For 77 years Annie van den Broek has carried in her heart the poignant memory of witnessing the final moments of an English soldier’s life with the hope of some day being able to tell his family how he died and the solemn send-off he was given near her family’s farm near Overloon, Holland.
Last month the 94-year-old Cardigan senior felt a little more at peace after speaking to Jenny Stone, the daughter of Raymond Hill, the English pilot who died on October 14, 1944.
“My thoughts were with the family right away,” Mrs van den Broek said of the day she had the briefest of encounters with the young RAF Lieutenant.
In a memoir Mrs van den Broek wrote for her grandchildren, she shares the memory.
She was a teenager who was feeling the levity of freedom as Allied Forces were in their midst and the end of German occupation was palpable.
Though the front was a mere seven miles from the family farm, “At night the enemy still came close to our farm, but who cares with hundreds of soldiers to keep watch?” Mrs van den Broek wrote.
On that fateful morning with the rumbling of combat in the distance she spied an allied plane overhead.
“I threw what I was carrying high in the air and waved with both arms, and saw in a flash, he was waving back at me!
“Did my red sweater get his attention or did he too, on this beautiful morning, feel a new zest for life like I did?”
A short time later as Mrs van den Broek was telling her siblings about the encounter, the plane circled again.
“All of a sudden there was a ball of fire and the little plane came down in black pieces behind the apple trees.
“Black puffs of smoke hung in the air.
“What a shock! My intense happiness gave way to a deep sadness.”
She and her family attended the pilot’s burial ceremony that same afternoon.
After the minister put the first shovel full of clay into the grave, Mrs van den Broek was asked to do the same.
“I could not help the tears that fell on my hands. It was so sad, so needless.
“Three short hours ago, so full of life, and now, lying in a shallow grave, no coffin, no relatives, not even a flag to give the ceremony some military honour.”
Little did she know at the time ‘Captain Hill’ as he came to be remembered, was a new father when he died at the tender age of 24.
His daughter Jenny was born two weeks before.
Though Captain Hill did get to meet his daughter the day she came into the world, it was their only time together.
Fast forward to the winter of 2020. With the help of family members, both here at home and in Holland, Ms van den Broek was finally able to tell Captain Hill’s family the story of his final farewell.
Jenny Stone, who resides in England, was located and contacted.
In early May the two women were able to chat online.
Mrs van den Broek feels a great sense of relief to have finally spoken to Captain Hill’s family.
Every year on Remembrance Day she recalls the day they buried Captain Hill.
“I remember the tears falling on my hands and shoveling the clay into his grave,” she said.
This year on November 11th Mrs van den Broek will feel more at peace.