Dutch town honours WWII dead in a foreign field that will be forever Bermuda
A Dutch bank employee has embarked on a mission to remember more than 280 soldiers – including five Bermudians – who gave their lives in the liberation of Europe in the Second World War.
Oscar Huisman, said his village of Overloon was the site of a cemetery where 281 casualties of the war are buried, including many who died in a battle for the area in the last months of the conflict.
Mr Huisman, 52, a compliance professional, and some of his friends formed Overloon War Chronicles last year after they were inspired to put faces to the 281 names on gravestones in the cemetery through the collection of photographs and information about the service personnel who lie there.
He was intrigued to learn that five soldiers from the Lincolnshire Regiment buried in the cemetery had “of Bermuda” added to their headstones.
Mr Huisman said: “It was a big surprise – I didn’t know that at all.
“I talked a lot about it in the last few months. It wasn’t really known that five Bermudians were buried in Overloon.
“I had to look it up and found Bermuda was an Overseas Territory of Britain.”
Mr Huisman stumbled on a YouTube trailer for the film In the Hour of Victory, based on a book of the same name by Jonathan Smith, a former police commissioner, about his grandfather, Major Anthony “Toby” Smith, who was one of the Bermudians killed in action at Overloon.
He contacted Mr Smith, who helped him to collect information and photographs of the Bermudian soldiers who fell thousands of miles from home.
Major Smith was killed on October 14, 1944, only four days before the Battle of Overloon ended in an Allied victory.
The 36-year-old father of five – an old man by front line standards – had demanded an active service posting after he had served in a training role in Britain.
Mr Huisman said: “I read the book about Toby Smith and it was all clear to me. You can read the names on the gravestones and that was one of the reasons I wanted to give it more attention.”
The Bermudian soldiers, part of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, formed the Bermuda Contingent of the Lincolnshire Regiment.
The BVRC eventually became part of the modern Royal Bermuda Regiment with the Bermuda Militia Artillery after the end of segregation on the island.
The Lincolnshire Regiment was incorporated into the Royal Anglian Regiment in 1964, the affiliated regiment of the RBR today.
Mr Huisman said: “The stories of the people who are buried in Overloon, after 77 years, are fading. I wanted to focus more attention on them and we have succeeded.”
He added that the group had gathered photographs of 109 of the soldiers buried in Overloon, including the Bermudian group.
Mr Huisman said: “We don’t always get them from relatives – we speak to people from universities and history groups as well.
“But we try to contact relatives because that’s the best chance of getting a picture because photographs are mostly kept by families.”
A 77th anniversary service was held at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery on October 14 – the day the village was liberated from Nazi occupation.
Mr Huisman explained: “It is very important to preserve the memory. There is still a lot of grief in the families of the soldiers and we have to thank them so much for our freedom.
“That’s why we try to involve schoolkids too on our occasions at the cemetery.”
Overloon schoolchildren also visit the cemetery on Christmas Eve every year and place lit candles on the graves.
Mr Smith said: “The fact that we found out what villagers in Overloon were doing to preserve this piece of Second World War history is a testament to the reach of the internet and social media.
“When Oscar contacted me, it was a complete surprise.
“To think that villagers in Overloon, some of them two, three and four generations removed from the events, wished to do their part to preserve this history and to remember those who died to save them from the tyranny of the Nazi regime speaks volumes of the depth of their gratitude.”
Mr Smith has only visited the cemetery once, as a child in 1971.
He said: “It is immaculately kept. The graves of the soldiers are adopted by present day Overloon families.”
Mr Smith added: “The Bermudian families and descendants of those who were killed and are now buried there can take some solace in knowing that there are people who care and express their gratitude for the sacrifices made nearly 80 years ago.”
He said: “We are connected, but not in the way we typically think of – it was war that brought peace.
“It was a caring community who chose not to forget the sacrifices of soldiers who had no connection with Holland, but who fought and died to preserve freedom.”
The Bermudians buried at Overloon alongside Major Smith were Privates W Patterson, WJ Harris, RM White and J De Silva.