WE ALL THOUGHT, HE’LL BE HOME TONIGHT
Invasion May 1940
When Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, the 276 military police in Brabant were given an important assignment. Their orders were to get to Moerdijk as quickly as possible so they could travel to England via The Hague. But the Moerdijk bridges had already been captured on 10 May, so hundreds of military police tried to reach the coast via West Brabant, from where they could travel to England. This movement of people suddenly involved large numbers of civilians, among them, Riet Overbeeke’s father.
Riet Overbeeke was an eleven year old girl living in the Antwerpse-straatweg in Hoogerheide with her father Kees, her mother Pietje and her younger brother Louis. Father Kees had a garage with a petrol pump and he also ran a taxi company.
On Saturday 11 May 1940 someone knocked on the door at around midday. A couple of military police were standing there. They had heard from the local constable that Kees had a taxi company. He was given urgent orders to go with them. He would have to drive the officer of the military police. Kees put on his cap and left. Riet: ‘We all thought, he’ll be home tonight.’
But the next day her father was still not home. And he stayed away. Uncertainty turned to anxiety, for fear that the worst had happened. Riet: ‘Then you start to think he’ll never come back. He didn’t have any luggage with him, nothing.’ Other families from Hoogerheide shared this fear, because Kees Overbeeke was not the only person who had disappeared. Eight other men from the village had been commandeered with their truck, car or bus. It was only after six months that Riet, her mother and her brother received a message: Kees is alive. He is in England.
‘Commander in chief’
It turned out that Kees was in a camp near Wolverhampton where about three thousand men were staying. He had been forced to leave his taxi behind in Northern France on 9 June. Kees was one of the workmen in the camp: he worked in the garage and drove when he was needed as a chauffeur. He had met Prince Bernhard in the officer’s mess several times. He was not allowed to leave. For years while Riet and her younger brother grew up alone with their mother, they had to manage without their father. They had occasional contact by post. Kees jokingly signed the letters he sent home with ‘Commander in chief.’
And then in November 1944 Riet saw her father again for the first time in four and a half years. In a beautiful uniform, but without his taxi. It was a strange moment, Riet had grown up so much that she thought: what a small man. He had hardly left the camp, he told them, the only thing he wanted to do was get back to his own family. ‘I didn’t want to be there, I wanted to go back home.’
Kees Overbeeke wanted to get his taxi company running again as quickly as possible, but he had been forced to leave his taxi behind. He decided to write to Prince Bernhard who had once offered to help him. In this way Kees managed to get hold of a new Chevrolet from the United States. The new taxi, with the number plate N19632, was in service for many years.
Left: Kees Overbeeke smokes a cigar in his uniform shortly after returning from Wolverhampton. (Image: Riet Overbeeke, private collection, 1944)
Right: the whole family in 1945 in front of the new Chevrolet. Louis Overbeeke would later play football for NAC. (Image: Riet Overbeeke, private collection, 1945)