Eightieth anniversary of Queen presenting colours to Royal Dutch forces at Wrottesley

The August 1941 Wolverhampton Express and Star front page photograph of Queen Wilhelmina and Prince Bernhard at the ceremony where she presented colours to the Royal Dutch forces at their Wrottesley Park base

By Angus Dunphy and Jim Barrow

August 27th is the 80th anniversary of the Queen of the Netherlands presenting colours to Royal Dutch forces based at Wrottesley Park on Wolverhampton’s Western outskirts.

It had become the main Dutch base in Britain as an area of parkland with mature deciduous trees dominating the perimeters of the estate and stands of trees elsewhere was transformed into a purpose-built camp for 1,500 plus military personnel in 1941.

A landscape, created by former Baron Wrottesleys became sleeping quarters, canteens, a cinema, NAAFI, barrack Protestant and RC churches, medical centre, a post office, headquarters building, guard posts and technical workshops. 

Drainage ditches were dug to connect with headwaters of the River Penk and an extensive road system laid down. 

Wrottesley Park Road, which became Koningen Wilhelmina Straat, was driven through to connect with the A41 and a secure camp guard post was erected.

On Wednesday 27th August 1941 the deeply loved and respected Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands arrived to inspect her troops and take the salute.  

She was pictured on the front page of the Express & Star newspaper later that week “somewhere in the Midlands” presenting the colours to her battalion – named after her second grandchild as The Princess Irene Brigade. 

The disguising of the location – presumably under wartime censorship – was somewhat undermined by the report inside the newspaper.

It listed the deputy mayor, town clerk and various councillors from Wolverhampton Council as being present along with the matron, medical officer of health when the Queen visited “a municipal hospital where two wards are set aside for the treatment of 50 or 60 Dutch service men patients.”

This was New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, where the Netherlands Military Hospital treated more than 3,500 officers and other ranks of the Royal Netherlands forces and merchant navy.

Her Royal Highness Princess Juliana of the Netherlands also visited the hospital on the 27th September 1944.

While there and at Wrottesley Queen Wilhelmina made a point of talking to ordinary soldiers – as did her son-in-law, Prince Bernhard, when he visited. 

Wrottesley was never static with units coming and going. Airmen left to train with the RAF, naval personnel to serve on Dutch warships, including submarines escaped from the Nazi attack on their country; commandos to train in Scotland. 

The Dutch camp and surrounds after the war – a map reproduced  from Angus Dunphy’s book The Princess Irene Brigade at Wrottesley Park 1941-1944

The extensive camp lay immediately south of the A41 (Corser’s Rough) and extended a small way across what is today Wrottesley Park Road. 

East it ran to the line of the River Penk 400 yards short of Yew Tree Lane and to the south it extended virtually to the Pear Tree and Partridge pub (Smith’s Rough).

Very little remains today with buildings gone; undergrowth and scrub recolonising the site. One or two grassed areas remain, odd piles of bricks, cement barrack bases or lines of drainage ditches. 

It is not difficult to visualise a Dutch soldier billeted here in a damp autumn/winter, far from home and family knowing your country is occupied and your freedoms curtailed by vigorous training programmes. 

However, a Dutch documentary film probably gives a wartime view of life there.

1943-6-15 Documentairefilm van de Prinses Irene Brigade in Engeland. 

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Description automatically generated1943-6-15 Documentairefilm van de Prinses Irene Brigade in Engeland.By Herman van den Bossche
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In an earlier Friends of the Wolverhampton Archives’ newsletter Jim Barrow wrote about the Hush Now theatre project based on the lives of women and their babies in Wolverhampton’s mother and baby homes – also sometimes called Magdalene homes.

That project resulted in an online production about the homes filmed and acted at the Newhampton Arts Centre and on location around Wolverhampton by the Feral Productions group and their director, Estelle van Warmelo, who was stationed there.

South African personnel came and went as the camp trained for a return to Europe in 1944. Early in that year General Montgomery visited to inspect.

Camp life was busy with a bugle call echoing through the darkness, before ablutions, route marches, breakfast and then training and more training. 

Evenings, when free, could be spent at numerous camp entertainments or in Wolverhampton. Transport was by special bus, although most seem to have cycled. The Rock (known as the Alps) provided a hindrance to the return journey.

Some who went through the camp made the ultimate sacrifice but people of Codsall, Tettenhall Wood and Wolverhampton were generous in friendship as together they fought a common enemy.

The friendship was reinforced on another August day – Saturday August 19th 2006 -when Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor John Davis, bestowed The Freedom of Wolverhampton on the regiment to the most senior ranking veteran of the Princess Irene Brigade Association.

It is still possible to walk through part of Wrottesley’s past via the bridlepath that run from the junction of the A41 Wergs Road and Yew Tree Lane past The Grange and into the area below Corser’s Rough.

Once through the old metal gates and further along the bridleway and off it are concrete bases to parts of the camp with the Wrottesley Park Natural Burial Ground now to the right.

A path to the left beyond this area takes you past foundations and brickwork from other buildings but the bridleway and paths may not be suitable for those with mobility issues especially after heavy rain.

The entry to the natural burial ground on Wrottesley Park Road is  another way into the area and it can also be accessed close to the Pear and Partridge pub.

It leads alongside the River Penk where there is a somewhat dishevelled information board by one of the wooden bridges over the Penk showing Penk Meadow and a detail showing a plan of the camp.

grateful for the presence here of the Princess Irene Brigade. It is a pity that there is no monument acknowledging their presence. Perhaps one might be erected?

Angus Dunphy’s book The Princess Irene Brigade at Wrottesley Park 1941-1944  – a quality production of 137 pages has many photographs, maps and cartoons done by the soldiers for their own newspaper. 

Price £16 from Angus Dunphy at 8, Chestnut Close, Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan, CF64 4TJ.

Anyone who might be interested in walking the area of the camp on or around the time of the 80th anniversary can also contact Jim for further information.

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