Wednesday, January 29, 2014

De Stijkelgroep

In planning my visit to Westduin, I came across the Dutch War Grave information regarding the Stijkelgroep.
The leader of the group was one Johan Aarldrik Stijkel,( also known as  Dr Eerland de Vries)  he was born  in Rotterdam in 1911
Stijkel in a letter to his father from prison stated that he saw it as his duty to work against the German occupation forces.

The group's  aim was to gather intelligence on the German's movements around Holland and pass this back to England - as an example the group transmitted data on positions around IJmuiden, anchorages of seaplanes in Rotterdam and ammunition depots.
This was risky work and the group which numbered around 80 brave souls were inexperienced in espionage, as a result sadly made some basic errors which risked their safety. Major amongst these was allowing themselves to be infiltrated a collaborator called  Anton_van_der_Waals (executed following a trial in The Hague in 1950),  van der Vaals was known as the worst traitor active in The Netherlands during the war having given information ensuring the deaths of many from the Dutch resistance.
The group were eventually trapped during a botched attempt to secretly sail out of the harbour in Scheveningen and rendezvous at sea with a British submarine on the evening of  2 April 1941. Having been betrayed they were unaware that the German's had blocked the harbour and arranged for their arrest onboard the fishing boat KW133 "Eendracht". 

Stijkel attempted to escape however he and two other members of the group were arrested and taken to prison nearby in the notorious 'Oranjehotel'.

Over the following weeks other members of the group were arrested an brought to the prison.
The unusual thing was what happened next. The usual way in which traitors were treated by the Nazi's was to execute them publicly in their country in order to subdue the population. This group however were treated differently. On 26 March 1942 the group were transferred to a Berlin prison to await trial.
The trial was held in secret beginning in September 1942, on 26 September the verdict was delivered on the 39 -  32 were sentenced to death and 6 spared death to be sent to 'the camps'... one of the group died in prison.
Efforts were made by the Dutch authorities through the Swedish Embassy in Berlin for clemency and also to use the group in a swap for German spies held in the west. 
All of these attempts failed and on 4th June 1942 at Tegel Berlin,the group beginning with Stijkel himself were executed at 5 minute intervals.
The burial was in what was eventually to become the Russian sector of Berlin and in 1947 the group were repatriated to The Netherlands. A memorial service was held at the Grote Kerk in The Hague on 1 August 1947.
Coffins containing the group were then taken through the city  to Westduin for internment.

 Rest in Peace


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Commonwealth and Dutch War Graves in Westduin, Den Haag

Following our visit to the Australian War Memorial back in November 2013. I was struck by the way in which every day one of the Australian fallen in all wars are publicly commemorated during a solemn and moving service completed by the playing of the Last Post.
Australia War Memorial Canberra
On my return I have been researching British and Commonwealth War Graves from the Second World War in The Netherlands. My plan at some point in 2014 is to visit to Nijmegen.
I should not have been surprised really to find that I have a war graves cemetery very close by. In fact less than 10 minutes walk away from my apartment. This is the Westduin Cemetery, today I took the short walk to the cemetery to pay my respects.
The Westduin Cemetery links back to Australia as there are representatives from the colonial forces buried here in addition to British servicemen.
Westduin Commonwealth Cemetery
The majority of the graves are of aircrew, often the 5 man crew of a bomber who perished together as comrades in arms.
 Buried here are 87 casualties - 70 of whom are identified, amongst there are 6 Canadians, 5 Australians and 1 Czech.
There is of course a story behind every gravestone, one of which was  561257 Sgt Victor Spurr, 40 Sqn. RAF who perished with all of the crew when their  Bristol Blenheim IV was shot down on 10 May 1940 returning from a bombing run on Ypenburg aerodrome in the Hague. The Blenheim stood little chance against the well armed Messerschmidt 109's which harassed them constantly.  
 Blenheim IV
The was pilot Sgt Thomas Downes and his crew who flew in a  Handley Page Hampden for Bomber Command. Their plane came down in poor weather off the coast of The Netherlands on 12 February 1942 following an unsuccessful attack on the two German ships the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

In my researches about Westduin I discovered another story which will form my next post. This is because the cemetery also has a significant Dutch War Grave where 47 members of a Dutch resistance group called The Stijkelgroep are buried. 33 members of the group were executed by the Germans in Berlin on 4th June 1943.
 Johan Stijkel (1911-1943)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

3 years on.....

My third anniversary of living in The Netherlands has now passed, as has my 6th anniversary out of the classroom working for the IB.  Both seemed to cross my path without fanfare or trumpets. 

Anniversaries such as this often prompt people to consider a number of things including the future. Working in an office setting it soon becomes apparent that there is a 'sweet time' to be in a job. 
While it is still providing a challenging but providing job satisfaction after a period of say ...... 6 years. At around this time it may be wise to consider the possibility of a new challenge?

A new challenge in educational technology, perhaps closer to but not necessarily in the classroom. When one has perhaps a deal of practical experience, and one might actually be missing the daily challenge of a an international setting.
Apologies for this rambling thought..dear reader... too much time alone to think can cause the mind to wander off on flights of fancy.......who can foretell the future? 

Not this small slightly greying 50 something Welsh dragon for sure..... if anyone wishes to read my palm, I would be interested :-)

Sunday, January 05, 2014

.......and now it's 2014

A small child in Wales.....many years ago!

The world seemed very small in my home town of Newbridge around 1960 when I suspect this picture was taken.....has his view changed......what do you think?

In my head it was only yesterday that I set out with a one way air ticket from Cardiff Airport to The Netherlands. About to embark on a new chapter, living in a new country. 
That was in January 2011..... 3 years ago! 
As with all changes this one has not been without its difficulties and hardships requiring compromises, however I would still maintain that it was the right move to take.
It has given me not only the opportunity to view the UK from a different perspective. It has also enabled me to view up close the workings and mindset of my adopted country The Netherlands (not to be confused with Holland).
Regarding the UK, there are things such a the etiquette around queuing that can engender stress. With distance these often become endearing qualities.....the Dutch can spell queue, however have no idea on the definition of the word and as such are freed of all social constraints. 
What can I say about life here in the Low Countries? The Dutch have a reputation for being direct, which is true this can take incomers by surprise at first, however it is an admirable trait as it removes any possible misunderstanding.....and saves time.
As a trading race, they are also tolerant and welcoming of others.....with an eye on the deal of course! The Dutch have many sayings, one that I like is that all visitors arrive as strangers, but leave as friends. This is very true, I have found The Dutch to be friendly particularly if you make an effort.

As I embark on my fourth year away from home I feel as Welsh as I ever have, Ddraig Goch remains intact. I think that I also have a wider focus that comes from the added perspective having had the chance to view the world through a different lens.

The small boy playing in his garden - my dad still has the shed - had little idea of how the world was going to change in his lifetime.

Who knows what the future may bring....whatever it is embrace it.

I wish you the New Year that you would wish for yourself....