Were a Nazi-defeated nation's treasures held in a Wolverhampton vault?

As the war raged, safely stored in vaults in Wolverhampton were the treasures of a nation which had been overrun by the Nazis.

Who is he? The mystery soldier wearing the cap badge of the Princess Irene Regiment.
Who is he? The mystery soldier wearing the cap badge of the Princess Irene Regiment.

Wolverhampton Town Hall, so the story goes, became the new home for the Dutch Crown Jewels, which were kept there for the duration of the conflict.

It is stated as fact by some sources on the internet that the Dutch Crown Jewels were flown from The Hague to Britain for safe keeping, and were kept in the town hall vaults. Another local story is that Dutch gold was held in the Perton area.

But is it true?

Wolverhampton Town Hall in the 1950s.

While documentary proof appears not to have come to light, the wartime Dutch connection with Wolverhampton is well established, because Wrottesley Park became a huge Dutch military camp where, in 1941, a new regiment was born called the Princess Irene Regiment.

It comprised soldiers who had escaped to Britain after the German invasion of The Netherlands, as well as Dutch volunteers from across the world.

The Colours for the new regiment were presented by Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands, accompanied by Prince Bernhard, when they visited the Wrottesley camp in August 1941. She named it the Princess Irene Regiment after her grandchild.

August 1941, and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands accompanied by Prince Bernhard visited Dutch troops at Wrottesley Park to present the Colours of the new Princess Irene Regiment.

Fast forward from 1941 to October 1944 and one of the regiment's soldiers, who perhaps had been based at Wolverhampton, was among a group sheltered in a barn by a Dutch family during the Allied advance through The Netherlands.

One of the family, Tony VanDijk, who was only about a year old at the time and now lives in Canada, has been trying to identify those soldiers and is being helped by his friend Doreen Miller, who is Canadian but lives in Devon.

The soldiers left their names, and two left photographs. A previous story in the Star has led to one of those who left a photo being positively identified as Shropshire soldier David Underwood, who lived at the long-disappeared 9 New Row in Hinkshay, and was serving in REME, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

The other photograph is of a soldier wearing the cap badge of the Princess Irene Regiment.

Who is he? The mystery soldier wearing the cap badge of the Princess Irene Regiment.

Doreen said: "I have been trying to find an organisation that may hold the Princess Irene army records. I read that the Dutch Crown Jewels were kept in Wolverhampton during the war for safe keeping. I believe the Dutch soldiers were given the Freedom of the City. I would like his photo printed, so perhaps someone may recognise him.

"The soldiers with Dutch ancestry were recruited from all over the world for Princess Irene. I still haven't been able to find out if they all had their own country cap badges, or is it that once they were in Wolverhampton they all wore the same cap badge?"

Doreen has been in touch with the REME museum.

"The only soldier the REME museum could not identify was the soldier with the Dutch cap badge."

If you can identify the soldier, or shed light on the Dutch Crown Jewels being kept in Wolverhampton, drop me a line at toby.neal@mnamedia.co.uk by email.

Those events of October 1944 were at the homestead of the Gibbels family at Sint-Oedenrode, which is north of Eindhoven.

Twenty years ago Jan Gibbels tried to find out more about that group of 15 soldiers, but died without solving the riddle. The baton was taken up by his nephew, Tony VanDijk, who was too young to have any memory of the events at his grandparents' stable. Tony's family emigrated to Canada when he was about seven.

Top Stories

More from the Shropshire Star

UK & International News