Part 6 : Into Holland

We were all relieved when at last orders came through for many of us to join various units and our bit of the war could begin.

We knew that the enemy had been pushed back far and wide very quickly and we were not expecting to get into any real trouble but we knew nothing of the actual circumstances with “market garden ” ourselves. Considering the very heavy fighting that had just taken place to occupy only a small part of Holland it was just as well as we sallied forth in our trucks one dark evening that we were really kept in ignorance of how hard it had been just to the north.

The tree lined straight roads looked sinister in the headlights and I marvelled that the drivers knew where to go.There were lots of little signposts pointing towards one unit or another and the correct one must have been easy to miss. We saw no real faces for mile after mile nor sign of habitation and I begun to realise how scenic our own little island could be even in the south east.

Although it was still only 2 months since I had seen my cosy home I wondered how long it would be before I would see it again. Yet at the same time I thought my tour of Europe was going pretty well as here I was crossing the border into my third country in a matter of a few weeks.

Suddenly we all pulled into a village square and here was the equivalent of a motorway stopover except it was the local school and there were no beds.

Somehow I felt that we were welcome guests in this new country and not just military, as they had already brought out pictures of their royal family that had been hidden away from the occupiers for over 4 years.

I could hear excited children laughing somewhere in the background and we could actually use normal toilets.

You wouldnt think that putting two school desks together to make myself somewhere to sleep would be comfortable but it made me feel great not to be on the ground . It was almost homely and I thought of the children who would sit here not having to listen any longer to nazi lies.

The following morning I crossed to the pump in the playground intending to get a few drops on my face and to my surprise a nun came over and pumped away for me while I managed to get a better wash and so did others.

I saw the name of the village was Beek en Donk and that has always stuck in my mind as the first moment when I realised that my experiences to date were more than just a big adventure.

I found it easier to forget about my lost education as the Dutch people seemed so much more ernest and like our own and made me feel here in the whole world was the most important place to be. Just like liberating part of your own country really except that the real work was being done by my older and more experienced colleagues up ahead of me.

It was a short ride to Mill that morning where I finally was serving with a unit in the field. What an apt name for a dutch village. This was a previous territorial field park company from Newcastle and the powers to be there were far less hospitable than the local population. The geordy accent was totally foreign to me and along with my mate Hedgecock there were hardly any others from the south of England and we were considered to be real softies, which we probably were.

We were all totally under canvass in orchards and as I walked to report in from the vehicle park there was a loud bang. More by bad luck than good management on the part of the enemy the very lorry I had just left behind was now in flames and I realised I had a guardian angel .

Most of my gear went up with it and so it was not a very good start to have to get the quartermaster sergeant to kit me up again. There were rows and rows of mechanical equipment here used to clear up the debris of war and but for the supremacy of the RAF would have been sitting ducks but the odd shell was all that could reach us although the front line was never more than 10 miles away on three sides.

It was terrible weather that October and November with constant rain and hail and to walk anywhere with the waterlogged state of the ground required extreme caution. Someone in our tent was intent on often lighting a small fire at the entrance which nearly choked us all as the smoke came inside and it was necessary at times to lie with your head out of the side under the flap.

There was decking put on the ground in some places but it soon got chewed up and the hardest thing was to carry your full mess tin from the cookhouse without losing everything. It was not easy to keep a rifle in a clean state and to prevent it from being stolen. This was a unit full of tough northern navies and if they had a problem with their weapon they would not hesitate to pinch another. I did in fact have a sleepless night when I lost my belt and I was lucky to get another without being put on a charge.

Many nights were broken by a sudden snap of the wooden apple trays from under one that we adapted to sleep on to keep us from lying on the bare sodden mud. When you lay on one to support you a few inches above the ground it simply did not take your weight more than a couple of nights,

Its amazing how few people ever went sick.

One day I saw a boy Pieter Claasen of about 12 or 13 sitting on a gate waving to me at the end of the field by the road which was lined by a few small houses.

I didn’t have a word of Dutch but it was easy to understand that he wanted me to come over and meet his sister who was called Netty and his parents. I had a month of their hospitality in the daytime and we played many card games and gave them a lot of my chocolate. After the war I kept in touch for several years until Pieter himself went into the Dutch army and his mother used to write to me in easy Dutch. Such friendships sprung up everywhere with the troops and although I lost touch for 50 years, with the help of the internet I have recently found the family again living in another house in the same area and I am planning to have a reunion in the spring of this year. Thanks to them what would have been a miserable rather boring 6 weeks in Mill became something really worthwhile.

In early November part of our unit moved a little further on with me to a larger town called Deaune and life became more active.

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