ON YOUR OWN AGAINST FOUR HUNDRED GERMANS
Cees Sleegerspad, Veldhoven
Invasion May 1940
A front page announcement in the Trouw newspaper on 8 September 1965 stated that C. Sleegers had been killed in a road accident while driving his car. Many readers continued reading unconcerned, but in Southeast Brabant and especially in Veldhoven, there was a shock reaction to the death of their fellow villager who had distinguished himself during the war in an unusual way.
Cees Sleegers was born in Veldhoven on 13 May 1919 and was baptised Cornelis Johannes Henricus. After secondary school he joined the monastery to study to become a missionary. His dream was to teach abroad, a realistic plan because he spoke several languages fluently. But just before he was due to become a missionary, he no longer felt the calling. Cees continued as an illustrator for advertisements and when he was nineteen he was called up for military service. In October 1938 he became a military batman – an officer’s assistant – with the 2nd Infantry Regiment in Venlo.
It was the night of 9 May 1940, and signs of an attack from the east had been around for days. Even so the invasion, which started at 3.55 in the morning, was sudden and overwhelming. At dawn it became clear that the 9th Division of the German army had advanced as far as the Maas valley near Grubbenvorst, just beyond Venlo. Heavy fighting broke out but German superiority was significant. Cees Sleegers was sent to defend the G-141 bunker. His unit tried to hold up the Germans from the western banks of the River Maas. When his commanding officer was injured, the twenty year old Cees – the youngest of the survivors – took over command. But the Dutch were suffering heavy losses along the entire Maas defence line. They were either put out of action or retreated.
Cees, who remained in action, continued the battle alone. Using a carbine rifle he prevented various attempts by the Germans to cross the Maas in rubber boats. To increase his accuracy he even went out of the bunker and for six hours he held back the German soldiers, reportedly numbering four hundred.
Amazingly he survived this hell. But having the courage of a lion does not make you immune, and Cees ended up in hospital, severely injured with several bullets in his stomach and shrapnel in his back. It was six months before he could leave hospital.
This was not to be his last sacrifice. In the years that followed, Cees helped with the resistance. He was involved with finding safe hiding places for British pilots. In June 1942 he disappeared to France with the intention of crossing over to England via Switzerland. He could continue his battle against the occupation better from there, but he was arrested in Nancy. Back home in Venlo he used false identity papers provided by the council secretary to gain his freedom. After the liberation of the south in 1944 he was immediately appointed as group commander of the unofficial ‘Blue Hunters’ service which had its beginnings as the PAN (Partisan Action Netherlands).
Cees’ courage, fidelity and desire for freedom were recognised after the war. In June 1946 he was awarded a 4th class Military Williams Order and received the War Cross medal. He remained a professional soldier until 1954. He went on to become a salesman in Veldhoven, but his life continued to suffer from the wartime traumas. Headaches, fatigue and attacks of depression became the psychological injuries of the war. In January 1957 Cees married Wilhelmina Elisabeth van der Sterren. The effects of his war traumas led to his marriage breaking up after just five months. One year after they were married Wilhelmina gave birth to a daughter Hannie, but Cees hardly got to know her. He died on 6 September 1965 in the Belgian town of Turnhout after hitting a tree in nearby Arendonk. The Trouw newspaper devoted a five-line front-page announcement to it.
At the end of 2009 his daughter Hannie unveiled the nameplate of the Cees Sleegerspad path in Veldhoven, a thirteen-hundred metre cycle path that leads to the Sterrenlaan. It is a cycle path that is away from the main road. It is fitting that in Dutch, such cycle paths are referred to as “free”.
War remembrance cross