ATS Tragedy, Belgium January 1945

Discussion in 'The Women of WW2' started by Tonym, Jan 11, 2012.

  1. Tonym

    Tonym WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I have recently received brief details regarding a party of ATS girls attached to 483 H.A.A. Battery, Royal Artillery, traveling in an army vehicle, possibly a Matador, on their way to a dance organised by the Coldstream Guards. The vehicle crashed into a train on a level crossing South of Louvain, Belgium. Six are known to have died and are buried in Heverlee Military Cemetery, Belgium, others were injured.

    Whilst I have photographs of their graves is it possible that anybody can add any more specific details to the above e.g. =

    (1) The location of 483 Bty, R.A. - CWGC quote 139 (M) H.A.A. Regt. R.A.
    (2) The location of the Coldstream Guards at that time
    (3) The exact location of the level crossing. I have located Louvain as approx 20 miles E. of Brussels
    (4) The total number of ATS girls traveling in the vehicle.
    (5) The fate of the driver assumed to be Royal Artillery.

    The unfortunate ladies were –Subaltern Dorothy Liddell – Cpl. Elsie Norris – L. Cpl. Marie Rose – Privates Eileen May Smith – Isabella Goodfellow & Clara Carter.

    Grateful for any useful information.

  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    Hello Tony
    I have pasted the casualties,one died a number of months later

    1. A. 2.
    1. A. 6
    1. A. 5.
    1. A. 4.
    1. A. 3.
    1. A. 1.
  3. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Tony, I'd suggest 'pm' ing 'Dirk' on the forum. He lives in the area and has an interest in the ATS postings as well as the 1940 stuff.
  4. Tonym

    Tonym WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    I did notice that Carter was a different Battery & Regt to the other girls and wondered if the whole party were different batteries, etc. Hoping an R.A. expert will advise. Also I understand that the Coldstreamers were part of the Guards Armd. Div. and entertaining the Germans at that time not organising dances for ATS.

    Thanks Rich will contact 'Dirk'.

  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    The 1st and 5th Bns CG were billeted at Opheylissem and Neerheylissem for 5 wks from 27/12/44. They had their Regtl dinner on 4/1. Mention is also made in the History that the Regtl Band had arrived on 2/1 and stayed for a week, so until 9/1. No leave to Brussels was granted, account mentions the snow on the ground and the freezing temps.

    The 4th Tk Bn CG seem to have been at Huthem, nr Maastricht.

    edit: There is no mention in the 5CG war diary of this accident.
  6. Tonym

    Tonym WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Thanks Diane

    Not all that well versed in troop movements but if they were billeted where you say for five weeks and could organise a Regimental dinner I suppose organising a dance was not impossible then off to entertain the Germans.
    I got the info from a TWGPP news sheet so will contact them to find out where they got their info.

    Your Avatar by the way looks like the desk at MOD where my war death commemoration claims are lodged and they are probably at the bottom.

    Regards, Tony
  7. At Home Dad (Returning)

    At Home Dad (Returning) Well-Known Member

    Not wanting to sound pedantic, but isn't this
    more likely to be of a train hitting the Matador?

    very best

    The vehicle crashed into a train on a level crossing South of Louvain, Belgium.
  8. Tonym

    Tonym WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Very pedantic !!!!
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    I've been thinking about it and there could be a couple of possibilities, depends really how your source phrased it ... organised by CG or involving CG ie band - who had left them by that date. Not unusual for the band to tour and entertain once abroad, not unusual for a bn dance to be organised either for R&R. It's just disappointing though that 5 CG WD makes no mention of this dance at all, as they have a super daily news sheet appended which is quite gossipy when it wants to be ... published daily when in action, they didn't catch up with the news later either and it's the kind of thing that would've been included even briefly. I'll make a note for when I get 1ArmdCG for 45 though; perhaps something in that diary, they fought together as a armd/inf group.

    Were your ladies involved in this then?
    56. During December the position was governed by three principal factors:-
    (a) The growing importance of ANTWERP as a target at the expense of BRUSSELS, coupled with the increase in this commitment in view of the appearance of attacks from the North-East.

    (b) The arrival of mixed H.A.A. regiments from ENGLAND for deployment in BRUSSELS X in relief of male units.

    (c) The abortive offensive by von RUNSTEDT in the ARDENNES at the end of the month.

    57. Four U.S. A.A.A. gun battalions had to be withdrawn from ANTWERP X for ground shooting in the ARDENNES battle and the remaining units of both ANTWERP and BRUSSELS X defences were prepared to adopt a ground role immediately if an emergency arose. The scale of H.A.A. Regiments or gun battalions, however, never fell below:-
    ANTWERP X - 8
    BRUSSELS X - 4

    With the failure of the German offensive the four gun battalions soon returned to ANTWERP X.

    58. As attacks on BRUSSELS continued to decease, it was decided in January that the original target figure of eight H.A.A. Regiments in BRUSSELS X defences could be reduced to five and the remaining searchlight battery removed. During December and early January the three mixed regiments had taken over their share of this commitment.

    :D - As for my avatar: that's to remind me to get on with transcribing !!
    I shall beam out a hopeful signal then for MOD clerk to upturn the pile on their desk.
  10. Tonym

    Tonym WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    This was how ths incident was recorded by TWGPP =

    At least 6 of these died tragically in Belgium in January 1945. As members of 483 Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery, Royal Artillery the six women were off-duty and were in a troop-carrying truck (probably an AEC Matador) which was (apparently) taking them to a dance organised by the Coldstream Guards. The vehicle crashed into a train on a level crossing south of Louvain where some were killed outright and other succumbed to injuries days after. Others were treated in Belgium and, when able to be repatriated, were sent back to UK for further treatment.

    No problem on its own until you equate it with the other details. I am now wondering if the dance was organised by the Royal Artillery using the Coldstream Guards band? The band may well have been used as a morale booster for the services and indeed the local population.

    Regarding the comment about who hit what, you mention the snow and freezing conditions - could easily have been the Matador hitting his breaks and skidding into the passing train, but I shan't lose any sleep over who hit who.

    A PM has been sent to 'Dirk' and email to the Editor of TGWPP, might produce some leads.

    Re your avatar - My pending file looks a bit like that.

  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hope you find out a bit more, but I will keep an eye open for any refs.
  12. Rob Dickers

    Rob Dickers 10th MEDIUM REGT RA

    I do find it very strange that a Matador Gun Tower would be allocated from the Wagon lines in Jan 45 for a dance trip even if the conditions were very bad, knowing "Army" Artillery doctrin.
    Of cource i maybe wrong and perhaps they were transporting lots of equipment for the dance etc,
    but in my experience i would have thought a QL would be much more likely to have been used and up to the job.
    We shall wait to see if more info becomes avalible.
  13. Tonym

    Tonym WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    The original comment did say "probably an AEC Matador" and, from my knowledge of Matadors I was a bit suspicious so until & if I receive more explicit details a Matador it is.
    I have emailed the originator of the article still waiting a response.

    Cheers, Tony
  14. Dirk

    Dirk Member

    Hello Tony,

    I have information about the tragical incident. The information I have originates from an article written by Ms. Jeanne Servranckx. The article appeared in "Heembode, Genootschap voor heemkunde van Herent, Mededelingsblad 12 (1996), nummer 3-4".

    "Heembode" is the magazine of the local history circle of Herent.

    I've sent Rich the relevant paragraphs from the above-mentioned article. He'll translate them in English, and will post them.

    Please find attached two google map images showing the former level crossing in the street named "Haachtstraat" where the accident occured, and the location of the Anti-Aircraft site in the "Leuvenstraat" near a mill caled "Heersemmolen".

    All locations are situated in the Belgian village of "Veltem-Beisem".


    Attached Files:

    CL1 likes this.
  15. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Dirk has sent me through the text of an article which appeared in a local history publication here in 1996 (The "Heembode, Genootschap voor heemkunde van Herent, Mededelingsblad 13 (1996), nummer 3-4" ) I've tried to keep the sense of the original.

    'As a thirteen-year-old, Jeanne Servranckx cycled regularly past the Anti-Aircraft site of 483 (M) H.A.A. Battery. This A.A. site lay alongside the Leuvenstraat in Veltem-Beisem, opposite the watermill known as 'Heersemmolen' and beside the Kareelbos. Jeanne often stood there to watch.

    "One of the female soldiers must have noticed more than once the interested girl who stood to watch from the street and on one occasion, she winked to me to come into the camp hut and drink some tea. My first cup of English tea ! Without sugar and an Oh-so-big cup...and I didn't dare not to finish it. The girls apparently found it really tasty and liked to share it"

    Jeanne Servranckx went there frequently to drink tea. "In this way, I got to know their names. Two especially were really nice and friendly: Marie Rose and Vicky Smith. I told my parents about them. After a while, my mother asked me to invite them home. It was much too cold in that camp hut and those young girls were so far from home. Marie and Vicky were pleased to accept the offer."

    "On Friday 12th January 1945, the British Army arranged a dance evening for its troops at a location between Leuven and Tienen. Twenty female troops from the camp were brought there in an army lorry. It was cold and the lorry had a canvas tilt, as did most of the lorries at that time. They took the usual level-crossing in the Haachtstraat in Veltem and certainly enjoyed that evening a welcome break from military life. Around two O'Clock on the night from Friday to Saturday, they were back at the level-crossing at Veltem but what the driver didn't know was the fact that the crossing was closed at night. It was a crossing barrier on wheels which went back and forth alongside the rail. During the day, it was shut by a crossing-keeper whenever a train approached. During the night, it stayed shut. The crossing-keeper closed it with padlock and chain every night at 22.00 hours and opened it again at 6.00 in the morning which the lorry driver apparently didn't know. He or an assistant took the drastic step of breaking the chain (the chain was found in the grass some days later). They apparently didn't know that the barrier at Veltem station, a kilometer further was operative at night and only shut on the approach of a train. However, when the lorry drove on to the opened crossing, it was smashed by a fast-approaching train against the small signal box and burst into flames. The load area where the girls sat was tightly closed and it seems that it wasn't possible to get everyone out of the burning lorry."

    "When we went to look at what had happened in the morning, we saw that there must have been a terrific impact. The whole signal box had been moved 15cm. The black charred frame of the lorry was pulled aside. Perplexed and shocked, we ran home and began to question: Was anyone we knew well involved ? Mother rode on her bicycle to the camp to ask, as good or bad as her English was, how Marie and Vicky were. Unfortunately, they were amongst the six girls burned to death."

    There are photographs of Marie Rose and Vicky Smith in ATS uniform in Jeanne Servranckx' original article.

    The level crossing in the Haachtstraat in Veltem-Beisem no longer exists. The road is now closed at the railway.'
  16. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    It occurs to me that the fire may point towards a petrol lorry and away from a Matador ?
  17. Bluebell21

    Bluebell21 Old Hand

    If I remember the Matador gun tractor had forward facing seats in the rear, fitted at the front, also it had steps at the side for easy crew access. But I could be thinking of the Albion? it's a long time ago.

  18. Tonym

    Tonym WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Dirk & Rich

    I am most grateful to you both for your descriptive report of the incident. What a tragic and horrible end to an enjoyable evening particularly when they were in spitting distance of home. May I push my luck and ask if it is possible for a copy of the photographs of Marie and Vicky?

    I am inclined to agree with you Rich regarding the vehicle. From my experience traveling from one place to another was usually done in a three ton lorry with benches either side’ In this case the impact would have collapsed the supports and canvas cover entrapping the girls and making it difficult to escape from the burning canvas.

    I am working on the assumption that as the six fatalities are buried in Heverlee Military Cemetery, which I understand is near the Heverlee Girls School that was accommodating the 101st British General Hospital, the 14 other casualties would have been initially treated there. So now I am looking for the possibility of a Hospital War Diary for January 1945 in an attempt to identify those who survived, in what condition I shudder to think. Clara Carter, one of the deceased took nearly four months to die.

    Any other relevant information that members may have still welcome.

    Thanks to all those who have responded so far.

  19. Dirk

    Dirk Member

    Hello Tony,

    Please find attached a photo of Marie Rose and one of Vicky Smith
    (I only have paper photocopies. Sorry for the poor quality).

    The photos appeared in the article by Jeanne Servranckx in Heembode.


    Attached Files:

  20. Tonym

    Tonym WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Again most grateful, they are reasonably clear enough to identify them a glossy print should sharpen them up a bit more.

    Thanks again

    Best wishes,


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