SOMEONE HAD TO BE FIRST
Karin van Berkel en Tjeu Cornet
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Oude-Willibrordus Church, Waalre
Invasion, May 1940
Most of the thousands of Dutch soldiers who died during the Second World War did so at the beginning, when the Germans invaded. They were not even necessarily fighting when they were killed. That was the case for the first victim from Brabant too, who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time on 10 May 1940.
Dick Johan van Toor from Eindhoven was 22 years old when the war broke out and he was called up to serve. As he had been studying medicine, he became a scout in the 5th Company of the School Reserve Officers Medical Troops. The company was stationed in the Hojel barracks in Utrecht.
On 7 May 1940, orders arrived at the barracks that exactly one hundred men had to go to the military hospital at Oud-Beijerland. Corporal Dick van Toor was one of them. A number of days passed by before the company finally left on 10 May. And how. Aside from a helmet and a uniform, the men had virtually no equipment. No one had a gas mask for instance, and only the sergeant had a gun. Even the Red Cross armbands were not in accordance with international regulations. The company reached the Maas Station in Rotterdam at eleven fifteen in the morning, as if nothing was going on. But a few hours earlier, this station was still in German hands. There was still fierce fighting going on.
The boys were shocked at what they found. No one told them that Rotterdam had been under such attack. Unarmed, they tried to get away from the station without being seen. First they crept under wagons, then they carefully exited the station to get to the army camp at the Oostplein via the Haringvliet and the Nieuwe Haven. But the Dutch marines who were guarding the Haringvliet had raised the bridges by a metre as a defence mechanism. So the medics had to jump, one by one. That caught the attention of the Germans, who opened fire. A few boys were hurt. Including Dick van Toor. A sniper shot him right in the abdomen. His friends managed to get him out of the line of fire. But Dick died of his injuries soon afterwards.
Killed on 10 May 1940, Dick van Toor was the first war victim from Brabant. The further adventures of his company would not have been a source of comfort. The sergeant almost had to beg to get his men doing useful work. It seemed that nowhere in the city was there a need for extra medical assistance. Finally, at the end of the day, the men were divided up in small groups and send to work with different commands.
On 1 March 1946, Dick Johan van Toor was buried at the Oude Willibrordus Church in Waalre.
A little earlier, a group of people from Brabant had taken the initiative to commemorate the fallen of Brabant there, through a memorial to the unknown soldier. Instead of an unknown soldier being laid to rest there, the remains of Dick van Toor were. The little church in Waalre is now the official monument of Brabant, and a memorial service is held there every year on 12 September.