The Sionshof hotel and the battle for Nijmegen and the Waal bridges

The Sionshof Hotel, on the very borderline between Nijmegen and Groesbeek, achieved international fame overnight when it was taken over by Allied officers and that mixed bag of war correspondents including the BBC’s Frank Gillard, Richard McMillan, Erik Baume, Cyril Ray and many others, the odd spy mingling undetected in the hilarious atmosphere of the place, and that brave band of Dutch Resistance men offering their services as guides and interpreters.

Text on Plaque in Hall of Sionshof Hotel

September 4: Eisenhower orders the advance “beyond the Rhine crossings”.
September 5: Allies reach Albert Canal

Operation Market-Garden planned by Montgomery

September 17: Paratroopers land: Noord Brabant: 50-mile Corridor north of Eindhoven *Nijmegen area: Grave, Groesbeek* Veluwe: north of Arnhem. Aim of the Operation: capture of river crossings of Maas, Waal, and Rhine, so as to outflank the Siegfried Line, to eliminate V2 launching sites in Holland, and to safeguard the supply of Antwerp. 1250 Carrier planes were deployed together with 254 bombers each towing one or two gliders and protected by some 1000 fighters aircraft.
On Sunday 17, the outskirts of Nijmegen are liberated and from Sionshof serves as an Allied headquarters:
Terminus of the Corridor whence reconnaissance patrols are deployed into occupied Nijmegen, and as communications centre for part of the liberated and occupied territories.

The arrival of the armoured spearhead, the Guards Division, part of Sir Brian Horrock’s 30th Corps, is eagerly awaited. Capt. “Harry” A.D. Bestebreurtje, a Dutchman who dropped near Groesbeek, is the Liaison Officer between the Allied Forces and the Dutch Resistance. On his advice, the latter are supplied with arms. They bravely acquit themselves, several being killed in the process.

September 18: Nijmegen head post office captured; Germans cause fires in the city centre.
September 19: Arrival of British Guards; advance into the city of Nijmegen. September 20: American 504th Parachute Infantry cross River Waal in assault boats. Tanks capture Waal Road Bridge.
September 21: Advance towards Arnhem foiled by Germans near Elst; Corridor cut near Veghel.
September 26: After ten days’ hard fighting and after crossing the Rhine during the night, the first few Red Devils reach Nijmegen; Arnhem lost.

The Corporation of the City of Nijmegen commissions a plaque “In commemoration of the role played in September 1944 by the Sionshof Hotel during the battle for Nijmegen and the Waal Bridges”.

September 17, 1954
In presence of Representatives from the Allied Supreme Commands and the Burgomasters of Nijmegen and Groesbeek Major A.D. Bestebreurtje, retd., having for this special occasion, come over from New York, unveils the Plaque, designed by Charles Hammes.

Description of the plaque
Leaping forward at slight angle, sculptured in high relief, the torso of an American Paratrooper emerges from the face of the blank wall. The vividly chiselled head cries out the call of liberation across the city and its surroundings. His bent left arm protects the town on the river Waal and the Bridge – its entrance gate -, indicated by a church steeple, a few houses, and a single arch, loosely arranged.
From the open space, his outstretched arm beckons freedom, which is conveyed to the city by the Airborne Forces, as symbolised by the sculptor by including some stylised bronze images of descending parachutes. The infinite sky is represented by the white background of the wall. Charles Hammes’ plaque on the former headquarters of the American Airbornes is a noble memorial to the men whose sleeves bore the AA emblem (AA, i.e. All American, a Division assembled from all over the United states), which unobtrusively features to the left of the sculpture.

Compiled by: Hans van Bronkhorst, Kamiel Rietsema and Margot van Boldrik.