Father H. C. Bruggeman

 

Father Bruggeman was a resident at the Mill Hill Fathers' House, a mile east of the Johannahoeve Farm and three miles north-west of Arnhem. The following is a translation of his diary from September to November 1944.

 

5th September 1944

I do not know what is wrong with the Moffen {nickname for Germans}. The Amsterdamsestraatweg was crowded; Moffen cars, horses with wagons, all different sorts of vehicles, even prams, and they were all heading for Arnhem. People say that the Germans are running and that the English are already at Wijchen. We heard a couple of explosions in that direction; could that be the English? We can hardly believe it. Who knows, we may be free tomorrow. Why not? Belgium was freed in a couple of days. Mr. de Hoog, a friend of Father Gijsman who was here in the evening, said that the English are already in Dordrecht.

 

6th September 1944

Father Philip and Wenceslaus asked the rectors' permission to dig up the bells which had been buried in the chicken house since July 42. The church bells will be ringing when the English come. Father Claver, the tailor, will make a flag. It won't take long. The English are in Elst. If it isn't today it will be tomorrow.

 

7th September 1944

Today our wishes didn't come true. On the contrary, Father Verhoeven told us that there isn't any truth in yesterday's rumours. The English are only in Maastricht and nowhere else. Quite a disappointment. The bells are in the yard.

 

8th September 1944

Yesterday evening, around 23.00, Germans knocked on the door. They wanted shelter. They had come from Northern France in two armoured cars, but they had lost their Company. Luckily the rector directed them to the stable. This morning they left again in the direction of Germany. They were not bad men. Father Philips and Theophilus got a bottle of French wine each.

 

12th September 1944

Brendsen, the bricklayer from Oosterbeek, has finished making emergency exits and has reinforced the arches in the basement of the villa and the gardeners house. Some laugh about it, but Father Wieschermann doesn't care. He does what he thinks is best for the community.

 

17th September 1944

We are a step away from freedom. Any moment now the English will rush over the Amsterdamsestraatweg to free us and Arnhem. What a beautiful day. This morning, after breakfast, Father Ammerlaan had told us that the Allied had broken through the Siegfried Line in two places at Aken. During high mass we heard the constant planes flying over, and in Arnhem we heard sirens. After mass we saw even bigger formations fly over. After eleven they came back in formations of six, accompanied by fighters. Deelen Airport was bombed, bombs fell in Arnhem, also in Wolfheze. From the back path we saw the smoke clouds above Wolfheze. The air remained crowded with planes. The English fighters dived down without stopping to see if there were hostile targets. During lunch a couple of fighters flew that low over the Amsterdamsestraatweg that we all hid under the tables or in cupboards. All this activity was beautiful, but bizarre. We didn't understand what this action meant, but that didn't last long.

 

After dinner the overwhelming sound of planes increased. From the west we saw planes diving down in two's but only one came up again. Then we realised that they were gliders and our liberators had landed. We were dancing and jumping around like madmen. Most of the fathers came out to witness this rare spectacle. Most of the brothers found it sad that it was holy hour at three, because now it was happening. Later, on behalf of the rector, Father van de Laar said we all had to sleep outside and prepare a suitcase to be ready in case of an emergency. I didn't get permission to sleep in the farmer's chicken house. At around five a German tank came from the direction of Arnhem and it was positioned facing the Dieckman family's house, at the entrance of Warnsborn. Father Rombouts, who lived with the family, thought it would be safer to move in to the brother's house. Gerrit Dieckman, the youngest son, came to sleep with the fathers on the yard. We brought food, water, knives and butter into shelters. In the lounge we spoke only about the coming liberation. We didn't think of danger, not even with a tank 100 metres from us with the barrel pointing in our direction, ready to fire. Everybody thought and said: tomorrow, when we wake up, we will wake up free.

 

18th September 1944

Yesterday most of us slept with our clothes on, and by the murmurs everybody made there wasn't very much sleeping, and that was not only caused by the hard mattresses on the stone floor. Everybody was disappointed when, on the way to the chapel, we saw Germans sneaking on the road towards the Leeren Doedel. The tank at the Dieckmans is still there. Around eleven about 30 fighters flew over. There was a heavy discussion as to whether they were English or German. Unfortunately they were Germans. According to an evacuee from Arnhem, the English had got the Rijn bridge and the main army can be expected any time now. Around five again, parachutists landed in the direction of Johannahoeve. We didn't work much today.

 

19th September 1944

This morning the Germans started shooting at Oosterbeek from the Hoogkamp. We heard the shots fly over and impact. In the beginning it was very frightening, but it didn't last long. After ten it was quiet again. We were already used to the noises of machine-guns and explosions. We are doing our daily work to distract ourselves. From Arnhem the first refugees passed by. Two boys from Oosterbeek were given shelter because they couldn't make it to the village. All the news is very confusing.

 

After tea the air was busy again, as were the anti-aircraft guns (where did they come from?). It was a big mess in the sky. From the south they came, flying very low. The noise from the anti-aircraft guns and plane engines was deafening. Everybody was running for shelter in the basement or elsewhere. I was outside and suddenly alone. My protection was the chestnut tree in front of the chapel. Very clearly I saw the hatches under the planes open and the parachutes fall out. It was a beautiful sight, all those colours in the setting sun. For a moment I was afraid there was going to be a lot of fighting, but it was only supplies coming down. After 10 minutes it was over, and the cows walked around as if nothing had happened. As soon as it was quiet the Germans came running from everywhere and jumped on the baskets. They were full of tea, chocolate, meat, vegetables, biscuits and don't forget cigarettes. In the tins were batteries, water pumps, ammunition and lots of other stuff. The meadow at the back of the barn was full of parachutes. The sisters got some tins with food and hid them in the cellar together with the parachutes made of some sort of silk. I even found an English newspaper and gave it to Father Masarei. It said "Good Luck Boys".

 

Although we are on the edge of the fighting we don't know how things are progressing. We don't know if the Second Army has reached Arnhem. We are all in a very positive mood. Who knows what tomorrow brings.

 

20th September 1944

Yesterday evening I looked from the corner of the horse stables and saw the red glow over Arnhem. It was frightening and made us pray. It was quiet except for some machine-gun fire at Oosterbeek. This morning the Germans started firing at Oosterbeek again, and again it stopped at about 10.00. We heard the bells ring at 10.00, so the tower still stands.

 

Father Ammerlaan spoke to two English patrols which were sneaking around the back of the villa, asking for the name of the road, and if we knew where the Germans were, and if there were any in the house. Later that afternoon we saw a group of about 50 English prisoners, some of them needed help walking. It was so sad to see, our liberators passing by in that way. Our dreams were so different. Also all of the supplies dropped from the sky for those men fell in the hands of the enemy.

 

21st September 1944

There is still no reliable news, although we are close to the fighting. Are the English still in Arnhem? Where is the Second Army? Nobody knows and pessimists rule. This morning we saw cows on the lane behind the garden. Theophilus thinks that they belong to Farmer Evers from Johannahoeve, who drove them on our meadows.

 

Dick Polman, who helps the Red Cross, came with an English officer with a broken leg. We hid him in the shoemakery and tried to smuggle him to the Diocesan hospital later this day. Later some Germans came by in a stolen car full of bodies. They were covered with plastic but the legs stuck out. They forced us to bury the bodies, and after talking to the rector, Fathers Claver and Odulph went with them to the cemetery at the Limburg van Stierumlaan. They went with a lot of aversion but came back rather happy. On the way back they had found a couple of baskets full of food and cigarettes. Like yesterday, supplies had come from the sky. Again many anti-aircraft guns were active. How long will this take?

 

22nd September 1944

There are two English soldiers hiding behind the Rhododendrons in front of the villa. They were calling out to Wenceslaus who was milking the cows. They asked for food and we gave them milk and tins from the sisters basement. The two boys who had been here since Monday left to try to get back to Oosterbeek where they lived. That leaves us with 10 refugees. The whole Albers family is with us as well. Father van Laar went walking in the woods behind the garden and was stopped by a German soldier with two English prisoners. His collar saved him; without that he would have been taken too. The two prisoners were badly wounded and could hardly walk. At the Sisters' they were allowed to rest and eat something. Mother Immaculata, with tears in her eyes, saw her countrymen but wasn't allowed to help. After 15 minutes they went on all the way to Arnhem.

 

Also today, Father Claver and Odulph had to bury bodies. They came back as sad as they went because there weren't any food baskets anymore. The supplies from the sky always came after 16.00. This time a heavy German car came with an anti-aircraft gun and parked it next to the chapel. The Friday service had just started, and we tried to sing louder than the gun, but that didn't work, so Father Gijsman was wise enough to stop the service. As soon as we came out of the chapel we had to run for shelter. Above Oosterbeek I saw burning planes going down. One of them came very low over the house. A drunken "Mof" fired a couple of bullets in the sky. Several parachutes with supplies came down, but all in the hands of the Germans. We didn't try to get any this time because there were too many Germans, and nobody wanted, just like Father Thijssen yesterday, to get smacked in the face.

 

Around supper some Germans came and stole our best blankets from the beds. It didn't help to protest. Later they came back for more, but by that time we had hidden the best that remained. Nobody knows what the situation is, but now, even the optimists, are convinced that the airlanding wasn't as successful as we hoped.

 

23rd September 1944

This morning after breakfast a couple of Germans came and demanded meat. Talking didn't work and they went outside and shot two calves. They dragged the calves to the car and drove off. All we could do was watch and be quiet, or we could have had a bullet too.

 

Throughout the whole morning the Amsterdamsestraatweg was full of running people, in the direction of Ede. The village of Huissen was evacuated. Later this afternoon the elderly came, about 20 to the Lichtenbeek. They were accompanied by several nurses. They came from Oosterbeek and had to run when shells hit their homes several days ago. They had been running ever since and their last days were spent in "La Cabine" of the water company on the Amsterdamsestraatweg. Although Father Wieschermann looked to taking more people in, we made the best of it and made the bicycle shed into a place to sleep. We covered the floor with straw and blankets and made some toilets. This was the first day of the airlanding without supplies from above.

 

24th September 1944

No mass today. The Albers family, protestants, were in the chapel as well. After a meal the rector gave all the brothers FI.50, in case of an emergency and they had to run. Until 15.00 it was quiet, just shooting at Oosterbeek. Then suddenly there was a lot of noise and the shouting of German soldiers. They came with some motorbikes and trucks full of cannons. They took the big barn and Father Theeuwis's shed. Behind the Brothers House, beside the barn, they positioned the artillery. The Germans will fire on the English at Lent. They brag that it can fire 16 shells at once. With their coming the peace in the community was over. Everybody felt so uncomfortable with the Germans so close. The elderly were moved to the basement. Although the Germans drove several cars into the Rhododendrons, they didn't discover our English friends. In the evening several soldiers were drunk and they made a big mess. Father Thijssen went to see their Lieutenant and he took measures.

 

25th September 1944

This morning they used the artillery for the first time here. The noise is not that bad; a long hum. I visited the elderly in the basement. The atmosphere was very stuffy, but the people felt good and rather safe. Our English friends were caught. We were afraid for them, and us for feeding them, but the Germans were very happy with their prisoners. Around 17.00 there was an air battle going on. A lot of people were watching, Fathers, Brothers, and Germans. At once there was a shout "Bombers! Bombers!" and the Germans, who knew the danger, ran, and we followed. From the south we saw planes coming and a little later exploding bombs. The first attack missed, but it was clear that the recently placed artillery was the target. From a distance we saw a second group of bombers coming and we all ran. Father Thijssen and several other brothers ran through the woods to Farmer Verholt, but most of us went into the shelters. The second attack missed too, which was fortunate for us because there wouldn't have been much left of the Lichtenbeek or its inhabitants. Several evenings now, people from Arnhem had come to seek shelter for the night. They slept in the dormitory. After hearing what they had been through we must be thankful to the Good Lord.

 

26th September 1944

Late yesterday evening, most of the brothers were in the basement. There was a lot of shooting from the south. Many tracer bullets and fires could be seen. Above the Leeren Doeden was a red glow. Is this the Second Army?

 

This morning Father Wieschermann told us that he is looking for another place to stay. After the bombing yesterday afternoon, it isn't safe here anymore. The Germans are still shooting towards Lent. This afternoon Father Wieschermann told us we had to go to the Karmel in Schaarsbergen. Everybody has to take care of his own things. The cattle stays at Lichtenbeek. At 17.00 we all left.

 

26th September - 4th November 1944

It was around 18.00 that the Mill Hill arrived at the Karmel. It made more of an impression upon the fathers who had left everything that they had behind, than the sisters who were already used to the evacuees from Arnhem. The ever unruffled Sister Theresia, sister of Father Arnolds, was prioress of the Karmel. The serious Sister Josepha subprioress. The fathers got the cells of the sisters. (There were Fathers Wieschermann, Rombouts, Looman, Willems, from the Westeinde, Fathers Groot, Theeuwis, Gijsman, Metternich, Lefeber, Ammerlaan, van der Laar, Thijssen and Masarei.) Masarei was on holiday at the Lichtenbeek and couldn't return to Roosendaal. Father B. Kolkman had left, to make room, with some evacuees to Apeldoorn where he stayed at the parish at the Arnhemseweg.

 

In the cellar under the sisters chapel the brothers found a place to stay. There was just enough room for the 19 mattresses which were put on the ground every evening and cleared in a corner every morning. The cellar was also our recreation room. It was good living, although a bit difficult at night to not trample over someone when you had to leave the room. The brothers in the cellar were: Bruggeman, Albers, Pichler, Wenceslaus, Redegeld, Elbers, Verhaak, Smit, Bruinsma, de Wolff, Pijpers, Koppers, Kaanders, Beers, Smits, Engel, van de Pers, Schouten and novice Adriaan from Roosendaal, who couldn't go back south.

 

The cows pigs and chickens were moved the next day to Karmel. That day we were very busy making some emergency shelters for the animals. Most of the brothers were helping to get the potatoes in.

 

Several days after our arrival, Brother Philip Bruggeman, with the permission of the rector, went on a bicycle to the Johannahoeve to find out what had happened there. There were rumours that there had been severe fighting and much had been destroyed. Later he went on to see his uncle, priest Bruggeman, at Oosterbeek to see how he was doing. His story is this. He passed the Lichtenbeek at the Amsterdamsestraatweg and found burning cars, a tank and some trees broken like matches. There were parachutes with the baskets attached still hanging from some of the trees. At the beginning of the Johannahoeve road two bodies of English soldiers were lying there. They were probably hiding behind the trees but a sniper got them. A big hole had been shot through the upper storey of the Evers farm and there were no windows and doors anymore. There was nobody there, they had probably ran. The van Maanen farm is burned out completely. Even so the granary and stables beside the house and two tall silos are still standing. The house of Mr Hoogendam and his family, besides some shelling hasn't suffered much. There isn't much left of the house of the mother and two sisters Hoogendam. The milkary, bakery, horse stables and pig sties were all burned out. In amongst the debris were the remains of some burnt pigs and calves. The long cow stable still stands. Along the road several dead Englishmen and Germans lay, almost brotherly, next to each other. At the big Waltdfriede house there are only some black walls left. In the meadow in front of the Waltdfriede there were about 12 dead cows lying with their legs up and their bellies swollen.

 

Oosterbeek. From the Kaalkop I came on the Dreijenseweg, and just around the corner there was a dead horse without a wagon. On the bridge over the railroad I saw the electricity lines lying cut on the railway line, and here also were lots of parachutes. Further along the Stationsweg were burned out houses, badly damaged, some completely gone. On the pavement every now and then was an English or German soldier. In the middle of the road was an old man, his eyes popped out and all of his limbs were broken. He was still wearing his glasses. Along the Utrechtseweg it was a very big mess. Telegraph poles on the road, wires all over the place, trees broken, a burned out van with bicycles in it, a German tank, bomb craters and destroyed houses. The street was almost empty. One or two shy civilians walked very carefully on the side of the road. This was Oosterbeek, once a beautiful village along the Veluwe, after the failed liberation.

 

The Heeroom. Around 10.00 I came to the vicarage. It was hard to reach the front door because of all the shell holes. I looked through the window but only saw a big mess in the heeroom's room, but there was nobody. Suddenly the door opened and the housekeeper, Regien, came out. I don't know who was the happiest, although we saw each other 2 weeks ago we greeted each other as if it were 10 years. The heeroom was out on his bike and was expected back at around 11.00. The other girl came out too to see who was there. They told stories of Englishmen in the tower. An English chaplain who visited was taken away by the "Hauptmann", and they had been accused of helping the English. There was the death penalty for helping the English, but it was a narrow escape, the direct hit of the vicar's bedroom and all the emotions of the last days. They showed me the damaged vicarage and church, and we had just finished our rounds when the heeroom came in. I was very happy to see him. We all went to the basement, where they had stayed from Sunday onwards, and it was quite comfortable. Regien made coffee while the heeroom read out some of the book. At around 12.00 I left again.

 

I went back through the Mariaweg to see what had happened there. Destruction everywhere. I didn't see one undamaged house. Beside the road, on the pavement, were a dozen bodies. English on one side of the road, Germans on the other side. Further along the Cronjestraat was an English cannon. The gunner lay behind it, probably hit by a sniper, fell onto the street and a car or tank had driven over his head. Not a very nice sight. I passed some Germans, luckily they didn't stop me. I was very afraid that they would force me to bury the dead. I was very happy to at last cross the railway bridge again, and was home at the Karmel by suppertime.

 

Father Bruggeman, the Heeroom at Oosterbeek, not Father H. C. Bruggeman, now continues the story during the Battle of Oosterbeek:

 

There was shooting outside. First from a distance, but getting closer. Father McGowan, who was sitting at the table having his breakfast in the vicarage on the Utrechtschstraatweg, wasn't impressed. He was just ready to read the Mass, where a couple of Tommies would receive Holy Communion. "I think it is best that we go to the cellar", said the vicar. My chaplain and the girls were already down. Father McGowan slowly finished his tea and then got up to follow his host. "If I think how it was in Sicily, then this is only child's play! When we came down with the glider......", but he didn't finish his sentence. A shell screamed through the air and landed with a big explosion in the garden. Glass shattered. It was frightening. The housekeeper was at the entrance when the vicar and the English chaplain went down. She rushed up to get some chairs. When she came back she told me that she had seen a couple of Tommies go up the stairs, and that the fighting was much closer now on both sides. Father McGowan saw how scared the girl was, and he reached into his pockets for some chocolate for the girl, cigarettes for the chaplain, and tobacco for the vicar, who immediately reached for his pipe. Unfortunately in the commotion he had left it behind on his desk. He went up because a good smoke would calm all of the nerves. In the hallway he heard that the machineguns were very close, and through the open door he saw some Germans crossing over the street. He went to his study to get the pipe from the desk, and at that moment the head of a German SS'er looked through the broken window.

 

He shouted, "Tommies here?". The first thought of the vicar was that he must get rid of him, so he went straight to him, lifted his arms towards the sky and said, "Alles Kapoet" (everything is broken) about 3 times. The German looked at him as if he was insane and walked on. He came down with the unhappy news that Germans were walking around the house. It was quiet and we all looked at each other with fear. Then Father McGowan said calmly, "When they come back you must say that I am here, and ask them to take me back to the English lazaret". It wasn't long before we heard heavy footsteps in the house. "They can't go upstairs", the vicar said and immediately rushed up and shouted "Hallo, hallo." The Feldwebel and soldier stopped on the stairs and came down again, and asked, "Tommies here?". "Yes, one in the cellar." was the answer, "A chaplain who wants to go back to his lazaret." The Feldwebel smiled, happy that it was only an unarmed man of God. He shouted that the chaplain had to come up, and his eyes looked for things he could steal. His eyes fell on a silver watch and compass which he put in his pocket. With a firm handshake the Englishman said goodbye to his Dutch friends, and after a look of understanding the Germans took him away.

 

After he left the vicar waited until it was quiet again, being very worried for the men upstairs in the attic. If they were found in there then there was a big chance that they would all be shot and the house set on fire. The vicar went up to see the four men and he asked them to follow him. They crept to the north side of the church, and there followed a whispered conversation. "Your staying here is a great danger both for you and for us. The Germans are all around and have already been in the house and could come back any minute. Here is the key to the sacristy. Stay here until it is dark, then you can go through the churchyard to the Dennenkamp, where the English still hold." The four men agreed, drank some water and then went in again. Very slowly the hours went by in the cellar. "What if they haven't left the church?" At around 22.00 he went to convince himself. He reached the sacristy and saw that it was empty, the door was opened a little with the key inside. He was relieved to see that the men were gone, and closed the door, closed the door to the tower, and then went back to the cellar.

 

Days and nights went by but the situation didn't improve, on the contrary it got worse. Tanks, machineguns and cannon fire hit the church tower. SS men ran through the house, shouting orders and firing through the windows. Four refugees from a nearby cellar came to ours after theirs was no longer safe. Will the Tommies get back to free us? That was our unspoken wish. On Friday afternoon 5 SS men shouted from the top of the stairs to the cellar for the vicar to come up. They demanded the key to the tower. Without hesitation the housekeeper gave them the key, but at gunpoint she was forced to go with them to open the door herself. They again asked if there were any Englishmen in the tower but she said no, so she could go. We waited nervously. Will they find Tommies, that was the question. Suddenly the door to the cellar was opened and we were ordered to come upstairs. Their climb to the tower was not without result, and before us the four men who we thought had gone had been hiding in the tower. With our hands up and all in a line we had to walk to the German headquarters at the Dennenkamp. "What will happen to us?" the vicar asked, but the Feldwebel, who had taken them prisoner, said that they would first by questioned by the Hauptmann.

 

The housekeeper thought that these were her last hours, but the vicar hoped to convince that Hauptmann that it was a misunderstanding. One of the English was a Captain who was hit in the belly and had to be supported by two of his comrades, but the long way to the headquarters had been hard for him. The vicar gave the man a chair and asked for him to be taken to the hospital. Now the 6 prisoners were allowed to hold their hands on their head. The German was very pleased and kept saying, "I knew there were English in the tower, I just knew it." The Hauptmann scared the housekeeper again by asking if she really was a woman. The vicar smiled and said that it wasn't the first time that they had been fooled by a disguise. After that they were separated, and the vicar was moved to the small room. "You are being accused of knowing that there were enemy soldiers in the tower", barked the Hauptmann. But he answered, "How am I to know what happens above my head when I am in the cellar the whole time? From Wednesday, it was coming and going with people, mostly German." - "How is it possible that those men were locked in the tower?" - "I turned the key for my own safety on Wednesday evening, to be sure that nobody could go up without my knowledge, English or German." After this the chaplain and the housekeeper were called in, with about 2 metres distance between each of us with our hands up on our heads.

 

This is scare-making, the vicar thought when two men with guns entered the room, with their fingers on the trigger about 5 metres from us. We had to stand there, 10-20-30 minutes. Finally the door was opened again. The men with the guns were told to go. "You have given the men in the tower food." - "No, we didn't even know there were any men." - "But they said so!" - "That is possible, but when they say that they are lying." Finally we were allowed to put our hands down and could speak again. The vicar spoke to the Hauptmann, "I know you have power to do anything with us, but do you believe in God? You have to take responsibility in front of him. Do you want our deaths on your conscience? It is you and God, with or without war." What the Hauptmann thought, nobody knows, but after this he said, "Enough, let them go." Music to our ears. We left as soon as possible. In the vicarage were some sisters, waiting and praying, and it was good to see each other again.

 

Father Bruggeman and his fellow priests had to leave their sanctuary in Karmel, and thereafter led a wandering existence as refugees until the end of the war.

 

Thanks to HenriŽtte Kuil-Snaterse for sending in this story.

 

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