The Netherlands / Landmark
With its strategically favourably location, the mill was a site for many battles, symbolising the war violence in the polder.
In World War Two, the mill and its township played an important role. They provided shelter to people in hiding and had a strategically favourable location: in the almost empty Ooijpolder, the township was one of the few places that offered protection. After the bridges of Nijmegen were conquered by the Allied forces during Operation Market Garden, a buffer zone had to be created in the polder, so that the bridges could also be defended. This way, the mill and the entirety of the Ooijpolder came to be situated on the front lines. The Canadians designated the mill as a ‘strong point’ and both sides fought fiercely for it. In the night of 24 September 1944, the mill was hit by fire bombs and completely destroyed.
Even after, the area remained of great significance to the defence of Nijmegen. The front line ran along the Querdamm to Erlecom: right over the former mill. For months, the front moved mere metres, which meant there was lots of gunfire and falling grenades. Dykes were blown up, causing the polder to be flooded. During Operation Veritable in February 1945, thousands of soldiers crossed the muddy area, which was still defended by German soldiers.
For the citizens of the polder, the situation rapidly became too dangerous. The township of the Thornsche Mill was evacuated by the German occupiers in September 1944; the rest of the polder a month later, by the Allied forces. The first group of evacuees left for the north bank of the river Waal, the second travelled via Nijmegen and Oss to North Brabant. Many thought they would only be gone for a few days, but it turned out to be months. Just a few civilians were permitted to stay, to look after the cattle. When the evacuees returned, they often found their housed plundered and damaged, if they were still there at all. Flooding, acts of war and the soldiers’ months-long stay had left their marks.
A few meters from the mill is the artwork Menschenskinder by the Kleve artist Anne Thoss. These wooden sculptures symbolize all persecuted, expelled, evacuated and unprotected people as well as the civilian vctims of war.
Canadian soldiers in the Rijk van Nijmegen
During Operation Market Garden, the Rijk van Nijmegen was liberated by the Allies. Yet the region was not safe: the region became frontline territory. In November 1944, the British and American soldiers stationed here were deployed elsewhere and the Canadians took over. Their task was to protect the bridges, the city and the region from German attacks and defend the front.