War remembered part 1

 I was just nine years old when the war came to our village in the north of Holland in May 1940 and I clearly remember the victorious invading German army on motorbikes, in trucks, and on bicycles, streaming past on their way to the capital. Fast they were but not fast enough to catch our Royal Family who managed to escape to Great Britain for a better life and to fight another day. The occupation had an immediate impact on our family as the invaders for reasons best known to themselves decided to install a big monster of an anti-aircraft gun right at the backdoor of our house. Consequently we had to move not in the manner of the Royal Family to a friendly country but down the road to an unoccupied farmhouse, fortunately rather close to the canal where my father earned his living as a fisherman.

The owner of this farm house still used the land that came with the property where he kept a pair of very unpleasant horses, but he no longer lived at the house. I cannot remember him all that clearly but he must have been a staunch member of the Dutch Reformed Church as when we moved in he had a sign painted on our gate saying [in Dutch of course] “Dear God bring peace to this land again”.

I suppose the sign was there to remind his God that there was work to be done to counteract the statement on the German soldier belts which said [in German of course] ‘God is with us’.

The sign on the gate however had an effect not foreseen by the landlord. It made every passing cyclist laugh and people stopped their bicycles to take in the sign. It was an embarrassment to me as I hated being laughed at but the rest of the family did not seem to care all that much. I suppose it was a double dip for me as I had been an atheist since the age of four, possibly five when I first realised Saint Nicholas was the neighbour from down the road. After a year or so the defenders of our coast decided that the anti-aircraft gun at the backdoor of our house was not really where they wanted it to be and it was moved to a more strategic location somewhere in Germany, possibly near Berlin, which allowed us to move back whence we had come.

Meanwhile via the mysterious communication chain that existed at that time the allied force was not told that the gun had been moved or that we had moved back into our house and a modest aeroplane was sent over to drop a bomb on our house which fortunately missed by a small margin but came close enough to take the roof away and made us move back to the house with the sign on the gate. I wondered at the time whether it might have been some obscure message from some malicious supernatural power, set out to punish an unbeliever, a power I had not taken into account when I became an atheist.


War remembered part 2

Part 2 In 1943 the air war against German cities really took off with American daylight raids and British attacks at night. As a child of 13 it seemed to me that every single aeroplane the allies could put into the air flew directly over our house on their way to Hamburg, Berlin, Bremen, or Hanover to sow death and destruction amongst the poor sods that lived at the end destination.

This theory of mine was heavily disputed by my fellow school mates who strongly believed that every allied plane flew directly over their houses and on reflection we may all have been right as the flight corridor of the numerous aircraft formations must have been kilometres wide.

The over flights started on good days at 9 or 10 in the morning with American B17 flying fortresses, finishing at about 12 at which stage the first groups started to return and then followed the stragglers damaged by the defences desperately trying to get home. Then in the evening at dusk the night bombers started to come over with the same pattern appearing. It was those stragglers in the afternoon and early morning that were the most terrifying. They would often just simply crash, or jettison their bombs, or be shot down by night fighters for which they were easy picking.

I was so traumatised by this continuous ordeal that, one night when a bomb from one of those stragglers was dropped right beside our house, I was not even surprised or terrified. I think I must have been expecting it.

This huge explosion took the roof away and left me looking at the stars. It also pushed the front door to the top of the stairs so that when I made my way down I stepped on the door which took me all the way to the passage at ground floor level, a scene Oliver Hardy would have been proud of. I remember my mother and father who slept downstairs, asking me if I was alright and I being unable to know even where to begin. Naturally all this taking place in the pitch blackness of the night.

In the morning when dawn arrived, we finally were able to survey the broken windows, the shattered roof tiles, and the displaced front door, and admire the huge hole in the ground that was left on the other side of the canal.

During the day and the following weeks we became the centre of the attention of neighbours and ghouls which my father had difficulty keeping from wandering in through the now defunct front entry.

This and subsequent attacks by fighter aircraft on the nearby bridge and the ships that sailed on the canal, left me in a state of cold hatred for the invaders of my country and for those who were trying to liberate us. It was only years later, long after the war, when I saw the senseless devastation to places like Hamburg, Hannover, and Dresden that I could feel compassion and sorrow for the German people who had suffered this terrible ordeal




War remembered part 3

3 The thing that I remember most about the war years of 1939 to 1945 was the constant fear I lived under almost from day one. This was no doubt due to the fact that I was a coward and was trying to hide that very point from my family and school friends. I was 9 years old when the war started, and still only 14 when it finished, but during these 6 years the fear of getting killed was always there, sometimes in the back ground sometimes right out in the open.

First there were the occupying troops with their menacing black boots and their evil looking helmets marching up and down the roads that once had been so peaceful. Even the songs they sang as they marched sounded menacing.

They terrified me.

Then as the occupation dragged on and resistance groups sprang up I became somehow involved with taking and receiving messages for the communist underground and with the distribution of their illegal newssheets. The paper was called ‘De Waarheid’ [the truth] The distribution was done in the evening just before the curfew. It added spice to being a paperboy to some of my friends but to me it was an ordeal almost every time I went out.

One of the more disconcerting things that happened as the war progressed was that things kept falling out of the sky. First there were the spent cartridges spewed out by fighter aircraft in combat, then as the air war progressed bunches of silver paper were dropped by the allied passing aircraft during the night. We as children used to collect them [as we did the cartridges] but what were they for? Then a more explicable thing occurred, when the allies developed a fighter plane that could accompany and protect the bombers as they crossed

the coast they were issued with disposable fuel tanks which the dropped off when they engaged in combat. Often the tanks that littered the country side had some, sometimes a lot, of aviation fuel left in it. They were an object of desire for my dad. He had an ancient single cylinder engine [no reverse] in his boat, for he was unable to buy fuel and quite often the tanks that littered the country side had some, sometimes a lot of aviation fuel left in it. And boy did this high octane stuff make his boat go! Sadly the occupiers also collected the fuel and turned nasty when we got there before they did.
But the most terrifying thing was being attacked or feared of being attacked by fighter aircraft.
Towards the end of the war marauding fighter aircraft could attack even the smallest vessel on the canal particularly after the allied battle of Arnhem in September 44. Trains were of course favourite targets and were attacked well before the ill-fated railway strike of 1944. As I travelled by local steam tram to and from home in my first year in high school I was in constant panic mode on the train ready to leap into the canal at even the distant sound of an aeroplane.
Fortunately Bello was never attacked but I was certainly relieved when they closed down the schools and I could stay home. Relieved only to a certain extent as I was now free, my dad took me with him on his fishing trips and out there on the canal the danger was just as great.