- Contributed by
- Claire Jones (nee Dicks)
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 July 2003
Story from GDH Dicks MC, aged 89 in summer 2003.
In 1944 George Dicks was serving as a rifle company platoon commander (Royal Norfolk Regiment) in North West Europe.
After the Battle of Arnhem there was only a very narrow corridor through southern Holland under Allied control. The British 2nd Army had been given the task of making the corridor wider and safer, and George's unit was in the corps allocated to clearing the enemy from the eastern side of the corridor right up to the River Maas in Holland.
This incident occurred on 16 October 1944 when George's platoon were dug in in trenches halfway between the village of Overloon and the small town of Venraij (pronounced 'ven-rye'), both south of Nijmegen, close to the Maas.
This is George's story:
On the night of 15/16 October 1944 we were given orders to advance at 4am, to cross a deep drainage ditch called the Molen Beek and later charge up a slope to attack a group of farm buildings about 300 metres away.
At the given hour we crossed the Beek by means of a hastily erected bridge, and lay for several hours in wet marshy reeds. The Germans bombarded us indiscriminately with mortar, obviously aware that something was going on. They were also making a fearful noise revving up their tanks and moving them across our front.
At 7am there was a tremendous barrage of British artillery on the farm houses which I could clearly see through the reeds. After about five minutes of this I saw a white hankie being waved from one of the farmhouse windows.
At ten past seven, when the barrage lifted, I shouted 'This is it!' to my men and led them towards the farm buildings. Shells were falling all around us as we moved forward but were they ours or were they German? Then I realised that bullets were being fired at us from the farm buildings!
As we neared the houses we suddenly saw a huge German tank swivelling its gun towards us, so we ran to shelter behind the farmhouse where we had seen the white handkerchief.
After a short exchange of gunfire about 20 German soldiers emerged from inside the house with their hands in the air. However, although they may have surrendered, the tank had not finished. It began to pump shells into the farmhouse, before eventually giving up and trundling away. This was fortunate as there were no British tanks in the area to support us!
Relief was short-lived, however as one of my men said he could hear sounds of movement from inside the farmhouse. Were there still soldiers in there? He threw a hand grenade into an upstairs room and shouted for their surrender. There was no reply.
Some time later, after we had taken stock of the situation and assessed our platoon casualties (3 killed, 7 wounded), I suddenly heard a desperate cry of 'Kamerad!' from the farmhouse. I entered the building with my sergeant and found a Dutch farmer bleeding profusely from a 15cm gash on his head. He and his family had decided to hide in the cellar when the battle began. His wife and three of his children were unhurt but one child, a little girl, had died.
While we tried to communicate a German tracer bullet hit the thatched roof and it was soon well ablaze. The 16-year-old son bravely climbed onto the roof in an attempt to quench the flames but as soon as his head appeared on the sky-line the Germans began machine-gunning him. We persuaded him to leave the roof and found a wheelbarrow in a barn for him to carry his seriously injured father. The whole family were soon on their way to safety behind British lines.
We buried the little girl's body in the garden next day. A young boy from a neighbouring farm arrived and wept over the grave before departing.
I felt a mixture of relief and pride that we had achieved our target, but this was tinged with concern that we might have been responsible for the little girl's death. I had assumed it had been the German tank, but her death could also have been caused by our hand grenade, the earlier British bombardment, or possibly the result of even earlier fighting? I felt sorry to have been the possible cause of anguish to the Dutch family, but after a short rest we soon had to move onward into Venraij and then on until we reached the river Maas.
Four months later I was wounded and flown home to Britain.
In 1966 I returned with two old army comrades to Holland. We retraced our steps through the countryside, crossed the Molen Beek (this time without getting wet!) and walked towards the peaceful group of farmhouses which had been the scene of bloodshed 22 years previously.
An elderly man wearing a cap was standing outside in the sunshine. I recognised him immediately and tried to speak to him. I spoke no Dutch, he spoke no English, but eventually I managed to persuade him to remove his cap. There across the top of his bald head was a long white scar!
After more hilarious sign language I was greeted like a long-lost friend and we were invited to a meeting the next day with the rest of the family. The boy who had tried to save the blazing roof was now a staid middle-aged man, and the two daughters were Dutch housewives. All had turned up to meet us. The mother looked sad when we spoke to her, as though our presence brought back painful memories, but the father was obviously delighted!
Since then I have visited southern Holland many times with fellow veterans from my regiment. The main focus of these trips is the town of Helmond which we helped to liberate on 25 September 1944, but we always visit the Molen Beek area. Here I have often met the family in this story; we also exchanged Christmas cards each year until quite recently. But all good things come to an end; the farmer died in 1991, aged 99. The son died in 2001.
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