The Brabant village Oisterwijk and Operation Market-Garden

The story of Lieutenant Ed Shames

‘The Tilburg recon’

Het verhaal van Luitenant Ed Shames

the bordering Oisterwijk woods and provided means of transport for their large medical supply depot located near the railway line. The village further was home to the staff of the nearby airbase Gilze Rijen. During the war a resistance group was formed in Oisterwijk. Head of the group was Bim van der Klei, and he and his men became very active during the period of operation Market Garden until the liberation of Oisterwijk. Van der Klei had close contacts with the RVV (Raad van Verzet or Council for the Resistance) and his group even became attached to this organization. The Oisterwijk group would become responsible for many sabotage actions in the area. One of their most important feats was the successful derailing of a German train near Oisterwijk in the night of 4 to 5 September of 1944. The Oisterwijk resistance enjoyed support from many of the local Oisterwijk notables. Amongst those was the Oisterwijk general practitioner Doctor Frans de Sain. Dr. de Sain was futher the head of the local Red Cross and a man with firm anti German feelings. Ever since the beginning of the war he had been active in the help to people in hiding. He was also called upon many of times to give aid to wounded Allied pilots who, during the course of the war, had come down in the area of Oisterwijk for all sorts of reasons.

 

It was due to Doctor Frans de Sain that the Oisterwijk resistance became involved in the direct support to the 101st airborne division’s cause at Eindhoven during operation Market Garden. Contact with the division was established through a colleague of Doctor de Sain, the Veghel Doctor Dr. Kerssemakers. Coincidently Doctor Kerssemakers had made his house available to Colonel Howard R. Johnson of the 101st Airborne Division. Colonel Johnson was the commander of the U.S. 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st airborne division and he had made Doctor Kerssemakers’ house into his headquarters. Colonel Johnson in turn received his orders from the American 101st airborne division’s headquarters at Castle Henkenshage at St. Oedenrode.

 

While Eindhoven was only recently liberated by the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st airborne division, reports had been received by the regiment that the Germans were planning an attack on the area. Colonel R. Sink, the commander of the 506th, had thought it possible the Germans would launch it from Tilburg based on previous RAF aerial reconnaissance over the city. Therefore Colonel Sink devised a special reconnaissance mission to assess the German situation in the town and planned to send a group of Dutch resistance led by an American airborne trooper to Tilburg.

 

Now for the interesting part of this story, the base for this operation would become the attic of the house, annex practice, of Doctor Frans de Sain, at street Kerkstraat number 50 in Oisterwijk. Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that no one less than 2nd Lieutenant Edward D. ‘Ed’ Shames of the legendary Easy company 506th PIR (HBO mini-series Band of Brothers) was to lead the mission to Tilburg.

Lieutenant Edward ‘Ed’ Shames. (Ian Gardner)

 

Ed Shames at Kerkstraat in Oisterwijk, 69 years after his first visit. (Tom Timmermans/www.battledetective.com)

During one of the many conversations Ian Gardner had with 101st airborne veteran Colonel Ed Shames about his personal experiences during operation Market Garden Shames had told him of the Tilburg story. He had told Ian how he had stayed on the attic of the house of an Oisterwijk Doctor in the night of 21 on 22 September and his recon mission to Tilburg with a group counting six resistance men. Initially with not much more details than a Tilburg power station and an Oisterwijk doctor to go on I was contacted to provide assistance to get the colonel’s Tilburg story straight. Well, the local research that followed in the end provided enough details for Ian to complete his story about the Tilburg recon. Ians book ‘Deliver Us from Darkness’ was published in 2012, and became a best seller. In the winter of 2013 Ian again contacted me with the news that he was working on a book about Ed Shames’ combat history. For the research of this book Ian would be traveling with Shames to various countries in Europe to revisit the places from his memories. Ian Gardner expressed he was also interested to visit Oisterwijk and Tilburg to update the Tilburg story, so we arranged for a meeting in May of 2013 at my home in Oisterwijk.  

 

A few months later and very much looking forward to meet my guests I awaited their arrival on a sunny spring morning. I had prepared a photo map with photo’s to use as a ‘Then and Now’ comparison as much is changed since 1944. It was around 11:00 a.m. when Ian Gardner, Tom Timmermans and Ed Shames arrived by car from Eindhoven. After a short and warm welcome we wasted no further time and were of in Tom’s car to Oisterwijk center, of to go 69 years back in to time and follow in to the footsteps of 21 year old 2nd Lieutenant Ed Shames’ recon mission to Tilburg.

 

The first stop on my list was street Kerkstraat, were once stood the house of Doctor Frans de Sain. After parking the car in Kerkstraat we walked up to an intersection. I here explained that after the Doctor had passed away in 1955 his wife and children had moved to a town near the Dutch coast. Contact with the family did not result in much information. Years after the war the house and a bordering boy’s school led by Friars were torn down to enable the extension of the T-crossing (Baerdijk-kerkstraat) in front of the buildings. Nevertheless the rest of the street remained virtually the same. I told my guests that the only remainder to the school is a bricked in statue of Sint Hermanus in the corner house. I also explained that except for one member of the Oisterwijk resistance not one of them is alive today. During an interview with this former resistance member he sadly could not recall ever meeting the American or ever hearing of the recon mission to Tilburg. What he did explain though was; “we had a few small groups/cells within Oisterwijk and the surrounding area, and one group did not always know of the dangerous work the others did, let alone know exactly who was part of the underground and who wasn’t.”

 

While I showed colonel Shames the pictures of the old situation in Kerkstraat he started recollecting some of the events that led up to the recon to Tilburg. “After our division had established contact with Doctor de Sain trough the Veghel Doctor, and the Oisterwijk doctor had pledged to see to our safety, I left Veghel. Together with resistance man John van Kooijk from the Eindhoven resistance and Milo, a resistance leader from the village Uden, we traveled in a dark Opel Kaptain from Uden to the village Zeeland, and from there during the night in the pitch dark to Oisterwijk. We drove right across German territory, but despite the dangers we managed to arrive at Oisterwijk safely. We parked the car out of sight next door within the confines of the Catholic junior boy’s school. Then we went around the back (by means of street Hoogstraat) and entered the high walled courtyard of the doctor’s house. Here we were welcomed by Oisterwijk resistance boys who quickly led us upstairs to the back of the large attic of the house. We were then told to keep as quiet as possible as a German officer, an army doctor who worked at a nearby field hospital located at a nunnery further down the road, was billeted downstairs. The resistance boys mentioned to not worry because there was no safer place close to Tilburg than the Doctors attic. The night was uneventful and we did not hear or see anything of the German officer. What we did notice was the presence of people in hiding, who we were told were hidden on the adjacent attic belonging to the Frairs. Those people were provided food by the doctor from his attic trough a hole in the roof. In the morning we were handed out coveralls to dress ourselves as textile workers. I was supplied forged documents in case we would be stopped and could carry no weapon. The thought of being captured as a spy and being unarmed made me feel extremely uncomfortable, but de Dutch resistance boys kept saying ‘don´t worry about it, don´t worry about it´.”

Dr. de Sain’s house (left) next to the Catholic school for boys led by the Friars of Sint Hermanus. (Peter van der Linden)

The Kerkstraat in Oisterwijk which runs from the St. Petrus banden church to the east. To the left Hoogstraat and the Tilburg-Eindhoven railway line. (Peter van der Linden)

 

Dr. de Sain’s house

The Colonel than studied my pictures and said to not recognize much. He then looked at the houses, up and down Kerkstraat, down the extended road (Poststeeg), and then asked “There must be a railway line near here somewhere, where is it?” I pointed out the line on my pictures, and Ed continued recollecting.

 

From the doctors house we walked with a seven-man team east along the railway line to Tilburg. Once in the outskirts of Oisterwijk we walked with other textile workers and doing so we blended in nicely. We followed the tracks until we took a left at a road that lead up to the canal (Wilhelminacanal). By that time I had calmed down and when we reached the canal there was a bridge that we had to cross to enter the town. (swing bridge Oisterwijksebaan) From there we followed a route that lead along the canal (Piusharbour area) to the southern district of the town. (District Broekhoven) Our target was a power station on the grounds of the Volt factory, a plant that manufactured copper filaments for light bulbs produced by Phillips in Eindhoven. The Volt factory was owned by Phillips Eindhoven. From there I would have to use a direct telephone line to Phillips Eindhoven which was unknown to the Germans. I would have to contact our divisional intelligence on the other end of the line.”   

 

We then left Kerkstraat and drove along the railway line as much as possible in to the direction of Tilburg. After a short stop at a railway crossing at hamlet Heukelom we reached the hamlet Moerenburg just east of Tilburg. Here we arrived at the swing bridge across the Wilhelminacanal at street Oisterwijksebaan. Just when we drove up to the bridge a canal barge approached from the direction of Eindhoven, so we crossed the bridge, parked alongside the canal and got out of the car to watch the bridge in action. When the rails closed and the bridge started to swing fully automatically we asked ourselves in what way this would have looked when done by hand in the old days. While pointing in to the direction of Eindhoven I explained the Colonel that here during the war, at this exact place, the original bridge was identical to the one over the Wilhelminacanal at Zon (Son) which was destroyed on the first day of operation Market Garden. Just like the bridge at Zon also here the swing bridge was destroyed by the Germans, but that happened in October of 1944 when Scottish troops liberated the area. With his mind wandering back in time Ed Shames looked down the canal in to the direction of Eindhoven. After the barge had passed and the bridge was open again for traffic Tom drove us to our next destination, the former Volt factory grounds in district Broekhoven.

Colonel Ed Shames looking towards Eindhoven from the Wilhelminacanal swing bridge in Tilburg. (Tom Timmermans/ www.battledetective.com)

Once at the factory grounds we walked the terrain along the many factory buildings. I had a hunch from which buildings Ed Shames could have used the direct telephone line to Eindhoven and pointed those out. The Colonel however did not seem to remember the exact building, so we looked over the pictures of the old factory grounds that I brought in the hope he would remember something. When we then heard the sound of church bells coming from the Broekhoven church tower opposite the factory grounds the Colonel looked up and asked, “Was that church there in 1944?” I confirmed and Ed said, “I know that church….my god....I remember that church!” The Colonel then looked over his right shoulder and pointed out to one of the buildings with a windowed factory roof and said, “I was in that building, up in the roof section where I could see the church tower and its clockwork. The boys brought me to that building and once inside I hid while the Dutch went in to town to surveillance and gather information. While I awaited their arrival I sat behind the glass window in the roof to watch what was going on around me. The building housed electric motors that powered the factory and there was a telephone behind a machine somewhere which had a direct secure line to Eindhoven. Every now and then when the boys returned from their reconnaissance I collated the information, and after one of the boys patched me through, I relayed it back to our intelligence in Eindhoven. It seemed though that the Germans had not concentrated large troops nor heavy amour at Tilburg and the situation appeared to be relatively calm. (The reason for this must have partly been the fact that the railway line Tilburg-Eindhoven and Tilburg-s’Hertogenbosch to the east of Tilburg were partly destroyed at the village Udenhout and at Oisterwijk. The Air Force had bombed an ammunition train in Oisterwijk and in Udenhout on the 16th of September which completely destroyed the line at those places.) “At the end of the day I was ordered to return to my regiment, so we left Tilburg and went back to the Doctors house in Oisterwijk. The next day of 23 September I reported back at our Command Post at the village Eerde.”

The N.V. Volt factory grounds. To the left the Broekhoven church tower. During the war the Volt factory was used by the Germans for their war effort. It manufactured pocket-sized dynamo flashlights. (Peter van der Linden)

We then walked up to the building which once was flanked by a large chimney. It appeared closed, so we walked around it to see if we could find a window to look inside. Too bad, there were no windows to look through. When we asked around we soon learned that the building housed a small car shop that would sadly stay closed until the next day. Satisfied with what we had found we decided to return to Oisterwijk. Once at my home we had a last talk and we went over the names of the Oisterwijk resistance boys, hoping that Ed Shames would recognize any names. Sadly none of the names rang a bell and the Colonelrelated. “It was only that one time in 1944 that I met those guys, and they were total strangers to me”

 

On their trip Ian and Ed had already visited the area of Bastogne in the Ardennes, and they were leaving for Normandy in the next few days. Clearly not the youngest with 90 years of age Ed Shames had become tired from the visit and was ready to return to his hotel in Eindhoven. As a reminder of their visit Ed Shames signed my copy of Ian’s’ book Deliver Us From Darkness and after a good few ‘God bless you's’ by Ed Shames the men left for Eindhoven, back to the city Colonel Shames helped to liberate 69 years earlier.

 

-Deliver Us From Darkness ISBN 978-1-84908-717-9

-Airborne-The Combat Story of Ed Shames of Easy Company ISBN 978-1-4728-0485-3

 

 

Behind the large chimney is the factory power station/machine room. It housed the electric motors and dynamos to power the factory’s lighting system. (Tom Timmermans/www.battledetective.com)

It was in 2011, while researching the Dutch resistance and underground activities from World War II in my area for my book ‘Kampina Airborne’, that I was contacted by the British writer and historian Ian Gardner and his Dutch colleague Tom Timmermans aka ‘The Battle Detective’. Both gentlemen appeared on a quest for information for a particular story that Ian was writing for his book ‘Deliver Us from Darkness’, The Untold Story of Third Battalion 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment during Market Garden. Because their research had led them to a few stories on the resistance men from my village that I have published online I was contacted by both men. The story that they were researching involved the presence of the US 101st airborne division at Eindhoven during operation Market Garden. In particular for me the story appeared to be involving the resistance group from my village Oisterwijk. The assistance and information I could provide them with in the period that followed eventually led to Ian completing the story for his book. My involvement in this in the end not only benefited my own research but also resulted in an experience of a lifetime. During operation Market Garden Oisterwijk found itself on the extreme western flank of the area of operations of the 101st Airborne Division. The village is situated some 13 miles west from the Eindhoven drop and landing zones and close to the textile industry town Tilburg. Oisterwijk further lay along the railway line connecting Tilburg and Eindhoven. During the war this railway line was of great importance to the Germans. This enabled them to transport ammunition to and from their ammunition depot in