In the book “Oorlog over Neerkant 1939-1945”, written by Tjeu Sonnemans and sent to us by Richard Schoutissen, the following story is presented.
The clearing of mines
Meanwhile, parts of Neerkant are still littered with mines and other weapons of war. With guns and related ammunition, grenades and the like, most people know what to do. A deep hole is speared on a corner of the land and everything in the neighborhood goes into it. The mines is of course a different story, you can not just pick them up and throw them in a pit. That is where specialists come in.
Jean Dirven from Bavel and Harrie de Bruin from Deurne are such people. They have served in the Dutch army and in Knokke in Belgium receive a thorough training of the British in the clearing of explosives. There is a complete village built and in it all filthy tricks processed that the reamers later in practice can encounter. When making a mistake during the training course, no real mine, but for example a smoke or tear gas grenade. It is only a warning that it would have been a practice now. They, Jean Dirven, Harrie de Bruin and a certain Postma from Drachten, are told after the training that they are waiting for them in Deurne.
On May 4, 1945, they are dropped off in the middle of the Market with the announcement that they have to find it out themselves. Jean, the commander of the club, reports to mayor Lambooy. They are assigned the house of the widow Van Goch in the Martinetstraat as a place of quartering. The materials they need can be collected from the British at the airport between Helmond and Deurne. The mayor is already aware of their arrival. because on May I organized a meeting in cafe Franssen (N61) in Neerkant for all male persons who have an interest in or are interested in clearing mines and projectiles. It is not known what the mayor wants to achieve with that meeting. Does he want to know where the mines lie and who is bothered by it, or is he looking for volunteers to be trained as a mine clearance? It is also unknown whether many people attended that meeting.
Jean and his assistants start with an appeal in the newspaper of the Military Authority for civilian personnel, which wants to help in clearing mines. It must be, because they are only three and there are so many mines in the municipality that they can not possibly handle them alone. Moreover, they also molt in Griendtsveen. The candidates are promised a compensation of f 56.00 per week. For that time, that is a very high reward. Some 25 to 30 people report. The theory lessons are given in café “De Voorstad” between Liessel and Neerkant. Practice fields are laid out and practical lessons can begin. Mines are used that are equipped with an ignition mechanism, but where there is no percussion cap and are therefore harmless. A sizzle indicates that a mistake has been made, and that would have been dead and likely to be a bunch of colleagues when clearing a real field. Most boys are of good will, but they are used to dealing with rough tools such as shovels or prongs. They do not control the fineness of action needed to dig up and defuse a mine without accidents. The hissing is therefore not of the air. At the end of the training, five remain, they all come from Liessel.
Accident with S-mines
On 19 May 1945 they are working in Helenaveen at the point where the Lagebrugweg and the Oude Peelstraat meet. They formed a much sharper angle than at present, because because of traffic safety the Lagebrugweg has been moved so that an angle of 90 degrees has been created. Jean has considered the spot in advance. You have to try to move in the enemy’s line of thought. There is a big pit in the corner of the two streets. When the English arrive, the Germans expect them either from Liessel or Neerkant. Of course this split is defended. And what do the attackers do if they are attacked? Right, they immediately dive into that pit. So there might well be mines there. It is indeed full of S-mines. These are wooden pots with all kinds of iron waste in them. They do not work with mine detectors in our area, because the many shelling during the liberation caused so many shrapnel fragments to come into the ground that the devices would constantly beep. We work with pricks, which are supplied by blacksmith Tics van Griendtsveen from the Molenstraat in Deurne. They clear dozens of mines in that pit. In the verge of the Lagebrugweg are also S-mines, which will be cleared by Frans van den Eijnden from Liessel and corporal Postma from Drachten in Friesland.
Frans is dating with Nettie Gorissen from Meijel and they are about to get married. Although they have always been impressed to be 100% at work, they show each other photos, so the other boys who are close by tell us later. One might have touched an S-mine with his stick on which it goes. Such a mine comes from the ground to about chest height and then explodes. Frans and Postma are completely decapitated. Someone gets the priest who gives Frans van den Eijnden the last sacraments. He also refuses to do this with Postma because he is not a Catholic. Jean ignites this in violent anger, but that does not help either. Frans is taken to Liessel. Jean organizes a metal box for Postma and takes the body to Friesland on a truck. That is no easy task three weeks after the liberation of the Netherlands over the rivers. That happens in two stages. The first day to Deventer and the second day to Drachten. In Drachten the family and the minister are waiting for him. The mother is terribly angry with Jean. It now appears that Postma incorrectly gave up his life at the time of registration. But Jean has nothing to do with that. Postma has claimed to be 18 years old, but he is only 16. The parents of Frans in Liessel react totally differently. Jean is invited to come and talk. He is kindly received and at the farewell he gets a goat for the meat, which is then very scarce in the cities. He gives the creature to the youngest son of his host family in Deurne, Wim van Goch, who has played with it for a long time.
Deployment of SS people
There are so many mines in the Peel that they will need years with their small group to clear them. In Vught there are Dutch SS men in the former concentration camp. Volunteers are asked for the dangerous work in De Peel. There is enough enthusiasm and after a hesitant start there are about 50 SS men working at a certain moment with Jean. Of course those people get training and after that they are brought every day on trucks from Vught to Deurne, where they are surrendered to Jean. Jean has no good word about the guards of the Vught camp. It is a bunch of sa, disten that it is a pleasure to harass the prisoners, even to beat them. Jean and Harrie are so fed up with it, that from now on they will no longer want these guards to go to the minefields and that they take full responsibility. They find out that those executioners take their prisoners on the return journey in Helmond on the Markt van de wagens in the evening and make them jump over the square to the amusement of the spectators and let them do other gymnastic exercises. In addition, not all SS men are criminals. Jean recalls that there was one who volunteered to work at; Organization Todt, a German organization that, among other things, built the Atlantik Wall. He had hoped to be able to work in France in that way and then escape Spain to England on a favorable occasion. That did not work and when he returned to the Netherlands he was stopped in camp Vught. In another prisoner, the guards once tried how many teeth they could knock him out of the mouth with a bang. According to Jean, these guards are cowardly thunders who do not do much for their colleagues in the German concentration camps. Good agreements are made with the SS people; if someone makes a flight attempt, everything will be rolled back, no extra food and again surveillance by the staff from Vught.
One day the gun from one of the guards at Van Goch goes outside the house. The bullet pummels on the paving stones and a splinter hits Mrs. Van Goch in the belly and son Jo also gets something in his leg. Doctor De Jong is a surgeon in the sick, houses of Deurne and Venray and of course he is in Venray at that moment. He will be picked up with a truck. The road is a pothole and the trip is so bad to the doctor that he chooses a different means of transport for the retreat.
The SS men get more beating than honoring in the camp. It even happens that two fainting during work. Jean hears that they get a piece of bread in the morning and they have to do it all day long. So they are faint with hunger. Jean manages to convince the mayor of Deurne that he can not work with these men, because if someone hits a mine at the wrong moment, several reamers can die. From now on, at the expense of the municipality, you can get half a loaf of bread from the bakery at Schiks bakery in the Stationsstraat. When a farmer is cleared, they often receive extra potatoes. They are cooked on a burner and for those men it is a delicacy. It also happens that the farmer cooks the potatoes in a large kettle. In this way, this group of people also get a more humane life.
They have also been busy in Neerkant and most of the older people remember those prisoners of war very well in a crook suit. Normally they work two by two next to each other and the next pair follows at a distance of a meter or ten. Care is taken to ensure that overlapping is applied. Behind the house of Sjaak Mennen (NI0S) is the safety of the lost moment and then they stand with a group too close together. They would have planned to pick fruit from the fruit trees, and then they would step on a mine. Three SS men are killed and soldier Schutte, colleague of Jean and Harrie, is wounded. On the first face it is as if there is nothing wrong with him, he walks a few more steps, says something else and falls dead. He has a small wound in the middle of his chest. The shard has touched his heart. In the same area they have had great luck. One of the prisoners comes to Jane and kicks at an S-mine. Jean calls: “Cover!” but forget to do that yourself. The mine does rise from the ground, but does not go off. That may well be called a miracle.
The men work very carefully, because they know that afterwards they have to “kick off” the field. They have to stand side by side in a row and put the arms together, so that they are close to each other. For example, several times in various directions on the field. The feet are lifted high and placed with a blow. It is done for verification, of course, but mainly to prove to the farmers that all mines are gone and they can safely go to work. Found mines and other stuff are sometimes nearby, but often when larger parties are involved, between Deurne and Liessel on the Galgenberg in the woods to detonation. There, the houses are a bit further away, so that the danger of causing damage is not so great. Also on the piece heather at the Scheper Jannebaan they have made mines jump. The group cleared in the Peel until November 1945. (See also www.oorlogsslachtoffers.nl)
Note from the editors
Following the story of clearing landmines in Helenaveen, where Frans van den Eijnden and Corporal Postma were killed on 29 May 1945, the editors consulted the minefield archive of the EODD. After reading the leg and space reports, it appears again that clearing war weapon was a difficult and dangerous activity at that time.
The mines there were laid on 2l November L944 by the Regt.Pi.Zug of the German Regiment Hübner, in four places. At the location in question, 69 S-Minen were laid in Streueinsatz and 3 R-Minen (Riegelminen) on the road to Neerkant.
There is only some difference in the indication of the type of land mines. Sometimes people talk about S-Minen (mortar mines) and sometimes Schu-Minen. But the indication S-Minen is apparently also used as an indication for the Schu-Minen.
In the clearingreport drawn up by the AJ. Polak from No.I Netherlands Mine Lifting and Bomb Disposal Coy. indicates that they have spent three days clearing, by 5 civilians and 2 soldiers from the Bomb Disposal Coy. The dates are 18, 19 and 23 or 29 May, l945. The last number is unclear to read, but given the death date of the two mines clearance it must be May 29, 1945.
At the location in question 2 R-Minen, 48 Schulen and 2 T: Minen 35 (Tellerminen, model 35) have been cleared. Furthermore, in the report in defective English the following is mentioned:
I Ri.M blown up by others.
1 S.Mine hilled a corporal and a civilian.
At least 6 British soldiers and 2 civilians got an accident.
About 10 Shumines are threwn off with stones by the farmers.
The rest is cleared by a Dutch policeman in winter ’44.
On 23 October 1945, German prisoners of war of l./PiBtl.346 under Dutch surveillance of II-8 R.I carried out a check-up. Nothing was found then.