18. The Betuwe on the frontline
In the autumn of 1944, Operation Market Garden got bogged down in the swampy fields of the Betuwe. At many locations, the front in this area came to a standstill. The civilians who could were evacuated to the liberated south. Others were forced to head north. Four thousand men remained behind to protect possessions. The Betuwe had become a "men's island".
The chapel or shrine on De Heuvel (the high ground) just north of Bemmel, dedicated to Maria of the Blossoming Betuwe, was built in 1946 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the fierce battles here in September and October 1944, and in the fighting which followed until the Liberation in the spring of 1945.
On September 17 1944 began Operation Market Garden, a surprise offensive by the Allied combined airborne and ground forces. The ground forces' advance did not go as fast as had been hoped, and this meant in the end that the battle for the bridge at Arnhem was lost.
When it became clear that the front line had definitely come to a halt around Bemmel, everyone was ordered to leave the village. Bemmel families who lived on the 'good side' of the front lines were evacuated. Most of the men, however, stayed behind. The British area commander, responsible for safety in liberated territory, gave permission for 4,000 heads of families to remain. These men tried to protect the property of the evacuated inhabitants, and to care for the animals left behind.
Heuvelsestraat 14, Bemmel. At the entrance to the ‘Onze Lieve Vrouw van de Bloeiende Betuwe’ Chapel. GPS code: 51˚54’31.37”N 5˚54’04.76”E