MEN WITH A WARM BEATING HEART FOR THE NETHERLANDS
The Biesbosch – the tidal zone of land and water – was avoided by the German occupiers during the Second World War. For a long time, the people hiding in this wilderness felt safe and they sometimes worked for local farmers. On 10 November 1944, the German occupiers set up machine gun posts and started patrolling the area by boat. The recently liberated town of Drimmelen was showered with gunfire.
The German occupation of the Biesbosch followed a reckless act of resistance by the ‘partisans of the Biesbosch’, who had a very narrow escape. After Dolle Dinsdag (Crazy Tuesday), German deserters fled from Brabant through the Biesbosch to the northern part of Holland. Members of the resistance in Werkendam, Made and Drimmelen planned to disarm them at the little bridge of Sint Jan. After all, the war was nearly over. Several resistance members, including Piet van den Hoek, Arie van Driel and Kees van de Sande from Werkendam, soon became involved in the plan. Eventually 75 soldiers were kept hostage on two barges in the Biesbosch. However, food supplies were running low and the resistance members even considered the execution of all prisoners, but the Germans were spared after an appeal to the Geneva Convention. The risky adventure came to an end in the night of 4 to 5 November when the vessels with the 75 captured soldiers were transferred to Drimmelen, where they were handed over to the Polish liberators.
The men who brought the ships to Drimmelen could have stayed in the liberated province of Brabant to await the end of the war, but the love for their country was too strong. Piet van den Hoek, Kees van de Sande and Arie – Aaike – van Driel continued their work in the resistance as ‘Biesbosch crossers’. Twenty-one crossers continuously ferried across from liberated to occupied territory, straight through the dark Biesbosch, in canoes and dugouts. The 18-kilometre journey in a narrow canoe was rough and the crossing in December 1944 was no different. “It was pitch black when we, Aaike and Piet, reported to Kees to collect the items that had to be brought to liberated territory that night. Every nerve in our bodies was tensed. I took up the oars and Aaike sat in the back, his Sten gun at the ready. We navigated into the Nauw van de Paulus waterway and reached the Spijkerboor without any incidents. After a short while, Aaike suddenly said: ‘Wait a second, I see a boat crossing on the other side’. The tension rose. Then the sound of several gunshots from Aaike’s Sten filled the air and for a moment everything became alarmingly silent. Luckily nothing else happened that night and we could finally give our password to the guards in Drimmelen: ‘the hare has been shot’.
It did not always end well. Piet van den Hoek almost didn’t survive the crossing of 13 January 1945. His usual buddy Arie van Driel was ill and stayed behind in Drimmelen. Piet was seized by the Germans and ended up in labour camp Waterloo at Camp Amersfoort. He escaped and continued his crossings through the Biesbosch. Arie van Driel also continued the crossings tirelessly. He successfully completed the journey 53 times. However, during his 54th crossing on 18 March 1945, he was caught. Not with Piet van den Hoek, but with a few other crossers, he was arrested by the Germans. They didn’t let him go and after brutal violence he died in front of the firing squad at Fort de Bilt, together with district commander and crosser Kees van de Sande. This happened on 30 April 1945, only a few days before the liberation.
Liberation Day must have been a sad day for Piet van den Hoek. His friend and comrade Aaike sacrificed his life for freedom. The fallen crossers Arie van Driel and Kees van de Sande were buried in Werkendam on 12 May 1945. A Bible passage from John was carved into Aaike’s gravestone: ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. In August 1948, the three men from Werkendam received the highest honour of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: The Military Order of William. They were honoured for their heroism: courage, conduct and loyalty. Liberation Day came too late for Arie van Driel and Kees van de Sande, they were honoured posthumously. “They were not heroes, but men with a warm beating heart for the Netherlands, who sacrificed everything for their country and their countrymen, even their lives”, Piet van den Hoek wrote in his book Biesboschcrossings 1944-1945.
In February 2015, nearly seventy years after Aaike van Driel’s final and fatal crossing, Piet van den Hoek’s family wrote on his mourning card “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.
One of the crossing boats, crewed by P. v.d. Hoek (in the front) and A. de Keizer, near the former harbour entrance of Drimmelen.
Source: Biesbosch Museum