Brabant Remembers: a Look at the Past Through a Modern Lens

The numerous locations in the Netherlands were "Brabant Remembers" stories have taken place. (www.brabantremembers.com)
The numerous locations in the Netherlands were "Brabant Remembers" stories have taken place. Photos are taken from brabantrembers.com

The Netherlands Celebrates its diverse and inspiring stories of individuals involved in WWII

A photo from December 6th 1944, when Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) arrived with a Sherman ARV in Rucphen.
A photo from December 6th, 1944, when Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) arrived with a Sherman ARV in Rucphen.

By Maria Myers

Exactly 75 years ago this 2019 marks the anniversary the North of the Netherlands was liberated from the terrible battles of World War II (the south of the Netherlands was not fully liberated till May 1945).

In celebration of this momentous occasion, the foundation Operation Market Garden, the foundation Crossroads Brabant, the foundation Commemoration Brabant Gesneuvelden, the Brabant Historical Information Center, and many others banded together to create the Brabant Remembers Project. 

One story for each year since the liberation is now available to be read on the Brabant Remembers website www.brabantremembers.com.

When asked if it was difficult to locate the stories, Brabant team member Jeroen Rokven scoffed. "We collected more than 600 stories," he told me...."by contacting local historians and the public. We organized 15 meetings where people could come by and tell us their story."

Jeroen Rokven

Stories vary in content ranging from the inspiring events of Black Friday (a battle between Canadians and Germans resulting in the ruined town of Woensdrecht but ultimately led to a Canadian Victory) to the exceedingly good luck of one young female civilian life being saved through the perfectly lined up help from neighbors and strangers alike.

These stories display how the paths of people home and abroad were changed, for better or worse, as they crisscrossed, intertwining with each other. These are anxious moments, hopeful moments that have largely been lost to time until their compilation in digital form, now easily accessible to the public.

There’s an App for That

Brabant remembers has created an app allowing users to place themselves squarely in the past.
Brabant remembers has created an app allowing users to place themselves squarely in the past.

Major history buffs and tech geeks will be happy to hear that the Brabant Remembers organization has also created an app; the AR (Augmented Reality) App, available on iPhone and Android.

The creation of this app is especially geared towards young people and individuals who were not born in the Netherlands, illustrating a relatable, more palpable side of history.

Users may re-live the stories of the featured individuals (all true stories) during the war, places where lives changed forever.

When picking these stories, Rokven informed me, " Stories had a preferably life-changing event in them."

Now you can be the orchestrator of those events. Thirty actors bring ten of the featured stories to life, one occurring in the Airborne region of Brabant where thirty parachutists recreate a historic mission; parachute jumps done during the Operation Market Garden in 1944

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The uniforms featured are authentic, as well as the plane they use to jump out of, a C47. The John Nasea Jr’s Birthday story highlights the drop sites of Operation Market Garden Son; where the liberation of the Netherlands began in 1944.

John Nasea Jr. himself was badly injured during his landing and taken in by a local family. You’ll have to check out the app to see what happens.

In the Real World . . .

These stories are inspirational for the various municipalities of the Netherlands (especially, of course, the North). "Stories needed to be divided equally throughout the province of Brabant, they needed to tell the stories from different perspectives and tell about all the aspects of the war (from e.g. collaboration, resistance, hiding and persecution, liberation and battle and being free again).", Rokven says.

So in celebration, numerous activities are scheduled surrounding the battle of Scheldt and the deployment of Canadian troops, Polish liberators from Breda and Operation Market Garden.

The last of these events will most certainly feature military vehicles driven along the route of Market Garden.

The town of Breda has also inserted itself into the celebrations; the official commemoration due to take place in October of this year at the Polish cemeteries will also be the opening the Maczek Memorial in honor of General Stanislaw Maczek and the multitude of other Polish servicemen who aided Britain and the allied forces.

Breda additionally has three stories associated with the city that was selected for Branda Remembers; De Vlucht (the evacuation of Breda in May 1940), the liberation by General Maczek (mentioned above) and the history of the Breda pilot Frans Brogtrop.

In an interview with bredavandaag.nl Mayor Paul Depla said, “Let us focus on a program in which solidarity and connection with each other are central. And in which we talk to each other about peace and freedom, with respect for the past, attention for the present and dreams about the future.”

2,400 lit candles at the Canadian and British cemeteries in Bergen op Zoom.
2,400 lit candles at the Canadian and British cemeteries in Bergen op Zoom.

Featured Stories

Merging the past and the present in an effort not to lose the personal lessons learned through the hardships, here are two condensed versions of the brief but magnificent stories from the past; Leave me Alone Now features George Eardley, a father of three children.

Neither big nor strong, Eardley showed a willingness to stand up in the middle of the heavy enemy fire and disabling three machine-gun posts.

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He returned home from the war to a hero's welcome and a month later received the Victoria Cross from King George VI himself, who expressed happiness at his being able to pin the award to a live body.

Not long after that, Eardley started experiencing illusions of grandeur and cut himself off from his family completely.

After, his three children found he had died in 1991 after 20 years of not speaking Though not many came to his funeral, eventually in 2004 a bronze statue of the was unveiled in Congleton.

This is Where my Phoenix Rose form the Ashes is the story of Elaine Smith and “her paratrooper” Carmen Ladner. The pair dreamed of their own flower shop. Ladner was very good about writing his wife nearly every day – until she received a letter marking his death, September 24th, 1944.

Smiths husband was a paratrooper. Some of the stories from the Brabant Remembers App feature stories of paratroopers.
Smiths husband was a paratrooper. Some of the stories from the Brabant Remembers App feature stories of paratroopers explaining where he was, what was happening along the front.

Over sixty years later in 2006 Smith visited the village her husband had died in, discovering the details of his death. There was nothing left of him to be buried after a German tank shot him, direct hit.

A group of children playing at the site of Carmen's death brought the old woman joy and peace; they were there because of her husband. She handed a flower to each of the children, saving a rose for her return home to place next to her late husbands' photo.

Taken straight from www.brabantremembers.com; “This is how we connect the past and the present, places and people, with each other.”

Keep your eyes peeled for more on these events, as Rokven has informed me, " Because our cultural program is just getting started (2019-2020) there will be many future developments."

These 75 stories should also be experienced at 75 physical locations between 2019 and 2020, but these locations have yet to be officially announced.