22 October 2020

In the last few days Holland celebrated the liberation from the German occupation, 75 years ago. But in this article we go back to the very beginning of the German invasion. 

This card was sent 80 years ago, on May 7 1940, by the Dutch Ministry of Defence to the 34-year-old conscript hussar Johannes Hendrik van den Bos, who received the postcard the next day (the postman wrote the date and time of the handout on the card). It was a military order to join his unit as soon as possible. Two days later this Dutch soldier was dead. Killed in the German bombing of the New Willem Alexander Barracks in The Hague in the early morning of May 10, 1940, the day of the German invasion in Holland.

Fig. 1: “Oproep” J.H. van den Bos, 7 May 1940 (back)

After the call, Johannes van den Bos went on a journey by train to the 3rd Regiment Hussars at the Cavalry Driving School in the Willem III barracks in Amersfoort. His brother-in-law, Cornelis Hendricus van den Bos (who was not a relative), received the same call, and travelled also to Amersfoort. From there their unit with Irish horses had set out for the train to The Hague. On the evening of May 9, they were given shelter in the Alexander Barracks. The horses down in the stable, the hussars in the loft above.

Fig. 2: “Oproep” J.H. van den Bos, 7 May 1940 (front)

The Dutch government had taken a German attack into account. German bombers who were ordered to bomb the airfields around the residence flew over the Netherlands towards the North Sea in the early dark hours of May 10. A part of them turned around and bombed Army-camp Waalsdorp at 4 am. The New Willem Alexander Barracks on the Oude Waalsdorperweg in The Hague were also a target to prevent the garrison from going out to protect the government and the royal family. The Germans wanted to arrest them at an early stage. According to tradition, the clock had stopped in the Alexander Barracks at 4.15 am, the time of the bombardment.

66 soldiers were killed in the bombing. More than 150 were injured. More than 100 horses were also killed, or severely wounded, and had to be killed by veterinarians. They were the first Dutch victims of the German invasion, which cost at least 546 Dutch soldiers at the Battle of the Residence in and around The Hague. On the German side, 2.735 soldiers and 400 aircraft had been eliminated.

Fig. 3: “Oproep” C.H. van den Bos, 7 May 1940 (back)

The Hussars van den Bos were taken seriously injured to the Bronovo hospital. Johannes would have died at 5 am and Cornelis at 6 am. They were buried on the General Cemetery at the Kerkhoflaan in The Hague. In 1942 a monument was placed with the names of ultimately 167 soldiers who were killed and buried here after the Battle of the Residence.

Fig. 4: “Oproep” C.H. van den Bos, 7 May 1940 (front)

Johannes Hendrik van den Bos left a wife and four children. His wife also died in 1946. Cornelis Hendricus van den Bos left a wife and no children.

Unfortunately the two stamps were removed from the cards, which reduces their philatelic value. But the cards are still a silent witness of a war that made so many unnecessary victims and hurt so many families. The now 85 year old daughter Greta of Johannes Willem still can remember the last time she saw her father stepping aboard of the boat from Zaandam to Amsterdam Central Station on May 8th, 1940.

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