Wednesday, February 5, 2014

WW2 Memory

WAR TIME MEMORIES
1940-1945

Fabric Of Time

I am writing this as a Canadian citizen, now living in Ontario.
Born in The Netherlands, a few years before the second World War, I spent five years of my early childhood in wartime. These are important years for physical, mental, emotional and social development. 


No need to say that I had suffered due to lack of nutrition and for sure due to the wrong environment. I was one of six siblings at that time, and my parents were under great stress to keep us safe and fed. It was the wrong time to play games while war was raging and bombs came down around us. It was a very serious time for young and old.

I have been told that my father never had seen me as a baby. He became totally blind due to an accident when an old fridge, he was repairing, exploded and ammonia fluid came into his eyes and lungs. He had crawled to an area at his place of business where he could pound on the walls for help. 


In those days medical science was not so advanced, but at least they were able to repair one eye with part of a pig eye. After some time he could see again out of one eye. Nothing seemed to stop him as he continued with his inventions in the field of electronic technology. 

Before you continue, please, view these pictures.



I remember that I was standing in the public yard in the street where we lived at that time, the Merwede street in Utrecht, when somebody yelled for me to get off of the lawn and to come closer to the houses, which I did. 
Seconds later a bomb came down at that same spot where I just had been standing. It left a big hole in the ground. I was too small then to understand what could have happened to me.

Sometimes I saw Dutch girls walking down the street, their heads shaven bald with a swastika painted on it. They were pushed and being mocked by others. I was wondering what this was all about. As I learned years later, the girls had been going out with the German soldiers.

One day, I saw a fisherman's boat pulling up a German soldier's body in a big fishing net. My mother called me to come in the house, I was not supposed to see this. She was trying to shelter me from the gruesome effects of war.

Often, when fighter planes came over dropping their load of bombs, mother would call us together and we had to stand with our backs against the staircase, side by side. We were told that the staircase could provide us some protection in case the roof of the house would collapse. 


My older sister was ordered to open all the windows upstairs, so the glass would not break from the concussion. I remember, we could hardly hear ourselves because of the tremendous noise of the low flying airplanes and the bombardment.
The Germans were always in need of strong and skilled men to dig trenches; to set up devices and equipment to get information from the Allies etc. This meant that many Dutch men were not safe on the street and sometimes not even in the house. 


That is why I, as a little girl, did not see my father too often. I learned later, that he went out to scrounge for food for his wife and children or he hid beneath the floor to avoid being picked up during a raid.

Hidden beneath the floor, in this crawlspace, he chopped away on a piece of wood, making an attempt to carve a guitar. I still can see the unfinished "artwork" standing in a upstairs closet, long after the war. It looked abandoned and reflected sadness.

Sometimes my father had gone out in the evening, dressed up like an old woman to disguise himself. He wouldn't take any chance being picked up and work for the opposite "party". He then went to the farms to swap for food for our family, coal to cook with or for heating our home. 


I can still see him coming home dressed up like that. He hid apples in his underwear, to avoid German soldiers to stop him and snatch the apples.

One sunny morning my father wanted to see some daylight, after being in the dark under the floor for weeks. My mother walked around the block to check if it was safe for him to come out. He would then spent some time in the backyard.


At this particular day, when dad was in the backyard, the house was encircled with German soldiers. Father tried to flee... but to no avail. He was dragged away in front of his family and we did not see him for a long time, neither did we know where he was taken.


I was standing in the backyard with my wooden shoes on when this happened, and I cried : No... no... not my daddy... don't take my father!
Of course, no soldier would pay attention to a little girl's cry. I still can feel the pain and the shock.


At a later date my father escaped and returned home, wounded, starved and sick. For us, he was beyond recognition and it took him a long time to recuperate. He was a man with an iron will, who's dictionary did not have the word "Cannot". 


He had survived already a broken neck, blindness and lung perforation through an accident. He was going to survive again. He died at the age of 87 years, in November '93. 

During his earlier years, dad had invented several things in the field of electronic technology; regarding television; amplification of sound; electricity converter etc.

During those wartime years my older sisters and I went once a week to a place where water was made hot in big tanks. We did have an old baby carriage with several steel pails in it which were filled with hot water for the laundry. My sisters pushed the loaded carriage back home again. I just scurried along.

Once in a while, our parents allowed us to go to the Red Cross soup kitchen, called "Gaarkeuken". We did not go too often, because father felt that we should leave that food for children who had nothing to eat... hmmm!


We often had still some fodder beet pulp , tulip bulbs , starling soup, raw green peas or the odd apple to eat. Father shot the starlings for the soup with a pellet gun. I think we ate cat too.

I was too small to distinguish what all was in our diet.

Whenever I see or smell cooked red cabbage I have to think of the "Gaarkeuken" or "Soup kitchen". We stood in a row with a plate in our hand and when we came to the big steel kettle a lady dumped a blob of mashed potatoes with red cabbage and a scoop of some grease on our plate. 


My big sister would urged me to go for a second helping, although she knew I could not eat it. She finished her own second helping and then ate mine. I still don't know how she could get it down her throat.

At one time I dropped a spoon on the floor, and while I went down to pick it up I looked around under the "table", made from long boards.
I had a view of something which would make anybody cry; dozens of little feet without socks or holey socks; poor fitted and holey shoes; worn out wooden shoes; underwear with big holes and sloppy elastic, skinny legs some with sores on them etc.

I stayed down there a little longer than needed and I do remember what a great impression it made on me, as a five year old. 

Sometimes I went to a school close by, which was occupied by the Germans. As young as I was I helped peel their potatoes and then they gave me some to take home. I felt I was helping the wrong party, but we needed food too!

In those days we had to do with very little, but whatever we did have we learned to share. A tall and skinny man came once a week to have something to eat at our house and because his eyesight was poor (cross eyed), I had to make sure that his plate was cleaned well. Sometimes I even had to feed him the last bites of edible substance.


I always was a little scared and sometimes I shivered by his looks. Nobody asked me if I did mind feeding this man. We just did it. Big or small, we all had chores to do, if we liked it or not. Just square your shoulders and get at it, would dad say. 


Imagine being a "social worker" at five or six years of age. To tell you the truth, it never did hurt me. It was part of life and as I learned later, those experiences developed my character and sensitivity to the needs of others. No wonder I became partner
in the Health and Social Field, once I emigrated to Canada. 

There was neither much fuel of any kind to cook with or to keep us warm by. I cannot remember too well how my parents solved this problem other than that we often did wear layers of clothes, of course all hand-downs, poorly fitted and wooden shoes on our feet, to keep us comfortably warm. The Germans stole all our supplies.

Wood or coal was hard to come by, but one day my father did cut a large tree down with a handsaw. This tree was standing in a public yard in our street. A neighbour boy helped and his widowed mother was also going to get some of the wood.


A German officer came by on his bike and ordered my father to hand him his saw. The officer said that my father could not cut the tree and keep the wood.
Dad told the young lad to go home, he did not wanted him to get hurt. 


The Germans soldiers were unpredictable and one would never know what to expect. Father did not show any fear and no way was he going to give his saw nor the wood. He made this clear to the Officer. He was a brave man, he rather would die or be shot than to give in to such a demand. He needed to look after his family even at the risk of his own life. The officer did retreat quietly.

Really, my mother was brave too, she never cried in front of her children during those war years, even after the Germans took my father away. She had to look after us all by herself for many months and I have never seen her upset or crying. But I am sure that she unloaded herself when we were all in bed. 


We went early to bed, because there was no electricity, thus no lights at night. We slept with three children in a double bed, of course that kept us warmer. Sometimes my older sister or my only brother would sneak up to the attic in the dark, to "steal" an apple or a handful of dried green peas. We always seemed to be so hungry!

My first contact with a chocolate bar was when the Canadian soldiers marched past our house and my sister told me to run over to them and ask for one. They were on their way to the swimming pool for their morning exercise.


Their song was loud and clear: "It is a long way to Tipperary," their tread was fast and I had a hard time keeping up with them. I grabbed the hand of one of the soldiers and I only said "chocolate", not even knowing what it was. He immediately stuck his hand in his pocket and handed me this flat bar called "chocolate". 

What an experience for a little girl.

Of course we, as children, could not understand English and for a long time I thought that the song: "It is a long way to Tipperary" meant: "It is a long way to peace and freedom", at least that was my logical interpretation.

The winter of 1944-45 was a severe and cold winter when many Dutch people died of starvation and exposure. Also in our family was lack of everything. My mother told me later that she prayed to the Lord and said: "Lord if you don't provide, there is nothing else for us than to die."


Not long after, the Canadian soldiers did liberate us and big containers of food were dropped in the fields close by. My older sisters waved with their bed sheets out of the attic window to the low flying Allied aircrafts.

Their noise was welcomed, it brought LIFE. No need to say what the Canadian Remembrance Day means to me, seen from the other side of the coin.

May 5th, 1945 was the big day of Liberation and when Queen Wilhelmina spoke to her people via the radio not too many had a radio to listen to her, because the Germans had confiscated most of it.

My father, being a genius and inventor, had a home-made radio and we had to take turns on the treadle sewing machine to generate electricity, so we could hear the Queen's speech. The radio was set up by the upstairs open windows and hundreds of people were standing outside listening, as I can remember.


We were free at last!

After the war we went back to school, and soon it seemed we as children had forgotten all about the war. We played again with marbles, skipped and played hide and go seek in the narrow alleyways between the rows of houses.

I did attend a Christian Elementary and High School. There was not much excitement about going to school. I had to learn four languages at High School and I hated most days. We did a lot of swimming in the summer and skating in the winter and we became as tough as shoe leather. Most of our free time was spent outdoors. 

In my last school years I had different boyfriends, as any other girl had. Later on 
I was going steady with a boyfriend who managed a "Dance Cave". This was a converted storage space beneath the stores along the "Oude Gracht", an old canal in Utrecht.

I became a heavy black tobacco chain smoker, a drinker of alcohol and all other bad things. A good thing that drugs were not too available in those days, although there was marijuana around.
This was the beginning of some painful years... learning the hard way.

My teenage years were very rough, I did hang around with the wrong crowd and I did not know how to get disentangled.

I had left my parental home to live on my own and shared a few rooms in someone else's house. It was not easy to make ends meet and often I had two jobs


I worked at a Newspaper, Dagblad Trouw, proofreading, accounts and putting advertisement columns together. In the evenings I washed dishes at a local hospital. Later, I worked as receptionist/secretary of veterinarians at a Provincial Animal Health Service (farm animals).

Thoughts of the wartime haunted me from time to time, and at some point in my life it nearly took completely over. Psychologically it came over me as a heavy blanket and physically I could hardly breath at times. Other days, I could not see for several minutes, while there was nothing wrong with my eyes. The devil was really trying to take a hold of me and he nearly did.

I had been living a wrong lifestyle and it had ruined my young life. I had chosen the broad path. What to do next... I did not know. Where to turn next? Would death be the answer?

In my desperation I called upon God not really knowing on whom I was calling. I was not a Christian at that time, not even a churchgoer.


Through an outstanding miracle I was saved from the pit of hell and lifted up into His Glory. I had met the Saviour Jesus Christ.

* *After marriage and given birth to our children, we immigrating in 1966 to Canada. Years later my husband and I went back to The Netherlands and visited the graves of the Canadian soldiers who died in the fields of what was once my homeland. I stood there with mixed feelings and I was very much touched by the thought that I had become part of these fallen young men, through national status... I wept.* *



This picture was taken on our granddaughter's wedding, Sept. 2011, two days after I was in the hospital with a rare type of malignant
cancer. God touched my body and He got me through without Chemo or radiation treatments. I was 73 years at the time. Praise His name forever! God preserved my youth, no grey hair yet.

Please read also: My Testimony


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