BICYCLE DUTCH

All about cycling in the Netherlands

Cycle Tour of Freedom

The city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch celebrated that it has been free for 75 years. The 10-day-long festivities to mark the end of World War II (in the last week of October 1944) included a cycle tour of 22 kilometres. Over 200 people cycled along and many of them – mostly children – wore a green cap with an image of the formation patch of the 53rd Welsh Infantry Division; one cap for every fallen soldier in the battle of ʼs-Hertogenbosch.

The mayor of ʼs-Hertogenbosch in a jeep at the front of the cycle tour.

The Netherlands remembers that is has been a free country for 75 years, this year in the South and mostly next year, since the biggest part of the country was liberated in May 1945. The battle of ʼs-Hertogenbosch was part of an operation with the code name Operation Pheasant.

146 children (and some adults) were wearing a green cap, one for every fallen soldier in the battle of ʼs-Hertogenbosch in October 1944.

They took the same route that the division had taken to free the city. The roads looked quite different 75 years ago! (Picture Stadsarchief Den Bosch)

Operation Pheasant took place in the last part of October 1944 and was a direct result of the failed operation Market Garden, in which Arnhem proved a bridge too far. The objective was to make the much needed port of Antwerp usable. At the time, all supplies for the allied forces were still coming in via the beaches of Normandy. These long supply lines led to problems and they needed to be shortened. The port of Antwerp had fallen into allied hands with little damage, but the entrance of the port – the Scheldt estuary – runs through the South of the Netherlands and that was still occupied by the Nazis.

A tank passes the border of the city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch in October 1944. (Picture Stadsarchief Den Bosch)

There are a number of websites describing the battle of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. On one of them we find: The 53rd (Welsh) Division, commanded by Major General Robert Knox Ross, was assigned the task of capturing ʼs-Hertogenbosch. He had the tanks of the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, the flame-throwing Crocodile tanks of 141st Royal Armoured Corps Regiment (the Buffs), some Flail tanks and AVREs of the 79th Armoured Division and Kangaroo personnel carriers, Sherman tanks without turrets capable of carrying 10 men, under command. The action to capture and liberate ‘s-Hertogenbosch was to be the 53rd (Welsh) Division’s first major engagement as a whole division, as up to then they had been employed piecemeal in brigades often in support other divisions.”

The then rather new (built in 1939) suburb of Hintham suffered very much because the German headquarters was set up there. Most these damaged houses were repaired, some had to be replaced completely. (Picture Stadsarchief Den Bosch)

On 22 October 1944, the first shots were fired on the village of Nuland from the area between Vinkel and Geffen. British Pathé called it the “Hammering at ‘s-Hertogenbosch“. On Sunday morning 20 October 2019, many people came with their bicycles to the Parade, a square next to the cathedral in ʼs-Hertogenbosch. They would cycle the same route the “liberators”, as the soldiers of the 53rd Welsh Division are commonly called now, took from Vinkel (now part of the municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch) all the way to ʼs-Hertogenbosch proper. The cycle parade passed through many of the villages that were liberated in the battle that had lasted 6 days. Buses brought the people and their bicycles to the starting point in Vinkel. There, 146 green caps were handed out, mostly to the children in the group. That number is the total number of men the 53rd Welsh Division lost in the battle of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. The caps were a way to honour these fallen soldiers.

The famous dragon fountain on the station square miraculously survived, while the hotel in the background was completely destroyed. (Picture Stadsarchief Den Bosch)

Before the parade started in Vinkel, the city offered the participants a lunch with music. Welsh singer Llio Evans sang two songs by Welsh composer Ivor Novello and as a surprise to the audience she also sang a song in Dutch from and about the war. The cycle tour went from Vinkel to Geffen (now in the municipality of Oss), Nuland, Kruisstraat, Bruggen, Rosmalen, Hintham and finally ʼs-Hertogenbosch. Church bells were ringing in every village and quite a few people came to watch the parade. What took the riders just a few hours had taken the Welsh Division 6 days. Although the Market of ʼs-Hertogenbosch was reached on the 25th, it took until the 27th of October 1944 before the entire city was freed.

The mayor gives the children a medal after completing the cycle tour of freedom.

A close-up of the caps and the medals everybody received. The right one is very special, it has my name engraved on it. It is always good to be close to the maker of these medals.

The price was high for all parties involved. As mentioned before the Welsh Division lost 146 men, another 75 went missing and 270 men were wounded. The Germans lost even more men; 274 and they had about 600 wounded. Around 1,600 Germans were taken prisoner. In the city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch 118 civilians died and 80 were wounded. Just in the first night of the attack on the city, from 23rd to 24th of October, 50,000 grenades were fired onto it. The damage was considerable after the battle: 722 buildings were completely destroyed and 1057 were heavily damaged. The beautiful station building was very heavily damaged (and replaced in the 1950s), the railway tracks were completely destroyed. All but three of the many bridges in the city were blown up or destroyed in the figths.

The four veterans who came to the city for this year’s commemoration received a medal made by my better half. I got to meet two of the veterans. Tony Pengelly, 94-year-old from Cardiff, was very happy to pose with us together with his daughter.

The war ended on 27 October 1944 for ʼs-Hertogenbosch but not for the 53rd Welsh Division. Just three days after the battle they were sent to the Ardennes from where they advanced north through Germany. The war finally ended for the boys in Hamburg in May 1945. However, the bond with ʼs-Hertogenbosch was so strong that veterans from the division kept returning annually for memorials (moving images from British Pathé 1945). There is a Welsh Monument and the city has a bridge named after the Welsh that I have shown you on my blog before. Even this year, 75 years after the war ended, 4 veterans came to ʼs-Hertogenbosch in a delegation of over 200 people from Wales. I was honoured to be able to shake hands and speak to the two of them who came to an evening event that was closed with a moving version of the Welsh National anthem.

Soprano Llio Evans from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrogbwllllantysiliogogogoch led the Welsh National Anthem in the theatre of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. She was in the city all 10 days and tied the different events together, for that she also received a silver medal.

 

The Tour of Freedom. Roughly the route the liberators took to free the city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch (from East to West).

The Tour of Freedom. Cycling the route the liberators took to free the city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch.

The 10-day-long commemorative festivities were closed on Sunday 27 October, the actual date the city was liberated, with a beating retreat ceremony.

2 comments on “Cycle Tour of Freedom

  1. Ltk
    3 November 2019

    What a great culture! I am from America but have bicycled in The Netherlands many times. I plan to move there asap. They really know how to live.

  2. Kevin Love
    30 October 2019

    Thank you for an excellent post. I myself am a veteran of The Royal Regiment of Canada, which fought in the Battle of the Scheldt. There is a good description of this on the official Canadian government website at:

    https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/second-world-war/scheldt

    Those people interested in cycling and WWII history should see these photographs of Canadian soldiers landing in France on D-Day while carrying bicycles. The bicycles were to provide mobility while advancing inland, and indeed the Canadian formations achieved the greatest advances inland on D-Day. See:

    https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/accountability-operations-customer-service/access-city-information-or-records/city-of-toronto-archives/whats-online/web-exhibits/toronto-remembers-d-day-june-6-1944/

    The 53rd Welsh Division came under the command of First Canadian Army for the Liberation of the Netherlands from January 1945 to the end of the war.

    To this very day, the Dutch government sends tulips each year as a thank-you gift to the people of Canada. They are planted in Ottawa and are quite beautiful.

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This entry was posted on 30 October 2019 by in Original posts and tagged , , , .

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