AN ILL-FATED COINCIDENCE
Jack Didden en Tjeu Cornet
Monument in Grave and house in Nuland
Invasion May 1940
On Friday 10 May 1940, a few hours after the German invasion, Dutch troops blew up the bridge over the River Maas at Grave to resist the Germans. That afternoon, large numbers of residents fled Grave to Nuland, Heesch and Geffen. At the same time, the majority of Dutch troops in North Brabant retreated to Fortress Holland, according to plan. Grave then fell to the Germans, with little resistance.
After the blowing up of the bridge in the early morning, there was considerable panic amongst the residents of Grave. More than half of them, around 2000, opted to leave the city in fear of the approaching battle. One of those who fled was the heavily pregnant Maria Derijck, together with her husband, father, mother and brother. They wanted to get as far away as they could, so they walked for six hours towards Nuland, thirty kilometres to the west. As the long line of people trudged along the road, the unrest began to grow. The Luftwaffe had been given orders to attack retreating Dutch troops and German aircraft repeatedly flew low over the procession of refugees. Once the trepidatious journey was over, there was a sense of relief amongst the refugees when they finally reached Nuland unscathed, and they were gladly welcomed into people’s homes. Maria, her family and two other families were taken in by Nelleke and Jan Zwanenburg, who were running a grocery store from their home. Nuland was an oasis of a calm at that time, and somewhere the refugees felt safe. Exhausted, they fell to sleep.
The calm did not last long, however, and the following day the war returned with intensity. Six bombs fell in quick succession, close to people’s homes and the railway line, and half of Nelleke and Jan Zwanenburg’s home was obliterated just like that. Maria Derijck lost all of the relatives with whom she had fled Grave — her husband, parents and brother, and Jan Zwanenburg was hit by a splinter and was disabled for the rest of his life. Maria Derijck buried her family members in Nuland a few days later. Back in Grave, Maria saw that there had been little conflict. Three weeks after the bombardment, Maria gave birth to a son. Desperately wanting her lost family members as close to her as possible, she worked tirelessly to have them reburied in her home town.
The myth of the milk float
The tale of the ‘milk float’ was passed around Nuland following the bombardment. Residents claimed to have seen an aeroplane over Nuland on the day before the bombardment, 10 May. They thought that it had likely spotted the milk cart doing its daily rounds, had mistaken it for a munitions vehicle and had alerted a bomber. It’s a story that ought to be added to the already bulging library of fables. Presumably, a German bomber who had been hit (possibly the Heinkel 111 that had landed in Oss on the same day), had dropped his load early to gain height. Sadly for the residents, he did this over Nuland, killing thirteen, eleven of whom were refugees from Grave.
Amongst the dead were two families with children, the youngest victim was just one. Many ordinary citizens were struck accidentally during the war. A monument was later erected in Grave for the four members of the Derijck family who perished.
The Zwanenburg family home after the bombardment