On 27 September 1944 F/S Walter Randall was on a Rhubarb mission over Holland. His Tempest Mk. V EJ611 was hit by flak and he had to force land south west of Zwolle. This is his story, being hidden by the Dutch resistance for 6 months.
Thanks to Walter for sharing his story and photos, as well to his son Phil for making it possible.
It is a fine Indian summer afternoon in early September 1997 and Joyce, my wife, and I are relaxing in the garden. Joyce is reading, while I study the cumulus clouds which are dotting the otherwise blue sky, and watch the occasional jet aircraft as they cross over us, on their way to land at Gatwick, a few miles up the road from our house. Gradually, I realise that there is a different aircraft noise, one from the past, the throb of a pist
on engine, which as it becomes louder, is the unmistakable sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Sure enough, within minutes a lone Spitfire passes overhead, probably on its way to an air display. As it gradually disappears in the distance, old memories are stirred, and, as I begin to dose in the warm sun time turns back.
It was such a September day in 1944, on the RAF airfield at Coltishall in Norfolk, when, we, the aircrew of No 274 Fighter squadron, were relaxing in the dispersal hut, waiting for something to happen. We knew that we were shortly to move to Holland to join the tactical force in Europe,
We were a varied bunch from all corners of Britain, and overseas, all very young. I doubt if anyone had seen their 30th birthday, except perhaps the squadron adjutant, who was possibly an ancient 35. I remember, Nobby came from Cornwall, Ben from Scotland, two others from Canada, an Australian, a Dane, myself from Sussex and others from the Midlands and the North of England.There were about twenty of us in all, some were Flying Officers and Flight Lieutenants while many were, as I was, N C 0 flight-Sergeant pilots.and meanwhile were in reserve in case any sudden action was required.
The time was being passed in various ways, some were writing letters to girl friends and families, four were in a rather heated game of bridge, Nobby was playing a rather battered piano, and others were chatting among themselves about various subjects like jazz records, the latest
films and what we could do in the evening, as we were confined to camp until our movement orders came through. I had just completed filling in the squadron flying records, one of the jobs ‘I had been given on joining the squadron, and was sitting contemplating my pimihinsituation.
I had joined the RAF in 1941, after the historical Battle of Britain had taken place, inspired, no doubt from a boyhood interest in flying, something, which in normal prewar conditions I had little hope of ever suceeding in accomplishing. This was the opportunity, and despite the obvious dangers that would be faced, I took it.
I knew also, that if I waited to be called up, as was inevitable at the age of 18. I would, as a Bank Clerk possibly spend years in the Army Pay corps or end up in the infantry. Anyway, I was accepted for aircrew training, and over the next two years was sent to the USA to learn to fly and after successfully gaining my 'wings" returned to England for operational training, much to my delight on the very Spitfires that had so inspired me originally.
Right; Walter Randall in the US during his training to fly in 1942.
Walter Randall in the centre having just gained his “wings” and being “admired” by his two friends!
Eventually, in July 1944 I found myself posted to join No 501 County of Goucester Squadron, at Goodwood, near Chichester. They were flying low level Spitfire VB's and were being used as escorts to low level bombers sweeping over northern France. Things were quiet at this time, and although I made several trips, the German opposition did not appear. He heard rumours that we would shortly be re-equipped with newer aircraft, as ours were affectionally known as "Clipped. cropped and clapped" (ie the wings were were clipped to give higher manoeuverability low down, the superchargers were also modified to give better performance, and they were old. so the Merlin engines were past their prime).
Sure enough, we arrived on dispersal one morning to find a line of brand new Hawker Tempest aircraft had arrived. These were the latest and one of the fastest propellor driven aircraft of the war and we spent the next few days finding out how well they behaved.
The powers that be decided that we should move to Manston in Kent where we were told that the squadron was to become a night fighter squadron. as the faster aircraft were need to combat the flying bombs which the Germans were sending over in large numbers, both by day and night. Specialist pilots were being drafted in, so the bulk of us were transferred enbloc to No 274 Squadron based just opposite to us on the field, and which also had the new Tempests. From here we also found ourselves patrolling along Kent and Sussex to intercept "Divers" as they were known in the trade. As there was a first line of defence over the Channel,and then the Ack Ack guns on the coast, not many got through to us, although some of the squadron members did destroy some. one by tipping it up with his wing tip.
By now it was September, the battle at Arnhem had been lost and the Allies were preparing for a second try at crossing the Rhine and, we hoped finishing the war very soon. This is why we were sitting in dispersal, waiting for it all to happen.
I was just contemplating what our chances of survival would be, once we saw some real action, and thinking some of us was bound to be on the list to go down. Maybe it wouldn't be me "I'm only new here", I thought. Then it might be Nobby or Ben or any one.
My thoughts were rudely shattered by Jonny, my flight commander appearing from the office. "Wally, what about a trip". He was organising a little jaunt to Holland and needed four of us in all to make up a "Rhubarb" (a technical name for a low level sweep over enemy territory, looking for targets on the ground.) "Purely optional" he said. So. in about 15 minutes, I found myself, be-helmeted, lugging my parachute as fast as I could to my alloted aircraft, which seemed to be the farthest on the end of the line. By the time I had finished the clambering up wings, the juggling of ones-self into the cockpit, the strapping up, the plugging in and the 101 other preparations that have to be made before a scramble, I was feeling little hot under the collar. It was one of those close thundery days, and although it hadn't rained, there were black puffy cumulus clouds piled high all round, and with little wind. The atmosphere tended to be oppressive; I think we all noticed it although no one had mentioned the foreboding effect it had on us.
However, these thoughts soon vanished as I pressed the starter, the cartridge fired, the propellor turned, and the 2200 H P engine burst in to life. We took off in twos and the four of us were soon climing out over the sea. It looked cold and green in the fitful September sun; I listened to the sound of the engine, and all seeemd well; I checked the instruments, shook off my earlier forebodings and settled down to the job in hand.
The coast of Holland came up as a dark streak on the horizon in no time at all, then it was a green strip, with yellow sand dunes skirting the edge, the black clouds obscuring the land behind. We spread out, and started to look around more than previously; we were dodging clouds, not always successfully, it had started to rain as we scudded low across the Zuider Zee. We passed Amsterdam on our left, a huddle of houses and chimneys on the edge of a green landscape and a grey cold mass of water, on which one or two small boats were slowly moving.
Now we were over land again, over forests, fields, streams, little red houses and canals. Our mission was to seek out and attack any form of transport likely to be used by the enemy for supply purposes, and up till now we had seen little sign of any road or rail traffic.
However a small plume of smoke appeared beneath us, and Jonny recognised that a freight train was a target. As we made our initial dive towards the target we could see that we had been observed as the protecting guns in the last truck of the train started to chatter and we saw the vivid colours of the tracers coming up at us against the now dark leaden sky.
My God, how vivid they were, but, this was it and there was no going back, so I turned in and followed Jonny down in a screaming dive, levelling my sights at the cannon in the train. I pressed my gun button and the four cannon in the wings started to spurt their fire. However the tracer swept nearer and, suddenly there was an ominous bump, the whole aircraft shuddered, and the engine began to splutter.
I thought frantically, "This is it,no it isn't, the engine's still going. Oh God, it's stopped, what a fix. I must call the boys, press the transmit button, Hallo Jonny, I've been hit. Making for Arnhem, I hope."
I had pulled away to the south, and managed to climb back up to 5000 feet. But although the Sabre was still firing fitfully I realise it wouldn't last, and soon I was gliding down quite rapidly, a six ton fighter does not make a good glider. I would have to either bale out or find a field soon in which to make a forced landing. Everywhere seemed to be forest. There was a road (no good, too narrow). There was a clearing, it looked very rough but it would have to do.
Meanwhile I could here Johnny enquiring my whereabouts, but I had no time to answer, except to say that I've had my chips, or words to that effect, and to receive a rep1y. "Best of luck old boy hope you get away with it".
The clearing became nearer and nearer; and I saw the bumps, the tree stumps, the bushes and the pine trees overlooking the all too small space. The propellor was windmilling uselessly in front of me, I checked the approach speed 110 MPH, flaps down, keep the undercart up, level out,stick gently back, nose slightly up and bingo, we touched down.
I watched in stupified amazement as the four bladed propellor wrapped itself round the nose of the aircraft, and was then thrown helplessly around as the aircraft slithered in a shuddering crashing slide over the uneven ground. As I stopped the tail suddenly lifted and for a moment I was afraid it would turn the aircraft over on its back. I was lucky, and slowly it subsided back on the ground, and I sat there amid a deathly silence, in the wreck of what had once been an aircraft. There was no fire, thank goodness, as it took a few minutes for me to gather my wits and call up on the radio that I was OK. I received no reply, probably the landing had shatterd the radio. (However I discovered much later that my message had been received, as I was reported "Missing believed safe.")
I slowly removed my chute and helmet and climed out to survey my surroundings, and to decide what on earth to do next.
We had been issued with certain items that could be used in the event of a situation such as this, and I had flying boots which could easily be converted into ordinary shoes, a set of photos which could be used for false identity papers, and a small escape kit (this was a pack about 6 inches square and linch thick, which could be carried in the breast pocket, and which contained items of concentrated food, plus some sort of adrenalin drug and a razor). I also had a small compass. I had to get away, as soon as possible.
The edge of the forest was a few hundred yards off at the nearest point, while away to the north I could just make out the
houses of a village, and all around me was the most uneven ground, scrub, tree stumps and potholes, reminiscent of parts of the New Forest. I felt lucky to have survived the landing.
I only had a vague idea of exactly where I was, but I knew that to the south were the British, and that was the obvious direction to take. I also realised that the greater the distance I put between me and the aircraft, the less would be the chance of being caught by the enemy.
I was at that time however, under a very false impression of the distribution of enemy troops and police in the country and was fully convinced that every crossroad was watched and every road constantly patrolled byarmed motor cyclists or mobile ack ack units and it was this that deciced me to keep to the woods as much as possible, and avoid all people , Dutch or otherwise. However,while I was still considering the problems in my mind I heard them ---- hounds baying, men shouting ,and one or two rifle shots: My heart once more tended to leap into my mouth, and I was galvanised into action. I had thought of destroying the aircraft, but decided that any smoke or flame would give my position away, so, seizing anything I thought would be of any use to me, and that was reasonably portable. I crammed my battledress pockets, and made off to the nearest trees as quickly as the uneven ground would allow. Here I felt a little safer, but I was still far from clear, so remembering the little compass I had carried with me for such a purpose. I set off through the undergrowth in the general direction of Arnhem.
It began to rain again, at first a few drops, and then very heavily. I cursed my luck. but continued on at a very slow pace I could hear the dogs and shots and they seemed to be approaching rapidly. I came across a narrow path which I decided to follow. It became a sandy road which I began to run along. By now I was soaked to the skin and was dreading any minute to meet a motorcycle or car.
I became short of breath eventually and began to walk. The dogs were quieter now and I began to hope that the combination of the rain and good luck had defeated them. I suppose I walked for an hour or so and it was beginning to darken; the rain was easing up a bit, but I was still soaked to the skin and felt very wet and miserable when I saw ahead of me a few houses huddled together in the trees. At once I was cautious and re-entered the wood to skirt -ound them, but discovered to my dismay that there was a large clearing which it would be impossible to cross without the chance of being observed. I considered my problem for some time before deciding to approach a little to discover perhaps if anybody inhabited the place. At first I expected at any moment to be challenged by a sentry at the supposed outpost, but as I progressed, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling, nothing untoward happened, and I gained a little confidence in myself. "Perhaps there's no one there, maybe Dutch cottages".
By now I had approached what I imagined was the back yard of the nearest house. I could see that there were but three tiny bungalows of about four rooms and no sign of life about them. However I could see that the one I had picked for my investigations was lived in for there were chicken in the yard and a cycle propped against the wall and curtains in the windows. I assumed that the owners must be away for a few days or out with friends for the evening. I went on to the next bungalow, trying doors, looking through windows and generally nosing around.
It was in the same condition as the previous one, and I was just about to pay a visit to the third when I heard the noise of a cycle on the rough track. I waited expectantly, ready to bolt at the slightest hint that the rider had seen me when I realised that it was a Dutch worker returning home, for the door of the third bungalow opened to disgorge a couple of small children and their mother, who greeted the husband and closeted themselves in the house once more.
That sight of the cheery fireside started me considering again, and I must have sat for some time on the veranda of the unoccupied house lost in thought. The clouds had cleared and the moon was shining its watery light over the dark mysterious and wholly unknown country. I decided to take stock of my possessions and, after emptying my clothing I summed up my assets as, my emergency action pack with the compass, razor, a few maps of the area, a first aid kit, the clothes I stood up in, some loose change, and faith and blind hope.
I decided to investigate the house a little further, and after much fumbling found that a small window to a sort of sun room which was not connected to the rest of the house by a door, was unlatched. It had been a bedroom, for the bed (or rather the bedstead) was still there, together with a trunk and a small white Chest of drawers. Being still cold and wet and miserable I decided to force my way in to rest and dry off a little and work out a definite plan of action. Previuosly I had considered taking the cycle and boldly riding down the road in the hope that I would remain unchallenged. That, I decided was a little too risky, as I would have to wait until morning and people might see me leave. I then thought that perhaps I should force off into the woods again by night, and if there were only a few Germans about, approach one of the local inhabitants in the morning ,and trust that he was "friendly". I couldn't speak the language, but with English and and a little schoolboy German, I hoped I could get by. I don't know how long I lay there on those bare springs, covered by a piece of old mackintosh and a table cloth, but I'm sure I dozed off in between fits of reconsidering my previous decisions. I had finally made up my mind to take the cycle and chance it when I heard a noise. It was the sound of a key turning in the front door. I heard the the voices of a man and a woman, who were quite obbviuosly returning from a visit to a neighbour. I listened with batd breath, not daring to move lest they should hear me and come to investigate the noises. However they had nosuspiscions, and after moving around for some time all became quiet and I assumed that they had retired for the night:
"It's time I was moving" I thought, so, carefully donning my jacket, I crept out of the window as quietly as possible. I'm no burglar however and the little noise I did make appalled me.
However outside all was quiet,except for the drip drip of the water from the gutters, and the occasional rustle from some midnight prowling animal. Then throwing all caution to the winds, I gave up all my previous ideas and took a long shot. I tapped on the door and waited, hoping I had done the right
thing. There was an answer from inside asking I presume, who it was. I could not reply,so I went to the window and looked in. The man of the house saw me and made for the front door, and I followed with some foreboding, wishing I had not been so impetuous . However I'd made my mind up so it had to be done now. He opened the door, a smallish inoffensive man of early middle age who probably said "who is it and what do you want". I pointed to my wings and said "English, English" in a sort of hushed whisper. At once he answered in my own tongue. "Ah good evening,we have been expecting you, come in, my wife said only this evening that a Tommy had come down." I felt both releived and afraid: releived because of my friendly greeting and afraid because the news of my unexpected arrival had travelled so fast. I enterd. The room was warm and cosy decorated as only the Dutch can decorate, and furnished very simply with one or two chairs, a table, built in cupboards and with a fireplace unique to Holland.
I met the chap's wife, a buxom woman of about 40 who also spoke English and requested me to sit by the fire and dry myself , for I was still quite damp. They offered me food, but in the excitment of the last few hours, even though I had not eaten since midday, my appetite had deserted me. However, I managed a roll and a cup of cocoa, and as I ate, conveyed to them my unfortunate plight. We burned some of the maps I had, and after asking for some advice as to what to do next, spread out the parts of the maps I had, which covered the local area. I pointed to an area near a village of Heerde and said I thought that I was somewhere there. The Dutchman agreed. "I shall need some clothes, and perhaps you can get in touch with some members of the underground who can help me" I said. The chap talked this over with his wife in their own tongue and finally said in English: "We know a doctor in the next village who will help, but we can't get in touch till the morning. Meanwhile my wife will visit our friends who have a place you may hide in. With that, the woman slipped out into the night and I was left talking to the man, telling him of my life, where I lived, what I'd done, and in his turn he told me of his country, how it had been, and how it was now. He expressed his opinion of the Germans inflatteringly with which I heartily agreed, and asked me if I thought the "Tommies" would be here soon. I replied "Of course, they only have about 40 miles to come from Arnhem, they'll be here in a week or so. If only I can lie low till then I will be safe". I asked him about the dogs and shots I had heard and whether there was any chance of them picking me up in the night. "Oh that" he said "they're only huntsmen shooting rabbits, there aren't any Germans around here".
I must say, I was quite relieved to hear this, and after further questioning in the same vein, discovered, with even more relief, that all my conceptions of the occupation were quite wrong and that the Germans were seldom seen, save in the large cities, that road blocks were very scarce and that the Gestapo only made a purge occasionally, and the people then usually discovered their intention long before they acted. By now my confidence in my chances had increases a thousand-foldand I saw I had every hope of being liberated with the rest of the Dutch in a very short time. My spirits were only slightly dampened when the woman returned and told me that the friends would have nothing to do with me and ,and had told her that she was a fool to help me. I could understand their point of view,as the fate that would await them if they were caught did not bear thinking about.
I immediately said, "OK, give me my stuff, and I will push off, I don't want to get you into trouble". "No, don't go, we can put you in the empty house next door for the night, and my husband will fetch the underground in the morning. It will be quite safe for us, for, if you are caught, you can always say you broke in yourself".. I agreed it was a very good idea, and after she had cooked an egg (It rather surprised me, that egg, after all the rationing in England) and prepared a few sandwiches for my morning repast, we broke in next door, and I was left to lock myself in as best I could and wait for the morrow.
When they had goneiltook stock of my new surroundings. There was a small clean kitchen, pots and pans hung on the walls, brooms, everything neat and tidy, no dust, obviously very recently vacated. The room I was to sleep in opened off this and contained just the bare necessities of a bedroom, the most outstanding of this being the bed, it being not more that about 5 feet long and about as wide I subsequently discovered that short beds were the norm in Holland, as most of the people seemed to be of short stature. I don't think I really found one long enough for me the whole time I was in the country.
I didn't undress that night, but at least I kept warm and dreamed that the whole episode was a dream. In fact I was almost convinced it was, when the voices of the neighbours going off to work frightened me out of my wits. However, I settled down again and made some attempt to eat the breakfast I had been provided with. Unsuccessfully. My appetite was nil. I sat wondering what was in store for me that day. Once I heard a motorcycle go by, but that was all that was to disturb the peace until the underground arrived at about 11 o'clock.
The commander of the party (There were only two of them) was obviously the doctor, a tallish distinguished looking chap in a leather helmet and long overcoat. I immediately thought, "God, he's a Gerry, I've been fooled." Even after knowing him for some hours, I was not sure I was being led up the garden path. I'd probably been watching too many war films. and he fitted the part of a German Officer exactly.. However, I had to trust him, and after proving my identity, no easy matter, even though I still had my RAF identity card with me, he more or less convinced me that he was "one of us". There was a young blond curly headed chap with him, whom I presumed was a sort of aide de camp, who, I was told would take me somewhere in the village. I was given a rather faded brown suit and went into my friend's house to change, wash and shave, and try to take on the identity of a Dutchman.
The doctor had arrived by motorcycle, and he now left while Jan,the other chap produced a couple of cycles of the Dutch, sit up and beg type. I felt quite happy as we set off down the sandy track, I, following at a discreet distance, although, later we cycled together. The storm of yesterday was gone, and the warm September sun shone from a cloudless sky, on the trees and bushes and lit up the little red and white houses in a fresh and picturesque way.
We passed through a village and over a railway, and I studied the shops, the houses and the people. All seeming so much brighter than I had expected. Quite different from England. There was the blacksmith's, the baker's, the children playing in the streets, the women doing what little shopping they could. I saw familiar Persil and Players adverts written in Dutch. In fact the whole scene was of a typical rural peacetime with not a German in shght to spoil the setting. We rode along a quiet canal bank, past green fields on one side with cattle browsing in them: There were orchards full of ripe red apples and wagons loaded with this year's harvest of corn. On the other side the placid waters were disturbed only by a passing barge, often painted gaily in red creams greens and orange.
At first I was afraid of my conspiciousness , I couldn't imagine myself as a Dutchman and every time I saw anyone gaze idly at me
I felt they could see "English Flyer” written all over me. I wanted to look round furtively and pedal as fast as I could, but managed to control my fears and rode idly, gazing here and there as I would have done in England. I tried not to show undue curiosity at my first windmill, or at the clogs people were wearing, and I did my hast not to wander on to the left side of the road. Jan did now ride with me for a while, but conversation was desultory as neither of us could speak the other's tongue. Save for a few words he knew.
After an hour our delightful ride came to and abrupt end (It was enjoyable, even though the threat of capture hung over my head, the scenery was new to me, and the day was glorious) when we came into a village street, saw a garage open in a large private house, wheeled into it, shut the door and were cut off from outside, all in a twinkling.
I waited in a dark cellar for some time, and thought again "I shouldn't have trusted that chap. The Gestapo will be here soon." Of course, I was wrong, for soul I was lead up some well carpeted stairs into a little room on the first floor of the house.
It was of average size this time, with a bed not so short as before and washing facilities. The window looked out on to the rather pretty back garden, where I saw a wide lawn with trees. including one very large copper beech, flowers and shrubs in profusion all round.
I heard once again the shouts of childish laughter and, again saw children playing, this time with I presumed with the nurse, just as one might find at home. I had discovered by now that the doctor was a fairly affluent member of the village, and was in fact the local vet. It was his house that I was now in, and that Jan was staying there as one of the family.
I was to stay in the room, and was only to open the door on a given signal, the fewer people knowing about me the better, after which instructions, I was left alone for some time. My first visitor was Jan, who brought me a few toilet necessities and a book to read. This choice didn't seem too appropriate at the time as it was Edgar Alan Poe's "Tales of Mystery and Imagination”, and as far as I was concerned I had already had enough of this to get along with. However, I did read it to help pass the two days in that little room.
During my stay there, I met the doctor's wife, who used to bring me huge plates of food. which I just couldn't manage to eat, as my appetite was still badly affected by my keyed up mental state.
I used to watch the children playing, dream, and think of home. It seemed as if I had been away years already. I thought ”They will have had the telegram by now and they'll think I'm dead, and I can't let them know that I'm not. However, I should be safe in a couple of weeks." I was still fairly certain we would all be free soon, and told the doctor as much --- Arnhem hadn't been proved a failure by then.
In the evenings, when all the children were in bed and the servants had gone home I was allowed downstairs in to the sitting, where I joined the doctor and his wife, from where one could see out on to the village street and watch the village life go by. Occasionally a German car went by with screeching horn, but otherwise all was peaceful. Although I was a non smoker, I did have on me some of the free ration we were alloted,as I had not had time to give any to my friends, so I handed all these round on the first evening and they were much appreciated, as the local availability was pretty awful. We tried to talk as much as possible with limited English and limited German on my part. The doctor went out to hear the news on a secret radio and did his best to tell me all about it, not very successfully.
I still didn't feel very secure and was glad when, on the third day I heard from Jan that I would be on the move again very soon. In fact, the person who was to take me on the next stage was already downstairs. It was time to move on.
Needless to say, my packing didn't take very long and I was soon hurried downstairs after the doctor had made sure the children and the servants were well out of the way, arriving once more in the garage where I met my future guide, well equipped with two cycles.
By now I had become used to wearing the suit, and had shaved off my moustache, as apparently it was not the custom in Holland to wear them, and was beginning to feel more of a civilian, and it was with less trepidation that I soon ventured out in to the open on the start of the next stage of my travels.
I didn't really know where we were going, as I guessed that the resistance preferred me to know as little as possible just in case I was captured, but I did find out that we were travelling Eastwards, as I was told it was easier to hide tommies there. For this reason, I was also ignorant of the name of my guide.
This time we did not ride together, and I followed about a hundred yards behind through the main street of the village, where we passed the locals going stout their business on foot, by bike and also using horses and carts. The absence of any motorised transport was very apparent. Everything seemed so peacefulothat I found it difficult to beleive thet I was in an occupied country. The autumn sun was shining, there was little wind and all seemed set for a quiet cycle ride into the country. Soon after we left the village my guide suddenly turned off the road in to a sandy track that ran into a wood and which was similar to the one I had followed when I first landed. During the next few hours we followed various tracks, the guide stopping at each intersection to make sure I was still behind him. Most of the time we were surrounded by trees, but gradually there were more and more open fields, mostly quite small and used as grazing for cattle, usually in quite small herds. As far as people went, we saw practically no one, much to my relief. I did have one or two shaky moments with the cycle, which was not exactly in the first flush of youth, mainly when we had toregotiate sudden steep and winding parts of the track. In common with many of the continental cycles the braking was done by back-pedalling, which I was not used to and once or twice I almost ended up in the hedge. However I soon mastered it and we continued on without incident for, I suppose about 10 or 12 miles. By now it was early afternoon, the country had opened out and we were approachong what seemed to me to an insurmountable object; i.e. the river Ijssel which I found out later runs from north to south and effectifly cuts off the whole of Eastern Holland from the West. It was obvious that we would be unable to use a bridge, as there would almost certainly be some sort of check point there, and I was just wondering what we would do, when after riding along the river bank for a bit, we came across the ferry. It consisted of what I can only describe as a large punt capable of carrying possibly a few cows or sheep and of course people. I was instructed to remain as a deaf mute while the guide negotiated with the ferryman, and we were soon crossing to the far side.
We followed the road after this and soon came into the village of Wijhe where we pulled up outside a small haberdashers shop. This was the end of our trip for today and before long we were ushered into the very pleaseant and brightly decorated flat over the shop, where I met the owner, his wife and two daughters, children of about 10 or 12 years old.
They must have been well aware of the risks they were taking by harbouring me, but they seemed confident that the chances of discovery were small, and proceeded to show me where I would sleep for the night and also where the secret room, situated behind the wardrobe was "just in case of emergencies" they said. I must say I enjoyed a very pleasant evening with them, despite the language difficulties,and after saying au revoir to my guide, who stayed somewhere else in the village, I retired to not too small a bed wondering what tomorrow would have in store.
Next morning I joined my hosts in what I discovered was a typically Dutch breakfast, consisting of Edam cheese with bread washed down with tea. This wasn't exactly what it seemed as the bread was of two different sorts, one being fairly normal brown, as at home and the other being rye bread, which was a very heavy solid bread puddingly type of consistency tasting quite nutty. I found it quite tasty, which was a good thing, as it was part of my staple diet for some time to come. Owing to the fact that the German empire had been cut off from supplies of real tea for some time, the "Tea" was made of something entirely different, and although it had a vague resemblance to the real thing visibly, the taste was something like a distillation from boiled nuts, which it probably was. However drunk neat and hot it was satisfying.
Soon, my guide turned up, and after making sure the coast was clear we were soon outside and setting off once more on the bikes. We followed the same procedure as before, and after leaving the village soon turned off on to the sandy tracks. The day was not so pleasant as before, dull and misty, but luckily no rain, and we pressed on through woods and between fields, heading eastwards. After several hours we joined a road once more and I could see that we were approaching a small town. This turned out to be Raalte ,a market town about 10 miles from Wijhe. The guide led me to what was the Dutch equivalent of a local pub, where he left me outside with the bikes with strict instructions to speak to no one, and went in to negotiate for some refreshments, and to find out the lie of the local land. Rationing of course was very strict in the occupied countries, so I was not expecting a four course lunch, and indeed ended up with a sandwich of blood sausage and a drink. It seemed that there was no sign of any German troops about, so we soon continued on our way. I now knew that we were headed for a small hamlet called Marle, where I would be hidden in a farm for a week or two, by which time we all hoped we would be freed by the allies. The country was opening up more and seemed to me very much like the Weald of Sussex, small farms dotting the landscape, partly pasture and partly growing crops of cereal, beet turnip and potato. The buildings, however, struck me as being quite different. Nearly every farmstead consisted of only one building, a large single storey barn with a steep pitched tiled roof, into the end of which was built the single storey living quarters of the farmer and his family. We saw people working in the fields, using mostly horse drawn equipment, but met hardly any one on the tracks,or the occasional roads which we rode on. Eventually, after about 12 miles or so and round about teatime we rode up a small sandy track to the farm where I was to stay. It was similar to the others I had seen, and I wondered how I would get on with the farmer and his family. I needn't have worried for Kees and Hannie were very friendly, and after some discussion with my guide ushered me inside.
The house was quite small and consisted of a kitchen and scullery into which a door led to the main living room. This contained the only means of heating and cooking in the form of a free standing cast iron stove, similar to some of the ranges common in England at the time, a table and several dining type chairs. There were several cupboards and some ornaments scattered about, but on the whole very austere, and I found out later, common to most of the small farmhouses. There were two bedeooms, one with two double beds and the other, which was used by Hannie whom I discovered was kees's sister.
However, my major ilt-prise, was to find that there was another occupant of the housleand this turned out to be Oily Korpella, a very tough looking Canadian, an ex lumberjack of Finnish extraction who was in the same position as me. He had been shot down in his bomber while returning from a raid on Germany, had baled out and had been picked up by the resistance.
He had only been at the farm for a couple of days, and was having great difficulty with the language problem. At least we could now talk to each other. The next surprise occurred soon afterwards, when more people arrived at the front door, and I realised that we would have three of us staying in the house. Those small double beds would be very crowded. Duggy Baker, the new arrival was a shorter fairly stocky man, English, and a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He had been dropped at Arnhem with the parachute brigade, had been involved in all the action there, had been wounded, and eventually captured by the Germans. After a spell in a field hospital, he had been travelling to Germany and prison camp on a hospital train, when he managed to jump out of a toilet window as the train slowed down.
So, here we were, three "Tommies" and two very brave Dutch people, who were putting their lives on the line by harbouring us. To start with communication was quite difficult, most of the people of Eastern Holland were more likely to speak German than English; the German border was only about 20 miles away. Kees and Hannie only spoke Dutch. We managed with sign language and the few German words which were similar to Dutch while we ate our evening meal. This was "cold table", the normal thing on the farm; cheese, bread, some butter, cold thinly cut bacon and jam, together with the usual tea. Later on a young visitor from a neighbouring farm called, and he spoke some German, so I could talk to him sufficiently well to find out the gist of what Kees and Hannie were trying to tell us. Kees had a radio hidden a cupboard, so we were able to listen to the BBC and to hear that the war news, as far as we were concerned was not very good. The hold up in the advance seemed as if it would be longer than expected. Nevertheless, we were still thinking in terms of weeks, rather than months, and eventually squeezed ourselves in to the two small beds, hoping that the ordeal would be soon over.
Next morning we decided to explore our surroundings, although we had to keep fairly close to the farm buildings for fear of neighbours becoming too curious about the three strangers in their midst. There was a small garden adjoining the house where vegetables were being grown, and also surprisingly, tobacco plants. Apparently, as most of the foreign tobacco had been cut off, the only solution for the smokers, who comprised most of the male population, was to grow your own. The leaves were just beginning to dry out on the plants, and lfter some days Kees put us to work stringing them on to wires, which were suspended in the barn to dry off. This didn't have the same effect as the hot Rhodesian sun and a lot of the leaves merely rotted. However, those that were suitable were eventually taken off by Kees to one of the local villages, where there was a treating factory. All the farms seem to do this, so the factory must have been quite busy. Eventually, the tobacco returned dry and shredded for use in roll your own cigarettes. Being a non smoker, I was not particularly interested in all this, but Duggie, who was a heavy smoker, was quite releived to be able to satisfy his craving, even though the quality was not wonderful.
The farm was about 20 or so acres, quite small, and we could see other farmhouses dotted all round us with fields of about the same acreage. Some of the fields were now fallow, as all the crops had been gathered, some were pasture, and in a few potatoes and beet were still being lifted. Kees did not seem to have any livestock on the farm, and we assumed he let the pasture off to the neignbours, who did have a few cattle. In the barn, we found the farm transport, which consisted of a small cart, and of course the horse in a stall at the end. There were also the cycles, the main means of travelling to the local villages. The area above the house was filled with hay and straw and sheaves of wheat and oats were also stored, together with the farm implements a single, horse drawn, furrow plough, a harrow and other hand tools.
It seemed to us that, on these small farms, time had stood still, and operations were carried out much as in say 1900. We were confirmed in this, when some days later Kees decided he needed to thresh some of the corn and we were enlisted to help. The sheaves were spread out on the barn floor and we were issued with flails which resembled large boomerangs, each end being about 2 feet long. We then proceeded to batter at the corn until all the seeds had been separated from the straw, when the straw was stored and the seeds bagged up for delivery to the local mill. It eventually came back as wholemeal flour.
Over most of October we helped in various ways on the farm, and this included gathering some of the beet. This necessitated taking the cart to the fields, and as 0lly professed to know about horses, he was put in charge of the horse and cart. Kees was a bit worried when 0lly used quite strong Canadian language to give the horse directions, but there was no one in earshot, so after a bit he didn't mind. Kees also let us have a go at ploughing, which we found quite difficult and back breaking work, even though the local soil was very light and sandy. Kees didn't seem exactly proficient at the job either and later I discovered why.
Over the first few weeks life settled down to a regular pattern, helping on the farm in the day, squeezing in the beds at night, and most evenings having visits from the local farmers, all of whom knew by now whom we were and did their best to make us feel at home. We talked, played cards and occasionaly Hannie produced her stock of Dutch gin which we all enjoyed. Two young girls of about 15, who lived on the next farm used to visit the village quite often and bring us news of what was happening in the world outside. It was during this period that I began to realise that the Dutch language was virtually a half way house between English and German, the grammer seemed similar, and with help of a dictionary somebody rustled up, I was soon able to communicate quite well with the locals. Unfortunately, Duggie and Olly couldn't manage this, so I became the local interpreter.
I could now find out the details of the family of Kees and Hannie, and it transpired that they were members of a large family of about 10 children, and the parents were small farmers in a neighbouring village of Heeten. Kees was not really farmer, his trade being the local carrier. He owned a small lorry which he used for this purpose, but had had to hide this to save it being requisitioned by the Germans. There was also the problem that many young men, he was about 25, could be also requisitined by the Germans, for forced labour in Germany, and this was the reason for the farming activities. Probably the shortage of food compelled the Germans to look kindly on agriculural workers. Hannie was older than Kees and had come there to keep house and be the general dogsbody around the place. Considering the difficulties of living in relatively austere conditions, she coped marvellously. Everything like washing was hand operated, not uncommon in those days, and the cooking arrangements were all centred on the one stove in the living room. There was also the problem of food rationing,which was partly helped by the fact that not only did we now have counterfiet ration books but also by the thriving black market operated by the local farmers. Although the food was pretty basiic, Hannie contrived to produce one very good hot meal every day, usually small amounts of pork with potatoes and greens or root vegetables, all cooked on the small stove. There always seemed to be plenty of milk and cheese, and the supply of the rye bread kept us going for the other meals in the day.
The local community was of the Catholic faith and Hannie was an ardent churchgoer, so, every Sunday, in her best long black outfit, she used to cycle off on her sit up and beg bike to the village church, returning later spiritually refreshed, to produce lunch, and possibly a drop of her special gin.
As October passed, and the news of the war was not good, we began to realise that we would probably have to stay here for considerably longer than we had anticipated, months rather than weeks. We discussed among ourselves the possibility of walking our way back, as many had done before. This had happened when the whole of France was occupied and entailed crossing the Pyrenees into Spain. The conditions now were quite different, as the Allies were on one side of the Rhine and the Germans were on the other. The country was very flat, with little or no cover, and the rivers, there was the Waal as well, werevery wide. We decided that the only thing to do was to wait.
The weather continued to be quite pleasant, with little rain, so we continued with our farm work, and spent quite a lot of time cleaning out the dry ditches. Kees had produced some wooden clogs which we found were extremely comfortable and very warm, so we saved a bit on our shoe leather. I found these safer to wear that my leather shoes after I had accidentally spiked my foot with a fork while lifting beet. The wound became infected, and when my leg began to swell up after a few days I got quite worried about how I could get any medical help in the situation we were in. However after hobbling about for a short time the whole thing cleared up.
During our farming operations, we noticed a large stack of straw bales at the back of the farm, and considered whether it would be of use as a hiding place if we hollowed it out, in case of a raid. On closer inspection, we realised that Kees had beaten us to it, as we could hear snuffling and grunting coming from inside. It contained Kee's black pig, which was almost ready for slaughter. In fact, soon afterwards it disappeared and returned as pork and bacon. We did in fact, build a hiding place in the hay stored above the farmhouse, but this luckily was never used. We heard that the Germans poked about in such suspiscious piles with long bayonets, so I don't fancy our chances if we had had to use it.
There had not been much local activity by the occupation forces up till now, but as we moved into November various rumours started about raids on some of the farms. Kees told us that the "Moffen", the name they used for the Germans were looking mainly for young people hidden in the district to avoid deportation to Germany. He said that there were two sorts of police, the black police,which were the local Dutch police who were no danger to us, and the Green police, who were controlled by the Gestapo and were highly dangerous. By now the weather had deteriated, it was much wetter and colder, and we began to rotice tie inadequacy of our clothing. However, we needn't have worried, as the village outfitter turned up one day complete with a supply of extremely thick winter underwear. Our cleaned out ditches and the farm pond, which had been reduced to a large puddle all began to fill, and most of our outdoor activities had to cease.
The pond came in useful a few days later, when rumour had it that the Germans were requisitioning all the bicycles. Kees merely dumped all of ours at the bottom of the pond where they remained for several days, later to be pulled out none the worse for wear. I think Kees was also worried about his hidden lorry, for one day he took the horse and cart away for the day and returned in the evening with a large covered object in the cart, which turned out to be the engine. This was brought into the house, and we all assisted in removing the stove from the hearth, and then digging a large hole underneath, into which the motor was lowered. The hole was filled the stove replaced,and everything looked quite normal. We still had not seen any activity on the part of the "green" police but one evening just as it was getting dark, we were standing looking out of the cottage doot, when we heard shots, and saw that the farm about a couple of hundred yards away was being raided.
We could see the black uniformed figures running up the farm track,and wondered if they were really looking for us,and had gone to the wrong farm. We didn't stop to find out, and all three of us shot round the back of the farm and dispersed over the neighbouring fields as fast as we could. We kept observation on the farm from a safe distance and after ah hour or so,when the coast seemed clear,returned to the cottage. Nothing further happened,and after a few days things settled down to normal. We could see that Kees and Hannie were becoming very edgy and Kees told us that they were trying to arrange for us to be moved on. After all,they had only expected to have us therea few days, and it was now two months.
Our spies, the two girls from the next farm, and other visitors from the village confirmed that things seemed to have cooled down, so life went on for the next week or two as before. At night we could often hear the rumble of the bombers going overhead on their nightly visits to Germany although there didn't seem to be much traffic in the opposite direction, probably because the Luftwaffe was concentrating on the Russian front.
We thought that perhaps now Britain was having a bit of a rest from the blitzkrieg. We were proved wrong a few days later,when, one afternoon we suddenly heard the intense and shattering roaring noise coming from a wood about two miles away, and were just in time to see an enormous rocket launch into the sky, rise to a great height and disappear into the distance towards the west. This was one of the first of the German V 2 rockets, and we discovered later,via our secret radio that they were all aimed at London and caused great havoc and possibly panic in the capital. They could be launched from a small corcrete pad and could be easily transported by lorry, which made it difficult for our aircraft to find them. No anti aircraft were of any use as they flew so high and so fast and fell silently on to the target. I believe that the allies eventually found the factory and destroyed it, but not until a great deal of damage had been done. We were thankful that it had not been deployed earlier in the war. They were not foolproof however, as we saw from the second one a few dayslater, which blew up presumably causing casualties among the crew. We saw no more after this.
In early December a place had been found for one of us, and Olly elected to go, so we saw him off on his bike to an unknown destination, leaving Duggy and me waiting for a move later on. Kees felt that the most likely time for a raid would be at nightlso we would have to sleep elsewhere. The problem was solved, by Kees and the neighbouring farmers by digging a sort of bunker away from the buildings. They selected a field about 300 yards away which adjoined another field, which was lower, with a gassy bank about 4 feet high. The bunker was dug near the edge of the higher field, lined and roofed with stout wooden planks and covered over with the original soil so that from above it could not be seen. A small door was made in the grassy bank, also covered in grass turf, so that when closed it was invisible. I suppose it was about 6 or 7 feet square and deep enough so that we could sit up. The floor was covered in a thick layer of straw.
For the next few weeks, Duggy and I sneaked out of the cottage every bed-time, trudged over the fields and crept in to our hide-out. Apart from the slight dampness, it was quite comfortable.In the mornings after carefully opening the door to look for any signs of life, we trudged back again.
Christmas was fast approaching,but not a lot could be done in respect of festivities. However all our local friends called and we had a small celebration mainly using Hannie's gin, of which she seemed to have an endless supply. I believe we had a chicken lunch. I had a few sweets left in my escape kitiso we shared those around. We heard the news from Britain on the radio and realised that our stay would be for some time yet.
It seemed to be "All quiet on the Western front" and we assumed we would probably have to wait some time into early Spring before the long awaited offensive would begin. However on new years day 1945 the action did start, but not by the allies. We were awoken early on the morning of the 1st of January by the roar of a large number of aero engines and crawled out of the bunker to see dozens of Focke Wulf and Messerschmitt day fighter bombers heading westwards at very low altitude right over us. Some time later they returned, and we found out later from the radio that the Germans had caught us all by surprise, and many of our aircraft had been destroyed on the ground.
This was a bit of a set back, but worse was to come as the Germans had launched a counter offensive on the Ardennes front in Belgium and broken through the American lines there. This news depressed us all for a few days ,although we later cheered up when we heard that the Allies had counter attacked and regained the lost ground.
About this time we had some falls of snow and although it was only a light covering it worried us a bit as our footprints showed up on our trips to the bunker, as well as the disturbance around the entrance door. It didn't last long however, and nor did our nightly trips to the bunker, as within a few days Kees had heard, probably to his great relief, that Duggy and I were shortly to be on our way. Sure enough, one bright and frosty morning in Mid January, we were introduced to our guide, who arrived with the necessary bikes,and in mid morning set off for our new quarters.
As we left the farm track and joined the main road everything seemed quiet, so Duggy and I cycled together with the guide as before about 100 yards ahead. We were heading Eastwards again, and soon passed uneventfully through the village of Daarle from where we joined a minor road to the next village of Daarleveen, which was on the Overijssel Canal. Here we turned north and followed the canal for several miles during which we passed through the village of Vroomshoop, which was somewhat more busy. Here there were off duty German soldiers walking about, and it was quite a weird sensation to wind in and out of the bunches of them chatting by the roadside. No suspiscioss were aroused and there was no sign of the secret police so we continued following the canal for several more miles before turning off, to arrive at the small village of Marienberg, where we came to a halt outside the local railway station, and opposite the village church. It was now late afternoon and beginning to get dark, and we wondered what the resistance had in store for us, as we didn't think we would be hidden in the village itself. Soon the local vicar arrived and we were ushered into a large room, rather like a Company board room on the first floor of the vicarage attached to the church. We were told we would not be here for long,and in the meantime were supplied with food and drink,for which we were grateful as we hadn't eaten since breakfast. They must have thought that we looked a bit unkempt (we hadn't had a haircut for three months) for shortly afterwards the village barber turned up and gave us both a short back and sides. After we had been locked in the room for an hour or two, Duggy whom I discovered had a rather weak bladder began to feel very uncomfortable and franticly searched the room for a possible door to a toilet, or even a window that he could open, all to no avail. It was then that the heavy smoking habits of the Dutch came to his rescue, for on the large table in the middle of the room which was used for Parish council meetings, there were about 20 very Large glass ashtrays. After arranging them in a line on the floor,Dug managed to fill them all. We had to apologise to the rector, when he returned Later.
His visit was really to tell us that we were on our way again, and despite the darkness we continued on our way northwards about 6 miles or so to the small town of Hardenberg. We travelled without lights ,and as it was quite a dark evening we sometimes had difficulty in keeping up with the guide, who obviously was not relishing his job because of the danger of being picked up by an enemy patrol. After all there was probably a curfew in force,although we did not know at what time it started to operate. However we arrived in the town without mishap, but here it seemed darker than ever,and as the road was in bad condition I almost fell off the bike on several occasionstas well as having near misses with several bollards and other objects. Luckily, we soon arrived at a small neat house in the centre of the town,to be greeted by a large buxom woman of about 40 who ushered us in to the front parlour and told us that we would not be staying here for the night, but would shortly make a short walk to the house of the Mayor of the town, where we would be able to spend the night. After the farm cottage, this seemed I suppose much more middle class, with comfortable furniture, and bright and colourful decorations.The most amazing thing about the room however was a huge concert organ which dominated one wall of the room. I don't know how she got on with the neighbours if she played it a lot. Perhaps they all liked music.
Anyway, she didn't offer to give us a recital, and before long we ventured out once more into the night, soon arriving at the Mayor's house. This was situated on the banks of the local canal, more or less opposite to the town hall, which was on the other bank, and which, we were told had been taken over by the Germans and was the local office of the Gestapo. I think this was the closest we ever came to them, but as our hosts seemed not to worry unduly, we settled down for the evening. The Mayor and his wife both spoke a little English, so during and after the evening meal we learned a bit about each other.. This house was somewhat larger than the previous one,so, when the Mayor's wife asked us if there was anything we wanted, we both asked if there was any chance of a bath, as during our stay on the farm toilet arrangements had been somewhat primitive. It was only after she had agreed tin we realised how much trouble we had put her to, for it was not just the case of turning on a hot tap and relaxing in the warm water. The bath was of the large tin variety and had to be filled from kettles of hot water brought up from the kitchen,mainly because the water system for the normal bath was not working, and no doubt obtaining spare parts was almost impossible. Anyway, we made the most of the two inches or so of water and retired to bed quite refreshed.
Next day we stayed in the house, watching the activities going on on the opposite side of the canal with interest,and hoping no one from over there would decide to call on the Mayor at his home. Later on, after lunch we had to move on again, and soon followed our guide back through the town and into the open country. Everything was quiet, with the locals going about their normal business and odd cyclists doing exactly as we were as we wended our way over, for a change a winding road,which eventually took us back to the village of Marienberg once more. This time we did not stop, but continued down the road towards the village of Sibculo in an area called the Kloosterdijk, where we soon turned down a small track to end up at a small house in the woods which made me think of the Three bear's place from the Goldilocks fairy tale. The couple who occupied this were quite young and had two small children, and managed to live from working a very small smallholding. Once again, we were told that this was not our final destination, and that later in the evening we would be moving a short distance to our new more or less permanent residence.. Meanwhile, we were made very welcome, sitting round the cheerful peat fire burning in the lounge, and were soon enjoying our evening meal. It was here I discovered why the Dutch called a platea "Bord" because that is what we ate from. The wooden plates were polished rectangular pieces of hardwood and apparantly were in quite commom use in parts of the country. As we left later that evening, we could smell the pleasant scent of the peat fires burning in the little houses as we passed them, and noticed how quiet and peaceful everything seemed. Our bombers must have had a night off that evening.
After back-tracking up the road we had cycled down a few hours before,w e soon arrived at a very large farmhouse, built in the same style as the one we had stayed in before, but much more prosperous looking. The house was of two stories and the barn two or three times larger. However we did not go in but continued down tracks between large fallow fields until we came to a small canal which bounded the farms property.. It was then that we saw our accomodation --- the Barge. It was quite a large barge, about twice as wide as an English canal boat and maybe a bit longer. The living quarters were at the stern and entry was through a combination of door and hatch.
There were now four of us, Duggie and I and two men,or rather lads, as I thought of them, who were two of the sons of the farmer, Johann and Jelle. They told us that we would stay here as long as possible, we hoped a few weeks at most, and that we would have to more or less fend for ourselves, i.e. cooking etc and they would keep us supplied with food water, clothing if necessary and company whenever this was possible. On no accout was their father to know what was going on. The boat was quite remote from the farm buildings, possibly about a mile away: aid there was apparently little danger of any one walking in that area and coming upon us by mistake.
They showed us over our new abode, which consisted of a small day cabin about 10 feet by which contained a table and chairs and was heated by a small peat stove, similar to the one at Kee's place but smaller. The sleeping area was in what can only be described as a large cupboard,about 7 feet square and entered through the cupboard doors. In here were pillows and blankets. There was a door which gave access to the hold of the barge, and which appeared to be empty, except for a few bales of straw. The lighting was either candles or oil lamps, although the shortage of oil precluded much use of the lamps. There was a cupboard with utensils,pots and pans etc and a store of food and milk which the boys had provided, things like rye bread, butter, cheese, sugarbeet syrup and bacon. Telling us that they would be back sometime tomorrow they wished us goodnight and left us to our own devices. There was wood and a supply of peat on the hold ,so we decided to light the fire and warm ourselves up a bit before retiring. The small cabin was soon quite cosy and we began to feel we could make quite a comfortable place of it, despite the fact it was mid winter. We made a drink of the erzatz tea and soon crawled into the cupboard for the night, deciding that we would sleep on it and sort ourselves out in the morning.
Next morning, having extracted ourselves from the cupboard,we had to decide how to cope with the ablutions problem, as the facilities were more or less non existant. The drinking water had been supplied by the boys and was fairly limited,so using it for washing etc was out of the question. The canal was the obvious answer, so after lighting the fire once more, we surveyed the situation outside from the hatch. It was a grey January morning, but fairly clear and we could see that we were in the centre of large undulating fields, stretching for quite a long way in all directions. The canal was 20 feet wide, contained within quite high banks which partly obscured the barge from view, and there was a bridge quite close to us to enable the farmer to reach his more remote fields. The farm was on the far side from us, although we could not see it from the boat, and quite close on this other bank was a small peat field on which were rows of small conicle stacks of peat, which we assumed had been cut early in the year and had been so left to dry out.
On our side of the bank, some of the fields showed signs of early wheat sprouting, while others were ploughed but bare. We guessed that they were used for potato and beet production as dotted around the edges were potato clamps. We had seen these beforetas Kees had a similar one, and they were the standard way of storing the potato crop in the fields until required. They looked like long narrow mounds of straw, and appeared to keep the crop quite dry and free from frost.Apart from this there were one or two small clumps of small trees dotted around, and in the distance more of the typically Dutch farm buildings. There was no sign of life so we ventured out to collect our water supply from the canal. It was not exactly crystal clear, but good enough for our purpose.
We then explored the hold and found, that in addition to the fuel, there was also a store of root vegetables and potatoes, plus some cabbages which seemed to have stored quite well, probably because of the low winter temperatures. Part of the hold would have to be used for toilet purposes and we managed this with the aid of a large bucket which we emptied daily by taking it some distance downstream from the barge and burying tne contents in the banks of a nearby ditch.
Neither of us had much culinary knowledge, but we managed to concoct a simple stew consisting of pieces of the pork with all sorts of vegetables thrown in, plus some gravy granuals, and this proved quite tasty. We also had a stock of blancmange powders, and this made an acceptable sweet. We also had cooking oil, so considered we could try some frying in the future.
We were not expecting visitors until after dark, but early in the afternoon Jelle turned up accompanied by his sister, Margaretha,usually abreviated to "Gre". She could speak better English than the others so we could now communicate quite easily. They brought more supplies including some tobacco for Duggie who was beginning to have withdrawal symptons, and told us that to alleviate the boredom, they could probably supply us with some books. A few days later she delivered several Dickens novels, including Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers,plus one or two by lesser known authors. In view of my interest in the Dutch language, she had also unearthed a grammer book,really for the use of Dutch learning English,but it proved very useful to me, so much so that eventually I was presented with some novels in Dutch. I did with much persistancemarege to read a couple of them.
After this settling down period, life continued over the next few weeks in a fairly humdrum way. Our cooking efforts improved slowly, we kept the place tidy,the visitors, who soon included one or two young neighbours came almost every day, especially Gre and a friend of hers called mimi, and, despite the winter weather, we we having a fairly comfortable time. When we were alone, which was in the mornings we spent the time chatting, mostly on Duggie's part ,as he being somewhat older than me, and having been in the army since before the war, had plenty to tell about his service in North Africa, including some of his amorous adventures in Cairo. He also demonstrated his cartoon drawing, by producing some quite amusing ones about our situation.
One day the boys appeared with the carcase of one of the local black pigs, which they stored on our hold. Some was salted down to make bacon and some was left to hang, the cold weather helping to preserve it. Needless to say, we made the most of it while it was there.
Around this time it began to snow, more or less cutting us off from the farm, probably because of the tell-tale footprints which would have been left if any-one visited us. Luckily the weather changed for the better after a few days, but not before we were obliged to collect quantities of the snow in large pans in order to melt it down for drinking water. We were surprised how much was needed for quite a small amount of water. Our fuel also began to run out at this time, so we made several forays over the bridge to the nearby peat field, usually at night to replenish our stocks, and in the hope that the peat had been dried off enough to make it readily burnable. It was OK. The shortage of visitors had left Duggie very short of tobacco, and eventually, when he began to feel really desperate, he decided to ry the peat (this had a vague resemblance to tobacco when shredded) It didn't work, needless to say and he ended up coughing all over the cabin. However, the visits soon resumed, and life continued as before towards the end of February.
We knew that there were other aircrew hiding in the vicinity, and that at one farm not far away about 10 Americans were shacked up in a barn. We began to worry us a bit when we heard that they had been discovered by the Germans and had apparently all rushed out from the barn, guns blazing and made off across the fields. Nobody knew whether they were captured, and we didn't really know what happened to the farmer and his family. As it was fairly obvious, even to the Germans that they were likely to lose the war any moment, maybe they were more lenient than they had been in the past. However our hosts came to the conclusion that we were in a dangerous position and we decided that the best thing to do was to move the boat. So, with all hands to the tow ropes we tugged the barge several hundred yards up the canal, away from the farm,and into another canal which ran at right angles to the one we had been in, and which had a clump of small trees on its bank. This more or less hid the boat from view from the main road, which an any case was about 2 miles away from us. As a further precaution we left the barge during the day, and tramped over the fields a further mile or so away from the farm to where, in another small clump of trees was a small shelter, from which we could see in all directions, to ensure no one was approaching. There was plenty of straw in the shelter, so we were able to keep out most of the cold. As soon as it was dark, we returned to the barge for a warm up and some hot food and drink.
As February turned into March, things quietened down and we moved the boat back to the more convenient position by the bridge, and stayed on board during the day again. News had been coming through that the Allied push over the Rhine was likely to start any day, so we began to feel a lot more hopeful, that our ordeal would soon be over. The weather was slowly improving, and we spent some days sunning ouselved on deck. Up till now we had never seen anybody except our visitors,and occasionally farm workers going into the fields to collect potatoes from the clamps, but one fine morning in March, when we were taking advantage of the sun a stranger did approach and attempted to make conversation. I hoped my Dutch greeting etc satisfied him, as he luckily soon went on his way. We told the boys about it later, but they thought, that in view of the latest news that the Allies had in fact crossed the Rhine there was little danger of anything drastic happening.
We didn't know quite what to expect as the front line rolled past us, but as everything seemed very quiet ,we assumed that the fighting was still some way to the south of us. Meanwhile the local resistance decided to try to immobilise the railway at Marienburg, and Duggie, being in army man was asked to join in. I was left to hold the fort on the barge. I don't think it was very successful. I heard some gunfire and was worried lest things had gone wrong, but Doug returned sometime later saying he was not very impressed with the local efforts. I don't suppose they had lived up to his army requirements.
After several days of suspense, as we heard that the allied advance was slowly proceeding in our general direction at the beginning of April (April the 5th to be exact, a day I'll never forget) on a lovely sunny morning all the boys and girls came rushing over the fields to our barge waving arms and shouting "The Canadians are here". We could hardly believe it, but they continued "Yes they are, we have told them about you and they want to see you".
We didn't waste much time, stopping only long enough to exchange our clogs, which we had worn most of the time on the boat, for our shoes add to pick up our one or two possessions. In my case I also extracted my A F identity card from where I had hidden it/in the shoulder pad of my suit, and we were off. Over the bridge, with one more look at our last home and then accross the fields towards the farmhouse and the main road.
Here we found probably most of the local villagers and farmers clustered round a Canadian army tank, all looking very happy and excited, (not surprisingly, as they had been waiting for five years for this moment).
In between being introduced to the father and mother of our young hosts, and other friends of theirs, we math ourselves known to the tank commander and his crew wit were quite happy with the identification we offered and told us that they were in occupation of Almelo, a town some 10 or 15 miles to the south, and that they were on a sort of probe in advance of the main force, which was held up temporarily on the Twenthe canal just north of the town. We wondered what would be the next move; whether we should wait where we were or what. The decision was taken out of our hands however, when a small armoured car arrived,with a crew of two who consulted with the tank commander, and, as they were then returning to base, offered to give us a lift. We asked how we could possibly all four squeeze into a car only made for two, but they said "It's easy, you two just sit on the top". So we left to friendly farewells from all the locals sitting on the top of the armoured car, and hoping we would not meet any resistance from any retreating troops. We felt a bit like sitting ducks. Surprisingly, although we heard quite a bit of gun and mortar fire as we neared the advance HQ, we arrived quite safely and were deposited outside a large marquee, which constituted the forward command post. Here, once we were introduced, we were treated with great consideration by the staff, offered some small snacks, including chocolate, which we hadn't seen for months, and soon offered a lift back to Almelo. This was on an army truck full of German prisoners, and as we were in civilian clothes, the sregeant in charge thought at first that we were some sort of pro Germans. Once we spoke, he realised his error, and made sure, when we got off in Almelo, that they knew who we were.
It was here that we first came across the treatment being meted out to the local women who had fraternised with the enemy, and watched them being paraded through the streeteshaven headed, and generally being jeered and being pelted with rotten fruit and other unpleasant objects.
The German prisoners went on their way to captivity while Duggie and I, after waiting some time chatting to the locals and being debriefed by the military, were eventually offered a lift in a staff carlan open jeep back to Nijmegen, where there was among things a reception camp for freed prisoners of war and others such as ourselves. We climbed aboard with a slight feeling of disbelief that all this was happening to us so quickly.
By now it was early evening, and with the staff officer and his driver in the front,and we two in the back, we set off. At first we took a southerly route and going was sometimes quite slow, as many of the roads had been badly churned up by the tanks and other heavy army equipment. At least once we had to all climb out and manhandle the jeep through the mud. Apart from this there did not seem to be much evidence of the ravages of war,no doubt because once the bridgeheads on the Rhine had been established the push forward was very fast. After some time we pisd over the border into Germany, and made for the Rhine crossing at the town of Emmerichtand it was as we approached this that we saw the utter devastation that had taken place during the Rhine crossing. At first we came across shattered railway lines, with their burnt out and smashed trains and trams, and then, as we entered the actual town,all we could see on all sides were the gaunt remains of buildings, stark against the failing lightesurrounded by countless piles of bricks, masonry and rubble. I don't think there was one building standing. The road was almost impassable, as bulldozers had only cleared the narrowest of passages for transport to get through. We rattled over the pontoon bridge which had been built over the Rhine and continued on through the town of Cleve,which was in much the same state as Emerich. By now it was quite dark, but our trip was almost over and soon we crossed the border into Holland once again and entered Nijmegen, where we pulled up at the HQ building. It was obvious that we were not the only people to have been liberated as the large hall into which we were ushered contained rows of mattresses, all on the floor,used as sleeping accommodation for evaders such as ourselves and ex prisoners of war who had been released from the POW camps which had been over-run by the allies.
I cannot forget the immense feeling of relief and I suppose wellbeing that came over me as I settled down on that mattress for the night, knowing that the last six month's ordeal was almost over, and I would soon return to the land of the living, as it were. The following morning which was bright and sunny, almost welcoming us back, we were fed, debriefed and issued with army uniforms (It was an army run outfit). After this we were free to explore the town, and on such a lovely morning enjoyed walking around and mingling with other people without fear. We were directed to the local barbers and had our second haircut of our stay, and what with that and the fact that we were able to take, to us, a luxurious bath, we both felt like new men.
We expected to stay here for one or two days, but it turned out that as there was a constant stream of transport aircraft flying into the local airfield bringing supplies and personnel, we were told after lunch to be ready to go at short notice. This notice was about one hour and we soon found ourselves seated in the Douglas Dakota aircraft, bound for England,and Croydon. Although the journey was uneventful I must say I was very excited, especially as we crossed the Englisclose to Hastingstonly a few miles from my home-town of Seaford. Soon, as it began to get dark, we were touching down at Croydon airfield. Here Duggie and I parted, as he was whisked away by the Army and I was placed in the hands of the R A F. My penultimate trip of the whole adventure took place in the form of a drive through South London to the rehabilitation centre at St Johns Wood, which strangely enough was very close to Lords cricket ground, where my RAF career had commenced some 3 1/2 years ago. I was now able to send telegrams to my parents telling them of my safe return, and that I would be home in a day or two.
I was in fact, at the centre for about 4 days during which time I was as it were re-enstated as a Flight Sergeant in the RAF, paid all the six month's back pay, and given brand new kit. We were all allowed some free time while we were heretand some of the lads explored London, enjoying their new freedom. I had an aunt and uncle living in Feltham, only a short train ride away, so I visited them. I must say they were quite shaken to see some-one whom they thought probably dead appear on their doorstep. However, once they recovered from the shock we all had an enjoyable evening, bringing ourselves up to date with the family news. My aunt brought my uniform up to scratch by sewing my Flight Sergeant's stripes and my wings on to the new uniform, and I left them later that evening to return to St Johns Wood, where I discovered that as all the paper work was complete, I was free to take seven days' leave before going on to a rehabilitation centre at Wolverhampton for medical check-up etc.
I cannot describe the feelings when I arrived at Victoria station and saw the familiar green electric trains of the Southern Railway, or when the train approached Haywards Heath, and turned towards Lewes, passing along the north of the Southdowns and later down the Ouse valley to Newhaven. When I stepped off the train at Seaford, I didn't exactly do a "Pope" and kiss the ground, but the feelings were there, especially as I walked the short distance to my home and the re-union with my mother, father and sister. My brother was in the Middle East with the RAF, so it took a bit longer to tell him. We didn't have any wild celebrations, but every'one was very happy that it had all turned out as it had. The war was not yet over,and we all knew that I would soon have to go away again, possibly to the Far East, very soon, but that's another story.
Some months after this little episode, I did get back into flying, and after a short refresher course in Lincolnshire, wast as expected, posted to India, ostensibly to fly on ferry command, delivering combat aircraft to the front in Burma. However, by then the war in Europe and the far east was over, so I spent the next few months flying Dakota transport aircraft, ferrying personal between Madras and Karachi on their way to demobilisation in England. During this time I kept up my proficiency in Dutch by writing regularly to Kees and Gre. In August 1946, after my own demob I made a trip to Holland to visit them both. Kees had his lorry back on the road, and I spent a few days helping him with his miscellaneous deliveries to various villages, mostly cheeses from the local factory in Heeten, where he then lived. He took me up to see the Smeenk family (Gre's family name) where I met the parents once more, and Heer Smeenk ferried me around on his very small motorbike. Some time later that year Gre came over to England for a few days, but after this we lost touch. I beleive she married an American and moved to the USA.
I kept in touch with Kees, and in 1960 after we were both married and had children, our family took a tent camping holiday in Holland when we spent some time staying with Kees and his family in Heeten, where his business had expanded to three lorries. We also visited Dr Tees, the vet who had taken me in when I first landed.
We visited again in 1964, this time with our caravan, staying with Kees again ,and this time, we also went to Marienburg to see whether the Smeenk family was still there. Johann had taken over the farm after the death of his parents, but the rest of them were scattered far and wide. Unfortunately the couple's only son had drowned at the age of three, in the very canal on which Duggie and I had lived in the barge, and as a result the whole thing had been filled in. Some years later Johann died and I have since lost touch.
Our family has kept in touch with Kees and his family over the years and we have visited each other on various occasions. In 1987 we had the pleasure of attending Kees' 40th Wedding anniversary, when the whole village turned out, including the local brass band in celebration.
Sadly, a year later Kees died from the effects of a lung complaint brought on by his heavy smoking, but we still keep in touch with the family. His youngest son, Martien has taken over the business, which now has three or four 40 ton lorries and delivers grain and other commodities all over Europe.
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