Help! The Cossacks are coming! Hide your wives, nubile daughters, and young maidservants! Hide your gold and other valuables and bring your horses and cows to dark and well hidden places in the forest!

Holland 1813: Once in the good Netherlands, the Cossacks / Bashkirs soon became known as a half-wild, filthy stinking drunkards, rude women chasers, overeaters, robbers, looters and fighting machines. Kozak soon became a word of abuse, which stands for stupid, crude, violent and overbearing.

But the Bashkirs (= beekeepers) were first and foremost well-trained and courageous soldiers who, on their fast horses, could suddenly appear behind enemy lines to sow panic and destruction. Then they left as quickly as they had arrived. By distributing this type of morally undermining pin pricks, they were of great value to the ‘regular’ Russian troops. During the Napoleon invasion of Russia, the Cossacks were the ones most feared by the French troops.

The Bashkirs were born horsemen and terrifying hussars: ‘In the battle, the basque arrow quiver pulls from the back for the chest, takes two arrows between the teeth and places four on the bow, which he successively shoots at speed; then he leans forward on the horse and runs off the enemy with a fierce spear and a frightening scream.’ (quote from Winkler Prins encyclopedia 1870)

spotprent 1813 Basjkieren
Dutch cartoon from 1813 with a ferocious Cossack (of course on horseback) who is piercing Napoleon on his spear.

Their rapid advance through the north and east of our country also proved that the Bashkirs were fierce fighters. On November 10, 1813, twelve to fifteen hundred Cossacks had gathered at the German Neuenhaus, above Nordhorn. Two days later the first ones already popped up for the IJssel. Their strategy was to rush the French across the river as quickly as possible and then move on to the west until finally to Paris. That worked wonderfully well. On May 21, 1814, the entire Netherlands was permanently liberated from the French.

The Bashkirs also started chasing the fleeing French. The Cossacks at Wijhe had the greatest difficulty in crossing the IJssel. At a narrow point in the river a ship bridge was built of more than twenty turn ships, over which the Cossacks could march with horse and all. To prevent them from slipping, branches were laid between the ships. The mayor was put under pressure to confiscate the (deck) ships.

The place where the bridge reached Veessens side of the river is still called the ‘cossack crib’. No fewer than three hundred Cossacks then camped in Wijhe, many of whom stayed until Christmas. After the bridge was finished on November 26, Wijhe became a transit booth where soldiers could rest for a few days.

The Bashkirs who had already crossed the IJssel advanced further to Amsterdam. There they accompanied the Prince of Orange, later King William I, at his festive reception by the Amsterdam population. Because William I was proclaimed the first Sovereign Prince of the Free Netherlands on that day in Amsterdam by the provisional city council, the way was cleared for our modern, constitutional monarchy.

Unfortunately, no national liberation monument was erected anywhere. It is a forgotten liberation.

But now there is a statue of a proud Bashkir on horseback on the banks of the IJssel in Veessen. To commemorate that the Bashkirs have made an important contribution to the founding of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Sources: ‘Help! The Cossacks come’ By Lo vd Wal adhv (the book of) Anne Aalders: ‘With felled lance and loose rein’; Cossacks in the Netherlands 1813-1814

Koning Willem I, in kroningsmantel, detail.
King Willem I, the first Dutch king of The Netherlands, detail

Thanks to

Gemeente Olst-Wijhe
Gemeente Heerde
Citta Slow Heerde