Part 2: My father’s Dutch war service

In May 2010 I posted Part 1 of my late father’s war story, who was a Dutch soldier during the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940. At the time of writing that post, I knew very little about his war service. Some knowledgable readers of this blog added comments to that post that filled in some holes. But a lot remained unknown.

My father is on the left of this picture, in the front row. Note the red cross emblem on his collar, showing his service in the Medical Troops.

Little did I know that some of the answers were just a couple of kilometres away, hidden in a drawer in my mother’s apartment. When I told her what I had been finding out here on the blog, she suddenly remembered a sheaf of papers that had belonged to Dad. When she pulled them out, lo and behold, there was his official war service record, as well as records relating to his service in Indonesia after the war.

At the top of this form, you can see that it dates from the post-war period, when Dad was in the Stoottroepen (Shock Troops) of the Netherlands army in the East Indies (Indonesia) … but that is another story. I’ll do a separate posting in a few weeks about Dad’s Indonesian service.

The information that relates to Dad’s WW2 service lies in the ‘Staat van Dienst’ section of the form. It shows that in September 1939, Dad was conscripted from the municipality of Swalmen (the village where he lived) into the Depot Battalion of the Medical Troops in Amsterdam (see my previous posting on this subject). Only a few months later, in January 1940, he was made up to corporal, and then three months after that to sergeant. He had therefore  been a sergeant for only a month when the Germans invaded on 10 May 1940.

What happened over those days, we don’t know. Dad never told us anything about the actual events of 1940. My mother believes he was in Rotterdam, which was badly bombed, though as a conscript from the southern province of Limburg, it was also possible he was stationed there.

After the capitulation of the Dutch, like many other soldiers Dad returned to his home. So you can see that for the remainder of the war he is shown as on “groot verlof”, or long furlough.

My father went back to Swalmen and worked for the radio firm he had been training with before the war. A couple of years later he was caught when the Germans wanted more men as forced workers in Germany (or, as a reader has suggested, when Dutch soldiers were called up again in 1943 to be put into POW camps). A lot of men went into hiding, including Dad. But he was caught. There were two men in the house at the time. One hid in roof, while Dad hid under couch. Somebody said there was a man on the roof, but by the time the Germans investigated, that man had disappeared. But Dad was still under the couch and got caught.

Dad ended up as a forced worker in Germany and was placed in a sausage factory, possibly in Wuppertal according to my mother, though I vaguely recall my Dad saying something about Cologne. Of course, he was then on the receiving end of the Allied bombing raids, which must have been harrowing for him.

Dad’s one story from that time was how they tried some basic sabotage. When making the sausages in big vat, they would throw in a gall bladder to make the meat very bitter. There were spot tests to taste the sausage, and if caught the punishment was very severe.

After the war he came back and finished his training, and set up radio repair business with a friend. Lots of radios had been hidden in war, so quite a lot of repairs needed. For a while the business looked promising, but then he was called up by the army  again when there were not enough volunteers to fight in the growing conflict in Indonesia. The last two entries in the ‘Staat van Dienst’ section show his return from long furlough to begin his post-war service in 1946 – but, as I said, that will be a tale for another time.

Go to Part 3 of my Dad’s war story.

10 thoughts on “Part 2: My father’s Dutch war service

  1. Fascinating Roly. On of my mother’s brothers was conscripted by the Todt Organisation in Italy and transported to Germany where he ended up slaving in a factory in Cuxhaven on the North Sea coast. After the war he walked back to Italy. Took him about six months to get home and in that time the family had no work of whether he was alive or dead.

    I laugh when I hear of modern refugee crises where a million or two people are forced from their homes by some calamity – natural or man made. In 1945 there were twenty million people on the road in Europe.

  2. super interesting! my opa was in a very similar situation… my oma had told me stories of him being forced to work for the germans while she watched over her brothers and sisters( forced to hide weapons for them in their house) keep up the research

  3. Can’t wait to read about his time in the East Indies – it’ll be the first ever Dutchman’s ground-level account of the IWI I will have read!

    1. Dad never said that much about his experiences in the East Indies, Vip. So when I do the follow-up posting on his service there, it’ll mainly be based on documentary evidence.

  4. Dear Sir, As an avid wargamer I came across your excellent work on the Great War diorama and had a look at your blog. I myself am Dutch and thus my interest was peaked by your story about your father. You cannot imagine my surprise when I noticed the fact that on your father’s record it stated he was living in Swalmen near the city of Roermond. I myself was born in said city and have been to Swalmen as well. I teach history at a local high school in Roermond and some locals have been mightily busy recording two massive tomes on Roermond (and surroundings) just previously and during the Second World war. I’d be happy to see whether I could dig up some stuff locally here about your Dad in archives and with those guys (one of whom I happen to know).

    Sincerely Sander van Straeten

    1. Hi Sander

      Thanks for that wonderful comment. It is a small world! I was in Roermond a year or so ago when we visited the Netherlands and visited my uncle, who still lives in Swalmen. I would love it if you did happen to find out more about my father. Perhaps you can contact me offline at my Hotmail address: roly_hermans@…….

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