coat and no possessions. Not a moment too soon: on Monday morning 16 October the Canadians launched a savage attack under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Denis Whitaker.
When the fighting around Woensdrecht and Hoogerheide was over, at the end of October 1944, havoc awaited Marie. The statue of Mary had gone. It had not been able to prevent the house from being completely destroyed. What hadn’t been shot to pieces had been stolen. The family lived with grandfather for eighteen months: ‘We had nothing left.’