Dutchman’s appeal for relatives of Melton soldier killed in wartime explosion 75 years ago

Melton man Lawrence Copley Hart, who was killed in an explosion in Holland while serving with the army in May 1945 EMN-200124-105348001
Melton man Lawrence Copley Hart, who was killed in an explosion in Holland while serving with the army in May 1945 EMN-200124-105348001
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A Dutchman is carrying out an investigation to find out more about a Melton man and his 12 fellow British servicemen who were killed in an explosion in his home town in Holland 75 years ago.

Lawrence Copley Hart was aged just 24 when he died while helping to round up and disarm defeated German soldiers in the city of Hilversum, just two days after VE Day celebrations to mark the end of the Second World War.

The graves of British soldiers killed in an explosion in Holland while serving with the army in May 1945 EMN-200124-105408001

The graves of British soldiers killed in an explosion in Holland while serving with the army in May 1945 EMN-200124-105408001

Enemy troops were ordered to remove mines and shells from a lorry but when one of them tossed a mine on to a pile of others it caused a devastating blast which created a massive crater and wiped out Private Hart and his colleagues.

They are buried at a cemetery at Hilversum and now resident Meindert Tepper is keen to find out more about the men and, if possible, trace their relatives.

Mr Tepper is hoping to make contact with people related to Private Hart, who was the youngest son of Tom Kemp Hart and Alice Hart, of 14 Eastfield Avenue, Melton.

He told the Melton Times: “There are graves of British soldiers in Hilversum and I want to give these fallen soldiers a face.

The graves of British soldiers killed in an explosion in Holland while serving with the army in May 1945 EMN-200124-105358001

The graves of British soldiers killed in an explosion in Holland while serving with the army in May 1945 EMN-200124-105358001

“I’m hoping that readers of the Melton Times remember relatives of Private Hart and that they get in touch with me.”

Private Hart enlisted with the 1st Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment in 1942 and news of his tragic death was reported in the Melton Times in May 1945.

The article read: ‘Mr & Mrs T K Hart of 14 Eastfield Avenue Melton, this week received news that their youngest son, Pte Lawrie Hart, had been killed in Holland.

‘Pte Hart was a popular Melton singer.

‘He had been a member of the Melton Operatic Society for about six years and sang in the choir of the Sherrard Street Methodist Church.

‘Aged 24, Pte Hart had been in the forces for three years. he went to France about 10 months ago.

‘After leaving school he served his apprenticeship with Messrs E Clarke & Sons, Snow Hill, Melton until he was called up.’

It is not known whether the explosion which killed Private Hart and his comrades was an accident or a deliberate act of defiance by the German soldier involved.

One of the survivors of the incident was John ‘Dixie’ Dean, a member of the same battalion of the Leicestershires, who wrote a poignant account of what happened.

In it he recalled how the soldiers arrived on May 9 in Hilversum and were mobbed by ‘delirious’ locals who were so pleased to see them because the Germans had robbed them of everything and left them on the verge of starvation.

The next day the German troops dumped their guns and weapons in a pile with the war declared to be over.

He wrote how they were then moving mines from the back of a lorry while being supervised by the British soldiers, including Private Hart.

“No sooner had I got there than there was a terrific bang,” Mr Dean states in his account.

“I was blown off my feet together with several Germans who were stacking their rifles.

“I got up thankfully unhurt and dashed over to the lorry, which had been blown on its side together with the trailer.

“I found a crater about six feet deep and some four yards wide.

“I set the survivors, who were all dazed, to work to extricate the wounded. Sadly there were very few.

“After a roll call it was found that 11 men of the Mortar Platoon and two men of the Anti-Tank Platoon were missing, believed killed.

“A number of Germans were also killed.”

He added: “After this unfortunate happening, a feeling of gloom came over everyone, particulary the men of the Mortar Platoon who had lost so many of their comrades.

“They had travelled together all the way from the beaches of Normandy without a scratch and then, two days after it was all over, lost their lives so tragically.”

Local Dutch people lined the streets of the city two days later as military lorries carrying the bodies of Private Hart and the other victims were driven to the cemetery where they were laid to rest, with locals continuing to bring flowers to their graves.

Victims of the blast at Hilversum on May 10, 1945 were:

MORTAR PLATOON - Pte Lawrence Copley Hart (24), Pte Thonas Atkin (28), Cpl Jack Fisher (25), Pte Henry Hall (28), L Sgt Owen Hartshorn (24), Pte Vernon Langley (27), Pte Edward Obeney, L Cpl Samuel Onion (31), Pte Donald Wain (27), L Cpl Roy Walley (29), Cpl Lewis Whitehall (32).

ANTI-TANK PLATOON - Pte Robert Hyde (23) and Pte Ronald Wood (26).

If you are related to Lawrence Copley Hart or you know someone who might be please email Mr Tepper at m.e.tepper@gmail.com with the details.