This is a guest post written by Jons van Dooren
Maastricht, the most southern city of the Netherlands, was liberated on the 13th and 14th of September 1944. The Ninth Army established its headquarters in Maastricht and stayed there for about five months.
About 800 American soldiers were in Maastricht and surroundings, in part preparing for Germany. They were also protecting the area and Antwerp harbour (all the American supplies were there) from V1’s and V2’s, launched from Germany.
127th AAA and 131st AAA Gun battalion had their gunpits in Maastricht and in the neighbourhood. It was their responsibility to protect the whole area from attacks by planes and bombs. The soldiers belonging to these units were the ones who took down enemy planes and the so called Buzz-bombs. In many cases they succeeded as reports show and Antwerp harbour was “safe”.
In the meantime the coldest winter of the 20th century arrived and the soldiers had to do their duty under extreme circumstances. In the days around Christmas it was minus 32F, extremely cold, and some had to sleep in their tents. An American chaplain, Father Dobrzynski, together with some Brothers of the Immaculate Conception of Maastricht, thought about how to give the boys a kind of Christmas Feeling in these days. They knew of a cave, the Schark cave, which was very safe, and where a Mass could be held on Christmas Eve.
The cave was prepared. Sal Barravecchia, one of the soldiers, created a beautiful mural in which he showed how Freedom was guarded from all sides. About 260 American soldiers attended Mass. After Mass they had coffee and donuts. Most of the soldiers were staying Maastricht, and some came from the Ardennes, where the fighting in the Battle of the Bulge was raging on. They were taken to Maastricht by their trucks.
After Mass they all wrote their names on the wall with charcoal. This wall is still preserved.
The website itself shows some pictures of the Christmas Eve Mass in 1944, taken by American soldiers.
Every year the Foundation of the Commemoration of the American Christmas Celebration 1944 ( abbr. SHAK1944) organizes a Christmas Eve Mass to commemorate those brave boys who fought for the Liberty of Europe. Every year about 200 American soldiers attend this Service, together with their superiors, the American Ambassador or his representative, the King’s Commissioner of the province of Limburg, the Mayor of Maastricht and some other people. Sometimes a veteran himself or his relatives attend Mass as well.
Requesting Your Help
Not all the names on the wall can be read, because sometimes people swept their coats along the walls or tried to touch the names. We, the SHAK board, would like to know whether there are families who know that their grandfather attended Mass in 1944. Are there sons, daughters, grandchildren or other relatives who could help us in completing the list of names?
Should you be interested, the list of names is presented on our website. There are even some letters written by soldiers the day after the Mass.
We would be very grateful for any information. You may contact us through our email address.
Thank you very much for your kind cooperation.
On behalf of the SHAK1944 board,
Mr. Jons van Dooren,