It was a sunny morning, with the famous Dutch bright blue skies, when I set out for school. Coming close to the building I saw clusters of people around an official bulletin posted on a nearby wall. In the proclamation the Germans stated that Allied forces had tried to land in France, but that they were repelled by the mighty German Army. Sieg Heil!
Pretty soon we became aware of the real story . It was THE INVASION of which we had dreamt and talked about for years. It was finally, finally there. Our excitement knew no boundaries.
I do not know how we were behaving in class that day but that's all we talked about. The war would soon be over, or so we thought. At home we poured over maps and made speculations on how soon they could be here, maybe a few weeks.
Hitler had miscalculated again and had sent the Panzer troops more to the North despite the recommendation of its commander to gomore South. At first Hitler thought troops would land in Norway which was not realistic, troops would die of hypothermia in the frigid waters before they reached land. He had the whole Atlantic and North Sea Coast fortified with bunkers and metal spikes. Houses on the beaches were destroyed first a few hundred meters of coastline was declared off limits and then it was doubled. More displaced people!
My parents had lived in France in the Normandy area before I was born and so mother knew all the little places that were mentioned over Radio Oranje. We knew that many brave people would lose their lives but the full scope of it became not known to us until after the war. Even the name D-Day was unknown to us until much later. Progress was slow - the allied troops faced the German panzers - but steady, however, never fast enough for us.
We kids discussed what we would eat after the war. Chocolate, ice cream, a nice steak we had endless fantasies. I cannot remember that we ever complained - kids are so resilient and adaptable. We knew the little ones among us had never even seen a banana or an orange!
Air raids in Germany and England were now going on day and night. At night, I would listen to the hum of the engines of the hundreds of airplanes that came over. I would recognize friend or foe from the engine sound.
Sometimes bombs would fall, prematurely or inadvertently. The phosphorous bombs were extremely nasty, they could set anything on fire. There was the period of the "Flying Cigars" as we called the V1 and V2 rockets.
They were flying low and made a horrendous noise. They were aimed at London, but they did not always make it and came down way before their target. In Rotterdam, a house across from my grandfather was hit. The house belonged to an elderly couple, who had their money in an iron box on the table and the canary in a cage next to it. When the bomb hit, they made it out with the canary but left the box with the money.
Getting on the bus, now powered by gas cylinders, was an exercise in itself and the pushiest ones won. I walked.
Then came another sign of hope Operation Market Garden started on 17 Sep 1944. We saw the gliders come overhead and marveled at them and wondered to where they were going. The destination was Arnhem and the bridge over the Rhine river, only 50 KM (abt 35 miles) away from us. We could hear the big guns, sometimes the house was shaking. Tragically this operation failed due to misinformation. Again so many brave men lost their lives there and many civilians too.
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But 10 miles to the South, Nijmegen on the Waal River was liberated but endured heavy bombing attacks from the Germans.
Meanwhile the excitement of impending liberation had built up again and the traitors among the Nazi sympathizers were fleeing east, some even on foot, pushing baby carriages with some of their belongings, to Germany.
Heavy fighting was going on in the Ardennes (The Battle of the Bulge) around Christmas time both sides suffering from the cold and fuel shortages, but the Allies made it to the Rhine and managed to save the bridge at Remagen.
Meanwhile other advances had been made towards the north through Belgium, and by the fall of 1944 much of the area south of the three big rivers Rhine, Waal and Meuse was liberated.
Shortages in the area north of the three rivers were now at a critical point and civility, a social veneer, went out the door. In the store we watched like hawks when the dairyman had to cut and weigh 50 grams of butter. Did he hold his finger on the scale? Did too much stick on his knife? Which store was getting a shipment of potatoes?
Did anyone know where to find a good lice comb? Standing in line for 8 to 10 hours was not unusual- and standing in line and not getting anything happened often too.