THE OFF-LICENCE AND THE SCOOTER
Inval mei 1940
The East Brabant village of Mill had a strategic location for the German army. Around 10 May 1940 the village and the surrounding area were the scene of heavy fighting. German soldiers had been ordered to breach the Peel-Raam Line at Mill. They did this using an armoured train and a troop train. The armoured train was derailed close to Mill by a blockade placed by the Dutch army. The fighting that followed lasted two days and entered history books as the Battle of Mill. This had significant consequences for Willy Sweens’ family.
The off-licence on the Stationsstraat: anyone who lived in Mill got their beer and wine from Sweens. Antoon Sweens was usually out, as he was also a sales representative for the drinks he sold. But maybe his six year old son Willy would be riding his sister’s scooter. She would not have been there as she was away at boarding school in Beugen with another sister. Maybe people stopped to talk to Marie, who worked behind the counter in the shop.
Then, very early one morning, Willy woke up. He could hear thunder. But what strange thunder. He saw colours and flashes through the window. His mother came into the bedroom. ‘Come on, Willy, this is war.’ It was a strange day, everyone was awake early. Willy could hear booming and other strange sounds. And, someone said, a German armoured train had been derailed with an enormous bang. Willy had not heard it but all the adults knew what it meant: they must follow protocol and go to the town of Uden. But that wasn’t possible as all the bridges to the west had been blown up. To Wanroij then, in the other direction.
They left at about ten o’clock. Willy could go on his sister’s scooter. “I can still see us going: me on the scooter. Mother with the pram. Aunty with her bike.’ In the Julianastraat mother said ‘If only I could be a bird.’ Precisely at that moment Will saw a headless bird fall to the ground. ‘I’m glad mother is not a bird.’ In Wanroij Willy slept in the men’s room, together with his father. But Antoon was uneasy. How were things with his business? People were walking in and out. ‘There’s a lot of damage in Mill,’ everyone was saying. Antoon decided to go back and have a look.
Willy was allowed to go too. ‘Don’t touch anything’, said father. What a mess. All the windows were broken and the floor was littered with broken glass. All the bottles in the shop had been smashed: all the lemonade and advocaat brandy. There were large gaps in the wall, the beams had been damaged by flying shrapnel. And what was that hanging in the curtains? A bullet. It was unbelievable but the Sweens family were in luck. In the whole of Mill eighty houses had been completely destroyed. Four hundred people had been made homeless.
Antoon Sweens boarded up the windows with wood from the wine crates. Marie wept because of the devastation but there was nothing for it but clear everything up. During the occupation they repaired the house and the off-licence while Willy rode on his scooter.