The Netherlands / Story
Things were tense around the village of Best from 18 September 1944 onwards. American soldiers were approaching from Eindhoven, German soldiers were entrenched in the tall church tower in Best. Everyone was hoping for a quick liberation, but on the contrary things were getting more dangerous by the day: one day the village was in American hands, the next day it was back under the control of the Germans. On the orders of the Americans many people, and especially children, were evacuated from the area.
Eight year old Mariet van Kronenburg lived with her eight brothers and sisters in the neighbourhood of de Vleut which was right on the firing line. One day at the end of September 1944, the American commander decided that it was not safe to let the children stay in the farmhouse. Father Jan and mother Tonia would be allowed to stay because someone had to look after the cattle. Their young son Johan who had learning difficulties could stay also, together with one brother or sister, but the other children had to leave – including Mariet.
Father Jan van Kronenburg put his children in the cart – together with a bucket of pears – and took them to the house of some good acquaintances in Sint Oedenrode. Mariet and her sisters and a couple of other evacuees slept in the Van Schijndel family’s farmhouse, and the boys and men slept in the hayloft. Through the window Mariet could see the landing strips in the Sonniuswijk area where American gliders and paratroopers landed. The Van Kronenburg children could play close to the farmhouse, but the Van Schijndel family did not allow them to go onto the landing strip, at least not unaccompanied.
On 20 October 1944, Janus, one of the Van Schijndel sons, was working close to the landing strips. Mariet, her sister Jo, brother Kees and little sister Sjaantje went with two other children to call him for the midday meal. They could return over the landing strip – after all, 21 year old Janus was with them. Mariet and Jo dawdled, together with their young friend. Who knows, maybe the American soldiers had some spare chocolate… It wasn’t allowed, because Janus had already gone on, but they did it anyway; they walked towards the aircraft.
Then Mariet heard a big bang. She looked up and saw a cloud. She ran towards it, something had exploded and the children who had been walking there were no longer standing. ‘I can still see my little sister lying there, in a green jacket with a white stripe across it.’ Mariet ran away in panic. She remained standing on the edge of the field in tears, with her little sister and friend. The priest from Sint Oedenrode took the three girls back to the farmhouse where they were staying.
Father and mother Van Kronenburg searched for three days for their children. Kees was thirteen and was killed instantly by the force of the explosion. They found him in the convent in Sint Oedenrode. It proved more difficult to trace six year old Sjaantje. She had been taken, seriously injured, from the emergency hospital to another hospital but did not recover from her injuries. Eventually her mother and father found her in Zeelst. They took her body, wrapped in a blanket, back home. The children were buried in Sint Oedenrode in small coffins made of wood from the gliders. What exactly exploded is not known. Janus also died and could not recall it. One of the boys, eleven year old Ties survived the blow. He described the projectile as a small, shiny box. Kees had picked it up and opened it.
This story was part of Brabant Remembers, a campaign for 75 years of Freedom in the province of North Brabant.