Klaassens and Niemeijer

Geert Klaassens was born on 19 September 1904 in Gieten, a village he never left except for military service. He was married to Geertje Faber and fathered two sons aged 7 and 4 when the war erupted. Klaassens was a farm labourer by profession just like Hendrik Niemeijer. On 28 December 1905 Niemeijer was born to Hendrik Niemeijer and Zwaantje Wiegers in the hamlet Vetstukken located in the municipality Odoorn but now lived in Valthermond.

At right: Hendrik Niemeijer

In addition to their work, both men had something else in common. Niemeijer was also married to a Faber, Geertje’s sister Hillechien, and both men serve in the 1st Battalion, 1st Company, of the 9th Infantry Regiment. The members of this regiment generally were from the northern provinces although the company had been quartered in Haarlem since 1 September 1939.

Because Hillechien is not house bound – they have been childless since a daughter they named Zwaantje died when only 12 days old – she frequently visits her husband. For this purpose, she found lodgings with the family Warmerdam in Sassenheim. Her husband and brother-in-law also spend as much time as possible there. as, This is where they all were staying on 10 May 1940 when war erupted, the Friday before Whitsun. Hillechien Niemeijer is at the Warmerdam home in Sassenheim and both brothers have taken leave to stay there as well. Other units of the 1st Infantry Regiment were also being quartered in bulb sheds in Sassenheim and Hillegom which probably led to the misunderstanding that both men were stationed with the 1st rather than 9th Infantry Regiment – an error still visible on their tombstones.

Back row, fourth from left: Geert Klaassens

The transport under air attack
The regiment received orders to proceed via Oegstgeest to Valkenburg where the airfield was under attack from the air. Therefore motor coaches had to be requisitioned because the regiment did not have their own means of transport. Buses arrived from far and wide, assembling on the Dreef in the Haarlemmerhout. The first buses were reserved for the 1st Company; the first in line was No. 10 (an almost new A.S./Beijnes) which belonged to the International Motor Coach Line Leo Kors from Heemstede with the owner’s brother behind the wheel. The convoy of buses departed in the early afternoon, travelling via Bennebroek, Hillegom and Sassenheim. There they stop at Café ‘De Uiver’ to collect Klaassens and Niemeijer. The men take leave of Hillechien, each in his own way. With the Company now complete, the convoy travels on, turning onto the main highway just beyond the Sikkens Factory. About 500 meters before reaching the Postbrug (where in earlier times horses hitched to post coaches were exchanged) at the border between Sassenheim and Oegstgeest, they pass by the 1st battalion of the 6th Artillery Regiment that will be taking a position at Castle Oud Poelgeest.

It was about 3 o’clock when the drone of airplane engines was first heard. These airplanes were surely Dutch weren’t they? But as machine guns began rattling, two German airplanes were spotted. Because it was impossible for the men to defend themselves using only small arms or field artillery, they had to run for cover behind the buses, seek shelter under the viaduct, or flee into the meadow.

The horses start to panic and a team belonging to the 1st Battery go off at a gallop. When the 21-year-old Sergeant Christiaan Leonard van den Broek from Dordrecht tried to rein in the horses, he was dragged along before falling to the ground and was run over by the wagon. Two days later he was buried in the Groene Kerkje cemetery.

The burnt-out  bus

Makeshift burial in a mass grave
The air attack was over but at the level of Endegeest one airplane turned around and headed back. It dropped three bombs on the first bus, the first bomb hitting its target directly. The bus exploded in a fireball and some soldiers were killed immediately by bomb fragments. Others died when the cartridges which they were carrying exploded viciously, sounding like thunder. The flames completed the horrific event. Of the 24 men who died, 17 were killed instantaneously – including the bus driver – while seven men later died as from their wounds.

It proved impossible to identify 11 of the 17 bodies which were buried immediately in a mass grave – the bomb crater that had just been made near the Postbrug. One of these men was the 43-year-old driver Willem Marinus Kors.

Eleven men are temporarily buried in a bomb crater at the ‘Verlengde Vnkenweg’.

When the mortal remains of these victims were later transferred for burial in the Military Cemetery Grebbeberg in 1973, Kors would be the only civilian buried there. Geert Klaassens and Hendrik Niemeijer were taken to the Academic Hospital in Leiden but succumbed to their wounds shortly thereafter. In total, 11 men were buried in the Groene Kerkje cemetery and two in their home town Assen.

Later on this joint grave a gravestone was placed. See their grave at the Grebbeberg on page War Graves.

Burial at the ‘Groene Kerkje’
The mortal remains of nine of the 11 servicemen buried at the Groene Kerkje were transferred in 1970 and 1971 to various locations, in most cases to the Military Cemetery Grebbeberg. However, both widows Klaassens and Niemeijer decided to leave their husbands’ bodies undisturbed were they had originally been given burial. This is the reason why these brothers-in-law still lie buried in one common grave in Oegstgeest.

An eyewitness report

Usually I was allowed to pass by the artillery positioned along the Hofdijck where whistling grenades were launched in the direction of the airfield. They had also set up a canon on a piece of land in which a wealthy man laid buried – quite near his grave. Only the canon’s shiny barrel was visible as it protruded through the shrubbery.

From: ‘Vivisectie’ by Jan Wolkers