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British cadets follow Line Crossers’ route of Allied soldiers
Hazardous road to freedom in 1944/5
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
BRUCHEM, the Netherlands – Keeping the memory alive is the prime objective of the WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society. The British group recently organized a tour in the area between the Great Rivers of the Netherlands, following the 1944-1945 escape routes to the liberated South used by hundreds of soldiers left behind enemy lines.
Crossing the Meuse was a daunting and very dangerous undertaking in the last months of the German occupation. Before reaching the Meuse, the line crossers had to take a series of hurdles all of which were being closely guarded by German troops and their Dutch sympathizers. Guided by members of the Dutch resistance, the escapes – usually in small groups - went from safe house to safe house where the men could be sheltered and, if needed, receive first-aid treatment. Much of the route was covered during night time curfew. Many line crossers never made it across, quite a few were caught, some were shot while others drowned in one of the many waterways of the river delta. This also was the fate of many of the helpers whose empty places would be taken over by other Nazi resisters. Among the line crossers were Allied soldiers who needed to avoid capture after Operation Market Garden at Arnhem failed.
Before June 6, 1944, the escape line went further south to Paris and across the Pyrenees and was traveled most by downed airmen and escapees from POW camps in Germany.
The 5-Day June tour by 36 British cadets included participants who were older than some of the soldiers who lost their lives during an attempted crossing. Many of the group had ties to someone who tried to rejoin a unit in liberated Brabant. The cadets assembled near Wageningen and then walked the Pegasus Escape-line from Arnhem via the Grebbeberg to Bruchem and Hank to pay their respects at the Line Crossers Monument in Lage Zwaluwe where their tour ended. Other such lines ran through the submerged region of the Biesbosch where few German patrols dared to venture.
The society previously organized tours of similar routes on the island of Crete, in Italy and France but never before in the Netherlands. A tour of the Freedom Trail Holland has been planned by the British group for next year. Dutch local tourism promotion groups have started to chart such routes in recent years.
Among the men who made it back to Britain this way according to the British society, were Werner de Merode, RAF; Ralf van den Bok, RCAF; Van den Merrett; Victor van Leatem; J.W. van Maarion, RAF.