The Netherlands / Vector of Memory

Old Hickory




More than three months after the difficult landing in Normandy, men of the 30th American Infantry Division, better known as the Old Hickory, reached the Belgian-Dutch border at the Delahaut crossroads in the early morning of 12 September 1944 near the village of Mesch. Schoolteacher Jef Warnier became the first Dutchman to be liberated.

The evening before, on Monday 11 September, German soldiers from the Belgian Voer region retreated to Mesch. They parked their vehicles with ammunition in a meadow behind the café of the Van Hoven family at the Grijze Graaf. They set up the café as an emergency hospital. The family were ordered to hide in the cellar. The next morning, everyone was startled by a thunderous explosion. The contents of the vehicles had been detonated.

Gunshots and cannon roars were getting closer and closer. The family members remained in the cellar to be on the safe side. Jef Warnier, a schoolteacher who lived across the street, could not contain his curiosity. He too had spent the whole night with his family in the cellar. When it suddenly became silent, Warnier went to have a look and saw a German soldier with his arms in the air. An American was holding him at gunpoint. The only thing that Warnier could utter was: 'Welcome to Holland'.

It is uncertain whether Warnier can lay claim to being the 'first liberated Dutchman', however. The Smeets family lived in the De Muggehof farm at the Schansweg in Laag-Caestert, a hamlet south of Eijsden. The first American armoured cars reached their farm around 11.30 a.m. on 12 September. The Smeetsen therefore also laid claim to the title.

Noorbeek, situated more to the east, claimed a similar title: 'the first liberated village in the Netherlands'. It is certain that units of the Old Hickory Division entered the extreme south of Limburg at several points on that day. It is not known exactly where and what time. Apart from the thoroughfares and a few border posts, the border was not clearly marked anywhere and ran invisibly through fields and orchards.

Grijzegraaf 11 Mesch