KAMPINA AIRBORNE THE HIDDEN LIBERATORS
Boxtel (De Kampina)
The soldiers may have braced themselves or shut their eyes, but they didn’t make a sound as they jumped out of the plane. It’s the 17th September 1944 and under the leadership of Allied Field Marshal Montgomery, they are getting ready for a secret daring attempt to drive the Germans out of the Netherlands in one fell swoop. In order to get the troops behind German lines, in the middle of occupied territory, Montgomery devised a life-threatening ruse: Operation Market Garden. He drops his soldiers from aircraft just south of the three great rivers, the Meuse, Waal and the Rhine. The aim was to free up the bridges crossing the rivers so that the ground forces could invade from Belgium.
The resistance café owner
The café owner Gerard van der Meijden from Boxtel, together with his wife Door, had been involved in the local and later national resistance from the beginning of the war. They located hiding places and collected food and false papers for people in hiding. Gerard was closely involved with the national pilot assistance programme. He helped pilots to reach safe places such as Spain, via Boxtel. Market Garden was tumultuous for both citizens and occupiers. Hundreds of planes carrying Allies readying for the fight ahead zooming overhead, pulling sailplanes behind them. Hopeful news of an imminent liberation rushing through the country. The Germans and their helpers in turn were preparing for a counterattack.
Two sailplanes separated too early east of Oisterwijk, ten kilometres west of Boxtel. The residents of Oisterwijk watched their hope disappear as the planes disappeared behind the trees. The soldiers survived the fall, but were not allowed to move on. They were still in the middle of occupied territory and the Allies didn’t advance as quickly as they’d hoped. The danger of being discovered by the enemy was too great. The local resistance swung into action immediately, to help the soldiers stay hidden. When Gerard hears the news he doesn’t hesitate for a moment.
“I must do something”
Boxtel is no longer safe. The Germans are using the village as a base against the advancing Allies. Door leaves to go to her parents in Esch, but Gerard doesn’t go with her. “I must do something” are the hasty words with which he bids his wife farewell. The soggy moorland De Kampina lies between Boxtel and Oisterwijk. Gerard knows the moors with their treacherous marshes like the back of his hand.
Door doesn’t know what he’s about to do, or when…or indeed if, she’ll ever see him again. After that day she doesn’t see her husband for weeks. She jumps when she hears the doorbell ring suddenly. She runs to the door and opens it. It takes a moment before she recognises that it’s really Gerard standing there smiling, saying “Are you coming Door?”. Then she throws her arms around his neck.
Picnic in the Kampina
Laden with backpacks full of food, Gerard and Door head out, into the Kampina. If they encounter Germans unexpectedly, they plan to tell them that they’re going on a picnic together. They arrive at an open space, and Gerard points out pieces of canvas that are scattered everywhere on the marshy ground to Door. Gerard pulls aside a piece of canvas, and Door looks right into the dirty, unshaven but radiant faces of a handful of Americans.
When she looks up, she sees the other pieces of canvas moving too. The soldiers are overjoyed, and Door can scarcely believe her eyes. The thirty hidden liberators take the jam sandwiches and smile at her gratefully, before throwing themselves into the food with obvious pleasure.
(Image: Private property of G. Segers via Peter van der Linden, 1944)
A few Airborne soldiers show off the handguns they’d seized from the Germans after Boxtel was liberated by them. The shoulder insignias of the two American Airborne soldiers are clearly visible. At the far right, the ‘Screaming Eagle emblem of the 101st Airborne Division, and on the left the AA ‘All American’ emblem of the 82nd Airborne Division. In the middle, a soldier from the British 1st Airborne Division with beret and emblem on his beret from the South Staffordshire Regiment. 25th October 1944.