ROAR IN THE NIGHT
On the corner of the Zuid Parallel Road and the Kardinaal van Enckevoirt Street, Mierlo-Hout (municipality of Helmond)
Invasion, May 1940
The British started bombarding strategic targets in Germany soon after the start of the Second World War. The roar of the planes flying from England to Germany could often be heard in the Netherlands. That was the case on the evening of 23 May 1940 in Mierlo-Hout, two weeks after the war came to the Netherlands.
A deadly night
58 year old Alex Heldens was looking out of his living room window that evening. Heldens lived in Mierlo-Hout, on the corner of the Kardinaal van Enckevoirt Street and the Zuid Parallel Road. His wife Frida Heldens and their son were upstairs sleeping. Heldens was often downstairs around midnight because the roar of the planes flying overhead woke him up. Outside, three other men were chatting: Sjef Spoormakers, Franks van de Kimmenade, and Harrie Smits. The British planes flew low over the village.
One of the planes didn’t continue flying over the village, but kept circling Mierlo-Hout. The reason isn’t clear – perhaps he had seen the light coming from the torches of the men who were chatting outside and was confused by it? Or perhaps he thought the old painters cart with the riding stirrups a little further down the road was a German anti-aircraft artillery? Suddenly the plane fired its weapon, and there was a loud bang. The bomb landed where the three men were chatting, and they were killed instantly. Alex Heldens, standing by the window, didn’t survive either. His wife and son upstairs had more luck, but they were left without their husband and father.
But why here?
It’s not clear why the plane dropped its bomb at this precise spot. After the war there were rumours that the bomb had been intended for a high-level Nazi: Arthur Seyss-Inquart. He had been appointed Reich Commissioner for the occupied Netherlands at the beginning of the war, and in May 1940 may have stopped over at the house of German Nazi sympathiser Fritz Potzler, on his way from Germany to take up his post in the Netherlands. Coincidentally, Potzler lived close to Alex Heldens. So it’s no wonder that the story arose that the bomb had been intended for Seyss-Inquart.
But for the family and friends of the civilian victims, the reason the bomb fell on that exact corner in Mierlo-Hout remained a mystery for many years. Also for Alex Heldens’ grandson, who was named after his grandfather. After a long search in the British archives, an important discovery was made. The plane that dropped the bomb, and the crew of the plane were discovered. It turned out to be a British aircraft that was flown by Canadian Wilfred John Lewis. This information made it possible to find out the pilot’s mission too: it was to destroy or derail trains so that the railway line would be blocked. Grandson Alex wasn’t surprised with the outcome of the investigation. His grandfather’s house was right next to the railway line, less than 100 metres from the railway crossing over the then Helmondse Road (now Mierlose Road), and important through road from Eindhoven to Helmond. But the fact that it was not a German bomb, but British bomb that missed its target and killed his grandfather made it all the more painful.
The Memorial and Liberation monument in Mierlo-Hout commemorates this awful event on 23 May, and lists the names of Alex Heldens and the other three men who perished.
This story is based on the investigation done by Jeroen Koppes from the Foundation for Information About the Second World War (STIWOT).