Wandering Around WWII Holland

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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

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Location
The Netherlands
Day 1: Home - Bergeijk 43 km Friday November 3

The starting point was Joe’s Bridge, in Belgium the scene of the first fire-fight of the advance, so on Friday afternoon I set off to cycle the 50 odd km to an open campsite near the bridge. (I had already done my 42 km commute earlier).

While cold, the weather was dry and cycling was pleasant, but as always at this time of the year, I was racing the fading light. I made it to the campsite as just after the last light of the day had faded and was made very welcome - I was the only resident :-)

Got to try out the winter attachment for my Trangia as the temperature was hovering above freezing, made my dinner & retired early to read my kindle.

No pictures as I was racing to get to the campsite before dark.
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Day 2: Campsite @ Bergeijk - Campsite near Nijmegen 92 km Saturday November 4

The next morning was bright & sunny and the 5km or so to the bridge was a straight, easy run. The bridge itself is unremarkable and there are no information boards to explain it’s history or significance. Belgium can be funny like that. There are many memorials scattered around the countryside marking locations from the War years, often it seems, established and maintained by locals, yet some more significant sites are unmarked.
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Joe's Bridge in fabulous sunshine! If only it would last!

I could only guesstimate the route used in the advance, so followed the main road (N69) north. Very quickly it became apparent that I was on the right route as I came across a cemetery for British soldiers killed during the advance.
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Having visited many cemeteries in this part of the world I found this one to be particularly moving. Unlike the American cemetery in Limburg, this one was very understated and simple. Each headstone followed the same format; The division of the army, the rank and name of the soldier, date of birth and death but underneath was a personal message obviously chosen by the soldier’s family. These personal messages were what hit home.

Moving on along a tree lined cycle path parallel to the road there was a lot of time to think and to try to imagine what it was like for these young men (they were nearly all very, very young) to be advancing through this countryside.
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The first town was Valkenswaard, then on to Aalst. As Eindhoven was just ahead, I took a more rural approach to this city using some multi-use walking & cycling paths. There is a Liberation (Walking) route as well that I crossed a couple of times. (There is also a cycling ring route of Eindhoven which is to be recommended if you’re not familiar with this city before entering the centre)
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I know Eindhoven well, so cycled on through and out the northern side, heading for Son En Breugel.

Just the far side of Son En Breugel, there is a roadside memorial commemorating the site of a temporary cemetery. Soldiers from all armies were buried here before being removed and placed in the cemeteries for each army. More moving is the fact that the local farmer whose field was used for this, has hand-made signs pointing out the exact location. It’s down a little road that becomes rougher the further you go until you finally reach a cornfield with another sign showing exactly where the soldiers were buried.
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On both signs it is referred to as an "American" cemetery but I have read that soldiers from all nations (including Germany) were temporarily buried here.

Onwards now to Sint Oedenrode, Veghel & Uden. Somewhere along the way I stopped for some chips and while munching away outside, the guy who made my chips came out to look at my bike and have a chat. I’ve good reason to believe that he thought I was mad cycling at this time of the year! However, his eyes lit up when I was telling him about some of the places I had been. He said that he’d love to do a tour on a bike, but the distances were scary. I tried to tell him that distances didn’t matter. He was afraid of getting lost. I patted the tent on the back of my bike & said it didn’t matter - I could always find a place to sleep. He was afraid of starving - I patted my front pannier & told him of the stove and food in there. At that point he had to go back to cook some more, but I hope he climbs up on a bike soon!.

By now the rain clouds were gathering and it was looking like my least favourite weather for cycling - cold and wet!

And rain it did! Big, stinging drops, driven malevolently by the wind. Onwards I went, heading through Zeeland, by Velp and on towards the bridge over the Maas near Grave.

Now, this was a bridge that I wanted to see. It’s called the John S. Thompson Brug (Bridge) because it was captured by a small unit led by the aforementioned Thompson. What’s particularly interesting about this story was that Thompson’s team was one of several that were airdropped in to capture this bridge. However, Thompson’s team were the only ones to land in the correct area. Faced with the choice of waiting for reinforcements (and delaying the advance), this man and his very small team took the bridge on their own.

By now I was sure that my route had diverged from the XXX Corps because there was a more direct route to Nijmegen, so I was surprised to see on a plaque at the bridge that the XXX Corps actually crossed this bridge!
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The plaque at the bridge. You have an idea how wet it is!

I crossed the bridge and cycled the guts of 10 km to a campsite I hoped was open! I had emailed them but had no answer. I had tried calling & left a voicemail but had no call back. Their website had shown they were open, so I was hoping it was just carelessness. It was dark and cold so I really didn’t fancy going too much further.

It was open, but I’m not so sure that was a good thing. Like a lot of the larger campsites/recreation parks here in NL in winter it is used as temporary accommodation for a lot of people. The bathroom facilities were adequate, but not exactly clean. The tent area was quite exposed, soggy and near the toilet building so there was a lot of traffic all through the night. In any case, a hot pasta dinner cheered me up.
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

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Location
The Netherlands
Day 3:Campsite near Nijmegen to Campsite near Molenheide 55 km Sunday November 5

This was where the plans went in the bin. I had hoped to follow the Rhine into Germany, effectively passing some significant WWII sites but the campsite in Germany (like it’s Dutch counterpart the night before) was neither answering emails nor phonecalls. I had no desire to arrive in a forest in Germany to discover a closed campsite so I changed my plans and headed south.

Add in the fact that it was a wet morning which meant I was later leaving than I wanted I would have been under too much pressure to get there before dark.

The target today was the WWII museum in Overloon, something that had been on my todo list for a while.

Progress was slow, heading south following roughly the Maas (Meuse) but the weather was appalling. Windy and wet. Since this was a new destination, trying to find an open campsite was proving difficult. (It’s amazing how many campsites do not have their season opening times on their websites or on their voicemail). As the day progressed, the weather dried out and the sun even began to peek out. The irony of the situation was that when I did find a campsite open, it was about 20 km from where I was - standing right outside the museum! :-)

So I headed off to the campsite, leaving the museum for tomorrow.

The campsite was a small farmsite campsite, very friendly and welcoming to the strange guy on a bike in winter.

Dinner was had, kindle was read and a good, quiet sleep was enjoyed. I nearly borrowed the friendly farm dog who came over to say hello as a hot water bottle. The temperatures at night are dipping around freezing.

No photos because most of the day was too wet.
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Day 4 Campsite near Molenheide to Overloon, then home via Eindhoven 98 km

Breakfast of warm porridge and off to the museum. I was pleased to be offered a locked room to deposit my bike and gear while I wandered around. Now, maybe that was something that could be done because it was a quiet day.

In any case, the museum exceeded all expectations. First of all, it is on (or at least close to) the Battle of Overloon which took place near the end of the war. Overloon, being a relatively small village was destroyed, but the survivors decided that as they rebuilt their village that they needed to do something to show following generations of the folly of war and thus was the museum born.

Like a lot of modern museums there are case studies of individuals. Some of the stories are very moving.

There’s a lot there so a lot of time is a must to do it justice. There is also an annex with the most amazing quantity of WWII vehicles, guns, grenades and even a couple of planes. If that’s your thing, it’s pretty good!

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Old School Bike packing!

I spent pretty much the whole day there, then back into the biting cold and headed the 43 km to Eindhoven where a friend had promised me dinner!
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Better weather today!

The only problem with a late dinner, was an even later departure for the last 35 km home. It was 10 pm setting off and my thermometer was reading 0. It would hit -2 before I was home. I’m not a fan of riding at night, but once out of the city centre, I headed to Oirschot on great bike paths then followed the canal all the way home. The night was clear and once along the canal it was so quiet - wonderful!
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Home along the canal. So still!
 
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London
Thanks for this.

I went round that area a bit on two wheels years ago - though on a Vespa.

Your cemetary pic looks vaguely familiar - maybe I visited it - I too was struck by the age of the dead - I was very young at the time but many of the dead Brits were younger than me. As I contemplated the graves a dutch guy asked me if I was in the army - I wore army surplus most of the time on the Vespa.
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Thanks for this.

I went round that area a bit on two wheels years ago - though on a Vespa.

Your cemetary pic looks vaguely familiar - maybe I visited it - I too was struck by the age of the dead - I was very young at the time but many of the dead Brits were younger than me. As I contemplated the graves a dutch guy asked me if I was in the army - I wore army surplus most of the time on the Vespa.
Thanks.

I've been lucky enough to visit many of the cemeteries. The Commonwealth ones have a certain uniformity. So many stories in each one.
 
Location
London
Thanks.

I've been lucky enough to visit many of the cemeteries. The Commonwealth ones have a certain uniformity. So many stories in each one.
Yes, as you say it's a standard design they use, though with symbols used for the particular nation/army group. Some have the star of david. All very proper - equal in death - no grandstanding or special treatment - always very well kept. You find single ones sometimes in British churchyards - and there will usually be a sign at the church entrance showing that there are commonwealth war graves.
If you are interested in such things I can recommend the air force memorial at Runnymede - on the bike route to Windsor - just after it you hit Windsor Great Park. It's a humbling place.
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Yes, as you say it's a standard design they use, though with symbols used for the particular nation/army group. Some have the star of david. All very proper - equal in death - no grandstanding or special treatment - always very well kept. You find single ones sometimes in British churchyards - and there will usually be a sign at the church entrance showing that there are commonwealth war graves.
If you are interested in such things I can recommend the air force memorial at Runnymede - on the bike route to Windsor - just after it you hit Windsor Great Park. It's a humbling place.
One of the most poignant graves I've seen is a solo grave in a tiny churchyard about 20 km from Leuven. Young chap killed on June 1, 1940. A few more days and he might have been evacuated at Dunkirk. The grave was kept immaculately.

Also came across some in Ripon last year. Mainly Canadians from local airbases. But also a handful of Germans with dates after the end of the war. Chatting to a few locals it was likely they had stayed on after the end of the war in preference to going home.

The large US cemetery in Limburg is large in every sense of the word. I visited it in May just after Liberation Day and every grave had flowers. Local families "adopt" a grave to care for it.

A Soviet one was strange, eerie and difficult to understand. The German ones are, uniformally, very sad.
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Any particular reason you say this Hobbes?
There's one in Limburg in NL that is simply massive. Unlike just about every other cemetery there is no book to record messages, or indeed read the messages of others. (There is an office with a register to find graves).
Also, some of the people there are very, very young.
In Belgium there is nothing at all - no physical guide to find graves. They have wifi and an app to download to find a grave.
In both there are multiple bodies per headstone.
They are very, very understated.
In the American cemetery there is a lot of projection of honour.
In Commonwealth cemeteries there is respect and personal touches for every grave.
The Soviet cemetery was full of pride.
The German? Empty of everything except people.
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
This description is incredibly moving for me, Hobbes.
Replying simply because a "like" seems inappropriate.

These are very moving places. There are so many stories in each place.

Whether it's the story of the Dutch soldier who took charge of the German cemetery at the end of the war, or local kids who connect with descendents by tending to graves. The lone Christmas wreath with a candle, alone, among hundreds of bare headstones.

Can't help but feel that visits to these places are all the more important these days.
 
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