They are the relatives of the British soldier who died in Mierlo-Hout. For the first time since World War II, English guests came to Mierlo-Hout, with the aim of commemorating their fallen compatriots together with our community. They share our thoughts and feelings about the occupation and the joy of the moment we were liberated by them on September 22, 1944. 

It was 2010 when we were introduced to Martial Rose and his family. Although we started with the plans for the creation of a monument since 2005, after five years there was finally more certainty that we would achieve our goal. In the meantime, we had formed a small committee consisting of Leo van Aerle 
(† 2012), Henk van de Westerlo and the undersigned. Later, our committee was placed in the Historical Consciousness Committee, as part of Wijkraad Mierlo-Hout.

Martial Rose in his speech during the 70th liberation celebration of Mierlo-Hout in 2014.  F | © Jan Dijstelbloem

Together with the writer Ad Hermens (Geldrop), we have been looking for possible relatives of British soldiers for quite some time. This mainly concerned soldiers who died in our church village during the liberation. The story of ill fate that happened to 2nd L.T. John Bruce Millar was not unknown to the majority in Mierlo-Hout. Earlier, Leo van Aerle said in his book: “Helmond 35 years liberated” about this tank commander of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment. And the story “Helmond taken in the tang” that Van Aerle wrote in “Helmonds Heem” was even dedicated to the relevant tank commander.

During the fight on September 22, 1944, Bruce Millar, badly wounded, took cover at the stable doors of this farm on Main Street. F | Collection of the HMMH foundation.

Bruce was fired at on September 22, 1944 on Main Street near the level crossing. Mierlo-Hout had a hard time and the Germans were certainly not going to give up just like that. Millar was standing upright in the turret when his tank was hit by a Panzerfaust. Badly injured, he fell to the ground, after which he managed to crawl to take cover at a nearby farm.

The shoemaking and shop of the family Coolen used to be located on the site of the monument. On the right the fruit and vegetable trade of the van Bladel family. On August 28, 1944, a heavy aircraft bomb fell on the other side of the track, which destroyed the glass in the wide area. Windows and doors were boarded up with planks. F | © M. Coolen senior.

Nowadays, the memorial monument can be found right opposite the said farm, but at the time the location housed the shop and the home of the Coolen family. Behind the boarded-up windows of her parental home, 21-year-old Francien had hid hours ago and waited to see what would come next. Partly because of her position as Red Cross sister, she was determined to stay there for the time being to provide first aid if necessary. Earlier that morning, Francien had also received a surprising visit from a soldier who spoke fluent Dutch in her hiding place. That soldier turned out to be a scout from the Princess Irene brigade. He ended up at the shoemaker’s shop through the garden of the nun’s monastery. There he had a good view of the railway environment where it was now teeming with Germans. The Dutch soldier offered Francien a cigarette and said the English liberators were on the way. As soon as he came, he disappeared again. Back to his unit to report …

“And then suddenly there were tanks with a big white star on them and I had never seen tanks like that before! They drove almost into the manholes of the Germans, before they surrendered”, my aunt said in her last interview with Leo van Aerle and Ad Hermens.

Francien Coolen-Hermans in conversation with Leo van Aerle and writer Ad Hermens. This last interview with her took place in Sint Jozefsheil in Bakel, in March 2010. F | © Mario Coolen

The last visit to the grave of J.B. Millar was in Mierlo during the Remembrance Day of May 4, 2010. Aunt Francien was with her daughters Dianne and Mieke. On May 24, 2010 she passed away at the age of 89. F | © Mario Coolen

On September 22, 1944, Francien also witnessed the fatal moment when Millar’s tank was hit and he fell from the turret. As fast as she could, she got out of hiding and ran right through the firing line towards the farm. There she found the badly wounded Englishman, slumped on the ground and leaning against an open stable door. But the help came in vain. Bruce was no longer conscious. A little later he died in Francien’s arms. He was only 20 years old.


Newspaper article

For the compilation of his new book on the war history of Geldrop/ Mierlo and Mierlo-Hout, writer Ad Hermens searched with us for relatives of soldier Millar. Hermens was offered an extensive newspaper article in the Dereham Times. This publication in the January 28, 2010 issue was a great success. The first English reactions soon followed. Two still living sisters Nova Millar, Heather Rose-Millar and her husband Martial Rose from Dereham in Norfolk, were very surprised when they learned that somewhere in the Netherlands, advanced plans existed for the creation of a monument on which Bruce would also be commemorated.

Click on the image to open the newspaper in PDF

During the months that followed, until the completion of the Memorial, the Millar family remained closely involved in the progress of the construction. Main contact in England was Martial Rose, Bruce Millar’s brother-in-law. In the summer of 2011, I got a call from Martial. He enthusiastically announced his determination to attend the September festivities in Mierlo-Hout and of course also to visit Bruce’s grave in the British Field of Honor in Mierlo. The booking for the stay at Hotel ’t Anker was arranged. Martial arrived in Mierlo on September 20, 2011. He was with his cousin David Bateman and his niece Sue Best. Unfortunately, it was not possible to persuade Bruce Millar’s two sisters to join them. The tensions before the trip were too much for Nova and Heather.

Take off your shoes

On September 22, the 67th Liberation Day of Mierlo-Hout, 89-year-old Martial enjoyed all the guided tours in Mierlo-Hout and Mierlo to the fullest. He listened carefully to the explanations he received from the many enthusiastic guides around him. Obviously, all the impressions of that day were tiring for Martial as well. The day was long before the official moment in the evenings would begin. For Martial, after lunch it was time for an afternoon nap.

“I’m just looking for a place where I can take off my shoes for a while”, the Englishman politely stated that he would like to lie down for a while. And that was also arranged. In the rectory in Mierlo-Hout, Martial was warmly welcomed by “Father John”. After this meeting with Father van de Laar, he retired to the guest room, where he could relax for a while before the busy evening would begin.

The unveiling

At 7 pm a well-attended church service followed in St. Lucia’s Church. There, for the first time in the post-war history of Mierlo-Hout, all known and unknown civilian victims and soldiers at the same time, were commemorated in an honorable way. After the service, young and old gathered on the Hoofdstraat where a little later, guided by Fanfare Unitas, a large column with beautiful English and American army vehicles passed.

The military convoy moves over Mainstreet F | © Arnold Fieten

On the corner of the Houtse Parallelweg, the new monument was covered for a short while under a large flag, on which the coat of arms of Mierlo-Hout was depicted. Well before the start of the ceremony, it was also remarkably busy with interested parties in the vicinity of the monument. F | © Arnold Fieten

The youth had settled in a large group on the newly laid lawn, right in front of the monument. That way they didn’t have to miss a moment of the ceremony. F | © Anja de Vries
Wreath laying by alderman Jan van den Heuvel and alderman Margreet de Leeuw F | @Arnold Fieten

On behalf of the Municipal Executive of the municipality of Helmond, Alderman Jan van den Heuvel was the first speaker of the evening. This was followed by a speech by Martial Rose and Leo van Aerle. Both speakers praised the presence of the youth who listened attentively in the front row. “We commemorate together. We only have this monument on loan from our children. You pass on our freedom, which is why we strive to keep involving the youth in all commemorations that will take place here in the future”, said Van Aerle. This was followed by the unveiling of the monument. That honor was awarded to Martial Rose and Dianne Hermans (2014 †), the daughter of Francien Hermans-Coolen (2010 †).

The memorial monument, as it was erected 10 years ago. A year later, an extension followed on the left in the form of a panel on which nowadays all the names and photos of victims are depicted. More about this will follow later on this website. F | © Arnold Fieten.

Immediately after the unveiling by Dianne and Martial, the inscriptions were closely studied. Photos | © Arnold Fieten

Second visit

Three years later, in 2014, Mierlo-Hout celebrated 70 years of freedom. Martial Rose was now 92 years old. But his advanced age did not prevent him from traveling to his friends in Mierlo-Hout for the second time. This time, Martial was accompanied by his daughter Jenny. And his cousin David was there again, along with his girlfriend Mary Rolp. Sue Best was accompanied by her younger sister Sally Bridgstock and husband Neil Bridgstock.

The English company also visited Bruce’s grave on the British Field of Honor in Mierlo in 2014. From left to right: Neil Bridgstock and Sue Best, Sally Bridgstock, Jenny and Martial Rose, David Bateman and Mary Rolp. F | © HMMH Foundation.

The second visit of the English was again organized carefully. Our committee could again count on the willingness of many volunteers, but also of other parties, such as Bergerhof Tours. The company from Mierlo even provided a taxi van. This gave us the opportunity to offer all seven guests a tour at the same time. With the taxi van we drove past various sights in Helmond and surroundings. It was an unforgettable day for the English, but I also personally enjoyed this trip immensely. It was wonderful to be a guide and driver for the English at the same time.

On September 23, (my birthday), the day after the liberation festivities in Mierlo-Hout, I brought our guests to Eindhoven Airport where we had to say goodbye to each other. “Goodbyes are always hard”.

Martial in particular had a hard time in the departure hall. He was visibly “upset”, as if he knew that his very last visit to his Dutch friends had come to an end. Martial Rose died after a short illness on January 31, 2021 in his hometown of Dereham. He turned 98 years old.

The HMMH foundation still maintains contact with the relatives in England. Jenny, Martial’s daughter in California (USA) also receives our newsletter.

Mario Coolen, Chairman HMMH

Martial Rose, the principal. F| ©Collectie Rose-Millar Family

Martial Rose was born in London on August 9, 1922 and married Heather Millar, sister of 2nd Lieutenant John Bruce Millar. During the 2nd W.O. he fulfilled his task as a firefighter. He was a rescuer during the V1 offensive, which killed more than 6,000 Londoners and injured 17,000 residents. Rose was educated at Christ’s Hospital (where the later leading conductor Sir Colin Davis was a fellow student) and in Cambridge. As a schoolteacher he taught for a time in London – the actor Sir Derek Jacobi was one of his pupils – and then at Bretton Hall College of Education in Yorkshire.

Rose was appointed vice principal of King Alfred’s in 1965 and became head of the college within two years following the death of John Stripe, his predecessor. After nearly two decades in office, he retired in 1984. During that time, he was Chairman of King Alfred’s during a significant period of student growth.

Drama specialist Martial published the standard edition of the medieval cycle of Wakefield Mystery Plays as early as 1961, which was then professionally staged in London.

Much more recently (in 2003) he released a biography of the actress Dame Gwen Frangcon Davies, contemporary of Sir John Gielgud. And after his retirement in Norfolk, he engaged in a steady stream of publications on the history of Dereham and some beautifully illustrated books on the distinctive architectural features of Norwich Cathedral, the last of which did not appear until 2006. Old Wintonians, however, will best remember him as the author of A History of King Alfred’s College, Winchester 1840-1980 (1981) and of a separately published postscript that took the story to 1990. Undoubtedly the pivotal figure himself in creating the modern institution, he was also concerned about setting the record straight about his past.

The Martial Rose Library at the University of Winchester is named after the former principal.

Source: Emeritus professor R Richardson

Read more:
Funeral of Martial Rose op 18 februari 2021 in de St. Nicholas Church, Dereham, view Livestream:

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