Area 20: In memory of the Dutch hero

  1. Extract from Queen Wilhelmina’s speech
  2. Title page of Life (Het Leven) (IMG, The Hague)
  3. Title page of La Tribuna Illustrata (IMG, The Hague)
  4. Thomson monument in Durrës in 1923 (S/T Collection, Leiden)
  5. Bust of Thomson in Groningen (City Archives, Groningen)
  6. Thomson monument in The Hague in 1918 (City Archives, The Hague)

In her speech to officers and other ranks on 1 July 1914 in Groningen, Queen Wilhelmina mentioned Thomson in the same breath with Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the founder of Batavia in the Netherlands East Indies and Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter, naval hero and founder of the modern Dutch navy (A). In spite of the threat that the Dutch peacekeeping mission in Albania would fail, inspiration was drawn from the courageous actions of the Dutch officers in the service of civilisation. Hero worship can, however, blind one to the historical context of their mission and even twist the facts. Eyewitnesses, for example, reported that Thomson was hit in the front although he was behind the front line and with his back to the trench, but the Life (Het Leven) reported, he died in the front line (B). In Durrës, an Italian sniper was suspected; in a popular Italian publication, he died in the saddle, hit by an Albanian bullet (C). Our picture of the mission appears to be at least partly determined by the creation of half truths. That led to the historical myth of the Dutch hero Thomson and his comrades versus the perfidious Albanian traitor Essad Pasha and his henchmen.

Nevertheless, it is good to pause to reflect by the Thomson monuments. The statue in Durrës (D) was unfortunately taken down in the early days of the Albanian cultural revolution. Today a bronze duplicate of his bust in Groningen (E) stands on the spot. The Thomson monument in the eponymous square in The Hague (F), that underscores the unity of people and army, happily again became a place of remembrance in 2004. To mark that occasion, the exhibition “Colonel Thomson and Albania” presents a provisional view of a Dutch peacekeeping mission in the Balkans, 1913-1914.  Provisional because we do not yet know enough about the internal Albanian relationships in those ‘dark years’. It certainly gives one something to think about in relation to Dutch peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and elsewhere.