This day marks the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Mesch. The first village in the Netherlands to be liberated.
It was more than three months after the Normandy landings that the men of the Thirtieth Infantry Division, Old Hickory, commanded by Captain Kent, crossed the Dutch-Belgian border at ten o’clock in the morning on September twelfth, nineteen-forty-four. Much of France and Belgium had been liberated, and the Allies were trying to advance to the Westwall or Siegfried Line, the defence line that the Germans had built along their border.
School teacher Sjef Warnier, who lived across the street, once told a reporter about his first encounter with the liberators. There was a machine gun firing on the school playground. Suddenly there was silence. When he went to look, he saw a German soldier standing with his hands in the air. He was being held at gunpoint by an American. The only thing Sjef Warnier could say was “Welkom in Holland or Welcome to Holland”. And that made him the first Dutchman to be liberated.
Leon Pinckaers (87) still lives in his childhood home in Mesch, the southernmost town in the Netherlands. “The Americans came across that meadow on the afternoon of September 12, 1944,” he recalled, pointing out the window. “They were followed by a jeep and it drove straight across the river Voer.”On the picture below Leon is the boy next to the man with the high hat.
The family hurried outside and shook hands with their liberators. Mother Pinckaers was perhaps the most relieved of all. She was a refugee from the Belgian town of Visé, which had been all but burnt to the ground in 1914 by the advancing Germans. In May 1940 she had seen how ten inhabitants of Mesch, including her own husband, were rounded up for execution by the Germans on suspicion of sabotage. The execution was cancelled at the last minute, and the village had been quiet since.
Before the family saw the first Americans there had been fighting on the Belgian-Dutch border a mile away from ten in the morning. “Later we could see the dead Germans lying in the beet field.”
Leon Pinckaers doesn’t recall any jubilant celebrations that day. The village was still very much on a war footing. The meadow where units of the 30th Infantry Division emerged on September 12 later served as an assembly point for American jeeps and trucks. Elsewhere broken German tanks littered the road. The erratic German V2 rockets were still coming overhead. Later an American plane crashed in the village.
A white brick monument with brass plaque commemorates the liberation.