Our province has a lot of history, covering many years and with many different aspects. The stories from the period 1940-45 are told in our museum. In particular the French share during this period is explained. The French medical aid in May 1940, the nightly reconnaissance on our coasts by commandos, the liberation of Vlissingen and part of Walcheren and the French paratroopers landing in Drenthe in 1945 are still relatively unknown stories to many of you. These men, some of whom are buried here in Kapelle, receive the recognition they deserve in our museum.
An attack in the middle of the night that ends in Kapelle
Under the orders of Winston Churchill the Commando troops were established in 1942. These ´Special Forces´ had to infiltrate the German lines and cause unrest among the occupying forces. These ´secret´ Commando actions also took place in the Netherlands during the war and one of these nightly attacks ended at the cemetery of Kapelle.
In February 1944 a dramatic event took place in Wassenaar. In the night of the 27th-28th of February, a small French Commando group lead by Charles Trepel was sent out to investigate the site. They had to make sure whether secret agents could be brought ashore and picked up from this location.
British navy officer Bradford manages overnight to cross over from Great Yarmouth and is able to position his motor torpedo boat (MTB). The Commandos disembark and row to the coast in a wooden dolly . The last words that Bradford would hear from Trepel were: ´SEE YOU LATER´.
Trepel and his men change boats (for a dinghy) 30 meters from the coast, the remaining men drop anchor. The Commandos set foot on land at 2 o´clock and Trepel reports their arrival through radio communication. A few minutes later the coast lits up of rockets and a huge noise is heard.
They go back to the MTB so that they are not seen. Probably someone of the Commandos touched a wire that set off the alarm. Nearly to 70 years have passed and we still don´t know the truth behind this event. The MTB waits until sunrise and sails back. A couple of hours and days later, 6 corpses wash ashore. A French Commando arrives in The Hague (Den Haag) in May 1945 and starts an investigation to look for Trepel and his men. All were found in the local cemetery of Westduin close to Wassenaar. In September 1949 they find passage to their final resting place. Four of the six rest in French soil and Trepel and Guy rest in the French Cemetery of Honour in Kapelle.
Lest we forget them: Charles Trepel, Jean Hagnéré, Jacquelin Rivière, René Guy, Roger Cabanela, Fernand Devillers
Operation Infatuate... The orders sounded in French…
A group of commandos arrived in the afternoon of the 31st of October 1944 and destroyed the harbour of Breskens after severe training in the dunes of Ostend (Oostende) at a seaside resort of De Haan, in order to cross over to Flushing (Vlissingen) early in the morning the next day, November 1st.
Operation Infatuate 1 was part of a battle called ‘Battle of the Scheldt (Schelde)’, they aimed to make the port of Antwerp accessible to large vessels with goods that were crucial for the liberation army. The French commandos, lead by Captain Phillipe Kieffer, were part of the British/French ´no 4 Commando´.
It was expected that it would be a tough battle in Flushing, and it was, the battle lasted 3 days. Street fights from house to house took place. And the few civilians that were left, were surprised to hear French orders in their street. Among the 150 French, many were wounded and 5 killed in action. The stories about this battle fought by a forgotten liberator, can be found in our Museum.
It is possible to visit the Museum and Flushing, in a so called ‘Battlefield Tour’.
In our museum we frequently receive school children and we always ask the following question: Who liberated our country in 1944/1945? Usually they answer: Americans, Canadians, English and Poles. It is mostly unknown that the French also contributed to the liberation of our country and of Europe.
Operation Amherst is the code name for an allied operation in the spring of 1945 in Drenthe. More than 700 French paratroopers jumped from planes around that area. These French were members of the famous British SAS (Special Air Service). As trail blazers for the advancing Canadians, they were dropped over different zones in Drenthe during the night of april 7th..
Many of the 700 paratroopers were injured in battle, 33 killed. 8 of them are buried in our Field of Honour in Kapelle.
Stories of Veterans and documentation that were found about this operation, tell the further history of this unknown episode of the liberation, right here in our Museum.