Part 1: My father’s Dutch war service

The 10th of May 2010 marked 70 years since the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940. This was particularly meaningful for me, because my father was in the Dutch army at that time.

I know very little about my father’s service before and during the invasion. I recall being told that he was in the medical corps, and that he was in Rotterdam at the time it was bombed. But that’s about it – he seldom spoke of those times. All I have as a record are the couple of photographs shown below (click to enlarge).

My father's unit (2)
This is a postcard of my father and his room-mates, sent to his family from Amsterdam in 1939. In the inscription on the back, Dad says they are wearing “werkpakjes” (working clothes).
Detail picture (my father on the right)
This detail of the above postcard shows my father (far right). The name board held by the man on the left reads: “Kamer 19, Sectie I, 5-10-39” (Room 19, Section I, 5 Oct 1939)
The reverse of the postcard. The sender address is hard to make out (are there any Dutch readers who can help?), but appears to say: “afz. dpl (?) S Hermans, Depot Geneesh (?) Troepen, I Companie, Amsterdam”.
My father's unit
This is another photo of my father’s unit. There is no inscription at all on this one. Note the shako worn by the officer in the centre.
Detail from above photo
This is a close-up of my father from the group photo. He is wearing a greatcoat and sidecap, and is carrying a haversack over his shoulder and a pack on his back. He also wears gloves, unlike his comrades.

The Dutch army laid down arms on 14 May after the city of Rotterdam was bombed, and formally capitulated the next day. Resistance continued in  Zeeland, until the bombardment of Middelburg on May 17. Dad apparently remained in the Netherlands after the army was demobilised. Later in the war he was sent as a forced worked to Germany, where he worked in a sausage factory, possibly in Wuppertal.

When the war ended, Dad’s military service was not yet over. He sailed to the Dutch East Indies and was involved in the hostilities there. I have a few photos from that period, too, but they can remain for another posting.

I would love to know more about Dad’s war service, so I have written to the Dutch Ministry of Defence to see if there is any way to obtain a copy of his war records. If anyone else has any other leads I can follow up, please do let me know. In the meantime, I’ll think some quiet thoughts about what life must’ve been like for my Dad in those awful days four or five days from 10 May 1940.

For those who want to read an excellent English-language website on the invasion of the Netherlands, visit the War Over Holland website.

Go to Part 2 of my Dad’s war story

23 thoughts on “Part 1: My father’s Dutch war service

  1. I know that both my father and his brother, my uncle, served in WWII.

    Dad was stationed in Central America (signal corps) and had lots of stories to tell. My Uncle was in Europe (artillery) and never talked about his experiences.

    I think that many who experienced “the horrors of war” tried to forget what they saw or went through; while those like my father who served in non-combat theatres don’t have that problem.

    I suspect that your Father didn’t want to recall much of what he endured. But good for you for trying to learn more.

    — Jeff

  2. Top left the card seems to say:
    sender:dpl(dienstplichtige/conscript) S. Hermans
    Depot geneeskundige troepen (depot medical troops/service)
    1st company

    Then it says:
    Here you see our room (meaning the people he shared a room with), dressed in our work clothes/fatigues.
    Cordial greetings
    (I don’t now what the initial S. in the name stands for, but apparently in daily life the person was called Etienne (étjèn). Some people used their second or third name after their godfather or -mother, sometimes it was short for their full name: i.e. Ludovicus could be called Ludo)

    The adress is:
    Th. Hermans
    Rijksweg 508 A
    Swalmen (L.) (L meaning Limburg)

    You can google (maps) the adress and get a result near Roermond. If I’m ever in the neighbourhood I’ll try and take a picture of the house at number 508, if it still exists.

    The stamp on the top right says:

    I also give you this site which seems to function as a meeting point of ex-service man from 1939 upwards, for people searching info, comrades, they served with during ww2, the indies, etc….
    Maybe you can post a question there, if you would mail me, I would be happy to translate a message for you.

    Hope this help you forward some what.


    1. Piotr – how might I email you with a very important question about a Dutch service man during WW2? No one else would be interested but I have been searching for almost 30 years and it sounds like you are very knowledgeable. Please email me! I am hoping you can help!

  3. Hi,

    the sender’s adress seems to be:

    Depot geneesk(undige) troepen
    I Comp(agn)ie

    Which translates to

    Depot medical troops
    1st company



  4. I would imagine that many who suffered through World War two do not want talk at times about what the experienced. My father served in the Pacific theatre on a B-25 bomber as a navigator. He was wounded in 1943 (I think) on his first bombing mission against a Japanese naval convoy,
    so his experience was brief. Only because he was sitting in different position did the shrapnel hit his legs and lower extremities. If it had hit his chest I would not be here.
    3 weeks later the rest of his crew were shot down and the survivors were beheaded by the Japanese Army. He lived with that guilt for many years until he died during surgery at the VA in 1987.
    Too many young people today take for granted what they have and do not understand or comprehend those who have sacrificed much fighting for liberty and freedom.

  5. Bart, thank you for that translation – that at least confirms one of the things I was told.

    Would you be able to, by any chance, read and translate the letters before my father’s name in that address?

    I presume ‘afz’ means “sender” … but the ‘dpl’ has me stumped? Or could be ‘cpl’ (“Corporal”)?

    I have no idea what rank Dad achieved in 1939/40, though he was a sergeant by the time he was serving in the Dutch East Indies several years later..

    1. I can’t really make out anything more than ‘dpl’ or ‘cpl’, the latter of which would indeed be corporal, although that is written with a ‘k’ in Dutch. The name seems to be A. Hermans, although your father signs with ‘Etienne’, which does not start with an ‘A’. So not much more help there, I’m afraid.

  6. Hi,

    the text ont the card reads: “Hier ziet u onze kamer, gekleed in onze werkpakje, hartelijke groeten, Etienne”. which translates to: “Here you see our room, dressed in our fatiques. Kindest regards, Etienne”.
    NB the dutch word “kamer” in this context not only means the physical room itself, but also (as in this case) the group of men billeted together.

  7. Thanks for that.

    Dad’s name was Stephanus, but his day-to-day name was Frenchified to Etienne (as was the custom in the south of the Netherlands). So the signature is S Hermans.

    When he emigrated to New Zealand in 1952, he became simply Steve.

  8. I saw you post at TMP and replyed.
    I read here you almost got the full picture and i learn something more and that is that his first name really starts with an S. First i thought it was short for soldaat or soldier.
    The dpl means dienstplichtige what means that he was drafted (= correct english???) and not a voluntary soldier.

    The adress is:
    afzender dpl S. Hermans

    Fully written out that is:
    afzender dienstplichtige S. Hermans

    I hope this all makes some sense for you.


  9. Peter Verduyn from Belgium has emailed me the following feedback:

    From the comments I see that much has been covered. Indeed, years ago one had to register and the names had to be based on the names of the chirstian calender. In Belgium it was obligatory when registering a birth, and I guess in the south of Limburg (NL), near Belgium, it could have been a custom. So a “Ludovicus” would be called Ludo, Gabrielle would become Gabby, Petrus Peter, …

    The L. on the address stands for Limburg. You can still google (maps) the address and find the old Rijksweg (State road) parallel to the new highway at Swalmen near Roermond. If I’m ever in the neighbourhood, I’ll take a photograph of number 508, if it still exists…you never know.

    The dpl stands for DienstPLichtige (conscript). Maybe he started as a conscript and joined the army after the war?

    On the following forum/site, ex-service men/conscripts or their families try and find information about their comrades, reunions etc:

    I would be happy to translate a message from you. Maybe there you can also inquire about his service in the Indies.

    Also try googling: depot geneeskundige troepen 1 companie adding maybe 1939 or mei 1940.


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