After the heavy battles that took place near Overloon from September 30th to October 14th 1944, Venray would be the next town to be liberated. This was the task of the of the British 3rd Infantry Division. In this article I’m not trying to give a factual description of these battles. Instead, I’m trying to let the Veterans speak. The Imperial War Museum offers a great amount of digitized Oral Histories. Therefore, I was able to gather as many interviews with veterans from the 3rd Division as possible.
The first troops of this division entered Venray on October 16th 1944. These were the troops of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the 2nd Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment. The first one pushed through the St. Anna buildings to the St. Servatius monestary to the east of Venray. Here they dug in on October 17th 1944 and established a line of trenches and foxholes.
Out of all the oral histories in the IWM database, the ones from the 2nd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment had the most results. Lionel Roebuck of C Company vividly remembers his arrival at Venray. ‘Captain Crawford was made Major around this time and was Company commander of C coy. He was just by the side of me on the right side of the road, I was on the left. An 88 landed between us and went off. Crawford was wounded in the stomach and arm and I pushed him inside and told him someone would come for him later on. We pushed in further into town.’
Interestingly, B Company was behind C Company. The commander of B Company, Major Reginald Rutherford also told his story on IWM. ‘When we reached the outskirts, the attack stopped. ‘I was on the main road and could see the church steeple.’ Went forward to Venray to see what’s going on. I didnt find C Co, but only saw the Company commander wounded, Major Crawford. He then threw smoke, called for a jeep and got the wounded company commander out.’
Rutherford goes on. ‘I couldn’t find where C company was, so then I brought my own, B company and moved into Venray as it was getting Dark. We reached the main market square and the town council office, which is now a music school.’ At the time of writing there’s a restaurant in it called ‘T Zusje. ‘We were immediately counterattacked. So we formed a tight circle in the center of Venray in a milliner shop and a cosmetic shop just across the road. And we settled in another one in our rear. Went quite a while being attacked by fleeing Germans. But one rather strange thing was we had movement next to the shop in the building where we were. Went upstairs with a smoke grenade in the building and smoked them out. When they came out a Ptn on the other side opened up on the Germans, one bullet went through the wall and hit one of our officers.’
Private Lionel Roebuck recalls on the same day: ‘Our company was on a leg to the right. The company that was supporting too, was under Rutherford. He spurred of into the village and became behind us. When he got to the point where the machine gunner had been he went to the left on the road that led to the Square. And B company took up positions in the shops in the market square in Venray. That time it was getting dark and we didn’t know where everywhere was, but the order got through to stay where you are and set off in the morning. So what we did, we noticed the café a little bit further back. So we went back and hold up in the café for the night.’
What happened next must’ve been one of the funniest stories Roebuck remembers about the war. At least he told it while bursting out with a laugh. ‘I set up the Bren gun at the bar and stuck to it all night. There was a hedge only outside the café. The lads in the cellar they found some little bottles. Tried to tap them without success, they shook them up and spoiled the beer. The next morning when it became light I took the first turn on the Bren for the first guard. I stripped it and cleaned it. And then I saw a German rifle up against the wall in the corner. I started to strip down the mechanism and couldn’t get it back together. Jacky Dorne who I was with quite a lot came from the cellar to relieve me. As he came up we heard a bit of noise from the chairs in the corner. Jacky challenged him and a jerry came out who had been there all night long and behind these chairs while I was playing with the Bren gun.’
As my research to the Battle of Venray continues, I will keep updating my blog with information. The goal right now is to find out where the milliner’s shop was where Reg Rutherford was staying at. As well as the cafe where Roebuck stayed for the night. As a historian I must admit, you can’t always trust oral histories right away. Memory is often very fragile and can be affected over the years. The oral histories of Rutherford and Roebuck however, are vivid and very detailed. Therefore, my next post about Venray will continue with Roebuck’s experiences.
 Roebuck, Lionel Arthur (Oral history), http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80013293
 Rutherford, Reginald (Oral history), http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80012875