Oosterwijksestraat 21, 5121 NL Alphen

Liesbeth Sparks



In August 1939 it was clear to the Dutch government: war with Germany was a distinct danger. On 28 August they announced the General Mobilisation: 280,000 male conscripts were called up for the army. This mobilisation eventually lasted nine months. All the men were away from home after that time. They could only occasionally get home leave. This included Jan Segers from Alphen.


Jan Segers and Jonneke van Gorp met each other when they were working at the same farm in Alphen as farm hand  and maid. They married in September 1931 and bought a farm in the hamlet of Alphen-Oosterwijk, two and a half kilometres from the village. It was originally a small farm with just three cows. The three chicken sheds were Jonneke’s domain. Jan also worked hard and the farm was gradually enlarged. They had children; five were born within a short time. The sixth child died at birth.



At the end of August 1939 Jan Segers received a notification. Because he had done military service as a young man he would now, aged almost 35, have to register for the general mobilisation. He would have to leave his farm, five children and a pregnant wife behind. Many farmers in the area did not have to sign up – defence cuts meant they had never been trained. Initially Jan was not far from home: near the border in the Dutch hamlet of Strijbeek. He could occasionally go back home on his bike. But shortly after the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, Jan was billeted at Veenendaal close to Grebbeberg.

Then, in September 1939, Jonneke Segers was about to give birth. Her brothers had prepared everything and were keeping an eye on the five older children. A woman from the village helped with the birth. All went well and a healthy daughter Joke entered the world. Jan Segers received news of the new arrival by telegram and he wanted to go home to see his wife and child. He was given one day’s leave: 24 hours to make a journey that would take several hours, to be there with his family and to be back on time. What to do? Jan decided to go home and rustle up something.



As soon as he got home he greeted his wife, stroked his little daughter’s head and got on his bike to go to the town of Baarle-Nassau, where Doctor Govaerts lived. The doctor had not been present when Jonneke gave birth because it had been a textbook birth, but at Jan’s request the doctor wrote a letter. Jan needed one day’s extra leave because ‘the mother was suffering from nerves’. It may not have been very far from the truth, what with five small children and a sixth in the cradle.

Next day Jan got in the bus that would take him to Tilburg, where he would go by train to the horrors of the Grebbe Line. His two oldest daughters, Netje and Ria walked with him to wave goodbye.

‘Pray for me,’ said Jan. ‘We’ve been doing that for a long time,’ they replied.


During the Battle of the Grebbeberg, which lasted from 11 to 13 May 1940, thousands of Dutch soldiers, mostly inadequately armed, fought the German forces.  Of the Dutch who fought there, 424  perished. Jan Segers survived and returned to his family in Alphen. He rarely spoke of what he had encountered during those days.


Jan Segers, about 30 years old.
(Photo: Privately owned by family Segers, z.j.)

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