Dutchman serving in the 53rd (Welsh) Division

Discussion in '53rd (Welsh) Division' started by Jan B, Mar 1, 2020.

  1. Jan B

    Jan B Member

    My father, Cor Booij, joined in September ’44 the 53rd Welsh Division. He was member of the resistance, taking care for communication with the allied forces. After the liberation of Eindhoven he took part in the campaigns in the corridor to Nijmegen, the Ardennes and the Reichswald. From there we are not sure.

    We know that he stayed in Germany (the Rheinland) during the first months after the end of the war. The military authorities used the fact that he was fluent in English, German and French for communication with civilian authorities and (probably) the French.

    He left the English army (probably still serving in the 53rd) somewhere in the late summer, beginning of the autumn as a sergeant. (according to the insignia’s on his uniform when he came home and on photo’s)

    We are searching for more information about him and other Dutch or Belgians serving in the 53rd . The MoD can’t find his service records and requests a service number (which we don’t have). They suggest that he may have been registered as ‘attached personnel’.

    Can anyone help me for more information or give suggestions where to find records about these ‘international’ soldiers in the 53rd?
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  2. Bedee

    Bedee Well-Known Member

    Jan, this is not a unique case, Dutch soldiers and probably also Belgians joined the troops who liberated their hometowns. For different reasons they joined, and most of them wearing the clothes of the soldiers. This was not allowed at that time but it is understandable that they did.

    As your father joined the Welsh he probably visited Groesbeek, the area where i live.

    But you mention 53rd Welsh Division, as you know a division at that time was around 4000 Soldiers, 5-6 Brigades and these brigades concist of Battalions and Regiments.
    Do you have other identifiers from his uniform, like a patch, Baret, to identify if he was in the, 158, 159 160 Brigade or divisional troops.

    This is the first step to do
    The next step would be to find a Wardiary of that unit (most of the details you will find in the Battalion logs)

    Keep us informed in your search.

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  3. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Jan - just to clarify, there were three infantry brigades in 53rd Welsh Division: 71, 158 and 160. 159 Inf Bde was transferred to 11th Armoured Division when that division was formed earlier in the war. While your father might be mentioned in a war diary, this is probably unlikely as in the main it was only commanders who were mentioned by name. It's just possible that the divisional history makes a mention of Dutch and Belgian volunteers joining the division: Barclay, CN, History of the 53rd (Welsh) Division. Any personal details you may have, however small and seemingly unimportant, can help. Good luck! Tot ziens! John
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  4. Bedee

    Bedee Well-Known Member

    Jan, indeed 159 was under command of 11 AD.
    I just did a quick scan in the "History of the 53th Wels Division" Nothing mentioned about Dutch or Belgian soldiers.

    So details are important to identify and for a better search in Diaries and documents.
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  5. Jan B

    Jan B Member

    B, JDKR
    Thanks for your reactions.

    Since I posted my request we have obtained some more information.

    In 1943/1944 he studied in Eindhoven (Philips) at the 'NatLab' and participated in the resistance unit there. When Eindhoven was liberated he was one of the first men joining the Dutch Corps of Translators (Corps Tolken) in September 1944 and was from this Corps posted at the 53rd as a staff sergeant, in a British uniform.
    He had different roles, from interrogating POW's, translating in communication with civilians, reconnaissance to recovering wounded and killed soldiers. He fought both in the Ardennes and in the Reichswald (for a short time between Groesbeek and Kleve, but he was send from there on a reconnaissance mission behind the German lines).

    At the end of the war (possibly also during the last month) he served as support and representative of the British Military Authority. He nicknamed this role as temporary 'Bürgemeister' in rural Gemeinden in the area west of Kassel.

    I played in his uniform as a kid, but I don't have any identifiers. From the few stories he told he has changed positions several times, depending on the need of a translator, (fluent in English, German, French and Dutch) in different units.

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  6. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    At the risk of creating a red herring - was not Peter Schilperoort founder of the Dutch Swing College also a member of the resistance in Eindhoven?
  7. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Dear Jan,

    The thread here may be of help. The link below will take you to the last page of the thread, and contacting a fellow Nederlander (Frank-Peter) who has contributed there may help in your search.

    Volunteers from this time were often attached/posted to recce regiments because of their language skills, and willingness to join the fight (e.g. Toon Kramer of 49th (Polar Bears) recce)

    Here's the link, good luck with your searching.

    53rd Reconnaissance Regiment

    Kind regards, always,

  8. Jan B

    Jan B Member

    Dear Jim,

    Thanks for the link.
    The identifier of the 53rd Reconnaissance Regiment seems very familiar.

    JimHerriot likes this.
  9. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    And Jan, from this side of the water contacting forum members "Recce Mitch" and "Smudger jr" may prove to be of help.

    Apologies for the name dropping but these are the folks to contact re matters Recce.

    Kind regards, and again good luck with your searching,

    Last edited: Sep 10, 2020
  10. Richard Lewis

    Richard Lewis Member

  11. Bedee

    Bedee Well-Known Member


    In the Dutch archives you find documents about translators.
    "Vereniging korps Tolken"

    You can read them at the NIMH, looks intresting because you will find a list of names of this Corps. As you speak dutch have a look how to make an appointment.

    There is a second archive, looks different, but could be the same.
    Ministerie van Defensie Nationaal archief.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2020
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  12. Bedee

    Bedee Well-Known Member

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  13. Osborne2

    Osborne2 Well-Known Member

    From POW Camp knowledge in Britain, Other Ranks Interpreters were elevated to sergeant automatically on appointment as it was considered a skilled role.Many German Jews became interpreters and were enrolled into the Pioneer Corps where they were sergeants.
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  14. Jan B

    Jan B Member

    Osborn, Richard

    Major (later Colonel) Willems set up the Corps Tolken (Interpreters) for the Dutch Forces in September 1944 at the liberation of Eindhoven, on request of both the American and the British forces, who lacked skilled interpreters.
    Willems was head of a research department at Philips. He had a team that used Philips experimental radio equipment (for U-Bote) for the communication between the resistance and London / Allied forces. My father was member of this (resistance) team. He was among the first volunteers that joined the Corps Tolken, first officially enrolled as an 'observer' at the Welsh, from the beginning of October 1944 officially as a sergeant.
    The rank came with the age, a young (< 30 yr.) volunteer became a sergeant, between 30 and 37 you became automatically an lieutenant, over 37 captain.
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  15. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Jan B,

    Much appreciated the information. Is it known where the 'Tolken' were posted. Were they with the Brigades or even battalions?
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  16. 51highland

    51highland Very Senior Member

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  17. Jan B

    Jan B Member

    A short history of the Dutch Corps Tolken

    As early as 1942 the Allied forces demanded from the Dutch provisional Government in London a group of liaison officers.

    During the summer of 1944 the lack of liaison officers and translators became a factor hindering the progress of the campaign . At the liberation of Eindhoven, September the 18th 1944, dr. Willems and lt. Winter were ordered to create the Dutch Corps Translators. On the 17th of October the Corps was officially constituted.

    The liaison officers and interpreters were made available to the Chief Netherlands Liaison Officers of the 2nd British Army and the 1st Canadian Army. They posted the men at the units that requested the support of a liaison officer or an interpreter.

    The first volunteers were posted at the end of September 1944, even before the Corps was founded. These were mainly members of the resistance that had connections with lt. Winter. They formally had a position as (unarmed) war correspondent. After October 17th the volunteers got the rank of sergeant, lieutenant or captain (depending on age).

    November the 1st already 156 interpreters were posted on different positions in the British and Canadian Army. By January this number was about 450. This increased to max. about 800 interpreters posted in the British, the Canadian and the US forces. In total about 1200 men have served in the Corps Tolken.

    What was the role of the interpreters? During the war; everything that was needed. From typical language related tasks like the communication between the military and the civilian authorities, organizing accommodation, interrogating POW’s, joining reconnaissance missions, to just being a simple foot soldier, tank driver or (non trained) medic recovering wounded and killed comrades from the battlefield.

    After the war the focus shifted to supporting or being the representative of the Military Authorities (later the British Military Zone). There are examples of a ‘simple’ sergeant giving orders to the ‘Bürgemeister’ of a small German town or high ranking Wehrmacht officers. Their main task was to help build up new, non-Nazi civil authorities.

    For some of the interpreters part of the task was organizing and overseeing the reburial of the victims of SS brutality (both Holocaust and political victims).

    The interpreters were posted on levels from divisional headquarters to a battalion. Most of them were to be found at the level of the brigades and the regiments. The first group of interpreters often changed positions, depending on the needs, related to their skills. After the war they stayed more on the same posting for a longer period.

    The Corps Tolken was laid off in 1948.

    My father joined the Corps Tolken in September 1944. He was posted at the 53rd Welsh, probably in a reconnaissance regiment (based on the identifier on a photo).

    He never talked much about his time during the war. We know he was in the Ardennes, both as a translator, getting information from locals, interpreter, interrogating German POW’s and as medic, recovering wounded and killed comrades during heavy fighting. In the Operation Veritable he was send on a reconnaissance mission behind German lines. Where he went from there till the end of the war is not clear.

    We know that in the post war period he was both a translator for the Military Authority (British Military Zone) and the representative of this authority, commanding a small team of soldiers.

    Organizing and overseeing the reburial of corpses from combined graves or mass graves was part of his tasks. He told us about the importance of collecting identification information from the victims that were buried in those graves and putting up reports of this information.

    For me this point is important. My grandfather (my father’s father in law) was as member of the resistance imprisoned in Sachsenhausen (since September 1944). In January or February 1945 he was transported to Bergen-Belsen. Two witnesses (fellow prisoners on the same transport) have declared that he was killed during the transport and left behind in a provisional grave (together with other killed prisoners). The exact location is not clear. Authorities (including the Red Cross) ignored the statements of the witnesses for administrative reasons and because leaving behind killed prisoners was against the SS protocols.

    However the archives of the British Military Zone combined with reports of a Belgian post war institute show that there have been at least 21 mass graves with victims from prisoner evacuation transports in a circle of 40 kilometers around Bergen Belsen. These mass graves contained at least 1600, but probably more than 2000 victims reburied on local cemeteries in anonymous graves. A remarkable number of these mass graves have been ‘umgebettet’ very soon after the occupation by British troops, before the end of the war.

    The question is whether there are reports made of these reburials and whether these reports also include lists of information that made identification possible. Only in one case parts of a list of prisoner numbers of the victims were found in a local archive. (In two other cases lists were found that were put up by other prisoners in the transport.)

    It would be of great help if someone has information on the reburial protocols and reports.
  18. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

    Just picked this up, to a Dutchman from Haarlem - Sgt Ottolini was a member of the Dutch Corps of Interpreters

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  19. Jan B

    Jan B Member

    Very nice to see this.
    This man was born in Haarlem (a town 15 kms west of Amsterdam), where my father studied before he joined the resistance team in the research lab of Philips in Eindhoven. My father joined the Corps Tolken less than 3 months before Patrizio Ottolini.

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  20. AB64

    AB64 Senior Member

    Not much else in the book, confirmation of inoculations in February 45 and a date stamp from July 45 in the back cover - just a shame nothing that indicates which unit(s) he worked with - any thoughts on how to find out more on him? I guess he would have been involved with the Resistance before joining up. It does have his fathers address of Westergracht 46 in Haarlem
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