From the Lowlands to the Hills by Tora Kolff Gerretsen (CCB XVIff)
The book describes the childhood of the author and the whereabouts of the Kolff-Gerretsen Family (CCB XVIff). The family moved from Holland to Indonesia, back to Holland and in the 1950s to New Zealand.
The author is Tora Kolff (Victoria Christiane Gerretsen, born 1912, deceased 1994, married 1934 to Cornelius Kolff). The book was published in the 1980s. Publishing this book here supports the aim of this site: to provide information to family members and to keep family members from all over the world united. Pictures at this section of the site are all reproductions from the book.
Division of Chapters: each chapter has two or more pages.
Thanks go to Tora’s son Hans Willem (Willie) Kolff (CCB XVIIoo) from Denmark, who contributed to the site with these pages.
This is the story of a strong Dutchwoman and a good New Zealander.
Tora’s life has taken many twists and turns – events over which she had no control completely taking charge, but with her genius for adaption and thoughtful assessment she has built on what was there and begun every new experience with courage and curiosity.
This glimpse of alien cultures, Dutch and Indonesian, in the early and middle part of the century, and back again to occupied Europe, is fascinating and absorbing. When the story moves to New Zealand it is refreshingly funny. The polite puzzlement with which this Dutch family observed some of our more absurd conventions is delightful. I am intrigued by the references to the strong women who have been so important in shaping Tora’s life – Ma, that early feminist, Sister Anna and Rita, the Girl Guide leader, and I keep hoping we may hear more about them in another story. This one has been written primarily for the extended family. Being printed it may well interest and delight many more readers.
The family photo that hangs above my writing desk tells more about the past than many written pages. Or better, it tells me a lot, because I was part of it. It was taken during the summer of 1915. I was three years old then. I remember quite a bit of that summer. In my memory the first of many summers spent in our house at Noordwijk-at-sea. The house was named “Qui Procul” which means, far away from, followed, in the Latin poem by Homerus, by the words – the noise of the city.
In the photo our whole family is sitting in the dunes at the back of the house. I am in the front row with my teddy bear on my knees. I remember the white bonnet, tied with a bow under my chin, the red baize jacket and the brown shoes.
In the back is a vague picture of army tents. World War One. Holland was not directly involved, but surrounded by the noise of war.
The money to build the house was given to my parents by a well-to-do lady friend. It cost at that time 3000 guilders ($1500). The spot was ideal: about five minutes’ walk from the seashore, so that we were protected from the strong North Sea winds.
My father planned the house together with Mr Plug, the village carpenter, who also did the building. That was in 19O9, before I was born. Every summer our family went to the seaside, not only as a holiday treat, but also because my sister Liesje (Lizzie) was not in good health. T. B. was a serious health threat at that time. My mother and father – or Mama and Papa as we called them – were great believers in the curative influence of the sea. Mama went for a sea bathe every morning before breakfast until she was seventy-two.
The house had a dining room and sitting room downstairs, also a study for my father, which became the boys’ bedroom later. Beside kitchen and toilet (not yet a flush one!), we had a little cellar to keep milk, fruit, meat and vegetables in fresh condition; also a front and back veranda. Upstairs were three large bedrooms and one small one for our servant Aal, who is also in the photo. Later it became the guest bedroom. All the walls were made of stained timber; wooden floors with lino and mats downstairs, no floor covering upstairs. Gaslights, candles and the water pump were replaced by electricity and a tap during the nineteen twenties. We also had a flush toilet, but the changes didn’t alter the simple character of the house.
On top of the roof was an iron bell with a thick cord going through the roof, passing through my parents’ bedroom into the sitting room from where it was operated many times during the day to call us for meal and swimming times.
When we went for a swim we were not allowed to stay in longer than ten minutes. That rule was specially for we little ones, myself and my four year old brother, Paul. Later, when we joined with the rest of the family we were much freer, but I have always understood what Ma meant by saying “Too much sun and too long in the sea is not good, it can be dangerous”. We grew up with a great love, but also with great respect, for the sea.
Bathing at the so-called “quiet beach”, where there were no bathing cabins, pulled up by a horse as close to the sea as possible to be protected from curious glances and from the strong cold winds, was much freer. All the same, we divided into two groups, males and females. The latter undressed under the cover of rain capes. Pirn, who came into our family as a friend of my brother Huub (Hubert) when I was four years old, laughed about all these restrictions. He had for swimming togs a tiny triangle, just covering the essential parts, which I found most interesting, questioning what was underneath.
My mother looks still young in the photo. She was forty-seven and had brought nine children into the world. One died when he was three months old. Ma was a progressive woman for her time. Although we had a big house in The Hague and were the owners of “Qui Procul”, our daily life-style was frugal. As a minister of the church my father had a small income. We could hardly afford to eat meat and when we had an egg for breakfast it was always divided into halves or even quarters. The proteins were replaced by brown beans and split peas. We always had brown bread and lots of buttermilk.
I can’t remember that I was ever forced to eat anything I didn’t like. Maybe I always had a good appetite. One of Ma’s slogans was, prepare the meals to the taste of the children, so that the food goes down happily.
A special treat at Noordwijk were the blackberries. We picked them in the dunes behind our house. But those for meal times, with custard or rice pudding, were picked much further away by the village children who sold a soup plate full for twenty cents.
Ma didn’t dress in a lady-like manner. She wore “reform dresses”, loose hanging pinafores with blouses underneath. Even her bras were “reform-style”. She did wear a corset, which I could feel like a harness around her body, moving up and down with her breathing, when she lay down with me on my bed when I was scared in the dark and she stayed with me until I dropped off to sleep.
She was always a good story-teller, especially about things of the past. I have no memories of being educated in a formal way. I grew up more than I was brought up. We had some rules like bathing time and meal times, but in between I went my own way. I never had to go to Sunday school or church. I enjoyed the Sunday mornings, when one of the older ones stayed at home with “de kleintjes”, the little ones, the smell of coffee while I played my game in my corner, the otherwise busy house so quiet and peaceful.
My father looked bright and happy on the family picture, his hands on the shoulders of brother Paul. It was however shortly after that summer that he had his breakdown. I remember very little of him. Being lifted up on his shoulders or playing “hidden bears” under a blanket. I also remember a children’s Sunday morning session in the dunes. That must have been the summer the photo was made. A group of children from the village were there too. We all sat in the grass, there was the smell of thyme and the humming of bees. A boy sitting next to me was playing with a butterfly, and I was thinking, if you touch its wings, it will die. Papa told us a story from the Bible. Which one I can’t remember.
Another time we went to a toy shop to buy a kite. Just any one I liked. It didn’t matter how much it cost. Toys were always first class.
After my father had his breakdown, my memories are few and sad. He was forty-eight when that happened. He died when he was fifty-six. Most of those eight years he spent in institutions. His life as a progressive theologian had been difficult. He was the first one who introduced the liturgy into the Protestant Church in Holland. Queen Wilhelmina, whose chaplain he was, was not in favour of liturgical services. He also came under pressure when his opinion was asked of the literal understanding of the Bible as God’s word. When he wrote his book, “Scripture Criticism”, his churches became empty, although he always had the support of a small group. Many people came to him for counselling. It became too much. Above his writing desk the words, IN SPITE OF were written in clear print on a strip of cardboard and pinned on the wall. They have always stayed in my mind.
After my father had moved into the background, my brother Huub took his place. He was second to eldest. My sis Truusje was eighteen when I was born and had left home. My first memories are not even directly connected with her as a person, but with the thesis she had to present as a law student after she had finished her study. The whole family went to the city of Leiden except for me, because I had the mumps, and Hans, my six years older sister, who looked after me. She cooked me some lovely semolina porridge with a spoonful of jam on top.
I was eleven when Truusje got engaged to Albert Bosman, a pacifist. I was dancing around singing “I’ll become an aunt, I’ll become an aunt”. The engagement broke off. Later she married Jan Bool. They never had children, a great tragedy in Truusje’s life. Their house was always open to nephews and nieces or whoever needed a helping hand including myself. But it seems to me that Truusje has missed out in life. Her weekly letters, when I lived away from Holland, were a great help and joy. Her handwriting was cj. ear and so were the contents of the aerogrammes. She could express a lot in a few words. But all this belongs to a much later stage of my life. In the photo she is my eldest sister, appearing and disappearing.
Huub, like my father, carried me often on his shoulders, my hands holding on to his hair, sometimes in too tight a clasp. A voice would come from below “Hey, take it easy”. To be high up was such an exciting feeling with underneath the regular footsteps, I swinging gently from one side to the other.
Huub explained many things to me. Sometimes he was clear and down to earth, other times he was more talking to himself. That the earth was round he showed me by holding his fist in front of me. We walked home from Noordwijk-inland, as the older part of the village was called, to Noordwijk-at-sea. It was in the evening and already dark. We stopped under a street gas light. His fingers tripped over his fist, walking around the globe. I had to imagine that there was no pulse connecting his fist to his arm. Yes, I understood.
Another time he showed me the inside of a red cabbage. This happened in the Hague. Ma was preparing tea. Red cabbage is a winter vegetable in Holland, not used for pickles. I sat on the kitchen bench and begged Ma to let me go with a girl friend and her parents to Germany on a holiday trip. I must have been about ten then. “Can you see the beauty of that cabbage?”, Huub asked me. “There is still such a lot to be discovered close around you before you go to other countries”. He didn’t moralise. There was always something to look forward to, something exciting.
Later, when we talked about the illness of my father, which I found very hard to accept, he helped me by saying that there are many things in life we can’t explain, but in spite of. Yes, in spite of.
One day coming home from school, I felt very agitated. Some children were playing funny games behind the shrubs, talking about babies coming into the world.
I told Liesje and Hans what I had heard. They passed it on to Huub. He sat on my bed that night and I told him what I was puzzled about. He explained what was right from what I had heard. “The rest”, he said, “I’ll explain later when you are a bit older”. I think he didn’t know how to handle it at that moment, but I felt quite satisfied. Later, when I became an aunt at the age of thirteen, he told me the full story.
At a young age Huub knew that he wanted to become a painter. Ma wrote in her diary – Huub, three years old, loves to look at pictures. He went to a small private school, where he learned French as a second language at an early age. Most of his school time he spent on reading. I don’t think he had any further secondary education. Later, he had private painting lessons from Pirn’s father, whom we called Opa van der Valk. He married when he was in his thirties. Erna, his wife, had lost her husband shortly before their first son, Harry, was born. When they moved into a flat next to Truusje and Jan, she got to know Huub. Together they had four more boys. It was a blessing that Papa had insisted that Huub had to go to the academy of fine arts in the Hague to get his degree. For years he taught at secondary schools to make a living. In the beginning it was sheer hell, but later he enjoyed it and so did his pupils, but painting, especially children’s portraits, had his priority. He became a well-known artist in the Hague.
Number three from the top is brother Henk. He is sitting next to my father in the photo. He must have been fifteen and still at High School. Henk was the organiser of competitions when we stayed at “Qui Procul”. Building the strongest sand castle or the best flying kite, building your own boat, a model boat, was a very popular one. I remember one of Henk’s sailing boats drifting away from’ the coast with such speed that he couldn’t catch it any more. “Off to England”, Henk said, and I believed it would reach the other side.
A great variety of children took part in his competitions, village children as well as children from the holiday people. Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday on 31 August was a general feast day, flags waving from the flag poles, games, and all different activities for young and old, finishing with fireworks at night. Henk once organised all the children’s competitions. We walked in a long procession over the promenade along the coast with a barrel organ in front. I always felt a bit sad on that day, because it meant the end of our summer holidays, the end of our staying at “Qui Procul”. “Brother Hein” as I always called him, became an architect. At the age of eighty-three he is still building. But now his buildings have become castles in the air.
Liesje, an abbreviation of Elisabeth, doesn’t look very happy in the photo. Maybe she didn’t feel too well that day. In my memory Liesje, like my mother, was always there. She read many books to me, even after I had learned to read myself. She had a soft, rather monotonous voice, hiding the excitement that built up the story. We shared a bedroom on the third floor of our house at the Hague. If I was still awake at night when she went to bed, I crawled under the blankets with her and she told me a story. Not always, only when she felt like it. The one I liked most of all was the preparation for going to “Qui Procul”. But that happened only once during the winter months. Then Liesje summed up all the things that were packed in suitcases and baskets to be collected by van Gend and Loos (like Nelson Transport). I listened carefully to see that nothing had been forgotten; all the windows closed, curtains drawn, the front door locked and on our way to the steam tram, later replaced by the blue electric tram and a bus. When we arrived at “Qui Procul” the shutters were opened, the clock wound up. I tried first of all to see if I could still fit into the highchair. No more, after I had become five, but it stayed under the clock, waiting to be used by the next generation.
After we had gone through the house, looking in every corner to check if everything was as we had left it and of course ringing the bell, we were off to the beach. That feeling, when your feet touched the sand for the first time after the winter, I’ll never forget. All this was r,e-lived under the blankets. I think Liesje enjoyed it as much as I did.
“Lou the milkman”, Liesje continued. “Yes”, I whispered. I was waiting for him. I heard the clinking sound of the milk cans. While Lou was talking to Ma, I climbed up on the seat of the milk cart and off we went from one house to another, galloping in one stretch along the promenade, the wind blowing through my hair, the flags floating from the flagpoles in front of the hotels. Lou’s right foot with the clog resting on the horse’s muscular behind, moving up and down in a steady rhythm. The sound of the rapidly moving hooves over the bricks. Lou stopped his milk delivery at Noordwijk-inland. The walk home later in the morning was long and dreary, but it didn’t keep me from climbing the milk cart the next morning.
After Liesje had finished high school she went to training college. It was more to fill in time before she went nursing. She was not an institutional person and was very homesick. Later she became a district nurse. I don’t think she was very happy in that position either. She wanted to become a housewife and mother. This happened when she met Jan Kluiver, a minister. Official functions did not suit her. She shared every-day living with the village people. Jan never tried to get a position in a town. Liesje disliked organising meetings or bazaars. The kettle was always boiling for a cup of coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. They had three sons.
Hans was eight years older than I. She too took part in looking after me, although differently from Liesje. Hans taught me how to read when I was four years old. I can’t remember how she did it, but at the age of four I could read more or less what they put under my nose. She taught me how to add and how to subtract, how to knit and how to crochet. I also started to shed my teeth at the age of four. One day Hans took me to the high school to show her teachers all the miracles I could perform. With my mouth wide open I stood in the playground to be inspected by the staff; I don’t remember that this early start triggered off any expectations about my future.
The only disadvantage was that I was bored stiff at school. The starting age was, and still is, six in Holland. To help my mother, who daily visited my father, the head mistresses (two) offered to take me at the age of five if my mother was prepared to let me double the first year. I knew the basics and had to sit two years in the first class. The teacher thought me pig-headed and I lost interest, which was a pity, because that particular school had a lot to offer. It was based on new thoughts brought into the education system by Jan Lighthart. He tried to bring school and daily living close together. A good example is his book “Ot and Sien” (equivalent to basic readers) which was recently reprinted. I stayed at the same school until I was sixteen and passed my final exams with low marks, except for Dutch and History.
My memories with Hans and Noordwijk are connected with Kees Boeke and his wife, Betty. Betty was a Cadbury from the famous chocolate factories. They were outspoken pacifists. Truusje and Huub had joined their ranks and also Hans at the age of fourteen. One day a whole group of the Kees Boeke tribe biked from Bilthoven, in the centre of Holland, to Noordwijk. They arrived late at night and slept on our veranda. Ma was upset because of what the village people would say. It was difficult for her to handle such an outspoken family all by herself.
Hans became a strict vegetarian, refusing the little bit of meat or fish that was on the table. She often had a saucer with peanuts to replace the protein. I would have liked to eat peanuts instead of the little meatballs with lots of bread in them or the so-called stew with here and there a thread of meat in it.
Hans certainly didn’t show any lack of protein in the functioning of her brains. At the age of seventeen she sat an exam to obtain a private bursary and became a science student. There was no help from the government. All secondary and following-up education had to be provided by the parents. Hans told me later how guilty she felt when she passed and a boy missed out. He should have had priority as a future breadwinner, she thought.
Pim was still a regular visitor of our family. When he shared our weekend meals he always sat next to Hans, opposite the large mirror that was hanging above the mantelpiece. Nobody seemed to notice. But I remember Pirn jumping over the back of the chair to take possession of his favourite place. Another time I came into the diningroom and I saw Pirn kissing Hans. It didn’t make a big impression on me. Pirn was like a grandfather to me. He was twenty years older and bald.
It came as a bombshell when he walked into the kitchen while Ma was cooking pea soup, the Saturday evening meal with pancakes as dessert, and asked “Mevrouw, can I have Hans as my wife?”. Ma was so upset that she answered, “Out of the kitchen or I’ll throw the pot with pea soup at your head”.
In spite of this threat they got married. Hans was not yet nineteen and Pirn thirty-two. He had a good job as a professional engineer in Amsterdam. Hans could have carried on with her study, but that was not yet the pattern at that time. She was keen to be a housewife and mother. They had six children. For me their family life was a good introduction on how to bring up children. Most of my holidays I spent with Hans and Pirn in Amsterdam and later in Laren.
Two of my sisters had dark hair and brown eyes like my father, Truusje and Willy. Willy was six years older than I. I was convinced that she was the best looking girl in the world, because Huub made several portraits of her and Huub was a famous painter.
Willy learned to play the violin when she started high school. When she and Huub played duets on Sunday night, I felt overcome with awe. No need for me to learn to play the piano. All the same, I had to start with piano lessons when I was six. My greatest concern was how to hide my dirty fingernails from the all-seeing eyes of Miss Boogaerd. My thoughts were still with my marbles in the pocket of my petticoat and not with Miss Boogaerd”s counting, one – two – three, one – two -three.
Letters and words were alive to me from the beginning, but notes were funny round things, pricked on little sticks. The dull sounds coming from somewhere in the piano were in no way related to the music that filled the sittingroom on Sunday evenings.
When Willy was seventeen years old, she joined a youth orchestra conducted by Adriaan Schuurman, nineteen years old. Their relationship started very idyllically but during the seven following years many problems had to be solved.
The most severe one was that Willy got cancer of the bowel. She was operated on and received radiation treatment, but the specialist told my mother confidently that there was no hope. Ma had heard about a woman who claimed to have success in curing cancer through water and steam baths and eating a strict diet. This person had learned about the cure in Germany.
Truusje was the only other one in our family informed about the seriousness of the situation. She and Ma, with Willy’s consent, decided to give it a go. Our G. P. and the specialist shrugged their shoulders. There was nothing more they could do anyhow, so what. . .
For two years Willy had to live a very strictly programmed life. In the beginning she stayed with Truusje and Jan, who were married at that time. Twice a day she had to sit on a low stool in a tub filled with water, her legs each on one side of the tub. She sat just above the water level splashing the water over her abdomen with a flannel for twenty minutes.
Once a fortnight, Mrs Boogaerd (not related to my piano teacher), came to give her a steam bath. Pots and pans, filled with water, were put on the gas stove. You could hardly see for the steam. Willy sat in the nude on a chair with a cane seat with little holes in it. Under the seat, a pan with boiling water was filled up again as soon as it had cooled down.
It was an exciting moment when our doctor walked in one day to check how Willy was getting on. This happened about two years after Willy had started her cure. He couldn’t believe his eyes or his fingers which could not feel any of the tumour in her bowel any more. The specialist and an X-ray confirmed the doctor’s finding.
Weddings in Holland can be official or casual, whatever preferred. Instead of many speeches, parts of the lives of bride and groom are presented in poems or acting, mostly bringing out the humorous side. At the wedding of Willy and Adriaan ’the tub’ played an important role. Every couplet of the song referring to Mrs Boogaerd’s treatment ended with “ti-ta-teiltje”, teiltje standing for tub.
Willy’s and Adriaan’s lives have been concentrated on their children and music. Adriaan was, and still is, an organist, conductor and composer. They have passed their love for music on to their six children. Willy died of cancer at the age of sixty-eight.
Paul was three and a half years older than I. My childhood memories with him are not very happy ones. We didn’t play much together and if we did I felt threatened by his tyrannical attitude which was most likely a result of his uncertain and nervous character.
I remember how he was always hiding under a bed when a plane flew over, which didn’t happen often at that time. He was also scared of the dark and made me scared too. In the photo on the dunes my father has his hands on Paul’s shoulders as if he wants to protect him. As the Jan Lighthart school was only for girls, Paul had to go to a different school. He was never very happy there. Papa often stayed with him in the classroom, sitting with him on the form until he calmed down. When our father became ill and had to go to an institution, Paul became desperate. “It’s unfair”, I can still hear him screaming, stamping his foot on the ground, “he should not have worked so hard. Now we don’t have a father”.
When he was twelve years old, he stopped growing, and because he was broad-shouldered his body seemed to be out of proportion. His main interest at that time was the radio which was still in its beginnings. He built his own set and it was quite an occasion when we listened for the first time to the morse sounds received from a ship in the North Sea. Later, he managed to receive musical programmes which echoed through an enormous brass microphone from the second floor open bedroom window into the street, to the great dismay of the neighbours and of Ma. Instead of going to high school, Paul went to an Ambachts school (a technical school) for three years. He enjoyed the work, but didn’t make friends as most of the pupils came from backgrounds different from his. Class distinction was still strong in Holland. Paul was the outsider and he was not accepted. All the same it was a wise decision of Ma’s because he could develop his main interest in radio and, much later, television.
After he had finished at technical school, he followed another course specialising in radio, and after that he decided to go to a college in Germany for three years. How he managed to get his diploma without having learnt German at school was a miracle. He married the sweetest woman I have ever met. She shared his difficult life until the end when he died at sixty-one. They had five children, all very intelligent. In their careers they made up for what Paul had missed out on.
Uncle Willy in the back row of the photo was the husband of Ma’s youngest sister, Tante Truus. He too was a minister of the church, like my father. But later he dropped out of the ministry and became a socialist, together with his wife. Tante Truus was the first registered socialist woman in ^Holland. I remember some of their life story like background music, Ma coming home from a visit to Tante Truus when Tante was ill. Uncle Willy had left her and had travelled to Berlin with their youngest son. There he joined the Communist Party. Tante Truus died at a fairly young age. When Hitler came into power, Uncle Willy and his son fled to Moscow. At the end of World War Two they were both dropped by parachute into Holland. Uncle Willy, who was seventy, was caught by the Germans and shot dead but his son escaped.
The last person in the photo to be mentioned is Aal, our servant. I remember little of her. Maybe because when my father became ill, we didn’t have servants any more. Ma had weekly help from a charwoman and the washing was sent away every fortnight. When it came back, packed in sacks, it was sorted out by Marie, an elderly woman who did the ironing and the mending. The kitchen was warm and . cosy with the stove burning the whole day to heat up the. irons. Our daily cooking was done by gas and we did not then have electric irons.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table carefully writing my first letters and reading the first words sister Hans had taught me. Later I read one story after another to Marie. When I had started school, I raced home at lunchtime, which lasted from twelve to two, and again after four, as quickly as possible to read to Marie. I think she enjoyed it, and if she didn’t she never showed any resistance and was always well up to date with the story. Ma and Marie got on well together too, so when they started to discuss the latest Sunday morning service I got very annoyed. I also became furious when Paul came into the kitchen and our reading sessions were disturbed. Paul was a real comedian and when he told Marie some of his jokes, she doubled up with laughter.
I can still see her walking to the stove in her black slippers. She had flat feet which pointed outwards, forming a broken up vee. With a bang she put the iron on the stove, took the next one, wetting her forefinger on her tongue and then quickly she touched the iron – sssssttttt – to know whether it was the right heat.
After Marie had left the house late in the afternoon the kitchen was dull and had lost its charm for me until a fortnight later when the bell rang at eight o’clock in the morning. Sometimes I managed to feel . sick on a Thursday morning, but that happened very seldom. Marie continued to come once a fortnight even after we all had left home. She and Ma enjoyed each other’s company. During World War Two when all the old people were evacuated from the coastal zone we lost track of her and never heard where and when she died.
Another woman who came to help Ma once a fortnight was Miss Vogels. Now we would have called her Mrs Vogels, but at that time you stayed “Miss1 all your life when you belonged to the serving class. Miss Vogels came to do the sewing. Well-to-do friends passed on their clothes to us and Miss Vogels altered them to our size and to her taste. Before she was married she worked in a factory where men’s clothes were made, so she didn’t have much idea about women’s or girls’ dresses. Ma had no sewing experience at all and left it in Miss Vogels1 ‘capable’ hands. I must say we looked very odd, and I in particular because I was so plump. I remember that I was sixteen when I got something new from a shop for the first time in my life.
Ma had good relations with Miss Vogels too, although they didn’t talk as much as Ma and Marie. I was a bit scared of her. Once she gave me a severe telling off when I was rude to Ma, and the way she looked at me told me even more than her words.
Marie and Miss Vogels and Leentje, the charwoman, plus the daily deliveries of milk, bread, meat, vegetables and weekly groceries, made our life in the city very lively. You could call it an extended family. It seems to me that meeting so many, people within the four walls of your home from the moment you come into the world is a rich experience. I had my own corners or secret places, often under the table, where I lived my own life, but I was never alone. Washing dishes, talks, arguments, music, it all carried on. I was part of it without being too much involved, the advantage of being; the youngest of a big family.
Someone who is not in the photo in Noordwijk, but should have been, is Sister Anna. She belonged to a Protestant order where women were trained as nurses to care for the sick and the elderly. In the Hague was a hospital called Bronovo, which was run by a Protestant nursing order, where my father received his first treatment. Sister Anna was his ward sister. She became a close friend of my mother and of our whole family. Every summer she stayed with us for a few weeks in “Qui Procul”.
She was always dressed in her uniform with a spotless white starched apron over her blue or black dress and a white cap on her head. Her face looked as if it were carved out of wood, not that it was harsh or sharp, but very distinct. Her quick looking brown eyes didn’t miss much. she had a great sense of humour.
A great moment was when her hand went into the pocket of her dress, moving the white apron aside with a soft rustling noise and out came a black purse, which meant that we could buy a pound of “Noordwijker moppen”(a light type of shortbread), which we bought at the baker’s called van Rooyen. Nowhere in the world could you buy biscuits like those.
When Ma and Sister Anna walked together to the beach they were completely involved in each other, Sister Anna listening to Ma, who must have shared a lot of her problems with this sensitive but also down-to-earth person.
Only six weeks of the twelve months of the year we stayed in “Qui Procul”. But most of my early childhood memories are circled around that house. Ma managed to keep it until she died. To make this financially possible she let it during the pre-summer and early autumn months. This in itself was quite a job. When Truusje and Jan shifted to Leiden, only half an hour by bus from Noordwijk, Truusje took over most of the responsibility. The next generation of nieces and nephews have also had a good share of holiday time under this wide roof with the iron bell on top.
During the end of the second world war, when the coastline had to be evacuated, “Qui Procul” finished its story with the Gerretsen family. After the war it was sold, rebuilt and later pulled down.
At the age of ten I became very absorbed in the books written by Karl May. Winnetou and Old Shatter-hand became my heroes. Most of the games played in our back garden, where we had a hut, were connected with ‘Indians’. Even at the time when I had moved into the secondary part of our school I was still a tomboy, looking for adventures in the outskirts of the Hague where life was pretty dull in the eyes of a twelve year old one.
It was then that I came in contact with a girl guide group which was not yet connected with the world-wide Girl Guide organisation. I first wanted to find out for myself whether I liked it, before I asked Ma’s consent, so I biked over on Wednesday afternoon. At that time we had Wednesday afternoons off, but had to go to school on Saturday mornings.
To make the right impression I had put a cord around my middle with a -pocket knife hanging on the side and sat on the carrier of my bike instead of on the seat. The group of about twenty-four girls and their leader were different from what I expected and later I heard that they had a good laugh about my appearance, but that afternoon nobody showed any apprehension and I was accepted for what I was.
The years in the Wegelie group (Wegelie stands for Werk (work), Gezondheid (health) and Liefde (love) ), have been of tremendous value to me. Although I was still living under the family roof, it was the first independent step into the world, because none of the family was involved. Parents didn’t take any part in organising the group. Everything was done by ourselves under the leadership of Rita Bungenberg de Jong, who was then twenty-two.
A whole new world opened up. Before I was installed I learned several practical things like making certain knots, which I still use, how to put simple bandages on, morse signs, but I also had to accept the ten rules of our group and the promises we made at our installation were taken very seriously.
So far I had managed to take life fairly easily. Being the youngest of a big family I had put most of my responsibilities on the shoulders of my older and capable sisters. Often when it was my turn to dry the dishes I sat oji the toilet or found an excuse to bike off to find out about my homework in which”I was not much interested anyhow. I was extremely careless and untidy. On my school reports I had most of the time a zero for neatness and my behaviour mark was often below average.
To become a member of the Wegelie group was a privilege and it meant that you had to take the consequences or better accept the responsibilities for all your actions. The atmosphere was full of fun and nonsense, but also very creative. For the first time in my life I learned the names of plants, trees and birds. When camping we had to set up our own tents, dig the trenches for rainy weather, fill up our mattresses with straw to sleep on and take our turns of cooking meals for over thirty people on an open fire.
But we also had the opportunities to express ourselves in the arts and crafts. Spring was celebrated with reading our own poems or essays, we acted out our own stories around the campfire or at outdoor festivals and music played. an important part in the group. During the summer camps, which lasted for three weeks and were held on a farm in June in the East of Holland, we always had our morning devotion’s, which were most meaningful to me and to most of the other girls. Rita had the gift of passing thoughts on to us without moralising and without talking down to us.
These morning devotions were held on what we called “Het Heitje”, (small block of heather). Our group at that time was very musical and all the singing was in two parts and came naturally. I didn’t know how to keep the tune, but with the persevering help of my girl friend Marliese and her sister Sigrid, both of whom were very musical, I managed to take part in the singing sessions without upsetting the rest by my counterfeit tunes.
Another thing we learned from Rita was to be silent as a group. When we went for evening walks while camping , we often sat on a slope looking over pine-tree forest and farmland. Rita would suggest we did not talk for twenty minutes so that we could absorb the sounds around us.
My closest friends are from these years in the Wegelie group. Meta was one of them and Marliese and Sigrid whom I mentioned before. Rita is in her eighties now and we still write to each other. Later our group became part of the Girl Guide Movement, but it kept its own name and character.
Each of the Wednesday or Saturday afternoon meetings ended by lighting three candles: one for Work, one for Health and one for Love. Each candle was lit by one of the girls reciting in a short poem the meaning of Work, Health, and Love. It was just what we needed in these years between twelve and sixteen, the period before leaving home.
I finished my secondary education at the age of sixteen, as I have mentioned before. During the summer, following my last exams, I spent one month in England with my friend Meta Graswinckel. Meta, who was three years older than me, had been in England for a year and was asked to be assistant leader in a holiday camp for children from the slums in London. This annual charitable project was organised by the firm, Van den Bergh and Company, now called Unilever.
Three groups of children from the age of five to fifteen spent ten days at Southend-on-sea, approximately one hour by train from London. The first two groups were girls, the last one, boys.
The woman who was to have been the leader in that summer of 1928, became ill about a fortnight before the camp started. Meta was asked if she knew of someone who could replace her. She suggested that she could be leader if she could go to Holland to find somebody to help her.
I was at that time a patrol-leader in our girl-guide camp. One afternoon, during rest time while I was reading in our tent, Meta, whom I expected to be in England, stood in the opening and asked me if I could come with her to assist her in leading the summer camp at Southend. There was not much time to consider, and without any hesitation I . . said “yes” and left my position as patrol leader, which was really unfair, and travelled with Meta and her brother in their car back to The Hague.
Ma was not at home. I stayed with Meta and arranged for my passport without consulting Ma. She was very upset when she heard about our plans, but I was determined to go in spite of the fact that my brother Huub and Erna would get married while I was away.
My brother-in-law, Jan, Bool, tried to give me some information about the risks involved in going to a city like London at my age. But I told him not to worry, I knew everything that was needed to look after myself! Jan got his handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose to hide an outburst of laughter.
The fact that Meta had lived in London for a year made the whole experiment workable. For me it was my first trip to a foreign country combined with a great responsibility, which I was little aware of until we arrived with the girls at the house at Southend. Even then I was unaware of what was expected of us. We were not responsible for the meals as an elderly woman was the cook, but the whole day we were with the girls on the beach or in the park or in the shopping area.
When we entered the dining room for breakfast all the girls and later the boys too, stood up. “Good morning Miss Meta, good morning Miss Tory” sounded like one heavy voice through the room, answered by us with a benevolent “Good morning girls, please sit down”. Meta had a special smile, which made her look like a kind mistress in her thirties.
The children had no idea of our age. Once we heard them talk about the possibility of my being about thirty and Miss Meta much older, so we were not performing too badly. The laughs we had in our bedroomTat night are indescribable.
Southend was not a very pleasant place. The beach was narrow and crowded. Along the promenade were many amusements that you had to pay for, and the way people were drinking staggered us, specially elderly women. It was what one would call at that time a holiday place for common people.
Although the children had been inspected for head lice before they went to the camp, some of them had escaped the careful eye of the inspector. They migrated to my head and from there to Meta’s. We spent a whole day combing with a very fine comb dipped in kerosine, through our hair, luckily with good results.
In the evenings we played games in the dining room or our charges amused us with songs and little acts.
When the boys stayed with us we decided to wear our girl-guide uniforms all the time to look a bit older. Some of the boys had heard from their sisters that we kissed the girls good night. They too expected a good night kiss. We decided to kiss the smaller boys, but the older ones had to be satisfied with a general “Good night boys, sleep well”.
Taking them back to London in the train, Meta was sitting in one compartment and I in another. In between two stations the boys gave each other a sign, and we both had to accept the kissing as a farewell!
The pay for looking after the children for one month was 3 pounds, plus travelling expenses. After I had bought a small present for Ma, a teapot for the newly-weds, Huub and Erna, as well as a raincoat, a pair of shoes and a watch for myself, there were only two shillings and a few pennies left when I came home. Ma put my first earnings away in . . a. -little box in the mahogany linen cupboard, where they stayed for years.
After our shared experience in England, Meta decided to join me in a three year course in Child Care and Education in Rotterdam. It was a fairly new course and at that time still a private one. C. C. E. had as its aim the training of students as teachers or as child welfare officers.
The first two years were mostly spent in theory, the last year was divided into three-monthly periods of practical work. The ground covered was from birth to the age of eighteen. The subjects were child care, education, psychology,” hygiene, including common illnesses, literature, music, arts and crafts and physical education. Home science subjects were optional, depending on whether a two-year home science course that some of the students had followed, had been done before entering C. C. E.
The minimum entrance age was nineteen and you had to have U. E. Most of the students were in their twenties and one in her thirties. I was still sixteen when I applied, and my final school exams were not equivalent to U. E. I had to have a trial period of three months. It would have been better if I had done some other training before I went to C. C. E. but I was very keen to follow the course and my mother, who was sixty-three, wanted me to finish my education. I had a certain flair for writing essays and was accepted. But when we discussed the older age group I often felt embarrassed because I was listening to my own situation!
We had first-class tutors and although I was too young, I enjoyed the three years and have benefited from it in my later life.
For the first year, five of us who lived in the Hague, travelled to Rotterdam and back every day by electric train, which took only twenty minutes, but biking to the station from where we lived took me an extra three-quarters of an hour. The second year we decided to go flatting. Ma was not much irr favour of this idea, not only because she thought I was too young, but also because of the cost.
The course itself was expensive and she could not afford to pay me more money than the travelling costs. I assured her that I didn’t need more and if so I would find myself a job. Half willingly she gave in and I made the jump with $1O a month to work on.
We rented a flat for 33 guilders ($16. 5O) per month. After I had paid for electricity and food, there was not much left. The depression had started and although you could buy things “for an apple and an egg” as we say in Dutch, my twenty guilders from Ma was not enough to live on and when I heard of a thirteen year old girl who needed someone to help her with her homework, I applied.
When I went for the interview the others in the flat lent me some clothes so that I would look ‘decent’ and a bit older. I’ll never forget the moment I walked up the stone steps of an old, aristocratic house and rang the bell. A servant, dressed in black with a white apron, opened the door and looked me up and down. I could see that, as far as she was concerned, I would not do. But it worked out differently. Twice a week I helped Nan with her homework and often stayed for tea. I became a good friend of her oldest sister, a friendship that lasted for years. It was also a worthwhile experience of the ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ way of living, although there was a strong bond between the two
All five of us in the flat were outspoken young women and being Dutch we didn’t suppress this characteristic. The name didn’t stand for the relationship between ourselves only, but also because of the endless discussions around the dining table, shared with other friends, males as well as females\-We also had lots of fun, but I found it strenuous to stand my ground while living with four older people and also being by far the youngest on our course. In a way it was a relief to move out into the practical part.
I worked for three months in a home for foster children, all girls, from early school age to seventeen. “Christina Home”, as it was called, had a new matron. She changed the Christina institution into a home. I remember the well-designed dining room, chairs replacing the wooden seats. Lampshades hanging above the tables made the rooms look warm and cosy, specially during the dark winter months when the lights were already switched on at four o’clock. I enjoyed my work at Christina Home and after I had finished my practical year, I became one of the staff. But I’ll tell about that later.
I also worked in a home for babies of solo mothers, and after that I was a helper in a day-care centre connected to a Home Science school. The girls had an opportunity to put the theoretical part into practice by helping in the day-care centre. Besides working in the Centre, I taught the girls in the classroom, under supervision. I enjoyed the teaching part and would have made that my career if I had carried on as a C. C. E. worker. But it didn’t work out that way.
During the first year at C. C. E. we sometimes went to evening classes at the so-called “People1s University”, an equivalent of the Polytech. I stayed these nights at the Kolffs’ home with Diesje Kolff, one of the students in our class. They lived in a beautiful house at the Hilgersbergse meers (lakes) outside Rotterdam. What I remember most clearly from these visits was the way
Dr. Kolff stood at the dinner table sharpening the carving knife and slicing a large roll of beef in such a skilled way as I had never seen before. Diesje had three more sisters. Atie, the oldest, a qualified : nurse, had looked after the family since Mevrouw (Mrs) Kolff became ill. When she was mentally depressed for about three months, she stayed in a rest-home, but when she felt better and was able to stay at home, she still needed help from someone close.
The next “sister, Wiek (Lodewijka), attended the academy of arts in Rotterdam, and Greet was teaching at a Montessori school. Another person staying in the house was Sister Wierdeman, who helped Dr. Kolff with his practice as a G. P. Hillegersberg had been a village before it became a suburb of Rotterdam, so there was a wide country area to be looked after and Dr. Kolff wasn’t young any more. Sister Wierdeman also helped him with the home dispensary.
One day at meal time, Dr Kolff was very quiet and seemed a bit depressed. “Father is worried about my brother Kees, who works . on a rubber estate in Sumatra. We haven’t heard from him for a while”, Diesje told me. I didn’t know there was a son in the family as well. “When he comes on leave I’ll ensnare him”, I said as a joke. “You are not suited to each other”, Diesje said.
She wrote, however, what I had said to her brother, Kees. He read it aloud to his friend, Hans Westerman Holstijn, while sharing a beer together after work in far away Sumatra. Hans burst out laughing. . . “How strange, I have known Tora since she was four years old. We had a summer house in the same area in Noordwijk as the Gerretsens. She has beautiful blue eyes”. That was all he remembered and my only claim to beauty.
During the summer of my practical year at C. C. E. , coming home from work one day, Ma told me that Kees Kolff had called in to see if I could come with him and his sister Diesje to stay with his friend, Hans Westerman Holstijn. Hans and Kees had both returned from Sumatra. Because of depression they had lost their jobs on the rubber plantations.
I wasn’t interested as I had planned to go to a leaders’ camp for girl guides that weekend and I was looking forward to meeting my old friends. Ma, who knew the Westerman Holstijns from Noordwijk, thought it would be a good break for me and was disturbed that I showed so little interest. To make me a bit keener-she said, “He is a good looking man that Kees Kolff”, but without success.
I met Kees a few weeks later on a Sunday afternoon. lit was an unusual occasion. I was practising a play with the girl guides for an open air festival that was coming up. While I read aloud the story of Beatrice, ayoung nun, “the lowest among the sisters all”, and deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary, the girls mimed the words. It was a legend from the 14th century, put into verse by the poet Boutens, and goes something like this:
One day in May, walking back through the fields, Beatrice meets a knight on horseback. She feels that he needs her. Frustrated she hurries back to the convent and kneels in front of the Virgin and Child, praying for help. Early the next morning she takes off her habit, her waist band and her cap and puts them in front of the statue, promising to come back. There is great anxiety among the nuns when they discover that Mary has gone from the statue, the Christ child taking her place. The work of Beatrice is done in the same devoted way, month after month, year after year, until Beatrice returns and suddenly the statue of Mary is found back where she stood before, with the Christ child in her arms. It is only after Beatrice has’ died that the nuns hear the story from an old knight, who knocks at the door.
While we were practising in the garden of my old school in the Hague, someone came around the corner of the building, asking if Tora Gerretsen was there. It was Kees Kolff. He looked like a knight with a wide-brimmed hat, sun-burned brown face, a bright but also shy smile and blue eyes half hidden by slightly droopinj eye-lids. He didn’t have a horse, but a two-seater Ford, in which we drove to Voorburg, a suburb of the Hague to where the Kolffs had moved after Dr. Kolff’s retirement.
Our relationship developed quickly, on my side anyhow. I had had several casual boy friends with whom I went for bike rides, played tennis and mostly talked, except for my first “love affair” when I was sixteen and the lover was seventeen, a romantic experience, which didn’t go any further than walking arm in arm and a shy kiss on the cheek.
To receive the attentions of a man 1O years older than me was totally different. After we had met three more times in that following week, Kees took me back (in the two-seater) to Rotterdam where I was boarding with a teacher from the home science school, while I did my three months voluntary practical work.
It was after twelve. The cinemas were closed, but one had the title of the current film still in bright lights on the front of the theatre – “You will become my wife”. Kees read aloud, steering the wheel with one hand, the other arm around my shoulder. I blushed in the dark and said nothing.
The next morning the teacher I was boarding with asked me rather nervously if I could please be home a bit earlier than three o’clock in the morning. I understood that she felt more or less responsible for me, but I assured her happily that there was nothing to worry about; after all, I was engaged, I told her. She was delighted and bought me a beautiful bouquet of red roses.
Kees had no idea of what was going on in my mind and was somewhat overwhelmed when I told him that my mother wanted to see him. So the following Sunday, he first went to Huub, my brother, to have a talk with him and was then introduced to some of my family. He stayed for half an hour with Huub in his studio. I tried to listen in with my ear to the keyhole, but it was mostly Huub’s voice I heard which was reassuring, Kees was in g6od hands.
The reception he received later at our place was less successful. Ma was not happy at all with this quick development, and I think she regretted the push she had given me after Kees had called in for the first time. Our family was not familiar with planters from Indonesia and Ma had the feeling that I was engaged to a slave-driver.
We drank our cup of tea without much talking and then disappeared as quickly as we possibly could to the dunes where we walked and talked and loved each other. “We have to get married in church”, I told Kees. He still didn’t understand fully what I meant. Only a week before we had walked arm in arm along the beach after we had had tea at Kolffs’ place and now this girl was talking about getting married. “But it really didn’t worry me”,he told me later. “For the first time in my life I felt completely at ease with a woman”.
It was two years before we got married. Two years ofj planning but without opportunities to make the plans happen. The depression had reached its deepest point. The rubber production was internationally restricted with the result that many planters lost their jobs, the bachelors first of all. Kees had money left from the years he had worked in Indonesia, but he realised how fast it disappeared travelling around with two of his friends who were in the same-position. When the summer was over we all came down to earth. The two-seater Ford was sold. I obtained a job at Christina Home where I earned H6. 5O per month plus free board. The days were long and the work demanding. Kees was hanging around trying to keep himself occupied. His father helped him financially to start to grow tomatoes in glasshouses but that was a complete flop. In the whole area the tomatoes were dumped, and the glasshouses were sold with an enormous loss. We tried to migrate to Canada. When everything was arranged and even our wedding date set, we were told that the whole scheme was a land swindle and the government would not take any responsibility for it.
So it went on until Kees received a letter from his friend Hans who had returned to Indonesia without a job, but had got one after several months. He advised Kees to do the same. It was a hard decision to make but better than none at all. Kees left for Java in April 1934.He was welcomed by Hans and was able to stay with Hans’ sister and brother-in-law who lived on a rubber plantation close to Malang.
On his way to Indonesia, Kees had contacted the firm he had worked for, while the ship was anchored in the harbour of Medan, and they offered him a job on his former plantation. He decided, however, to travel on to Java to discuss the proposition with Hans, who advised him not to go back to Sumatra for my sake. Living on an estate in Java was better for women than in Sumatra.
We had decided that I would come after six months, whether Kees had work or not. I had inherited a small amount of money when my father died, which was in the bank until I was twenty-one, so I could make the decision to go without the approval and help of my mother. It was understandable that she was not happy for me to leave while Kees still had no work. Dr. Kolff thought it was very unwise too but I had the support of my brothers and sisters and Greet also, Kees’s sister, which was a areat help.
On September, 13, 1934, I said farewell to Ma and all the family and travelled by train to Genoa with Pim, my brother-in-law accompanying me to the border between Holland and Germany. The sea voyage was the first introduction to a completely different life. I found it exciting and bewildering and nearly lost my head when one of the crew wanted to have an affair with me. A message I received from Ma in a dream shook me back into reality and I stood my ground.
In Colombo, I received a letter from Kees with the good news that he had found work on a coffee plantation is an assistant manager – in the neighbourhood of Djember, East Java, so it was a real celebration when we met at Soerabaja. We spent two days somewhere in the mountains, I as Miss Gerretsen and he as Mr Kolff, each with our own rooms.
That we refrained from intercourse before we were narried was for me anyhow not in the first place a moral Issue. Generally speaking it was not yet the accepted thing to do, although quite a few of my friends looked at it differently. For me, any child so conceived came irst and when it entered the world it had the right to >e received by a father and a mother. We were not yet n the position to be parents. We therefore had to wait. It was not a situation without problems – far from it -put I managed to convince Kees about my feelings and he iccepted them.
Before we got married on November 13, I stayed in ilang, a good-sized city, with Hester and Barend Schuurman. Barend was an older brother of Adriaan, my sister Willy’s husband. He was the principal of a theological college in a missionary centre called Soekoen. had a most enjoyable time with Hes, Barend and their Eour children. Although I had only met them once at Jill’s and Adriaan’s wedding, there were so many similar ispects in both our backgrounds that I felt like a younger sister to Hes, and that Barend was my tutor.
When I was six years old I had wanted to become a missionary and I wrote a letter to a well-known missionary that time telling him so. He wrote back advising me see how I felt when I was sixteen or seventeen. By it time, however, my missionary aspirations had gone, before. I left for Indonesia I dropped him a line to 1 hiro about my future plans to become a planter’s wife. It was a sort of tongue in cheek challenge. He wished me all the best in my future life and didn’t think it was very much different from what I had in mind when I was six!
I had made up my mind before I left Holland to stay away from the church and missionaries (except for the wedding!), and to find out what life in Indonesia really meant – to be part of the planters’ lifestyle. My first experience would be with Hans’ (Kees’s friend) sister anc husband on a rubber plantation close to Malang. But I landed in hospital shortly after my arrival there with what the doctor thought was a venereal disease. I assured him that it was impossible, but he wanted to be sure and to have it checked. After a few miserable days all by myself (Kees had gone back to the estate), I rang Hes who was very surprised to hear that I had arrived. She came straight away to see me, and after the tests had confirmed that I had no V. D. but a common inflammation of the vagina as a result of climatic chang< she took me back to their place.
Hes and I spent hours talking, mostly at the breakfast table. It was for me like talking to my sister, Liesje, and when Barend walked in with that far-away smile just like my brother Huub, I felt as if I was back! home.
Our wedding was a simple one. The people attending were a mixture of missionaries and planters, an unusual combination. Half the church was filled with children,invited by Hes, so that the building would not look too empty. Barend had chosen as a text, “Love never ends” (I Corinthians 13 – 13).
We spent our honeymoon at Tosari, in the mountains, and for the first time I, coming from the Low Countries,] had to climb hills. It was a poor performance. I tried to walk too fast carrying a lot of weight-, not in a pack but in my own body!A friendly Javanese chap jogging downwards with baskets hanging over one shoulder on a bamboo stick, called out: “Plan plan, Nonja – take it easy Madam, going up hill”.
During the five years we lived in Indonesia, Kees worked for an English firm called Ross Taylor at Sentool. The head office was in Soerabaja. Besides the estate we were living on, they had more properties but on the whole it was a smaller firm compared to most of the Dutch ones. The atmosphere was quite pleasant, not such a hierarchy as Kees had experienced in Sumatra. The manager and his wife, Bill and Maud Miller, and their two girls, lived on the rubber plantation where there was also a small factory for the preparation of rubber and coffee.
Besides Bill and his family, there was also another couple living at Sentool. He was the assistant at the rubber plantation and Kees looked after 35O acres of coffee. Our small house was higher up in the hills with
the great advantage that it was much cooler and at the back of our place was the “kampong” or village where the workers and their families lived. Most of them came from the island of Madoera. The Madoerese people kept themselves separate from the Javanese and they each spoke different languages. Our servants were Javanese except for Paing, our garden boy, who was a Madoerese.
The Madoerese were very straightforward, less civilised than the Javanese and also more violent. The knife came out quickly when they felt cheated of even a few cents or when they felt they were being treated in an unfair manner. I was scared stiff of the “passoeroetan”, the mailman who went down on horse-back every morning with two large baskets hanging on each side of his horse, taking our mail down and collecting the mail from the post office in Djember, a township approximately 16 km from where we lived. He also did whatever shopping had to be done there.
He was a wild-looking chap with fierce eyes and a big black moustache. When he came in the morning to ask me what I wanted from town, he approached me in such a way that I had the feeling he was the “toean besar” (the boss) and I the servant. I didn’t know a word of Madoerese at first, nor very much of Passar Malasian, the common language, so I always asked Kees the names of the things I had to order.
One morning, I wanted to order an oxtail and had forgotten to ask Kees what it was called. I quickly looked it up in a little dictionary. “One boenting, please”, I asked hesitantly, not sure whether it was the right word. The passoeroetan looked very puzzled. “One boenting”, I repeated. He looked even more puzzled and I saw that he nearly burst out laughing. In desperation I took a tea towel and wiggled it at my back. He could not keep himself under control any longer. He laughed and laughed, crying out “A boentoet, not a boenting, is what you want?”. He said a lot more of which I couldn’t understand a word, but I still saw him shaking with laughter as he sat on his horse going downhill. Kees couldn’t stop laughing either. I had asked for a pregnancy instead of an oxtail! That night for tea an oxtail soup was served and my fear for the passoeroetan was gone.
Slowly I discovered that there was a lot to be learned. Each day brought new surprises, some of them unpleasant and hard to accept. It was not easy to relate to the Javanese and Madoerese people, but it was also hard to understand the relationships between the Europeans who were divided into two main groups, the full whites and the half-castes or the Indos as they were called I was completely oblivious of this race relationship and Kees had had no experience of it either, as there were no half-castes on the plantation where he had lived in Sumatra.
Our closest neighbour was a manager of a coffee and rubber plantation which belonged to a different firm. His wife was an Indo and although he had a high position he felt inferior and was not accepted by the white society when we were invited for afternoon tea I made a big mistake by complimenting the wife on her beautiful brown complexion. “No need for you to sit in the sun to get brown as the people from Holland do”, I said. When I think back, it seems incredible that I could make such a tactless remark, but among my school friends were several Indos and it had never occurred to me that there was any difference, and I was genuinely envies of their honey-coloured skins and often beautiful figures.
Our neighbours were lonely people and they expressed a bitterness in a sort of a power game. Each time we or anyone else wanted to use their road we had to ask for permission. We didn’t have a telephone so we had to send Paing with a note asking permission, and this had to be written in a formal and courteous way. The gate, about six miles further on, would be opened and we could pass through. If we had forgotten, then the man who lived there had to ring the boss first before we could carry on.
The Assistant at the neighbouring plantation and his wife were also Indos. He was a warm and gentle person, but she had some strange ways. My servant Kassmini told me that she had been in our house before we were married and had looked at my photo to find out whether I was white or half-caste. She was kept informed all about our way of living by the servants and knew when I was pregnant before I knew myself!
All news received was passed on to Kees’ colleague and his wife, also Indos. They were very anxious in case Kees would get promotion more quickly because we were both whites. It took us a while before we understood what the situation was. I felt bewildered and didn’t know how to act or react.
Our first Christmas was not a very happy one. I wanted to celebrate it in the way we did it at home in Holland. When we were children one of the older sisters came around with a tray with hot chocolate, buns < and burning candles early on Christmas morning. In each I Bedroom she left the ‘goodies’ and a candle, leaving the the door open so that we could hear the Christmas played on the piano downstairs.
Kees wasn’t used to this celebration so I wanted to offer him a surprise. I talked it over with Kassmini as well as I could, but her timing was wrong and at four o’clock in the morning there was a soft knock at the door and there stood Kassmini in a white kabaja (jacket) with the tray with candles, hot chocolate and buns. I jumped out of bed to start the record player. A rather scratchy “Silent Night, Holy Night” came from the linen cupboard, and Kees, half asleep, turned round, looked at Kassmini and then at his watch. “Four o’clock. What’s all this nonsense about?” he asked. “A Happy Christmas”, I said as cheerfully as I could. He grumbled something, drank his chocolate, and turned around to go off to sleep again. I had a quiet cry under the mosquito net curtain.
Maud and Bill had invited us for Christmas dinner, together with other people from the neighbourhood, and as I had only been one month on the plantation it would have been a good opportunity to get to know more people. But I refused to go. Christmas was not a day for parties. I got so worked up that I had a slight temped ture that morning, perhaps the early morning fiasco hadj something to do with it. Paing was sent down with the message that I was not well.
The next day, Boxing Day, Kees had to work. I was! furious. Imagine working on Boxing Day! Well, then, I was going to work too. I started to clean the provision cupboard, which frustrated Kassmini and Paing as it was their job, not the nonja’s. When I was half-waj through, Kassmini came in to tell me that Toean and Nonja Besar (The Boss and his Lady) had arrived to see how I was. And here they were on horse-back with the two children and a basket with Christmas presents. I felt terrible. There was only one thing I could do, tell them the truth. I felt like a naughty child when I stood in front of Bill.
“Mr Miller”, I said (we always called each other Mr; and Mrs), “I didn’t feel well yesterday. I had a temperature. But I have to admit that I like to celebrate Christmas at home”. He took it well. “In the future”, he said, “don’t hesitate to tell us how you feel”. This was the start of the good relationship between the Millers and us, but Boxing Day ended with our provision cupboard covered in ants as I had left the broom standing against the cupboard, an easy bridge for them to find their way across the bowls with water used as a protection against invasion.
On one of the front pages of our visitors’ book is a short poem about a “boerkool” and “Pancake” party, signed by I. Loggers-Keers, Anneke, Bertha, Wolter, Jet and Tineke. That visit was the beginning of a long-standing friendship. (Anneke, the oldest was then eleven and Tineke four). Mr Loggers or Pa Loggers as we called him was a superintendent of a big Dutch firm. He was well known and highly respected in the planters’ world, not only because of his knowledge, but because of his reliability.
Together with his wife they had scaled the whole promotion ladder from assistant to relieving manager to manager and then Superintendent. Not many climbed up that far. They never lost their all-round relationships with young or old, high or low, coloured or white. Ma loggers played just as important a part in the lives of the planters as he did.
I learned most of the codes about living on a plantation from Ma Loggers. “When you receive something fron neighbours, always return a gift straight away”, she told me. This was specially so in the case of the Indos. “It doesn’t matter what it is. ” I once wrapped a (?)hot meat piece of loaf in lunch paper when the servant brought me something while we were having dinner and it was much preciated. She warned me over and over again not to (. . ?. ) too much. “You have to become more diplomatic or you will ruin Kees’s position”, or “You have to realise that living in an utterly capitalistic society, Tora”.
Later, when we stayed on the rubber plantation where we had a telephone, I could ring her when I needed advice. When she knew it was me on the phone she always called for a chair! It was also very helpful for me that she came from the same background and that she and her husband were great friends of Barend and Hes, at Malang. These two women, Ma Loggers, or Iny as I came to call her, and Hes, helped me more than I could ever tell them. “Iny” and “Hester” later Inez.
When I was still not pregnant after we had been married for three months, I thought I was to remain childless. I poured my heart out to our doctor, who prescribed pills for me. I can remember they were blue. At the door of his surgery I turned around and said, “You will make sure that I’ll become pregnant, won’t you?”. “I had better leave that to your husband”, he replied. Years later when we met again in Holland and I told him that we had five boys, we had a good laugh at my impatience.
Walter was born on March 2O, 1936. Because of our isolation I had to go to a hospital, whereas in Holland home birth was still generally practised. We had a small but very good hospital in Djember which served the] whole population of the area. It was however unfortunate that the matron, whom I knew fairly well, was on holiday when Walter was ready to come. Transport was no problem as we had a Chevrolet by that time, but the sister who took the place of the matron was a real bitchj I can’t find any other name for her. After she had taken me to my room and given me a quick examination, she told me that it would take a long time and I should not call her unnecessarily as she was very busy, with what or whom I could not understand, as I was the only one in the pavilion. Kees, who was staying with friends in Djember, was not allowed to linger and I was left all by myself. The big iron gate in the front was] locked after he had left and the only sound I heard was the endless monotonous chirping of crickets.
My pregnancy had been normal until I was six months on the way when I started to lose blood. For a period of five weeks I had to stay flat in bed which had been very trying as it was swelteringly hot between the dry and the wet monsoon. Visitors were rare because of the distance and Kees was away most of the day. My help and refuge was Kassmini. Every day she gave me a massage over my whole body. How refreshed and relaxed I felt after her strong but gentle hands had given me a “pitjit” (massage) from top to toe. After these weeks of rest I was allowed to move around again but had to be very careful . I didn’t know that the doctor thought that the placenta was in front of the baby and that the delivery could be a difficult one. The matron was told to warn him as soon as I arrived at the hospital but whether she had forgotten to pass this on to the relieving sister or what the story was, I never heard.
Just as well that I didn’t know at that time what the expected problem was. It was bad enough to struggle by myself through the labour pains without a helping hand or a comforting word. Only once the sister came to see me. “Still a long way to go”, she said, and left me. About two o’clock in the morning I heard footsteps tiptoeing along the tile-covered gallery and there stood Kees. He had climbed over the three-metre-high gate to see how I was. We whispered a few words, but I was so scared of the sister that I implored him to go. “It’s awful”, I whispered to him, “never again”, and that’s what I continued to repeat. “I want to come out”, the baby told me, so I rang the bell. The sister took one look and ran to the telephone. When the doctor saw me he said something very unprofessional, and ten minutes
Walter looked around with eyes that seemed to know a11 about it. “Gualtherus” we called him as this was a special wish from his grandfather. Gualtherus is the traditional Kolff name. It means “tramper”. We shortened it to Walter.
Ma Loggers must have had a serious talk with the doctor. Months later she told me that the sister-in-charge had been disciplined and lost her job.
The day that I went home, Kees had his wisdom tooth pulled out and didn’t feel well at all. Walter cried the whole night but I didn’t dare to feed him. Feeding at night was not permitted and I had been told to be careful not to overfeed him, which could be dangerous under tropical conditions. I had to weigh him each time before and after feeding. Although I had enormous breasts, the milk supply seemed far from abundant, and the second-hand scales we had bought were not working well. Instead of being overfed, Walter was badly undernourished.
That first night, when Kees felt feverish and irritable, he yelled out to me, “I thought you knew all about babies. Get that child to stop crying”. I must admit that my first attempt at motherhood was far from successful, in spite of my diploma in Child Care and Education, written with CAPITAL letters, and my experience with the children of sister Hans and Pirn, where I had spent so many holidays.
Hes came over from Malang and stayed four days wit us. Prom the moment she walked in, Walter stopped crying. She bundled him up in a warm blanket and gave hi to me to have a drink whenever he wanted one. She didn’t take any notice of the scales and put me to bed too. I slept for hours, leaving everything in her capable hands, but the moment her car drove off our property, Walter” started crying again. I felt desperate.
Slowly we got used to each other and formed a more regular pattern. But the breast feeding was not successful. I had learned at the C. C. E. college one should not replace breast feeding by a bottle so I-fed him with a teaspoon which took ages and started wit porridge and bananas when he was three months old.
He was a very lively baby. His eyes were everywhere and he always waved his hands to tell me in what direction he wanted to go. Before he tried to sit up, the doctor told me he was suffering from rickets, which he, the doctor, had noticed from the beginning and that this was always possible with babies born in the tropics. I have thought that I wasn’t properly acclimatised before I became pregnant, but I havn never been told what the real reason was.
The extra vitamin D doses helped, but when our doctor went on leave for half a y^ar, a. young Dutch doctor took over and his diagnosis war; not rickets but hyper activity He took Walter off the vitamin D and prescribed something’ to calm him down, without success. He was as active as before, but developed pain in his legs and started to cry when he tried to stand up.
Our doctor was furious when he came back. He put the baby on the Vit. D. again, but the damage was done and Walter had what we call X-legs, extremely flat feet and some deformity of his ribs. But in spite of these physical handicaps he was a quick developer. At the aqe of three he spoke fluent Dutch and n and had conversations with Paing in Madoerese.
When he was six months old we were transferred to a rubber plantation sixty miles east of Malang as the anter who lived on the plantation was on leave and Kees had to take his place. We left our belongings at Konggi and another couple moved into our house. These were regular because of the six months’ overseas each planter had every five or six years, depending the firm you worked for.
Boemie Ajoe, as the rubber plantation was called, was more lonely than Kongsi Tenga. No neighbours and not even a “kampong” near. We had a beautiful view of volcano Kawi, but I was not yet ready for a change and could not a appreciate its beauty. My eyes observed but my mind was closed. The house was enormous with two luxurious bathrooms but the furniture was the choice of a bachelor and the house was without any atmosphere.
In the back garden was a gravestone with neither name nor date. The mandoer (supervisor) told Kees that it was the grave of a planter who had committed suicide a few years ago. There was also a tennis court where we played a game of tennis now and then, but we missed the company of Maud and Bill Miller.
When I think back I can still feel the constant silence that covered the whole place, with only the monotonous sound of the cicadas. The atmosphere in the tropics is so different from what we are familiar with in the Western world. It is a stillness filled with sounds you are not tuned in with. You try to become part of it, but there is a sign that seems to say taboe (forbidden) in such a mysterious way that the whole environment frightens you.
Kees was the only European worker on the plantation The official manager or Administrator as he was called] and his wife lived several miles away. He was a distant relative on my father’s side. The wife was from South Africa and they were a strange couple. When stayed at their place for a weekend, I was appalled at] the unhygienic way they lived. I quietly asked one othe servants to sterilise Walter’s cup, spoon and plate Fortunately he escaped catching dysentery but Kees became ill and was taken to hospital in Blitar.
The Administrator and his wife insisted that Waltej and I,stayed with them as she liked to have company. Whenever she had a chance she talked to me and told mel the most gruesome stories about their marriage and thedetails of “goena-goena” (black magic). I had heard, something of this while we were still at Kongsi Tenga but the way she talked to me was sadistic and I had sit and listen. She was the wife of the Administrator and there was nowhere else I could go. awake to watch over Walter.
What a relief it was to go back to Boemie Ajoe after Kees had come out” of -hospital. He had amoebic dysentery which can stay with you for a long time so we had to be careful with his diet and practise strict hygiene. We managed to stay away from the “besaran” (manager’s house) without harming the formal relationship. I learned to become diplomatic. I knew that all our mistakes would be listed on our record.
It was also during that time that we received the sad news that Kees1 sister, Wiek, was run over by a tram whilst she was on a bike trip with her husband. It was their first holiday since they were married and Greet was looking after their two children. They were going to visit Ma Kolff who was in a rest home and when crossing a very busy road between Utrecht and Zeist, Wiek was not aware of the approaching tram. She was killed instantly. To spare us the shock, the news was sent to us in an airmail letter. But I don’t know what is worse, to receive a sudden cablegram or to sit down with a cup of tea and (?)I share the weekly mail without realising it contains such tragic news.
Walter was the cheerful element during those six months. He was a handful during the day, but when I put to bed at six o’clock he was so tired that he didn’t – up until five the next morning, not even when I (?) *nged his nappies before we went to bed. Most of the he was still dry. When I held a cup against his ?uneltje” (penis) he urinated and was put back to bed It hout any trouble. It was the only time of the day I could handle him when he was a baby without strugling to keep him under control! Early in the morning s^woke us up with his endless conversations. After we ^been three months at Boemi Ajoe we knew that we could exepect another child.
Once, Hes and the four children came to see us. They] stayed for a weekend. It was as if a fresh wind blew through the house. It gave me back my confidence that 1 was a normal person and not under the influence of mysterious powers. All the same we were very happy to go back to Kongsi Tenga after the half-year period was finished.
When I look back on the five years in Indonesia, which we thought was the beginning of a life in the Dutch] colonies, I feel that it has only been a scratch on the surface, no more. And so are my memories. I felt like a child put down in a sort of Walt Disneyland. Nothing seemed to be real. I stumbled around pretending that I was happy. Happy to be married, to become a mother, to have no financial worries, to live in such a beautiful country, but within myself I thought all the time about “home”.
Not only about the people, but about the dahlias andthe chrysanthemums in autumn, about the tulips in the spring. I walked along the beaches and saw the wide skies with its cloud formations over the low lands. I longed for Holland when I heard the cock crow in the Kampong. This homesickness lasted for two years. But 1 even after these two years, when we had made friends andj I had adjusted to someone I really was not, I questioned the ethics of Europeans owning a large part of the worlc that was alien to them, and yet feeling it to be their right.
The only place I did not get that feeling (?)was at Barend’s and Hes’s (?)At Soekoen in Malang there was a close relationship between the Javanese and the Dutch people which I never felt on the estates. There was a mutual respect, and on the part of the missionaries, whether theologians or doctors, including their wives, they had a great knowledge, not only of the language, but also of the Javanese culture and religion. It was said that the “cream” of the Dutch theologians, historians and linguists went to Indonesia. When I recall the people I met at Soekoen I found this to be true. But not only in the mission fields. The Dutch were, on the whole, good colonisers, if there can be such people. The amount of wealth” that went to Holland during the three hundred years we “owned” Indonesia, was of course incredible, but they also took the responsibility to pay back in a way they thought was best for the country.
The law was practised in accordance with the law of the race they were dealing with, i. e. a Chinese standing in court was judged according to the Chinese law, Muslims to their law, and so on. To become a lawyer in Indonesia took a long time as not only Dutch law was studied. The medical standard was high too. Besides studying at the universities in Holland, there was a medical school in Soerabaja and also in Bandoeng, West Java. Many practising doctors were Javanese.
I was also told that the Dutch could not own land, but this was a farce, because the contract of a firm running plantations lasted for ninety-nine years and could then be renewed. The forestry programme seemed to have been outstanding and it was a great pity that all the documents about this were destroyed by the Japanese during the Second World War.
It was expected of every European to speak the most common language, Malaysian. After the war this was slightly altered. Indonesian became the official language, a great credit to Soekarno. Many Dutch people became so attached to Indonesia that they never returned to Holland.
For me, the time was too short to get to know the People and their culture. The closest contact I had was with Kassmini. But I was still “the nonja” (the lady) – and I didn’t feel like one at all! But I confused her. I became too friendly. The difference between living plantation for a female compared to a male was that man had his work and it was a demanding job. Not only had he to organize the daily tasks of the workers, but also the bookkeeping and writing of the records for the work programmes. When the workers or their families were ill, Kees had to see that they were taken to the doctor or to the hospital and it was the responsibility of the firm to pay for their treatment. Because Kees met with the workers at all levels, on common ground, he had much better contact with the native people than I, the woman, had.
I had no real task in the house as all the work was done by the servants. All I did was to discuss the meals and give out the necessary food for that day. There was more to do when I had the two children, but there again the physical caring of washing and cooking was taken out of my hands. If you spend too much time with a toddler and a baby it can become extremely boring] Even more so when there is nobody you can share it with We lived so close to the “kampong” that I could hear children crying or laughing. And in the evening when the people let their doves fly around there was a cheerful musical sound from the little bamboo flutes hidden somewhere under their wings. Once or twice a week women sat at the back porch to purchase eggs, bananas, mangoes or papayas. But I never went into the kampong to see how they lived, to admire their new-born babies or to have a chat with the old ones.
One time they brought a boy into me who was bitten by a snake. I didn’t have any idea what to do, but pretended to be calm and collected. In our bedroom I turned the pages of our first-aid book with trembling fingers and did what was necessary for the boy according to the book, while a whole circle of women watched the actions of “the nonja”. Luckily for him, but also for me, he came through all right.
What I missed was a feeling of belonging, a sharing that makes life meaningful. Maybe I would have learned the art of being a planter’ s wife better if we had stayed longer in Indonesia, but many women in my position were bored. You had a social role in the Club or on the tennis court or as a bridge player, but that was all.
You had to be a good hostess especially when your husband gained promotion and you had to receive people who were further up in the hierarchy. I remember that Ma Loggers had a card system with all the special wishes of the male visitors listed so that when they came to talk business I with Pa Loggers everything went as smoothly as possible. For example:
Mr A. wants his shaving water at 6 a. m.
Mr B. no milk in his tea
Mr C. two eggs for breakfast, and so on.
Ma Loggers was a wise person and her service went much further than mentioned above. She was a source of information and support to newcomers like myself. She never overstepped the bounds of the system, nor did she worship money or position. She always kept her balance whereas I rebelled because I was forced to live a life so totally different from what I was used to. But I did try to go along with it as much as I could. However, I without the guiding hands of Hes and Ma Loggers, who could be very firm with me, I would not have survived, nor Kees either for that matter.
The colonial system forced the people of the occupied countries to pay a high price, but also many of the young men who went to work there. Life on the estates was lonely so to have an Indonesian house-keeper was the usual thing to do. Venereal diseases were a common threat and so was the abuse of alcohol. The salaries paid, especially before the nineteen thirties’, were very high, but the working days in a tropical climate were long, the supervision of the manager was strict.
And what about the women, especially in the earlier days when transport was limited? I have often thought of them. They had to support their husbands without any specific aim or task. Most children were sent to the cities when they had reached school-age or back to Holland or England, so no wonder the Saturday evenings spent at the Club became the central point of many lives.
When we had made friends we too went to the Club and danced and had our drink and chat. It became a pattern of our weekly life. But I always felt uneasy about the children being at home asleep under the care of Kassmini or Paing.
I had a strange experience at the celebration of the wedding of Princess Juliana (as she was then) and Prince Bernhard. The Club was choc-a-bloc, with everybody in evening dress, the men looking very smart in their white dinner jackets. The evening started with a formal speech from the Assistant Governor. He started to tell about the childhood of Princess Juliana. All at once heard my father’s name mentioned and part of the sermon he gave when he had baptised Juliana was read out. I remembered vaguely that there had been a lot of talk about that sermon, because my father went deeply into the meaning of baptism. Also because he had addressee Queen Wilhelmina as “Moeder” (mother). It was a strange feeling to sit there at the other end of the world and hear my father mentioned with nobody knowing that his youngest daughter was listening in the audience.
Our second son was born on July 27, 1937. The night before I went to Djember to buy a birthday present for Kees. In an enormous warehouse, today called a supermarket, I bought a German Erica typewriter for 90 guilders ($45). Ma Loggers had advised me to buy one] because Kees’ handwriting was not very clear. “A good investment”, she said, and she was right. After 46 years of continuous use it is still ticking away. Ma Loggers would laugh if she could see me sitting here behind the old machine, so many years on.
While I was completing my business at the “Toko Bendien” (Toko means shop) , the first labour pains started. Kees took me to the hospital and then he went back to Kongsi Tenga because he was on duty. But I didn’t feel lonely that night. I slept most of the time while the sister popped in and out.
Here is a quote from our baby book – “Hendrik Vredenrijk! (The last name is an old form of the name Prederik and means Rich in Peace). At quarter-to-seven this strong, healthy boy was born, 386O gram. A little monster with red swollen eyelids, lots of dark hair. Ivan the terrible! A wide chest and a footballer’s legs”. “A good product” was the opinion of our doctor. He was named after my brother Henk, whom I called Hein. Therefore, this one became another Hein or “Eintje” as Walter called him.
The two years after Hein’s birth until the time we were due to go on leave were the happiest we spent in ?Indonesia. Besides the Loggers family we had many good friends, some outside the planter’s world. We joined an HJlhofficial environmental group, and Kees went on several ?s which sometimes had a special purpose. One time ‘group went to the top of the volcano, the Smeroe, to nd out if birds and monkeys went there to die in solitude. They didn’t find any signs of them, only the Leton of a hermit.
Kees also went for sailing trips along the South coast of Java and when I stopped breast feeding Hein, I turn too, while Kees stayed at home with the child, and Kassmini and Paing of course. Tramping was Cerent from what we later did in New Zealand. You wouldn’t have to carry anything. We were helped by slies (workers). The nights were mostly spent in ts and I remember one trip along the coast sleeping in a tent made of mosquito netting.
At night we observed an enormous turtle coming out of the sea to lay its eggs (dozens of them), deep in the sand. The Madoerese are very fond of the eggs. They find the spot where they think the turtle has buried them and push a bamboo stick into the sand. Because the eggs have a sort of rubbery shell, the stick bounces back slightly when it is pushed in and so they can discover the hiding place.
Our time to go on five months’ leave to Holland was September 1939. While we were making our plans, the situation in Europe became more and more sinister. We had a radio and the newspapers were also up to date while the weekly letters from Holland kept us well informed. We lived one day at a time and didn’t come to any definite decision. When at last the bomb dropped and the Germans invaded Poland, we went for a month’s holiday in the mountains to re-think our situation.
The problem was that there was no room for us on the plantation. One of Kees’ colleagues was going to take his place and would live in our house. Bill Miller] assured us that the firm would find accommodation for us,j so to overcome our disappointment at not going immediate] we bought some new furniture and a complete set of new china. So far we had managed with the few things Kees had bought when he was still a bachelor.
We also thought it would be wise to have a few 3 possessions to come back to after our overseas trip. At the time I am writing about, we were stationed on the main estate. I have no clear picture what happened while we were on holiday, but when we came back we found other people in our house and part of our furniture stored somewhere in a (?)shed. We had to stay with Maud and Bill Miller, the manager and his wife. Kees was furious and said so. For the time being we shifted back to the i coffee plantation, uncertain where the next move would be Our newly-bought possessions stayed unpacked.
Three times a day we listened to the news over the radio. After the first outburst it seemed that the approaching winter had stopped further action. Because of the war situation and our feeling of being superfluous our relationship with the Miller family had become somewhat tense. Kees had joined the planters’ union, which was against the wishes of the head office in Soera-baja, and then on top of . all this I made an undiplomatic move by expressing my opinion to Bill about a private matter. From the time of that first Christmas experience we had had a good and open relationship, but this time I went too far.
One morning I said to Kees, “Let us take the risk and go to Holland. We can’t carry on like this”. We talked it over with Pa and Ma Loggers. They agreed that it would be better to go. So even before the family at home had received news that we were coming, we were on board the “Slamat”. The only belongings we took with us, besides our clothes, were the typewriter and a case with 220 blocks made out of djati wood for the boys to play with on board ship. Both are still intact.
The atmosphere during our voyage on the “Slamat” was just as pleasant and luxurious as it had been five years earlier when I made my first trip. Plenty of food, drinks, dancing and games. Walter and Hein spent some time on the children’s deck to begin with, but I was not very impressed by the care offered, as the girls who looked after them wanted to have a good time themselves.
The voyage was to take us around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid Singapore, but for some reason this was changed and we went through the Suez Canal. We didn’t port anywhere, as far as I can remember, or if we did, were not allowed ashore at any port. We left the “Slamat” at Genoa and travelled by train through France Holland; it was at night when we stopped at the (?)itions that the word “war” became a reality, not because of planes flying over or shooting or bombing, but use of the darkness and dead silence, the only sound the footsteps of the guards walking along the platforms of the stations.
It was a deadness that for me has often expressed the meaning of war. A waiting for something without hope, without movement, without life. At the. end of tunnel, the fear of destruction.
After the Germans had invaded Norway, Opa Kolff became worried about our situation and advised us to return to Indonesia before the end of April. Persuaded by his father, Kees tried to book a plane. But so many people wanted to return to Indonesia, among them many retired ones, who thought they would be safer over there, that we didn’t have a chance. “Even were you prepared to hang on to its tail we could not help you”, we were told. After long discussions we decided to go to the south of Holland first. We had some friends there we would like see and from there we would travel on to Belgium. The UBistances were short and we could always return if danger threatened. It all sounded reasonable. Kees’ sister Greet wanted to join us for a few days and we would meet her in Brussels.
It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to the Lldren at the beginning of May. First we spent a few with my girl friend, Marliese, and her husband, Wim. lived in Eindhoven where Wim worked for Philips, main thing that I can remember from our stay there is that Wim’s parents told us about “Mein Kampf”, by “(?) [no text]. They had recently read it. It was as if a (?) [no text] of pollution was spreading, a thin but impenetrable (?)it invading the lowlands.
I can’t remember when we stayed with my sister Liesje and her husband Jan who lived in Zealand, but the days with friends in Goes (Zealand) are very clear in my mind. If you look at the map you will see that the islands of Zealand are surrounded by deep sea channels. One big bridge crossing the Schelde is the only direct contact with the mainland.
Although Holland is a small country its enormous waterways make strong divisions especially between the northern and the southern part. The river Rhine ends at Rotterdam from whence it carries on under the name ofl the Merwede, into the North Sea. The main bridge linking the North and the South of Western Holland is called the Moerdijk (Moerdijk Bridge, ed. ).
At the time I am writing about we were staying in the Southern part, heading for Belgium. It was May 9th Greet rang us to say that she was not sure whether she would make it. “The atmosphere here is strange”, she said over the phone. “They are putting heavy sacks of sand around the main post office”. This was in Rotterdam. Her flat was just on the other side of the street Kees told her that we would go to Brussels and wait for her there. Why I remember playing a game of tennis at our friends’ place I don’t know, but it is strongly connected with my definite decision to go straight hon although I didn’t tell Kees of that decision until late
After we had had a cool drink we packed our belongings, said goodbye to our hosts and left for Breda where we would stay the night as originally planned. Our friends tried to persuade us to stay a bit longer, but I was determined to cross the first bridge before the night and even to turn to the left before dark. Kees was furious with me when I told him my decision. We stopped at the Crossroads where we had to go either! to Rotterdam or to Breda. The signpost was pulled “I’ll carry on to Breda”, Kees said. “All right. I’ll go by train to Rotterdam”, I told him. After a screaming fight Kees gave in and with a furious swing of the steering wheel we turned to the left.
When crossing the various bridges before we arrived at the Moerdijk bridge our car, along with all others, was checked and even our new camera was taken away. We also had to drive very slowly over the bridges. Strangely enough, there were no such restrictions at the Moerdijk bridge. The guard just waved his hand for us to carry on. Later we heard that it had already been taken over by the Dutch National Socialist Party so that it wouldn’t be blown up when the Germans invaded Holland. How relieved I felt when we had crossed that main bridge and were on our way to Rotterdam. It was about seven o’clock when we arrived at Greet’s place. She was surprised, but also pleased to see us. We went out for a meal and later to a film. It felt like a celebration.
It was about four o’clock in the morning when I was awakened by the sound of planes. I jumped out of bed, woke Kees and said, “The war has started here”. “You are crazy”, Kees said and turned over. I went to the toilet and vomited. Greet had been awakened too. We switched the radio on. The Germans had invaded Holland. Parachutists were being dropped in the Southern part of Rotterdam. Kees’ sister, Atie, rang from their place ise to the harbour to report parachutists were everywhere. The Hakenkreuz (Hooked Cross) or Swastika flag (?)was spread over the quay so that part was already (?)de-red German territory. We were cut off. Later the Queen spoke over the radio. There was heavy fighting in Eastern part of Holland.
What were we going to do? Stay in Rotterdam or try jet out as quickly as possible and drive back to Noordwijk along back roads? Planes were landing on the roads from Rotterdam to The Hague and to Leiden. We to go back. Greet was going to Hillegersberg on the outskirts of Rotterdam. Fighting had already started between the German parachutists and the Dutch in the centre of the city where we were staying. We slipped through the streets to find our car. We (?)saw fighting going on as in a film with people standing and watching what was happening. None of us had a clue what it meant to be involved in a war. Even the Dutch army was unprepared to fight an army equipped with modern machinery.
It was a blessing that Kees was so familiar with back-block routes. Coming closer to Noordwijk we met with a small part of the army fleeing from the planes flying low over the tulip fields in full blossom, machine gunning our soldiers with their cannons pulled by horses. They looked like children playing at soldiers with branches of green leaves on their helmets for camouflage.
When we turned’towards the coast we were all at once involved in the machine gunning. We jumped out of the car and fell flat on the ground among the tulips while planes flew low over us. The red tulips waving in the wind looked so glamorous in the warm sunlight and yet so unreal. When the shooting was over we ran back to the car leaving soldiers and horses behind us, one horse dead in the middle of the road. A few kilometers further on the world seemed so peaceful with only the far-away noise of shooting.
When we arrived at “Qui Procul” we were welcomed by Walter and Hein running around in their long-sleeved red smocks which they always wore over their shorts and jumpers. Red tulips and red” smocks come before my eyes when I think back to May 10, 1940.
I have no clear picture of the following days. The only thing I can remember is that we glued strips over the windows to protect us from glass splinters if the windows broke – utterly useless of course but it gave us something to do. Hein, not yet three, wanted to know what we were doing. When we tried to explain he became confused because it didn’t make any sense to him. From then on life for Hein became difficult to comprehend. Up until now he had been a happy child, satisfied with life as it came in his own small world. But now he was pulled into scenes completely beyond his comprehension. Walter, a year and a half older and with a more factual mind, could work out things for himself to his own satisfaction. For Hein life became a mystery and a dark one at that.
For four days the Dutch army kept up their resistance but on May 14, Rotterdam was bombed and Holland capitulated. Queen Wilhelmina had left for England. It is strange how sometimes disastrous happenings stay in your mind linked with something quite trivial. That evening when we had heard about the bombing of Rotterdam, the capitulation of Holland and the Queen’s departure, I remember the warm light of the sun going down reflecting over the dunes behind “Qui Procul”.
Greet’s flat and all her belongings were destroyed. What a blessing she had left her place at the same time as we did. Atie and Jan escaped the bombardment because they lived close to the harbour and that part had to be saved for further military action by the Germans. We were very fortunate that our families didn’t suffer personal losses. All the same it was a most tragic national disaster which brought the reality of war to our doorsteps – but it was only the beginning.
For a while after this my memory is sketchy. So many things happened that it is difficult to recall the sequence of events. I remember a visit to the Hague where we stayed with Ma for a few days. She had survived it all well perhaps because she had a political mind, if you can call it that. She always read the newspaper carefully and listened to the news over the radio so knew what was going on.
Since my brother Paul had joined the Dutch National Socialist Party out of misguided idealism, as many other people had done too, the relationship between him and my other two brothers had become rather tense, especially between Paul and Henk. Huub had a more philosophical attitude. While we stayed at Ma’s place Henk and Paul happened to be there too. Suddenly a fierce argument broke out between the two. “Quiet, quiet”, Ma said and closed the french doors as quickly as she could because of the neighbours. It was a most shameful thing to belong to the Dutch Nationalist Party. For the first time I felt a strong division within our family. Although we all went our own way, this was too much. Later, Paul left the party of his own free will.
It was a strange feeling to live in an occupied country while life carried on normally at least for the first few months, particularly for people like us who were still in “Qui Procul” “far away” from the noise of the city. It was so different for someone like Greet, who had lost all her belongings and had to build up a new life in a ruined city. How we envied Kees” sister Diesje, who had married one of Kees’ friends and still lived in Indonesia and my girl friend Sigrid and so many others who had gone back to the other side of the world.
One of the first practical things we had to deal with was that Kees would not get his salary anymore So far we had received it from the head office in London, now hostile territory. It took a while before it sank in that we would have to change our life style. The Opel had to be sold. The little money we got for it was added to what we still had in the bank to be used as sparingly as we could. Dini got another job so there was no more help in the house, but I found it quite a challenge to look after the family myself. We had many visitors and during July and August we shared the house with other members of the family. Ma also stayed at “Qui Procul” and still went for her daily bathes.
The thirty-first of August came around, the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina. Every year on that day we celebrated all over Holland with flags waving from flag poles. At Noordwijk games for children were organised, combined with musical festivities. We were warned through the media that in no way was this day to be remembered. Kees could not resist pinning an orange marigold onto his shirt, another custom on the birthday of any member of the House of Orange. I warned him that he could get into trouble but he couldn’t see anything wrong with wearing an orange flower. When we walked along the sea coast promenade however, we noticed trucks with Gestapo armed with guns driving slowly along scrutinising everyone. It would have been too late and too obvious to put the marigold in his pocket. The next moment a truck stopped and a Gestapo soldier stood in front of Kees.
“Was ist dass?” the marigold. (What is that?) he asked and pointed “Eine schöne Blume” (a lovely flower) replied. “Stand up straight. Hands down”, the “an ordered and boxed Kees’ ears. Turning to me, he in German, “Why are you standing here? Walk on”. So furious that I didn’t care what he would do. ist ja mein Mann” (he is my husband) , I said, “I have right to wait for him” . I got a long sermon in German and listened patiently while Kees took the opportunity of quietly escaping with the children. They picked up more people who were wearing orange and took them outside the village and threw them out of the trucks while driving. This was our first encounter with the – Gestapo or Grüne Polizei.
When the summer came to an end we had to make a decision where to go for the winter months. “Qui Procul” was definitely too cold for us to stay there. Greet suggested that we move into her new flat in Rotterdam. She had rented a two-storeyed place in an area that had survived the bombardment, but it was rather big for her, although she shared it with another woman. She also wanted to help us and we accepted her offer gratefully. Living with her would mean we had company and we also knew several people in Rotterdam. Friends helped us with some furniture and we still had enough money to see us through the winter months.
If it hadn’t been for the war, it was the best time of our extended leave. With Greet and the other person in the house Kees and I could go to concerts and plays and films in the evening. These were organised by the “Volks Universiteit” (the Common People’s University), so they were cheap but of high quality. I can’t remember any other time in our life when we went out as often as we did then. I can still see myself with a new hat, a sports type, and a perm in my hair, all ready to go to the next entertainment.
How was it possible to have all these outings in a city that had been bombed half flat a few months ago? I still find it difficult to comprehend. Our daily living was far from normal with Kees not going to work and the uncertainty of what was going to happen, but there was a certain rhythm to it with Greet going to her Montessori school every morning and Riek to her office, and also because of Walter and Hein. We went for walks to the zoo, which was close by, did our popping together or went for trips in the tram through the city. I always went to church on Sunday mornings land these services meant a lot to me. The minister of that area later became our minister in The Hague where had a strong relationship with him.
Because of Greet but also because Kees was a “Rotterdammer” and I had attended C. C. E. college in Rotterdam, we had many friends who came to see us and vice versa. Atie and Jan with their two children lived in an old part of the city which had escaped the bombing, as I mentioned earlier. But I often had guilt feelings about our children, thinking that we didn’t give them as much care as I felt they needed. One good thing was that they were part of a wider circle and with the extra attention from Greet, who has always remained their favourite aunt, they didn’t miss out too much. I think perhaps it was more my feelings of guilt that I was happy in a world in the middle of war.
France had been invaded after Holland and Belgium capitulated. These two occupied countries formed an open door to the northern part of France, so the famous Maginot line built to defend the border between France and Germany and supposedly unconquerable, was simply by–passed. The north of France stayed under German military occupation while the south became so-called “Free France” because of the collaboration of Marshal Pétain with the Germans. Belgium stayed under the military regime.
The situation in Holland was different again. The Germans had expected more support from the members of the Dutch National Socialist Party which was supposed to be stronger than it really was. The government in Holland was put under a civil administration order from the Government Commissioner. Laws were changed as the Nazi Party commanded. To be under a military regime had less severe consequences. But all this was not obvious in the beginning. The attitude of the Dutch people for the first months was, wait and see.
When spring approached again the situation changed. Planes were coming over from the other side, from England. The harbour was bombed regularly. Each time the sirens started their warning Huuuuuuuu – Huuuuuuuu sound, we sat with the children at the end of the staircase as a sort of protection. The children became anxious, especially Hein who was still too young to understand what was going on.
Years later a child psychiatrist explained to me that the age of two to three is the most vulnerable age for children to go through such a catastrophic experience because not only do they not understand what is happening, but they also cannot remember later what it was that happened at that particular time. Walter, just five years old, was ready for some explanations. For Hein it was all a great mystery and he started to withdraw.
Not knowing what would happen in Rotterdam during the coming summer, we thought it was better to go back to Noordwijk. It was again a very happy experience to return to “Qui Procul”, although the first night a misplaced bomb fell on houses a few hundred yards away. Kees was there by himself with the children as I had stayed one night in the Hague where I had arranged to give a talk about Indonesia to a women’s group. Travelling to Noordwijk the next day, I heard about the bomb being dropped and the names of the people killed.
This was the only time while we were there that this happened, but it was not a good start for the children. Before they went to sleep Kees and I always sang a little song to them. We left a slow burning stubby candle in their bedroom and assured them that everything would be all right. I must admit that I sometimes questioned whether it was the right thing to say when anything could happen. Would it not destroy their feeling of trust in us and therefore in others if anything did happen? I think we shared that problem with many parents jat that time.
Not long after we returned to Noordwijk, I became pregnant again. After Hfeiri was born our doctor in Indonesia had warned me not to have a third child too quickly as I had had some kidney trouble at the end of my last pregnancy. Contraception at that time was just as much an issue as abortion is today. The moral side didn’t worry me. If it was better to wait I would follow the advice of our doctor in Djember and use contraception. He had placed a metal cap over the entrance to the uterus and when my period started I took it out myself, but it had to be put back in by a physician. But my body didn’t feel in harmony with that obstacle inside, and because of the travelling and the changes I could not be bothered seeing a doctor every month, so I gave up using it. Every month there was gave up using it. Every month there was the uncertainty of yes or no. When it was Yes this time I wasn’t upset as I was res this time I wasn’t upset as 1 have always felt that there was a meaning behind each child coming into the world. But Kees who carried the financial responsibility for the family was quite worried about having another child. He tried to find work but it was hopeless with only his experience as a planter in Indonesia. Neither was Noordwijk the right place to find employment. We received a monthly benefit of 90 guilders ($45) from a fund for people like us, who were cut off from their companies because of the war, to keep us going.
For the first time the names of Anneke and Bertha Loggers appear in our visitors’ book along with members of our families and other friends staying with us at “Qui Procul” that summer. From that time on our family became for them what their family had been for us while we lived in Indonesia. We saw Wolter Loggers only a few times during these years.
Autumn brought another change. Opa Kolff had rented a small two-storeyed house for us. It belonged to people who used it as a summer cottage. It was a cosily furnished house in a newly built street not far from “Qui Procul” . The only disadvantage was that it had no bath or shower so a tub had to replace the bath. This was no problem for Kees and the boys, but for me, growing in size, it certainly was.
Walter and Hein enjoyed our stay in the cottage. They went to the village kindergarten where they made friends with children from the neighbourhood. Walter was always organising games and bringing children home to play, using the couch as a truck or a boat, racing to all different places in the world. Hein went along with him until he had enough of the racing games, then he climbed into his private tower, the high chair where he played with his blocks or puzzles.
Although he was quieter than Walter, he too had a determined streak in him. Once sitting on the back seat of the bike behind his father, he told Kees that he wanted to get off. Kees said, “Just a wee bit further”. Hein got angry and tried to climb off, putting his foot between the spokes with the obvious result of a damaged foot and an angry father.
Another time he got angry with one of the children in the street, got a big knife out of the kitchen drawer and ran outside yelling “I will kill him. . . I will”. He had his long-sleeved red smock on and his short hair was standing up straight like an angry dog. I ran after him and grabbed-the knife in time. That was the other side of sweet little Hein or Heintje as he was called then.
When Christmas approached I bought in a Catholic shop in Noordwijk-in-land a Christmas scene made from coloured paper. The “inland” Noorwijkers were all Catholics, the sea-people all strong Calvinists. I remember how happy I felt when I walked home with this rather sentimental Christmas decoration that had to replace our Christmas tree. I even remember the price, the equivalent today of thirty-five cents. It has remained our favourite ~for years even though one of the shepherds has lost his head.
Kees managed to find a job for a few months writing out identification cards for the Noordwijk Borough Council. The council was of course under German supervision. Everybody had to show their identification card when they collected their food coupons and the Jews had to carry their identification cards always with them. They also had to wear the Star of David visible on their clothes . It was because of the special stamp Kees had to put on the cards of the Jews , a “J” , that he hated the job.
Slowly but surely the campaign against the Jews had started. Signs were put up on cafes and restaurants forbidding Jews. They were not allowed to go to cinemas and the young people could no longer attend certain colleges. The opposition from the Dutch people started to grow and when the Gestapo started to pick up Jewish men and boys in the centre of Amsterdam and beat them up and send them off to concentration camps, there was no ” more patience or “wait and see” from the Dutch people. A general strike broke out and several strikers were shot down. From the four hundred Jews picked up that day only one survived. It was only the beginning. 140,000 Jews lived in Holland when it was a free country. More than 104,000 (corrected from 100. 000, ed. ) died in the concentration camps.
Besides working in the Council Office, Kees- had to t the sick or elderly people who could not present own identification cards. He always wore a hat visiting which he put on the coat stand in the sage or on a chair in the room and it was this hat must have been the carrier of the head lice that red quickly to my head and spread from me to the boys.
A few houses from where we stayed lived two sisters, Tante Nell and Tante Ann(Tante means aunt in Dutch). They were in their late fifties, and Tante Nell was physically handicapped either by arthritis or childhood polio. These two woman were a delightful couple to have as neighbours They had always lived at Noordwijk and knew all about its history which was different from other sea-coast places. The Noordwijkers had a certain dignity that made them walk and talk like aristocrats but whitout a plum in their mouths.
Often I propped over to their place in the morning for a cup of coffee with ‘koek’, a kind of cinnamon loaf. In spite of all the food restrictions Tante Nell and Tante Ann were never without ‘koek’. The coffee was made from chicory but tasty all the same. I could talk with these two about everything under the sun. They certainly were emancipated women.
When Kees had finished his job at the Borough Council he got another one as a clerk in a government office in The Hague. He had to travel backwards and forwards in the Blue Tram leaving early in the morning and returning at night. The wihter started late that year but was one of the severest we had ever experienced. Even the sae along the coast was frozen, a spectacular sxght, but to live with.
We expected the baby during the first week of February, the same month that Kees started his new job. The birth was to take place at home which was the common practice in Holland. On February 8, in the afternoon, the village crier announced that the gas would be cut off cooking and heating up the water. Foutunately we still had electric light but the water taps had been frozen
for quite a while. During the day you could buy hot water in a shop in the village and Kees carried buckets with hot water to our house once a week for washing and baths in the tub.
But that night when I felt the first labour pains it was too late. It was a sort of a miracle that the kitchen tap started to drip and later in the evening the drip became a slow flow of water. We filled up pots and pans and put them on the stove in the sitting room. A young friend who came for a chat offered to call the doctor. In our baby book it is mentioned that he brought the district nurse with him and that we had a nice evening sitting around the stove having a good talk, and waiting for the performance to begin!
The only thing I can remember at the end is that Kees had to rush for the toilet, and the doctor had the butt of a cigarette in his mouth, which I found rather strange. , Evidently the two males suffered from nerves while the female brought another son into the world – a strong healthy child, over seven pounds. Johannes – born 2.15 a. m. , February 9th. Walter and Hein received the good news by singing an endless repetitive song in bed that started with bears buttering their bread, the bears turning into monkeys and the bread into carrots and then fleas. . . . . and so on.
Kees stayed home that first day taking on the job of a Karitane nurse. The district nurse also popped in early in the morning to see how mother and son were getting on, but after a quick look in the bassinette she disappeared saying she would be back soon and so she was, with the doctor. Because of poor war material the string binding off the umbilical cord had come undone and little Johannes was slowly-bleeding to death. The after effects were that he looked yellow for quite a while and I had difficulty in making him drink. But all went well under the good care of a trained home aid, who stayed with us for the first three weeks. I was close to tears when she left and I had to look after the three children myself, with Kees away the whole day.
It would not have been so bad if the frost had stopped, but it carried on for weeks. Hanging the nappies on the line was sheer agony and to get them dry a daily problem. Talking Johannes for a walk in the pram required real skill trying to steer the pram in the right direction over the frozen paving-stones. “Six more weeks”, Opa Kolff kept on saying with a grim smile, “and it will be spring again”. It took a while before he could reduce the six to four, but at long last spring was in the air again.
Looking at our Dutch encyclopaedia printed in 195O there are five pages with double columns listing the dates of all that happened during World War Two. An important date for us was 15 February 1942, when the Japanese took Singapore. From there the war spread to Indonesia. On March 9 Java capitulated. How close and yet how far we felt from Diesje and her husband Thijs and all our other friends. None of us had any idea what lay ahead for them.
Although Kees did not like the office job and the pay was meagre he had to stick at it. The daily travelling to the Hague was costly and time-consuming. There were also rumours that the coastline would be evacuated because of the expected invasion from the Allies.
The only possibility was to move back to the Hague and live with my mother again. We found it hard to give up our independence and were fully aware what it would mean to her. But lately the family had become worried about Ma living by herself with the complications of food rationings and changing orders from the Germans. So far she had managed quite well but we all knew that circumstances would worsen week by week. It seemed the best solution of the two problems. Reluctantly she gave in.
So we made another shift. Walter and Hein stayed for a few days with one of my sisters and Kees had left for The Hague. I packed our luggage, had my last cup of chicory coffee at Tante Nell’s and Tante Ann’s and walked with Johannes in my arms to Opa’s place from where I would catch the Blue Tram. When I walked along the well-known streets I felt so depressed that I could hardly move my legs. They felt like lead.
We had only been a few months at Ma’s place when the order came that that whole area had to be evacuated. It was a bombshell. Within a week we had to be out, and all people over seventy had to move to the Centre or Eastern part of Holland. Only those who lived with their children could stay.
Fortunately we could move into the house of Jan Bool’s parents (Jan was the husband of my sister Truus) as they had already shifted to the centre of Holland. Ma Was allowed to stay with us. The whole situation was crazy. The German General Rommel, who was in charge of the army in North Africa, called it, after he had visited West Holland: “Die qualerei der Bevolkerung” (the harassment of the people). He could not see any advantage in what the citizens were being forced to do.
However, we had to shift and so had many others. The new place was approximately one kilometer away, a three storeyed house with a small front and backyard. The van Meerdervoort Avenue was one of the main roads in the Hague running from the central part to where we lived so our house number was 839 followed by twenty more. Now the numbers run into thousands.
We were lucky that we lived close to a small wood and we could see the dunes, although they were forbidden territory, but for Ma this sudden shift meant the beginning of the end. A week after we had moved they started to dismantle the houses. Soon the whole area where we had been was flattened so that they could have a clear view if the invasion started. Ma refused to believe what had happened and wanted to go back to see for herself, which was impossible. Rommel had truly called it “The harassment of the people”, to which I could add, especially the elderly. They had lost their homes and the very ground under their feet. Even a cup of tea in the morning would have been a great comfort to the old during these unhappy days but there was only ersatz tea which everyone hated.
We still went to “Qui Procul” that summer. How it was possible that we could stay there, I can’t remember, the house being much closer to the coast than Ma’s place. But we were not allowed to go anywhere, no swimming or walking except inland. It was the last opportunity to be together in “Qui Procul”.
It was during that summer that I met one of my friends from C. C. E. College. She was a Jewess married to a Jew and one of the restrictions for them was that they were not allowed to come closer to the coastline than so many kilometers. We met somewhere inland and sat on the slope of a ditch talking about her problems, which she didn’t see as problems as she was quite certain that all would worJc out well. She told me that they had decided to have a baby. They were married before the war started and had waita,d to see how the situation would develop. But she didn’t want to wait any longer. “I am quite sure we’ll be all right”, she said.
It was as if I was hearing her talk again in our C. C. E. classroom. “Girls”, she used to call out, “Listen”. rWe called her “Our Model” and we always listened to what she had to say. She was an excellent organiser without being bossy so even this time I believed her. They did all survive, she, her husband, the child, and even her old mother. She told me later that while on their way to the concentration camp, a German soldier had offered to take care of her baby. In desperation she gave it to him, but just before the truck left, she jumped out and grabbed it from him. Had she not, she would never have seen her child again.
When we shifted to “839”, as I will call the house at the van Meerdervoort Avenue from now on, I discovered that we had lost Kees’ boots, the only pair he had. I heard about a woman who would give you information about lost objects if you could show her a photo of the owner. I remembered how years ago brother Henk had found a golden medal which he had won for some architectural drawing in this way. Whether it was still the same person or not, I did not know, but decided to give it a go. I took a passport photo of Kees with me and found my way through the back streets of The Hague. I could hardly see the woman, who was sitting in a half darkened room with a mysterious red light in the corner. She took Kees’ Photo and looked at it intently. Then she started to describe the government building Kees was working in and suggested that he had lost a ring with keys on it some |time ago. I told her that this was so, but the key ring I was not allowed to say anything else.
She looked again at the photo, but told me that she could not see what it was or where it was. “But I can see two men who have taken what you are looking for”, she said, and described two people who shifted our belongings from Ma’s place to “839”. When she gave me the photo back, she said: “This man (Kees), is having a hard time. He feels locked up in that building. He is a man who needs fresh air and space. As soon as the war is over, he has to go back where he lived before”. I told her that we had lived in Indonesia. Again she said, “Go back there or anywhere else where he will feel free or he will die”. It sounded over dramatic, but in the years to come I have often thought of her advice.
Kees found another job at an insurance office. It was also clerical work, but his relationship with the people was much better; he was no longer just a number among the many.
We tried to keep up our little outings with the children. There were still green spots to be found. To begin with there was Johannes in the pram and all the rest of us walking;later, the whole family on the bike the little ones on the front and the back of the bikes and Kees and I carrying a pot with warm mashed potatoes, carrots and onions between the two of us with five spoons sticking out from the middle. There was not enough bread to make a picnic lunch. As soon as we arrived, we had to sit down to eat the “hotchpot” before it got cold.
I remember how Ma came with us on one of these outings. We sat in the grass along a ditch. Ma was stretched out in the grass with her arms folded under her head and her blue eyes looking up into the blue sky. “How lovely”, she said- over and over again, while the children jumped in and out of the dirty ditchwater, drying themselves with pieces of old curtaining.
Then another command from the Germans ordered all old people out of the area where we lived so that room could be made for younger couples looking for accommodation. Ma moved to Laren in the centre of Holland where sister Bans and Pirn lived. She could not stay with them, but they found other accommodation nearby with a childless couple. She did not last long there and moved back to our place although it was illegal. I was expecting our fourth child and found it hard to cope, although there was an aunt of our brother-in-law, Jan Kluiver, who took care of Ma. But she became more and more difficult to live with.
At long last we found an old people’s home in a village not far from Rotterdam where she could stay. It was very hard to explain to her what was going to happen and she felt rejected by her own children. “When Huub and I took her there, she was very upset. “How could you do this”, she said as we three walked in arm-in-arm, Ma between Huub and me. We felt like traitors, but she could not have been in a better place.
The couple who were running the home were devoted to old people. The wife was a qualified nurse, but the husband was just as good at caring for people as she was. Both had farming relations in the area so there was enough food for the old people and even coal to keep them warm. Ma had her own room where her meals were served, but later she shared the meals downstairs.
After Ma had left, a newly married couple moved in with us. She was one of the teachers at the Montessori School that Walter and Hein attended. So Dolf and Anneke Buutveld shared with us the last two years of the war under the same roof – the beginning of a continuing friendship. Bertha Loggers also stayed with us at that time and later her fiance, Gerard Aleva, found a hiding Place at “839”. I can’t remember the names of all the people who stayed and moved on again, but it was a constant stream of people coming and going.
On June 3rd, 1944, three days before the Allies invaded Normandy, Hans Willem was born, again a home birth. I was in the capable hands of our friend and close neighbour, Dr Ber Schmidt, with Bertha assisting. There must have been another nurse, but I only remember those two people.
It was very unfortunate that Kees was not there again. He was racing around finding a pair of scales and was just back in time to share a glass of wine to drink to the health of his fourth son. The scales he had borrowed weighed out the”new arrival at over seven pounds, which was good for a baby born during the war years. Ber didn’t want Hans Willem or H. W. as we began to call him, bathed. “It is better for the body to consume the grease than to wash it away”, he said. He was not at all the type of doctor you would expect in The Hague. He came from the Brabant, the South of Holland, where his father was a vet, and was always ready with jokes, often dubious ones. He dressed like a farmer and raced round on a motorbike. He and his wife, Toos, were the right type of people to have as friends and neighbours in those gloomy days. With Dolf and Anneke and the Schmidts we had some hilarious times.
Three days later, June 6, Ber stormed into my bedroom. “You have to get up and walk around”, he ordered. “They have invaded France and we don’t know what will happen here”. Today it would not have mattered to get up on the third day, but then the rules for mother and baby were much more cautious.
Everybody was excited. I was too, but for me to be able to breastfeed was my first concern. Not that I was over-anxious, but I gave it priority to the exciting news that we listened to in cellars or in attics, although it was strictly forbidden to listen to the B. B. C. news.
The Allies approached Belgium, then the South of Holland, and before September they had reached the rivers, the strong barriers between the Southland the North of our small flat country. Small H. W. suffered little from all that was going on around him. He was a happy and healthy baby. Strangely enough, I was able to breastfeed him better than any of the other children. I also did baby gymnastics with him, something new I had heard about, and which he enjoyed tremendously. I took him by the ankles and lifted him up slowly. He then spread his arms and lifted up his head as a natural response to my lifting him up. After he had been in that position for about a minute, I put him on his side slowly and then up again and down on the other side. We did this every morning after he had had his bath and he loved it. Most of his baby months he spent in his pram in the front garden even when the’winter had started and snow covered the ground. A baby sleeping bag and some extra blankets protected him from the frost. The only thing you could see of him looking in the pram was a bit of light, blond hair.
Besides breast milk he had mashed brown beans and later the potato peelings from our neighbours who had a night bar in the centre of the city and could barter with the Germans. They kept the peelings for us, not realising that we had the best part of the potato.
Life became more difficult for Walter and Hein. Their school, which was in the evacuated area, was closed, so they went to school at certain hours of the week in private homes. The house at “839” was filled with people, so the children, including Johannes, who was not yet three years old, just had to fit in. Johannes went to a Montessoiri Kindergarten to be away from the overcrowded home situation. If I had time, I took him there, but he came home most of the time by himself. Once, he crawled home on hands and knees because the frozen cobbled streets were too slippery for his clogs. Clogs were in again at that time and very useful they were.
Walter and Hein, who were nine and seven, started to show signs of malnutrition and especially so when the general railway strike started on September 18, 1944, and the West of Holland was cut off from the rest of the country. The already meagre food supply shrank to a minimum.
The strike was organised by the Netherlands’ Railways to block all transport for the German army, but it had unfortunately severe consequences for the population in the West and Centre of the country. People from the cities and towns had^to bike for miles on bikes with solid tyres or no tyres at all, to barter with farmers. Many walked with prams for hours and some died along the road-side. V
At “839” we had managed to share our food with each other, but when you are under real pressure it is hard to be reasonable and difficulties were building up. We decided that it was better for each family to look after its own resources, including fuel. There was no more electricity and no more gas. All we had was a little woodstove, one downstairs and one upstairs where Dolf and Anneke lived. Gerard Aleva was the distributor of food for our family. He had scales on which he weighed the bit of flour for the day and the two or three potatoes shared by us all. The one slice of bread was handed out at night. Some ate it straight away, others put it on the stove to be toasted and broke off small pieces so that it would last as long as possible. We all sat around the stove by the light of a piece of cotton burning in a bit of oil. We even managed to read, i. e. one of us read aloud and the others listened.
Nearly every night squadrons of bombers flew over from England to Germany. From our city, V. l’s were sent off by the Germans. The first time we watched a V. I flying over to London was like being involved in a satanic nightmare. There was no human pilot or navigator in this dark, cigar-shaped object roaring fairly low over the house where we lived, flying with terrific speed over the North Sea to somehow land in London or any other English city. This was even more frightening than to know that a human being was involved who took the risk of losing his own life.
Often, early in the morning, while I was feeding H. W. in the dining room a V. I passed our house where it was taken to the launching place. Two soldiers on motor bikes went first to see if the road was clear and they were followed by an enormous trailer carrying the V. I. The contrast between the child sucking peacefully at my breast, and that weapon passing by, was sometimes more than I could take and I wept quietly, H. W. ’s little hand on my breast trying to comfort me.
Greet had been involved in the underground movement from the moment it had started, helping Jews to cross the border to escape to the U. S. or to find a hiding place in Holland. The headmaster of the Montessori School where she taught in Rotterdam was in the front line. His name was Westerweel. In Israel, after the war ended, when trees were planted for people who worked in the underground movement to rescue Jews, in remembrance of Westerweel, a whole forest was named after him. Greet had a tree planted there for her part in this dreadful struggle.
On one occasion, Greet and Westerweel were talking ‘business1 in a restaurant where they often met after schooltime. That day the secret police walked in and arrested them both. They were first taken to the toilets to be searched, but when bringing them outside the Police made the mistake of letting Westerweel go first through the swinging door. As soon as he was outside, he ran away, saw an open doorway, ran up the staircase, crawled through an attic window and escaped over the roofs. He knew that if they ever got him it would be the end of his life and of his rescue work.
Greet was arrested and kept in prison until she had to come before the Gestapo. It was just at the end of 1943 when we received this sad news, and New Year’s Eve was a very gloomy one. I remember that Oma Kolff stayedj with us and that we were eating mussels. Oma became sick and lost her denture in the toilet while vomiting, but Kees rescued it. Then the bell rang and who was there, but Greet! It was unbelievable. Her name, echoed through the whole house. Questions were fired left, right and centre, until we all sat around the stove with warm wine and listened to her story, quite an amazing one.
When she was brought before the Gestapo she didn’t wait for questions but expressed her anger with the Police who had arrested a headmaster and a teacher who were discussing school matters. How did they dare to do such a thing at a time when there was so much work to do at school? Life for the children was difficult enough. She demanded to be released straight away so that she could carry on with her job as the Christmas holidays were over. She needed these few days to recover from the humiliation of being imprisoned and to prepare her work for when school started again. No, she didn’t know anything about Westerweel, except that he was the best headmaster she had ever had. Could she please go now and be left in peace?The Gestapo were so overwhelmed by her aggressive attitude that they let her go!
Westerweel stayed underground, but carried on with his work. I remember how one day Greet rang the doorbell at “839” introducing me to a Mr Jones,a bureaucratic looking fellow with a moustache, a short haircut, wide-rimmed glasses and a well fitted suit. He had an impressive briefcase under his arm. “They are following us. Can we stay here for a while?” Greet whispered while they walked in. Mr Jones was a disguised Westerweel. Shortly after they had moved on, I received a phone call. “Mrs Kolff?” an aggressive voice asked. “Speaking”, I answered. “There has been a burglary in our jewellery shop last night. (The name of the shop was mentioned). You are expected to be involved”, the voice continued. “Sorry, but you must have the wrong name or telephone number”, I said. “No, you can expect house searching any time”. The telephone was put 4lown at the other end and I had to sit down for a few minutes to think what this strange phone call could mean arid what action I could take. I was expecting H. W. then and his birth was not far off. I could not take any risks. It was in the early afternoon and nobody was home except for a woman who had rented a room upstairs. I quickly discussed the matter with her and she agreed that the phone call could have been a warning from the underground movement after Westerweel had stayed in the house for a short time. We decided to leave the place straight away and I stayed with a friend for the night, but nothing happened and the others thought I had imagined it all!
Westerweel was caught before the end of the war and died a most horrifying death in a concentration camp in Vucht (Holland). He helped the oppressed with no thought for himself. “Even if the N. S. Bers (members of the Dutch Nationalist Social Party) were to be persecuted after the war, I’ll help them too”, he used to say. But he didn’t have a chance to do it.
September brought high hopes that we would be freed before the winter. On September 2 the Allies passed the Belgium border; September 3 Brussels was freed and on September 4 Antwerp. On September 5, rumours spread that they had crossed the border between Belgium and Holland and we were waiting for Canadian trucks to drive up the van Meerdervoort Avenue any minute. Even the Germans were confused by a mistake made by the news media in using the wrong name of a place, and members of the Dutch Nationalist Social Party started to flee.
At “839” we baked a heap of pancakes with carefully stored flour and we used oil and sugar as we hadn’t done for a long time, to. celebrate the end of the war! But nothing happened until 18 September when British planes landed in Arnhem, a city in the Eastern part of Holland, but on the North side of the river PJiine.
We didn’t bake pancakes then but waited to see what was going to happen. The Germans were well prepared for “the battle of Arnhem”, which is now an event in history books. It became a total disaster for the British and for the people of Holland and especially for those in the West. It was the beginning of the Hunger Winter.
I’ll write down a few events from that last winter during the war, although they may not be in the right order. In one way life became duller every day, but on the other hand things were happening all the time. We were kept informed by secretly listening to the B. B. C. news over the radio, and all the time news was passed around. But the pattern of daily living was so monotonous because there was no material to work with. Once a day Walter and Hein collected the soup for the whole family from a soup kitchen and that was the end of meals. There were no other ingredients to cook with except for sugar beets and tulip bulbs, which had a horrible sweet taste.
Johannes’ third birthday party was celebrated with roasted tulip bulbs and mashed sugar beet. He sat like a king at the little table with another small boy who also thought it was heaven on earth. When times are grim you must carry on celebrating!
To do the washing was one of the biggest problems. Small things could be washed in some warm water heated on the little stove, but sheets, towels and men’s clothing had to be rinsed in cold water in the bath and had to dry on the balcony of our bedroom where they might catch a little bit of wind, but no sunshine at all. H. W. ’s nappies were most of the time rinsed in cold wa£er too. Soap, in whatever form, was no longer available.
Two scenes connected with washing stand out clearly in my mind. The first one had to do with our backyard neighbours. The house on the other side of ours and garden, was one storey lower than ours and divided into ground floor and first floor. The people living on the first floor didn’t have access to the garden. A narrow balcony was the only outdoor connection to their place. Every Monday morning the wash was done on one of the narrow little balconies for a family of seven -husband, wife and five children.
This family had moved in during the coastal evacuation I mentioned before. That was still during the summertime when things were not so grim. The washing scene on the other side was interesting to watch and it was done with great skill. You could see that the mother had always done it that way. Her husband was a fisherman and they had lived in Scheveningen, a fishinq village close to The Hague.
The only contact we had was from balcony to balcony, calling “Good Morning” to each other, and some remarks about the weather. After H. W. was born, she congratulated me and told me that she was expecting another baby. During the months to come, her face under the white cap, which most of the women from that place still wore, became smaller and her movements slower. You could not see her body expanding because of the wide skirt and apron which was also part of their costume. During the winter our conversations stopped and we just waved out to each other. But shortly after the war was over she gave birth to their sixth child and I went round the corner to the front door and for the first and last times we had a good chat together. She looked so young with her blond hair in two plaits instead of combed back and put together in a knot under the cap. The house was spotless and the atmosphere so serene that I have never forgotten this woman and her skill as housewife and mother. Shortly after they had returned to their house in Scheveningen the father was killed clearing the coastal zone of the North Sea of mines.
Another wash-day memory that I remember clearly is when shortly after the war was finished and Harry, the son of Erna and the stepson of brother Huub, sat in our backyard washing some clothes in a small tub with warm water and a piece of “sunlight soap1 given to him by a Canadian soldier. Johannes squatted next to his cousin, watching the unusual scene in complete silence. The smell of the sunlight soap drifted through the open kitchen door to where I was pottering around, and from that moment Sunlight Soap has had priority over any other brand for me!
One thing I will always remember from those days was the strange silence only disturbed sometimes by a military truck passing or, at night, the sounds of planes flying over, but not the usual noises of the city which we had often cursed and which we were missing now. There were no sounds of cars or electric trams passing in the middle of the two lanes where we lived – no ringing of bicycle bells, which the Dutch people use a lot, and no whistling while the butcher or the baker deliver their goods to the houses of their customers. The streets were empty and silent. It was a dead silence so different from stillness.
And then, all at once, something happened, and we were made aware that we were still in the middle of war. As an S. O. S. system we, and many others, used to put our vacuum cleaner under our bed, so that it would start working as soon as the main electricity was put on, and we knew that this would happen when the Germans were coming to do house searching. From time to time areas of the city were closed,, off and men between eighteen and forty were picked up to be deported to Germany to serve in the army or to be used in the work force.
One person who had stayed at our place as an “onderduiker” (a person who stays underground), but had moved on, had built an excellent hiding place under the overhanging part of our roof where you could crawl in from one of the bedrooms. The tongue and groove board could be put back into place without leaving any indication.
Kees was over forty, but Dolf Buutveld and cousin Harry were in the required age group. Harry stayed with us during the night because of that safe hiding place. One night the vacuum cleaner started to roar and we had electric light, so we knew what we could expect. Early in the morning the front door bell rang and I opened the door. A Gestapo man informed me that any man between eighteen and forty had to be ready at eight o’clock and stand in front of the house to be picked up. Disobeying the order could have serious consequences. All the streets in the area were closed off. The few men who had tried to escape were picked up. There was not much time left and we had to act swiftly. Dolf started to panic and refused to go into the hiding place. Kees had to more or less push him in. We supplied them with a bit of food and drink and waited for what was going to happen. Some men had responded to the call and we saw trucks driving along slowly picking up people waiting in front of the house but passing “839” without stopping! We were lucky as we had had a young Austrian soldier searching our house. He raced around and was just as happy as we were that he could not find anybody. Later we heard from our neighbours that he had sat at their piano for a few minutes and played with such hunger for music that it nearly made them cry.
Another order was announced that we had to hand in blankets or clothes or whatever we could spare to send to Germany, supposedly to help the people in bombed areas, but we knew that they would go to the army. Kees and I decided that we could not do that. It may sound heroic, but neither of~ us were very brave and we felt that this was crazy. When you had delivered your goods you received a ticket which you had to show when the Germans came to the door to ask what your contribution had been.
One morning we were informed that they were coming around. Warnings like these were passed on quickly from house to house so that when the Gestapo rang at the front door, Kees had disappeared. Bertha Loggers and I were the only ones at home with H. W. , and Walter was there, as he told me later. When I didn’t have a ticket to show, the Gestapo walked in. The following conversation went on in German:
“Why didn’t you hand in goods to help the people?”
“We are stranded here from Indonesia and have nothing to spare”.
“But if you could have done it, you would have supported us, wouldn’t you?”.
“No”. I didn’t think. It was said before I knew what I was saying. Silence.
“You know that I can send you to a concentration camp right now”, he said.
“Yes”, I answered.
He stood in front of me like a police dog ready to jump. He had a helmet on and a big golden corner tooth. Bertha stood behind me with H. W. on her arm. He was about six months old then. “That one can’t do without you. You should have thought of him”. He started a long lecture, threatening me all the time, but I didn’t say a word. H. W. took over in his language, answering the officer when he stopped talking to take a breath. “I have got one at home the same age”, he said, turned around, waved at H. W. and walked out – an ordinary human being.
It was December 20 when brother Huub and I decided to go and see Ma in the Old People’s Home in the village called Schiebroek, close to Rotterdam. We had only seen her once before the railway strike had started. It was difficult for me to go away when I was breast feeding H. W. , but when we heard that Ma was not so well and that she was longing very much to see us, we decided to go before Christmas. We had to walk to the other side of the Hague, which took about an hour, to catch a little puffing boat which ran on coal and wood through the canals to Schiebroek. It took three hours. We had to sit on deck in the freezing cold. All the same, I have happy memories of this trip together with brother Huub.
When we entered the dining-room where all the old people were sitting round the dining table and I put my arm around Ma’s shoulders, she looked up with such an expectant look and laughed like a happy child. Then her eyes went round the room to look for Mrs Vogelaar, who ran the home with her husband. “You see, I was right. I told you she would come”, she said, her whole face beaming. Mrs Vogelaar told us that she had expected us every day and sometimes thought we had been.
Huub and I both felt that Ma was completely at home. She had become like a child and had put all her trust in the couple who not only looked after her well but respected her and all the other old people as persons. Ma had changed and something I had not seen before in her had a chance to come out. I met my mother as a warm lovable person, no longer the strong rock on which I had grown like lichen, taking for granted what I had felt to be my right. In the evening before everyone went to bed, Mrs V. came around with a plate with small pieces of cheese and wished the old ones a “Good Night”. The way Ma looked at the plate and then looked up at Mrs V. with such a happy smile to thank her, I’ll never forget. She talked more with her eyes than with her mouth.
We spent the night at the home of the village doctor and his wife who were friends of Huub and Erna. To stay there was a special treat for us. There was enough food to share a simple hot meal together and it was so good to talk with people with whom you did not live under the same roof. Bas Hoogvliet warned us that Ma had not long to live. She was becoming more frail every day. We promised to come back on her birthday, January 9.
The next morning we left for The Hague on the little puffing-billy boat and when we went on board we met Greet with a young girl. They were on their way to our place to be with us for Christmas. I was not very happy to have extra people in the house and Greet sensed for the first and the last time that they were not welcome. When we arrived at “839” we heard the sad news that Anneke Buutveld had had 6 miscarriage that night. In spite of the war circumstances, Dolf and Anneke had been looking forward to their first child. H. W. was happy to have me back and in no time emptied my breasts which felt like balloons. We all tried hard to keep up our spirits for the sake of the children, but it was not a “merry Christmas”.
On January 9, 1945, Huub and I went again to see Ma. Once again we walked to where we could catch the boat and endured another three hours on deck. It was bitterly cold and all the fields were covered with snow. I had found it more difficult to leave the family and in particular H. W. this time, but when we arrived there we were both glad we had come. The end was near. She still recognized us and was happy we were there, but she was already on the way to the other side. We stayed with her all the time. Huub had brought his sketch book and pencil and made drawings of her, sleeping on her side, one hand under her right cheek as she always did. Later everyone in the family got one drawing and I wrote down how we shared these last hours with Ma.
What I will always remember of these days is again that silence, which this time felt like a stillness, a farewell without words. The stillness was even more emphasized by the streets- covered in snow so that even the few footsteps were not heard. And then”all at once came the sound of a trumpet from downstairs and voices singing. The Salvation Army was singing hymns for the old people. Ma did not notice, but for me it was a sign that the world around was still alive and that there was hope.
January 10, 1945 (from my diary). More snow. The situation is still the same. In the evening Kees walked in. He came all the way on his bike without tyres. I had to come home, H. W. needed me. After Ma had had a little wash her eyes looked clearer. I could see that she wanted to say something. “Want to go home”. “You are at home”, I said. “Such a long journey”, she said, and dropped off to sleep again. The next morning Kees and I left. It was so unreal to say Goodbye to Ma. She was asleep and did not notice. Huub stayed until the end. She died on January 13, 1945. Her body was taken illegally to the Hague on the little boat. Kees biked specially to Schiebroek again to have that organized. The funeral service in the little chapel at the cemetery was attended by Huub, Erna, Kees and me, and three other friends. In the middle of the short service we were told that the funeral could not take place as the gravediggers didn’t have the strength to dig the grave. A few days later, the four of us went back to the cemetery where Ma was buried next to my father. Huub said The Lord’s Prayer and we went home.
When Kees came to Schiebroek to tell me that I had to come home because H. W. needed me, we walked back to the Hague. It took us hours, but we managed because we had some solid food before we left, and if one of us became tired they sat on the tyreless bike, hiking slowly so that we could continue to talk, and that is something I remember from that long walk over the snow-covered roads; we were together without other people around us, and we made use of those few hours by talking about things that had been on our minds without the opportunity of discussing them.
Our main concern had to do with Walter and Hein, who were becoming weaker every day and had started to act like two old men, no longer interested in what was happening around them. Hein also had trouble with walking and had started to wet his bed during the night.
Ber Schmidt, our doctor, had told us that it was time to do something about it or otherwise there could be severe problems later.
The insurance company Kees still worked for had offered residence for children in the East of Holland, i. e. people working for the firm in the East had offered help and transport was Arranged by the Nilmij Co. (the insurance company). They had to travel during the night to avoid bombing. The boys took the news quite well and Walter anyhow was glad to have a change. I gathered some clothes together and baked a few “three in the pan” pancakes and off we went to the place where the truck was departing, somewhere in the middle of the city.
Hein had to sit in a push chair as it was far too far for him to walk. Walter carefully carried the little bag with the few pancakes. When we had arrived there and the boys had to go into the truck, together with other children, Hein came to me and said with a soft but determined voice, “I don’t want to go. I want to go home with you”. It was Walter who helped us to convince Hein that it was better to go into the truck, so that they could eat the pancakes. Kees lifted Hein up and the two disappeared behind the canvas cover. They told us later that the pancakes had got lost in the darkness and how desperate they felt. We walked home with the empty pushchair and I thought of the hundreds of parents saying Goodbye to their children but knowing that it was the end. We were sharing a small part of the suffering created by war.
I can’t say anything about Walter’s and Hein’s experiences in Assen during those months. Maybe some time they will write down their story. One thing I remember with guilt feelings is that we killed Hein’s rabbit, Plappie, and ate it. Hein was very upset when he heard about it after they came back.
It was a relief to know that the boys were fed well after they left but there was a kind of dullness in the house and we did not hear how they were getting on as there was no communication with the other parts of the country. Kees went on a bike trip to the Veluwe where our cousin Onnie lived to barter a few sheets and towels for food. He biked all the way and became ill when he had more to eat than his stomach could digest.
When we had moved in to “839”, we came into contact with an old friend of the Kolff family, Tarn Canter Visscher, who often stayed with the Kolffs when he was a boy. Now he was a married man with two children, Mera and Jolmer, seven and five years old. Tarn’s wife, Corrie, whom we met only a few times, went also on a food trip to Onnie. She had to go as Tarn was in the dangerous age group between 18 and 4O. On her way home, Corrie took shelter under a bridge close to the Hague when the allies bombarded the area, and she was killed. What follows now sounds very matter of fact, but this is how I remember it. Tarn was left with two small children and Greet and he had known each other for years when they were young. Greet had said a few times that, when the war was over, she would look for another job as she had been teaching for so many years. I then suggested, why not stay with Tarn and help him with the children. They talked it over and made it clear to each other that they would give it a trial period with the possibility of getting married. And that is how it’worked out. In August of that same year they married and if this was a fairy story it would have ended with “and they lived happily ever after”, and that is what they did, until Tarn died in 1978.
A tragic comical experience was when an elderly woman stayed at our place after the Allies had bombarded the other part of the Hague by mistake and many people had lost their homes. Because Walter and Hein were no longer home, we had a bedroom to spare so put our name on the list for accommodation available. When Mrs H. stood in front of the door at “839” she had a scarf over her head and a hat on top. From the moment she arrived until she left when the war was over, she kept scarf and hat on even when she was in bed, according to Bertha who took her to her bedroom at night and helped her to get up in the morning. -^ She was a wealthy lady, and we understood that she used to wear a wig which she had lost in the bombardment, together with a lot of jewellery. She talked endlessly about the jewellery but never mentioned the wig. I must admit that Bertha and I had fits of laughter when she was not around until we became used to the head-dress, but we admired the courage which kept her going with such dignity.
Church services continued and were well attended, in spite of freezing buildings and empty stomachs. One church service was held in a theatre and it was packed. We stumbled upstairs in the pitch dark where we had to stand because there were no seats. A voice came from down below where a little battery light marked the place where the minister was supposed to be. His voice travelled up clearly. The message we received that morning was the same as Moses had told the Israelites when they fled from Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. (Exodus 14) . The only words I remember were “Voorttrekken” (march on) . Although we did not march home, we felt refreshed when we trudged back through the dreary streets.
Another mental lift I received during the war years and especially during these winter months came from a little magazine called “Housekeeping Today” – it gave information on housekeeping in general, food recipes, and also how to live with your family under unusual or stressful times, e. g. a recipe for “hotchpot” with nettles, tea made from apple peelings, potato cake, or what you could do with tulip bulbs or sugar beet pulp. But there were also hints about washing without soap or how to make the most of your heating, and very good articles on how to live with many people under the same roof – “Our nerves and our children”, or “How to prepare for a picnic”, the last one meant for the summertime of course.
The magazine was started years before the war by Mevrouw Sandbergh, the same person who started our Child Care and Education College. It was one of the few, if not the only, magazine which continued to be published until the end of the war without going underground. However, it never submitted to the dictatorial rules of the German Government. Eight pages of poor paper held a lot of information and wise advice for many families, including the children who could find something creative to make even when it was from cardboard or paper. I must admit that Walter and Hein were sick of making useless things and Walter hardly looked at his birthday presents at the end of the war. “Allemaal carton”, he said, which means “All cardboard”, and put it aside without any interest. Hein was a bit more tactful but he felt the same.
From my diary:May 10, 1945. Five years ago we were travelling from Rotterdam to Noordwijk. That day was the beginning of all the misery and now, while we are sitting in Meer and Bosch (Lake and Wood, a small park), the Tommies are driving along the Laan van Meerdervoort Avenue and the girls are walking arm in arm with the Canadian soldiers. Yes, indeed we are free!
On Sunday, April 29, persistent rumours went around that the occupation of Holland was declared over by the Germans, but the English broadcasts kept quiet. English bombers flew over very low to drop food parcels attached to parachutes provided by the Swedish Government (the food was distributed later). The streets were crowded with people shouting and waving flags and banners to the planes flying over. We were standing on the roof of “839”. It was a greai day. In the evening we went to some friends, the Postmans, to find out whether the rumours were really true. It had been confirmed by the underground movement, so we dared to celebrate our liberation with our neighbours who had some champagne from their night bar and we brought a bit of condensed milk. For what that was used, I can’t remember!
On Monday, April 3O, we felt disillusioned. No further news. It was raining the whole day. American bombers flew over in squadrons of ten but did not drop any more food.
At 1O o’clock in the morning on Tuesday, May 1st, everybody ran outside, children with orange ribbons in their hair, waving little red, white and blue flags, but military trucks came along with armed German soldiers and people from the Gestapo, so we all fled inside and waited for news that didn’t come. Nothing happened until May 4. We went to the Thieries (some of our relations) to hear if there was any news over the radio, but there was nothing important. At quarter past nine, just when I had decided to go to bed, a sudden bustle in the streets occurred – people running backward and forward, shouting questions, laughing, asking – Is it really true. . . ? Yes, believe it or not, it had been announced over the radio at 9 o’clock that Denmark and Holland had been declared free. Then the city exploded. Bonfires in the middle of the street, people dancing around and singing The Wilhelmus (National Anthem). Windows were opened and flags put out. We went to the de Kortes to have a lemon drink. On our way home, suddenly, shooting br&ke out and we all ran home, but it was only temporary. This time it was true” We were free.
Among all the joy of those first days in May, something very tragic had happened in our family. The little son of Jan and Atie had died. It had nothing to do with the war, but on April 28 he suddenly became ill and died the next day. His father, Jan, who was a doctor knew that it was very serious and nothing could be done. It could have been meningitis. He was two years old. Atie and Jan, who had married late in life,”had two children, Maryke and Koosje. What it meant to them to lose one of them is indescribable. We heard about it much later when communications had been restored.
What I remember of those first weeks after the war was over is a chaotic picture which is hard to describe. The tight corset of past years where the strings had been pulled tighter all the time had dropped all of a sudden although there were still food restrictions and daily life in general was far from normal; we were free to move on the streets at any time of the day or night, we could listen to the radio and say what we thought; we could sing and dance whenever we felt like doing it, and we could plan for the future although we knew not all of our. dreams could come true.
We had to start adjusting to living in a free world, we had to accept that there was no going back to “before1; after all that had happened and was still happening in other parts of the world where the war still continued.
One thing I remember as a terrible blow was when I was standing in a queue waiting for bread and I heard people behind me talking about the next war which would most likely be between Russia and America. I felt physically sick. I also found it upsetting to see the Germans walking along the Laan van Meerdervoort Avenue, going home. They were no longer marching, but shuffling over the asphalt road without any self esteem left.
And there were the scenes when the Dutch National Socialist Party members were put into concentration camps and the girls who had had a relationship with German soldiers with their heads shaven were being driven around in carts as a punishment. This happened in the villages not in the cities. Our neighbours, who had done business with the Germans at the night bar, went free. They were very nice people and we didn’t wish them to be punished, but it shows How unfairly we treat each other, and I have often thought of Westerweel, who had said, “I’ll help where help is needed”.
Walter and Hein came back from the East of Holland. We had no idea what they had gone through. The house was full of people and there was no time and space to share our experiences, and I didn’t feel that they wanted to talk about them.
For some days I hitch-hiked around to see Hans and Pirn in Laren and was shocked when I saw Hans, looking so thin and frail and expecting her sixth child. Noor was born in August, a strong and healthy baby, who had not suffered her mother’s malnutrition, which proved what Opa Kolff had told me, that the baby will take what it needs and that it is the mother who has to pay the price. Pirn had carried on working as a mechanical engineer for “Werkspoor” in Amsterdam. He had to carry on because of the family, although it was against his conscience as Werkspoor, a shipyard, was under German supervision.
I also travelled to Enschede (in the East) where my oldest sister, Truusje and her husband, Jan, lived. Jan, who was the town clerk of Enschede had, during the last months of the war, to go underground, but was back home. Truusje’s health was not so good and later she suffered from T. B. Opa Kolff survived the Winter of Hunger, but was so weak that he had to crawl up the stairs on hands and knees, and when food was available, he admitted that he had lost his gentlemanly manners and ate as a pig -meaning that he gobbled up whatever he could get!It was a crazy trip, but I enjoyed it. To sit on a truck with Canadian soldiers felt like sitting on Lou’s milk-cart and riding along the promenade in Noordwijk, as in my childhood, although the speed of the trucks was much faster and the scenery different, but there was that feeling of freedom that could have carried me over the borders of different countries to a land with new horizons.
In the Far East the fighting continued until August 9 when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. With the result that the Japanese capitulated on August 1O, official documents signed a month later. I don’t think we realised at that time what the consequences of that news meant. The hatred against the Japanese, who had kept thousands of Dutch people in concentration camps, was so intense that our feelings were blocked off to what had happened to the innocent people of Nagasaki. It took a long time before the reality of the horrible results of the atomic bomb sank in.
The return of Dutch people to Holland with the most gruesome stories certainly did not help overcome the feeling of hatred against the Japanese. The wide cultural gap had made it impossible for either side to have any understanding of the other. Opa Kolff received the news that Diesje and her little daughter Loukie survived the camps, but Diesje’s husband, Thys, had died and also Hans Westerman Holstijn, Kees1 best friend, and his other friend, Win Stronck, the husband of my girl friend, Sigrid.
Pa and Ma Loggers and their two daughters, Jet and Tineke, all came through the concentration camps, and when they returned to Holland the whole family moved into “839”. Bertha, who had been with us most of the war years, lived with her family too and Anneke rented a room next door. Wolter, the only son, stayed in the East of Holland and came sometimes for a visit. Both Anneke and Bertha, who were engaged to Jan Drupsteen and Gerard Aleva, got married at “839”. Both weddings had their own characteristics, but what they shared was a totally different outlook on conventional values. The so-called “codes” from before the war had gone and nobody knew where they were standing or going. For people who had lived most of their lives in the colonies and who had had there a prominent position, it was hard to live without any possessions or status, even after the humiliation and suffering experienced in the concentration camps. While living under such /dreadful circumstances they were contained within a boundary where they had no choice. But after the war, and back in their home country, they reached out for something that was lost and would never be found again in the same form. They supported one another because they shared memories of a time past, but 😐 their adjustment to change was slow and was painful for them. For Kees and me who knew their background and shared some of their feelings about colonialism, it was sometimes confusing to live with them under the same roof. Kees and I had both grown as individual people during the war, and I in particular realised that the mother-daughter relationship that had been part of life in pre-war Indonesia, no longer existed.
Barend Schuurman, who had married us in Malang (East Java) in 1934, died in a prison camp in Malang a month before the war in Indonesia was over. In August 1943 all Protestant and Catholic clergy were interned, the wives and children isolated in a women’s camp. Barend was accused by the Ken Pe Tai (Japanese Gestapo) of being the leader of all the Javanese “panditas”, (the clergy) in East Java, and that as such he had been acting as a spy during the Japanese occupation, and that he would have done this under the protection of the church. In spite of solitary confinement and torture, he never admitted to being guilty, and of course he was not. A month before the end of the war he died in the prison hospital in Malang. Although the Ken Pe Tai had ordered that nobody was allowed to attend the funeral, a long row of Indo-Europeans, Javanese and Chinese people followed the bier. No word was spoken, only the Lord’s prayer prayed by each in their own language.
Hes survived the camp with her two daughters, Jolijt and Clara. Martijn, one of her sons, stayed in the camp with Hes until he was eleven and was then separated from his mother and sent to a men’s camp. His early and sudden death when he was in his twenties could have had something to do with his traumatic experiences during the war years. Hes’s eldest son, Ruud, who had been sent to Holland before the war, when he was fourteen,,, also died of a heart attack when in his early forties.
Hes is 85 now and still fully alive. When I stayed with the family in Malang before we got married, Hes and were very active in the Oxford Group, a Christian movement started in the late twenties under the leadership of Frank Buchman. The name of the movement changed later to Moral Rearmament. At that time it broke through the barrier of Protestant churches as it was interdenominational . It was an open sharing of faith in daily living. Most important was the practising of the “Quiet Time” every morning. Today we would call it ‘meditation’, although it was different, in that you wrote down everything that entered your mind, and if you were sitting in a group, you were expected to share your notes with each other. Later, you acted according to what you had heard during these moments of stillness as being received from the Holy Spirit.
At the time I am writing about, Kees and I attended several House Parties, but I never committed myself fully, neither did Kees. But Hes and Barend practised this form of prayer from the start and continued to do so during the concentration camp years. Even now it is still Hes’s daily start every morning and it has helped her to carry on living in the full sense of the word, in spite of the very hard demands life has made on her.
We worked through a few problems but I felt that the enormous gap created in those few years could not be closed and it was for the best that we each went our own way, knowing that there was a strong bond between us but no longer the dependence of the younger generation on the experience of the older ones. The war had changed us so irrevocably.
On June 6, 1946, Lodewijk Matthijs was born. I found it harder to bring another child into the world than two years before. Then life was more restricted but also less demanding. There were nineteen people living at “839” that day. A few were soon to move out, but it was still a “full house”. A lovely experience shortly before Lodewijk’s birth was my visit to Tante Nel and Tante An in Noordwijk, where I spent most of the time in a little room upstairs just under the roof, with the light from the light-house flashing through the room during the night and all the time the feeling of being cared for without any fuss.
Lodewijk’s birth went smoothly, but I got up too quickly and nearly collapsed while washing the nappies. A severe telling off from>Ber Schmidt brought me back to my senses. Lodewijk was a happy baby whom I could breast feed for half a year. The only trouble he had was with his eyes, but that started later, although it had to do with post-war conditions because food regulations were still strict and I don’t think we had fully recovered from the wartime conditions.
January 1947, Kees left for Borneo where he could work for Ross Taylor, the same firm as before the war. The job at the insurance office was finished and it was
Impossible to find work in Holland, especially for people who had only tropical experience. Pa Loggers had gone back to Djember (East Java) and had taken up his work again as a superintendent. Ma Loggers also returned to Indonesia, and during these extremely chaotic years their house in Djember was a haven for planters and the conscripts who had to serve in the army during the “police actions” mentioned before.
For six months Kees stayed on the rubber plantation in the West of Borneo. Then he was asked to go back to an estate close to Sentool (East Java) where he had lived before. The houses and factory of Sentool had been destroyed. As the situation was still unsafe, he had to wait in Soerabaja for two months before he could go to the plantation where he survived for three months.
When I write “survived”, I mean it literally and it was more or less a miracle that he came through unharmed. A cease-fire had been established between the Indonesian Republic and the Dutch Army, but a guerilla war carried on. You had to be on the alert all the time, and no matter how careful you were, an attack could be expected anywhere and at any time.
Just before Christmas, driving home from Djember to the estate, the jeep Kees and three other men were riding in was attacked by gun-fire. The driver was seriously injured and another man killed. Kees took over the driver’s seat and drove the car home, while the shooting continued.
When I received Kees’ letter with the sad news about the shooting incident in which one of his colleagues was killed and another seriously injured, I made up my mind not to return to Indonesia with a family of five children. The only possibility would have been that I and the children could have lived in Soerabaja, four hours driving from the estate where Kees was staying, and under= the circumstances that existed, it was also too dangerous for him to carry on. The future was quite uncertain and the possibility that circumstances would improve was far from realistic.
During the nights’, when I was all by myself, I worked out a plan that would give Kees a chance to come back. Our house at “839” was more^or less empty after the Loggers had left. Only Jet Loggers was still with us. I have forgotten to mention that the Buutvelds had moved into a flat of their own shortly before the war had finished. So “839” could offer us the possibility of starting a children’s home. With my C. C. E. diploma I could do this on a rather “professional” base. What I mean is that I could assure parents that I would do all I could and also that I had had the training to look after their children well. Kees could be the treasurer and also take part in the daily organization of the house, with the special emphasis on “outings” like going for swims and bike rides with the children. I would need extra furniture, in particular bedding. It would not be hard to find parents who were looking for a home for their children as many of them were returning to Indonesia and wanted to leave their children safely in Holland, while there were others who were without suitable accomodation for their family after they had returned from Indonesia or from concentration camps elsewhere and were looking for temporary accommodation for the children.
I put my plans before Huub and Erna, who thought they were workable, and then rang Kees to tell him I had found a job for him and that he could come home. As I knew that he would not want to give up his position as a manager for Ross Taylor because of the financial security for the family, I didn’t tell him what ’the job’ was, but promised him I would write as soon as possible.
In the meantime, he talked over the possibility of resigning with Pa Loggers, who was still in Djember and he advised Kees to give up his job and return to Holland as the situation in Indonesia was likely to become worse. It was unfortunate that Kees had to wait for another two and a half months before he could get passage on one of the ships. 13 has always been our lucky number, and I remember when I rang him at Djakarta where he was hanging around waiting for a booking, that he mentioned that there was a chance for March 13. “I am sure you will get that one”, I said, “being the 13th”, and indeed on March 13 he boarded the Willem Ruys and sailed to Holland.
In the meantime, I had started my career as the matron of a children’s home. My first ‘clients’ were the children of the Reverend Kwint, one of the elite ministers in The Hague. (I don’t use the word unkindly). I felt very privileged that he dared to let his children stay with us as guinea pigs. It was only for three weeks while his wife, who needed a break, was on holiday. He came every morning to collect his children, a boy and a girl, six and seven years old, to take them to their school, which was on the other side of the Hague. When the boy walked to the car the first morning I discovered that he had his shoes on the wrong feet. It must have been the first time that he had put on his neatly polished shoes by himself!
When Kees arrived at “839” it was a full house. Besides eight more children, we also had a chook to welcome him. She was sitting on a nest of ten eggs. I thought it would be good for us all to have a bit of a country atmosphere in the backyard where we only had a bike shed and some miserable shrubs. The chook was a stately lady who sat on her eggs with great dedication until the last evening. We had taken her off her nest for a little walk around every evening, following the advice of people who seemed to know more about looking after chooks than we did. She had always walked back, in a stately fashion to her nest and had spread her (?)warfflj wings over the eggs. But that last night she must havej been over-excited, just as we were, and sat next to the nest instead of on it. Early in the morning when I slipped out of the kitchen door to be the first one to spread the good news, I discovered the disaster. It was as bad as a miscarriage. I put her back on her nest and told the children that the chickens had not arrived yet and to leave her in peace. After everybody had gone to school, I ran to (?)Bert (?)Schmidt, our doctor, who lived at 829, to ask him for advice. . He promised to look for chickens when visiting his^patients. Some of them lived on the outskirts of the Hague and had chooks. But he was not successful in finding foster chickens. So I had to pass on the sad news to the children, and sad it was. We fed mother chook, but left her where she was, and very faithfully she continued to sit on the eggs as before, without being disturbed, and believe it or not, a few days later she walked around in the backyard as proud as could be with three chickens following her. The rest had not survived the cold night, but what an excitement it was that she had these three! It was in a way an experience of a resurrection.
For two years we carried on with the children’s home. It was hard work, but also rewarding although more for me than for Kees. The ages of the children varied from . six to sixteen. Most of the time we had four boys and four girls. Peter and Tajo had stayed with their mother in a Japanese concentration camp in Java. Their father had also been interned, but in a men’s camp. The parents wanted to return to Indonesia and left the boys in our care.
Frans had lived outside the camps because his mother was an Indonesian European, but his father had lived through the camp years. They were in a transition period and asked if Frans could stay with us while they were working out their future.
Ankie, who had also lived through the Japanese concentration camps, together with her mother, had had a very emotional time in Singapore after the war was finished and people had to wait for shipping accommodation. She was sixteen when she came to stay with us and had many problems. Ank and Machteld de Wit Wyne had no parents, as far as I can remember, but an aunt who took care of them. They came from an aristocratic background which made it more difficult for them to readjust to a society where class distinction was of little importance.
These three girls, as well as a six year old one, Annette, were given into our care through the Medical Educational Office in the Hague. This Medical Educational Office was already functioning when I started my C. C. E. training and some of the students worked with them during their practical training. The staff consisted of a team of four; a child psychiatrist, a psychologist, a pediatrician and a social worker. Once a week, the four came together to look at the child’s problem from different angles and tried to work out a helpful solution, which could take months, to have any effect. What they wanted to do as a team was to look at the child as a “whole” and as such as part of the family and of society.
While I was planning the children’s home I had asked the people of the M. E. Office whether they would be willing to give us advice if needed, and they assured me of their support, and they asked us if we could take some of their children if they were looking for accommodation. During those two years the contact with the M. E. Office was most helpful. As we were not an officially recognised extension of the M. E. Office, I was not involved in their team work, but I visited Dr Van Meurs, the child psychiatrist, once a week, if necessary, and I could always see or ring Dr Suze van Veen, the pediatrician. At the end of the two years they asked us if we would consider running a permanent home in co-operation with the M. E. Office, but we had by then planned to go in a different direction. Two other boys who stayed with us for shorter periods, were also ‘clients’ from the M. E. Office.
To run the children’s home gave me a certain feeling of fulfillment, although it was a demanding job, but it was much more difficult for Kees to find his place in the whole experiment and also to accept the fact that he was not the main breadwinner. When it became obvious that the income we received was not enough to cover the cost of our own family “and we started to use up the lump sum that Ross Taylor had paid us for what we had not received during the war years, whilst we were still officially employed by them, Kees decided to take on a job of selling tea for a friend who had started a tea business on a small scale. With different samples on his carrier, he biked around and called at the homes of relations and friends to sell “van Rossum’s tea”, and did so with great success. It was the right job for him because it meant movement and contact with people and the working out of finance. He also got on very well with Sieb van Rossum, whose family had been engaged in the coffee and tea business for several generations, but Sieb’s was a ‘wild branch’ which flourished very well.
I had help from An. Toet, whom I had known from the time when I had worked in the Christina Home. She had stayed with us from before the time Lodewijk was born, and continued to be my faithful, although stubborn, right-hand in practical matters during the years of “The Beachcombers”. We called the home “The Beachcombers” because we spent so much time on the beach, which was approximately twenty minutes biking from where we lived, still at Laan van Meerdervoort (Avenue) 839.
We also had students from the C. C. E. College in Rotterdam who spent three months of their practical year with us. This meant an extra responsibility for me, but I also received a lot of help from them.
These two years were not easy for us, nor for our children. In particular, Walter and Hein, who were thirteen and twelve at that time, felt jointly responsible for the well-being of “The Beachcombers” as did Jan (Johannes), although in a more childlike way. Walter and Hein were fully aware what it had meant to Kees to give up the work and life he had been involved in with heart and soul in Indonesia.
I had arranged with the parents of those who took their place that I was available to talk to them one afternoon every week. This agreement prevented visits or telephone calls at any time of the day which took too much of my time.
A real disaster was when we got lice! Annette who still had trouble with bed-wetting, had to be woken up before we went to bed. I had noticed that she was scratching herself when, half asleep, she tumbled to the toilet, but it didn’t occur to me that she had lice in her bed.
One morning, An Toet told me that she had pinned an unusual insect on the wall of her bedroom. I didn’t know the creature either, but became slightly suspicious and put it in an empty matchbox to have it checked by the Council Cleaning Service. Some of the other children started to have insect bites too, and when we received a phone call from the Cleaning Service that the insect was a house-lice, I started to panic and took all the bedding off the beds and dumped the mattresses from the balconies into the back yard – one – two – three – four five. People from the neighbouring houses had suddenly something to do at their balconies, and when the boys came home from school and yelled to each other, “We’ve got lice. . . “, the news spread like hot cakes – “HOUSE LICE IN THE CHILDREN’S HOME”. I went to the toilet, the only private place, and cried; what a disaster! The parents would take their children away, no income. All I could do was to write to the parents and tell them that we had lice in the house and leave it for them to decide what to do with the children. Fortunately I could explain to them how it had started after two men of the Borough Cleaning Service had come to inspect the house. “Have you bought bedding or furniture lately?”, they asked me. I told them that I had bought second-hand beds through the mediation of our greengrocer who had heard that people from Indonesia . . . I didn’t need to tell them anymore. With solemn steps they went into the bedroom where the two wooden beds stood. They took them apart and loqked at the places where the back and side boards were joined and looked at each other nodding in agreement. It felt like a funeral. They explained to me that the former owners must have had lice and before they sold the beds they had tried to burn out the grubs which nested in the joints. They showed me the marks and told me that house lice were a problem through the whole city. Most likely they had not spread through our living quarters, but all the bedrooms had to be fumigated. It was a costly business but we didn’t have any choice. I added all this in the letters to the parents and we received sympathetic replies. Having the van of the Borough Council Cleaning Service at the front of our house was the end of the lice story.
We had many good things happening too during these two years, many birthday celebrations, bike trips, picnics, and the first summer we exchanged houses with a teacher in the Eastern part of the country and had a wonderful holiday in Selhem. But as I have mentioned already, we became more and more concerned about Walter and Hein who shared too much of the responsibility. Jan started to act the clown which was not a good sign either but he was happy at school and very keen to learn. All three of them were at the Montessori School and Peter, Tajo and Frans went there too. H. W. was still at a Kindergarten – school age in Holland is six. Lodewijk had started Kindergarten before he was three. H. W. has always been a child who went his own way, leaving in the morning on his scooter for Kindy and coming home in the afternoon, taking his time to pick up all sorts of information on the way, very much the same as Kees did when he had to walk to school and back from Hillegersberg to Rotterdam.
Lodewijk received a lot of care from An Toet and the other students who stayed with us. When he was three years old he started to squint and had to wear glasses, which created some problems for him and for us, but on the whole he was a happy child who fitted in very well with the “Beachcomber” way of life.
School did not seem to satisfy Walter, even the Montessori system seemed too regulated for him. He could not see practical results of what he was learning and the teachers of the Montessori school acknowledged that they didn’t have any more to offer to him. An I. Q. test showed that his reasoning was far above the average age, so on the advice of the M. E. Office we as>’ permission for him to leave school from the Education Department, and he started work as an apprentice on a small farm in Selhem where we had spent our summer holidays.
Hein, who had been a very happy baby and toddler while we were still in Indonesia, had gone through toe much stress during the war years and the responsibility he shared in running the children’s home, even if it meant only that he had to be “good”, was not helpful for him to develop as an eleven/twelve year old should.
After we had had the children’s home for more than 5 year, I became pregnant with our sixth child. With all the children I had had some morning sickness for the first three months, and this pregnancy was no exception.
During the summer holidays of that year, 1949, we went camping at Terschelling, one of the low-lying islands running along the coast of North Holland and Friesland. We bought a brown canvas tent, a primus aK other camping gear and borrowed another tent. How we managed to get the whole lot into those two tents I can’t remember, but it certainly was crowded. Most of the cooking was done on the primus and an open fire. We had some stormy nights, hanging on to the tent poles, but the walks along the wide beaches and the daily in the sea were unforgettable. A clear picture that is still in my mind is of H. W. and Lodewijk playing motorcars with their sandals in the dunes, the cars climbing up slowly and then zooming down-hill, the sound effects indicating the speed.
On our way home on the ferry, Lodewijk’s glasses dropped into the sea and (?)I screamed so hard that people thought a child was overboard, but the glasses were bad enough. We had a good time at Terschelling, although physically I felt pretty miserable.
After the holidays my morning sickness stopped, but the running of the children’s home and having a sixth child was too heavy a load on my mind. We looked into the possibility of emigrating. Canada was out. We had tried that when we were still engaged. Australia would be a possibility or New Zealand. Kees went to the Emigration Office but he was told he was too old. Two things happened, however, that made us try to make the impossible possible. The first one was something Hein said to me when we were the last ones on the beach. We had had a swim and our breakfast and the others had biked off to school. I was packing up while Hein got dressed. “Moeder (mother)”, he said, “can’t we go to a country where Vader (father) can earn the money again?”. He looked so miserable standing in his singlet and putting on his underpants that I found it difficult to keep my emotions under control. We didn’t talk about it anymore but hiking home I thought – We have to emigrate whatever.
The next thing that happened was that Kees met a couple on his tea-selling trips who had relations in New Zealand and they were willing to sponsor us. “It is just the country for you”, they assured Kees. But the immigration office in The Hague bluntly refused even to consider the possibility of a permit. Too old, no experience in any trade, no degree, a large family, and so they went on. The relations of the tea people advised us to write to the immigration office in New Zealand but they too gave us little hope. All the same, we wrote a long letter with a new passport photo of Kees to show how well he still looked and waited. . . . .
In the meantime, life at “The Beachcombers” carried on and also the new life within my womb. Besides the help of An Toet and two students of the C. C. E. office taking turns, we also had the moral support of our families. I remember Huub walking in one morning with a long strip of cardboard in his hand. He put it on the mantelpiece and walked out again. On it was written a line from one of the Psalms: “Lord, in the morning you hear my voice and I watch for you”. The piece of cardboard stayed there until we migrated and I have always regretted that I didn’t bring it with me.
All went reasonably well until December, the month of so many celebrations. First, Saint Nicolas on December 5, then Christmas and New Year’s Eve, plus three birthdays and of course the two weeks Christmas holidays. I remember how exhausted I sometimes felt hanging over the kitchen sink thinking, only two more weeks and the holidays will be over. The baby was due at the beginning of February, so there was still a month to recover from all the celebrations.
We celebrated Christmas with the children of Huub and Erna and Ans and Henk. In Holland you give each other presents at Saint Nicolas, small things with poems or packed as “surprises” (surprise gifts). Christmas is more a religious celebration. This year we had put candles in a pine tree somewhere in the dunes and little waxen lights along the last part of the road. The older children had made lanterns which they carried on sticks so that they could find their way in the dark to where the Christmas tree was waiting with the candles to be lit
I stayed home to welcome them with hot chocolate and “banquet”, a flaky pastry filled with almond paste. Kees told me later how they all stood around the Christmas tree, waiting for someone to start singing when H. W. quietly stepped forward and started to sing: Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht (Silent Night, Holy Night) and everybody joined in.
At home, after we had had the chocolate and banquet, Huub spoke to us about the, light that had broken through the cloud of darkness that hung around the world, and how that light had spread over the world very slowly, and how it could never be extinguished. Huub could talk to adults as well as to children on the same level.
Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Kees and I went one evening to the pictures. While waiting for the tram I felt so tired that I could have sat down in the street, and the greatest enjoyment that evening was to sit for two hours in a comfortable chair without being disturbed. I had a feeling that it was more than being tired and went to see Ber Schmidt the next day. Ber told me that I had kidney trouble and had to stay in bed. On New Year’s Eve, while the smell of “Oliebolen” (Dutch fruity doughnuts), floated upstairs, together with the roaring sound of laughter, I felt so miserable that I thought I would die, and I didn’t mind.
Two days later Erna (Huub’s wife) walked in, and said “Tora, there is a taxi waiting for you. You are coming to stay with us”. She packed the necessary things into a suitcase and off we went. “Kees and the girls will look after the children”, Erna told me while driving to their home in the taxi, only five minutes from “839”. “Ber Schmidt fully agrees with us that it is time you are looked after”. I did not offer any objection.
A spotless bedroom was waiting for me, the stove burning, and a hot water bottle in my bed, and there I slept for twenty-four hours or longer. When I woke up there was something to eat or to drink and I dropped off to sleep again. I felt as if I had landed in heaven.
I stayed in that bedroom (Huub’s and Erna’s) until our first daughter, Margaretha Constance, was born on February 2. It was a quick home birth. Ber Schmidt had been planning to start it off because the kidney trouble continued, and, as he told me later, half of the placenta had been destroyed. The cord was around the baby’s neck, but Ber managed to get that off as she emerged. He was very skilled at bringing babies into the world and I always remember his small, flexible hands. The healthy baby they put into my arms didn’t seem to have suffered from her mother’s poor condition. But I also remember the sigh of relief from Ber after the birth was over and all was well. It had been the same when Walter was born in the hospital in Djember. From downstairs we heard the excited voice of Kees over the phone -“We have a daughter”, and then the smell of fresh coffee. All was well!
Margreetje and I stayed at Huub’s and Erna’s for another ten days and then we moved back to “839-” where Kees and his female helpers had done a marvellous job together with the help of all the children. The older ones came to see me now and then, and I had the time to have a chat with them. The only one who was difficult to get on with was Ank, the girl who had had the emotional upsets in Singapore. One day when she came to see me she told me she had felt unwell ever since I left. I had been worried about her as she didn’t look well, and that day she really looked ill with dark rings under her eyes and very pale.
While I was listening to her, I all at once realised that she had put cosmetics on in such a clever way that she really looked miserable and unwell. “Ank” I said, “Go to the bathroom first, wash your face and then we’ll talk”. She didn’t come back but she saw the pediatrici’ and the children’s psychologist at the M. E. Office and they told us that it would be better if she went back to her mother as it was too much for us to cope with her at “839”. We agreed, and it was a great relief, although we were very sorry for the girl. But it was beyond our capacity to give her the help she needed.
When Ank had left we did not try to find another child or adolescent to take her place. It was the beginning of the slow winding up of “The Beachcombers”. A week after Margreetje was born and I was still at Huub’s and Erna’s, Kees walked in, waving a letter in his hand. “I have got it, I have got it”, he said, very excitedly. “What?”, I asked. “THE EMIGRATION PERMIT FOR NEW ZEALAND”.
It was unbelievable after we had been waiting for such a long time and with so little hope. While we shared a cup of coffee with Erna we felt as if we had spread our wings already and were on our way. Erna was doubtful whether it was the right thing to do now that we had another baby, and also because the M. E. Office had offered to build a house for us and to make the children’s home a full-time and financially worthwhile job. We, however, felt that the extended family was asking too much of our own children, and decided to carry on with our immigration plans. We didn’t say anything to the younger children, but only shared the great news with Walter and Hein. Walter had come home after spending half a year on the farm at Selhem and was going to High School, together with Hein. But we couldn’t keep it a secret for long as Kees had to go as soon as possible. So we had to tell the parents or those responsible for the children so that they could work out other alternatives.
The most difficult problem for us was the finance. As Kees had been eligible for half of his salary from the war years, we had received a lump sum of 1O,OOO guilders (5,OOO dollars), but as we emigrated at our own risk and without a permit from the Dutch immigration office, we were responsible for all costs, so we needed every penny. The other risk we took was that Kees had to find work and accommodation before we could get a permit from the New Zealand Government, to follow. On April 15 (Margreetje was then two and a half months old) we waved him farewell at the Hoek of Holland (the corner of Holland) where
the Merwede canal flows into the North Sea. Majestically! the Sibajak passed the quay where we all stood waving farewell banners on which three big K. K. K. s stood for: Kolff’s Kinderen en Kippen. (Kolff’s Children and Chooks).
Four weeks later, Kees arrived in Melbourne from where he travelled by train to Sydney and from there he flew in a seaplane to Auckland. He was welcomed by thej relations of his tea customers, who provided him with accommodation and showed him around the area. He was lucky to find a job at the Auckland Parks and Reserves and stayed in a small boarding-house. But there was no hope of finding accommodation for a family with six children as the housing situation was still very grim after the war.
In the meantime, the war had broken out in Korea and we were worried that ‘it would spread and that it would be impossible for us to come to New Zealand. The urgency of the situation made Kees move from Auckland to the Nelson area where, he was told, he might be able to find work on an orchard with accommodation. In Nelson he was welcomed by Bep Maas, with whom he had come in contact through the Dutch people in Auckland. Bep helped him to find a job on an orchard in Kina where he shared the work and living quarters as a bachelor with Gordon MacFarlane.
We found his letters very amusing. Father looking after himself, cooking his own meals, doing his own washing and cleaning the “bach”, a word we had never heard and we couldn’t find it in the dictionary. When we read the descriptions of the scenery we felt as if we were already in another world, too beautiful to be true. If only he could find accommodation for the family, we could pack up straight away. At long last, he persuaded his boss, Mr Morris, to grant us accommodation on paper. Besides a bach we could have a small caravan and we could pitch our “Brown Tent”. Kees warned me to be prepared for the worst and sent me a photo of a little hut, as we called it, and a tiny caravan. We were lucky that at that time no inspectors came to make sure that the accommodation was adequate for a family with six children.
When the permit arrived in the letterbox of “839”, Planning turned into action. I could not tiave managed to complete the preparation without the help of our families on both sides. H. W. stayed with Greet and Tarn, Lodewijk with Liesje and Jan, and the last month, or was it months, we stayed with Bans and Pim in Laren.
It was like a jigsaw puzzle. First I had to wind up “The Beachcombers”. I felt that we had let down the children, and I was unhappy that it must have been obvious to them that we had started the home to make some money. I don’t know whether they felt bitter about it, but if so I could understand. Peter and Tajo stayed the longest, but after they had gone, I started to sort out what we could take with us. At first I thought we would take as little as possible to keep down the transport costs. We would sell our furniture and buy secondhand stuff in New Zealand, but as we were only allowed to take (?) (it read v 50, maybe this is f 50?, ed. ) 50 per person out of Holland, this would not work.
Margreetje stayed with me all the time of course. I managed to breast-feed her for the first six months, but she was often in the care of Erna, and I went over to their place at feeding times so that she could be in a quiet environment.
The furniture we had was all given to us by our families when we were stranded in Holland during the war. Most of it was “old stuff” as we called it then, although it was very much appreciated, but we did not think of it as “antique”. It was valuable to me because most of it I had been familiar with from my childhood on. The man who came to give me an estimate of the transport cost helped me to change my doubtful mind. He walked quickly through the rooms and said “Pack everything you have. It will be most valuable in a young country and it will help you to settle down in a new environment. If you are in financial trouble, you can always sell some of it”.
The result was that I packed everything, even an old broom and dustpan from my mother, a dish drying rack, an old sink bucket and a tub;all these were packed together with the Napoleon clock, the precious Delft platej the mahogany linen cupboard, writing desks, beds etc. , although I must admit that the picture of the bach and caravan was in the back of my mind reminding me of the limited accommodation.
However, we needed beds, chairs, crockery and pots and pans from the moment we arrived and they had to be sent three months Un advance. So that “839” became an empty place with a few necessities left, as I had to keep it as a base from where J could fix up the tickets and all the legal arrangements. Migration from Holland was the “in” thing after the war.
Canada and Australia were the most popular countries, but New Zealand was not so well known. Opa Kolff was very happy that we were going to New Zealand as the medical service was excellent and also the education system, he told me. And, of course, the advanced social welfare system was also very important for us. We had been warned that we had to stay in the country for twenty years before Kees would be eligible for a pension, which meant at the age of 68, and for the first year we would not receive social security in case Kees became ill. All the same, it was still better than in Holland at that time.
The ships to Australia were fully booked, and it was not until October 25 that we could leave Holland on the m. s. Sibajak. I had difficulties managing the financial part as one-third of the F1. 10,000 ($5,000) had been spent sending the furniture to New Zealand, and since Kees had left there had been no source of income. The family had helped by taking the children, but the costs ran into hundreds with the bookings for the three adults, myself, Walter and Hein, and three half fares and baby Margreetje free. Whatever we had in insurance I sold, the Kolff Family association gave us F1. 500 and we received the same amount from Opa Kolff, but I still had to accept the kind offer of Erna to lend us money from her inheritance. We were able to stay as a family in Laren without paying board which was very generous of Hans and Pim, as they had a family of six children in the middle . of secondary and university education.
So it came as a bombshell when a few weeks before we were to leave, and all had been arranged, that I received a phone call from the shipping company in Rotterdam to say that Walter and Hein have to take a cabin instead of accommodation in the hold, which we had booked for. All the immigrant ships had altered parts of the holds into sleeping accommodation and the costs were much lower than in cabins. Kees had also travelled that way.
I had booked a four-person cabin for myself and the three younger boys and Margreetje would sleep in a bassinette. The man on the phone told me that there was a cabin available for Walter and Hein next to mine. “And what about the costs?” I asked him. “It will be an extra Fl. 500 ($250) ” , he told me. “But I haven’t got F1. 500”, I said. “Well, then, you’ll have to take the next ship which will sail six weeks later. Other immigrants have preference”. It was a dirty trick and I got furious. “You jolly well know that I can’t delay our departure, everything has been arranged and paid for. Because we have the name of Kolff you Rotterdammers think] we are well-to-do and can afford an extra 50O guilders, but we belong to the poor branch and I think it is very unfair to propose this option to me now”. When I mentioned the name “Kolff” he laughed, but he said that I had to take it or sail with the next ship. The family helped us out once again and Walter and Hein slept in a cabin, which they were supposed to share with a boy of their own age. Unfortunately, the mother took his place and the boy had to sleep in her bed in the hold. When I complained about this it fell on deaf ears as the woman had a relationship with one of the crew.
On October 25 we went aboard the m. s. Sibajak at Rotterdam. It was a difficult farewell for all of us. Brother Henk and family raced to the Hoek of Holland (corner of Holland) as soon as the ship had left the harbour. He had in mind to let off some fireworks (in the middle of the day) but couldn’t get them, and instead he lit petrol on the quay! So the bonfire was the last we saw of our relatives and arms waving in farewell.The Trip went smoothly. We became good friends with another Dutch family, and the Jansens, who had two children, a boy of six and a girl of two years old. Walter explored everywhere, while Hein and Jan helped me with the younger ones. The ship was chocoblock. Of so many passengers, only fifty were migrating to New Zealand. It was quited a different trip from the voyages to and from Indonesia before the war.
Meals were served in three successive groups. People who slept in the holds and the children had to sit at the tables on wooden benched. The food was good, but not luxurious. I felt that Magreetje was not getting the food she needed several times I went to the kitchen and asked for some mashed vegetables and fruit and I still can’t understand why I couldn’t get it for her. Porridge was her main food and milk from a cup, and although she looked alright, she had no wish to sit up or move in any way and she was already nine months old.
Our first experience of the new world was when we landed in Perth. It was good to walk around in a park after having been on board for four weeks. We also looked at shops and had a drink in a “Milk Bar” where we sat up straight on wooden benches, back to back, and everywhere there were glittering Christmas decorations.
We stopped again at Melbourne. Fortunately we could travel on to Sydney on the Sibajak, but we had to stay a few days in Sydney in a transit camp before we could fly to Wellington. The Jansens, who were also migrating to New Zealand, stayed with friends in Sydney, but we hoped to see each other before leaving for New Zealand. This happened on the following Sunday, when we were invited to spend the day with the Australian family where the Jansens were staying. We were picked up in a beautiful car and were supposed to travel somewhere to the coast where these people lived in a beautiful house at the beach, according to Lies Jansen over the telephone. We stopped, however, in the middle of Sydney and were hustled into a church hall where ladies dressed in light blue and pink and with lovely hats on welcomed us and asked us to join the service. The congregation were the Brethren. The Jansens belonged to this same church in Holland, but it went under] a different name. They had not understood that we were| to be taken to the service which lasted the whole mornin and then there was lunch in the church hall. Goodbye our visit to the beach and a swim. While sitting arov in the circle with these well-meaning people and trying to join in the singing of unknown hymns, I could feel the furious looks of the boys as if I was responsible this disappointing Sunday morning outing. When Margreetje became restless and felt feverish, I had an excuse to ask if they could take us home, and before lunch we were back in the transit camp with our togs still wrapped in towels.
This transit camp was mainly for immigrants who were staying in Australia and we were the only immigrants for New Zealand. The manager and his wife were English and in the beginning they w^re rather reserved, but they opened up and were most helpful when we were in trouble. When we came home from the Brethren church that Sunday morning, Margreetje had a high temperature and we had to call the doctor who stated that she had German measles and that we were not allowed to travel on for some time because of the incubation period. It was a real blow as we had to pay boarding fees if we stayed longer than the four days included in our trip, and they were quite high, but the manager offered us free lodging if Walter could help with the cleaning and I could supply our own meals, which I could provide in the camp kitchen. It was a marvellous arrangement as we had a whole ward to ourselves. I sent a telegram to Kees and had to travel into Sydney to have our transfer papers extended, which was quite a business and took me nearly a whole day. I had to leave the family with Hein while Walter helped with the cleaning.
There was a great moment when the manager’s wife walked in with six huge glasses, and one small glass, with jelly and whipped cream on top. I don’t think we ever had it in Holland, and certainly not dished out in the way we had it “presented” to us that next Sunday morning. There is a Dutch saying that cats don’t miauw while they are eating mice, and the same could be said of the Kolff clan gobbling up their jelly and cream.
It seems now as if we stayed for a long time at that transit camp, but it was only for ten days. H. W. and Lodewijk also had a slight touch of German measles. Jan had his first training in shopping in an English-speaking country and managed very well. I put a note on his shirt with a safety pin on which was written – “I cannot speak English”. The shopkeeper seemed quite amused and looked at his list and supplied him with whatever was needed. Jan was also interested in handling foreign money.
One afternoon we went to an outdoor circus, which was an unusual experience for us, and another time we walked to a beach, which was a long distance away, and it was disappointing to find that we could not go for a swim there because of sharks.
I felt rather flattered when the camp manager asked me to help him receive a group of Dutch transit immigrants from Indonesia as he thought they might not be able to speak English very well. I thought I didn’t either, but he assured me that it would be a help as I knew my way in the camp and I must admit I felt quite at home by that time.
The following afternoon, while I was ironing outside the washhouse, the bus with the immigrants arrived and I heard a voice calling out, “And there is Tora ironing as if she has been standing there for years”. It was Paul Boerlage, one of Kees’ colleagues from the Sentool Estate. His wife, Julie, was there too and their little boy. After I had helped the other people with their accommodation for one night, we sat down and talked until midnight. I felt rather sad when we had to say Goodbye the next morning. I gave them our address in New Zealand but we have never heard from them again. When we were in Sydney two years ago, we found the name P. Boerlage in the telephone directory, but there was no reply when we rang.
The news that we were allowed to fly to New Zealand came quite unexpectedly. On December 14, at 12 o’clock midnight, we could leave Sydney by Sunderland (This was a Solent, not a Sunderland, see correction; at that page also pictures of the flying boats [Marius, Ed. ]). Although the time was a bit awkward, we were thrilled to cross the Tasman, and within a couple of hours the boys and I packed up all our belongings, but I did forget the old electric iron from Ma, which I never got back!
The manager and his wife took us down to the harbour from where we departed, and we thanked them over and over again for their support. All in all it had been a memorable stay over! Early in the morning we landed on Wellington Harbour. My first impression was how friendly the people were in comparison with the people at the immigration office in Sydney when I had to extend our transit permits. Everybody here seemed to have time for a chat. We went through the Customs without any trouble and a journalist came to interview us.
Travelling through Wellington at 8 o’clock in the morning, we saw people going to work, and I wondered if it was cold because the women walked as if they were freezing, their arms folded in front of them and their shoulders hunched forward, and they were all wearing woollen jackets called “cardigans”. “Look, Mother, how beautiful”, the boys pointed out, “the hills are full of flowers”. I, too, was very impressed with the bright yellow colour of the gorse in full bloom. At the Dutch emigration office we were met by Mr de Bruyn, who took us to his home where we were made welcome with a cup of coffee and something to eat and I could give Margreetje a wash, which she badly needed.
The prospect of travelling to the South Island at that time of the year was not very hopeful. The ferry from Wellington to Nelson (not Picton) was fully booked and there were no seats on the planes until after Christmas. “I am afraid we will have to find accommodation for you and the family until the Christmas rush is over”, Mr de Bruyn told me, “or, the only possibility might be to hire a private plane”. I told him that we could not afford to stay another ten days in Wellington, and also that I had come to the end of my tether. After a lot of ringing by Mr de Bruyn and patient waiting by us, a solution was reached. We would travel in two small private planes and taking as little as possible of our luggage which would be sent later on the ferry. The cost for the two private planes was E5O per plane, but anything was better than staying in Wellington.
So, off we went, after we had sorted out the luggage. Margreetje and I sat in the front of the tiny plane next to the pilot, and in the back were Hein, Jan and H. W. Walter and Lodewijk would travel in another plane, even smaller than ours. Our pilot seemed very nervous, which was understandable as it was his first flight after receiving his ticket, as he told me while fiddling around with knobs and gears!
I didn’t feel safe at all when we roared up into the sky, and were met with a strong wind which made the little plane jump up and down. Then Hein tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out that the door was not closed properly, and that H. W. and Jan were nearly dropping off their seats as they were fast asleep after the seasick tablets they were given before we took off. I told Hein in sign language to hang on to the door and keep an eye on the boys and I sent up a “schietgebedje” (a quick prayer to the Almighty), but even so, I thought, if this is my last flight in this life it is the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. We were then flying over thej Sounds, the wind had dropped and we made a safe landing at “Nelson Airport”, which was a vast piece of grassland] with a shed for shelter, which we didn’t need because it was a beautiful day. It was however a great disappointment that there was nobody there to welcome us, and as the little plane took off straight away we just stood ar waited until Walter arrived a quarter-of-an-hour later with Lodewijk. There was still no sign of Kees.
While we were on our voyage to Australia, Kees had found work on ‘another orchard in an area called Mariri. The job was the same, but the accommodation was better than at Kina. The name of the boss was Mr Robinson “Robby” as we called him later. Before we left
Wellington I had rung Kees and he had said that Mr. Robinson would take him to the aerodrome. After we had been waiting for more than half-an-hour a Chevrolet drove onto the airfield. I felt flat and angry by that time, but the boys were full of enthusiasm and yelled, “There is Vader in that car”,’ and ran to meet him. They apologized for being so late, but they had decided to do some shopping in Nelson (?)firstlv’so that they didn’t have to wait!
It was a good thing that we had hardly any luggage so that we all could be packed into the Chevrolet and we were on our way to Mariri via Barley’s Road. But we first had a stop in Richmond where I could buy some meat as Kees was running out, and Mr Robinson pointed out that it was Friday and the shops were closed over the weekend.
My mind was completely disorientated and I could not be bothered whether we had meat or not, but it seemed an urgent matter to Mr Robinson, so I walked into the butcher’s shop and pointed to the mince, the only meat I recognised. “How much?” the butcher asked me as if he hadn’t heard what I had said before. “One pound”, I repeated. “It is for a whole weekend, Mrs Kolff”, Mr. Robinson reminded me, “and you have a large family”. I didn’t understand what he was talking about and couldn’t care less whether we had meat for the weekend as long as we arrived at our destination. Later on, I heard how the meat story went around the district as an unbelievable joke. One pound of mince for a family of eight and that for a whole weekend!
So we travelled on over Harley’s Road and along the (?)ffludflat and we could not believe our eyes that this beau-tifui scenery would be part of our every-day living. And all the time Kees was telling us everything (Please, ; excuse me talking in Dutch, Mr Robinson) while we were turning our heads from right to left and from left to ht and making enthusiastic remarks. Then we came to end of our trip and Kees announced: “Here it is”, I saw a shed with the roof covered with sacks and
I thought: “Well, that looks more roomy than the bach, but it has no windows”. But then the car drove up a small slope and we stopped at the back of a house, and it was a house with a kitchen and a sitting-room and two bedrooms, and in a sort of a passage stood a tin bath and somewhere outside there was a little house with a loo. And in the kitchen there stood our dining table and our chairs and the radio with “Radio Hilversum” (the main Dutch radio station) on it. When I saw that I had to keep myself under control because I could have sat down and wept, but there was no time for it. Kees announced that he had a surprise for us. He took a bucket and told us to follow him. The boys stopped their running around and their yelling and we followed in silent procession to a piece of grass at the back of the house and there stood a cow! But the greatest miracle was that Vader could milk the cow! At that moment the word IMMIGRATION became a reality. We had in fact made it. . . from “839” to Mariri!
So far I have tried to write down in English about our Dutch background which has been a challenge and which I could not have done without the encouragement of Kees. From now on I would have liked to continue in Dutch as if I were telling the people in Holland about our experiences in New Zealand. But I have to carry on in English, and I hope I can express the difference in lifestyle without changing the language.
When I think back I realise I lived as it were with pen and paper in my hand. Many of the daily happenings were recorded in letters and later, when I felt a bit more settled, I wrote a few articles for the Dutch magazine “Our Family”. I pretended I was writing so that I could earn a few pounds and I was thrilled when I won £2O for an essay in a competition organised by the K. L. M. , (Royal Dutch Airlines), but the real reason for writing was the urge to communicate.
The first person who helped me to adjust to the New Zealand way of living was Mr Robinson. Kees had started to take the first s_teps along the new road before we came, so Robbie could spend more time with me and the children, especially with Walter and Hein who had to start thinning apples fairly soon after our arrival.
Robbie had a good knowledge of English and when I made a mistake he corrected me straight away with a grammatical explanation if necessary. He also discovered that I needed a hand with housekeeping methods as well as explanations of common expressions, which if misunderstood or translated literally, could result in embarrassing situations.
I remember that I looked completely blank when he walked in one of the first mornings at 1O o’clock and Robbie asked me if I had put the kettle on, which was done very smartly after the boss had explained what it meant. It was harder for Mrs Robinson to deal with the confusion caused by the word “tea” to which she had invited us and which we thought meant “afternoon tea”. Then it was our turn to be surprised that the kettle was not put on when we arrived at 3. 3O in the afternoon and Mrs Robinson was still in her SLIPPERS.
Another expression that created confusion was “see you later”. I expected the person leaving the house to be back within half an hour, or at least the same day, and when they said they would come to visit us I waited for a phone call to make arrangements after they had left the house with the casual “see you later”. I had to learn that it was the equivalent of the French “au revoir” or just “good bye”.
Talking on the telephone meant that we had to learn about a party line. Our code number was D (-. . ) if remember correctly. The whole family took part in answering the phone which created real confusion and hot on-the-spot arguments.
Coming back to every-day housekeeping, Robbie advised me to use an extension cord for the vacuum cleaner so that I could walk around from one room to the other without the trouble of changing plugs, and when a generous neighbour left plums on our kitchen table to make jam, I needed his instructions for the task and how amazed I was that a male knew how to make jam.
Even more so when I put those instructions into practice. We had a wood stove and our primus for quick cooking. It reminded me of war-time, but then we had little to cook with so I found it hard to try this new venture while still unpacking and organising. The results were not very encouraging, and so making jam has never become a favourite pastime!
When I expressed a wish to go to church, Robbie offered us the use of an old 1923 Chevrolet truck without doors. We could also use it for picnics to Kina beach, but the first trip was to the Presbyterian church,, or was it a hall, in Tasman. Robbie told me that the custom in New Zealand was to wear a hat when you went to church. “And”, he added hesitantly, “gloves. . . “. I had to admit that I had neither hat nor gloves. The younger generation in Holland didn’t wear hats any more and the woollen gloves I had worn during the winter months were not suitable for New Zealand, especially noti in December. But I could go to church without them, couldn’t I? Robbie looked doubtful. He himself was not a church-goer, but his wife was. She was the organ-] ist for the church in Tasman so he was up to date with the customs.
The next day he brought me a white felt hat and whit gloves which I could borrow from Mrs Robinson, and so drove off that Sunday morning, Kees and I, in a truck without doors, but I looked respectable and waved goodbye with a gloved hand to the boys, who were in fits of laughter.
To my surprise the service was taken by a woman, Mrs Wells, the mother of Stan and Bernard Wells. It was a very good sermon, but my thoughts were miles away in a country where it was now winter, and there I sat in the Klooster Kerk (Cloister Church) without a hat but with woollen gloves on my hands and I felt homesick. After the service we were introduced to a few people and everybody talked about the weather.
When I received the (?)t20 for my K. L. M. essay called “First Impressions”, I bought myself a pair of kid gloves made in England. They cost £5, but the hat had to wait until Walter got married, years later.
It was also Robbie who told me about the FREE SERVICE of the (?)Plunket nurse who visited the houses where babies were born as an after-care service, although the birth itself took place in the maternity hospital. What I needed was advice about Margreetje, whom I’ll call “Maggy’s from now on. The poor food on board the Sibajak had not helped in her development, and at the age of ten |months she was still not moving around. When I saw an |advertisement for Weet-Bix I thought that would be for her, but the Plunket Nurse told me that the food value iiwas different from what the advertisement said and that
it was certainly not suitable for babies, and in particular not for those suffering set-backs like Maggy. But, she said, “Don’t worry. We’ll fix her up. Within three weeks she will stand”. I thought this sounded a bit too promising, but when I look back at a clipping, from a Dutch magazine after we had been interviewed by a (?)[. . ], visiting Dutch journalist, Maggy is standing in her play apron, and that was shortly after we had arrived. What the change in diet was. I can’t remember, but it worked.
In that same photo from the newspaper cutting, I am giving a demonstration of hair cutting. H. W. , whom I
Christmas dinner was the focal point, and what I remember most clearly was a ham, lifted out of “the copper”, a new word for us, and I was asked to cut it! I had never seen such an enormous hunk of meat and had no idea where to start. But Syd’s casual way of passing the carving knife and fork to me while she was setting the table for the children, gave me confidence and with Darky’s half understood instructions, I managed to cut ham for the whole family.
Was it four or five o’clock when we walked home, stomachs full of food and our minds trying to assi-nilate the flow of words and impressions which had little connection with past experiences? But what I remember vividly of our first Christmas dinner in New Zealand was the free and easy way of celebrating and the snormous hospitality.
On December 31, we were invited by the Robinsons to for a picnic to Kaiteriteri,We were not quite sure t the invitation meant. Robbie told us that we could the old truck and that his son, Alistair, would be the chauffeur to show us the way. “Maybe you could bring some sandwiches”, Robbie suggested. So I cut a heap of “doorsteps”, as we called them, and the boys filled up some flasks with water and we packed some green apples in the bags with the swimming togs and towels. It was just as well that Alistair Robinson was our driver so that we all could look around and admire the scenery while driving along the narrow, winding gravel road with the amazing views over the bays.
Kaiteriteri was even at that time a popular beach, but much quieter than today without camping grounds and barely any houses around. There were some beautiful trees at the end of the beach offering shelter for picnickers from the strong sunlight. It struck me that the people were very quiet, even the children. There was a really civilised atmosphere until the Kolff clan jumped off the truck and started to undress on the beach without wasting a minute and running into the sea, yelling and screaming to express their joy at such a wonderful place (all in Dutch of course). Kees joined them and none of us was aware that the Robinsons had also arrived with some of their friends to whom they wanted to introduce us.
I disappeared with Maggy behind the truck and started! to undress too, something I had done from childhood and at which I was very skilled. When I was halfway through;] and just ready to – Yoops! – throw off my clothes and pull up my bathing suit, I saw legs walking along the other side of the truck and heard Robbie’s voice asking “Are you there, Mrs Kolff? I want to introduce you to . . . . . “. “Just a minute”, I said, and pulled my clothes over my half-way-up swimming togs. I felt rather uneasy to be introduced to Mr and Mrs . . . . . . as a newcomer to New Zealand, with underwear and togs bulgingj under my quickly pulled-on dress. The result was that I was hustled into Robbie’s Chevrolet with bath towels in front of the windows where I had to perform the l part of undressing, which was much more complicated than doing it on the beach.
After we had had a swim, preparations for lunch started. Mrs Robinson spread a tablecloth under one of the pine trees and they began to unload their lunch from the boot of the Chevrolet. I took the wrapped-up “doorsteps”, the flagons of water and the apples from the back of the old truck and put them under another tree and invited our family to come for lunch. I underline that I had to unload the truck as the rest of the family were fascinated by what was happening “next door”, and when they were at long last sitting under our tree, I had to say “Don’t look”, and “carry on eating”, but it didn’t work. They all looked and stood up and walked over, doorsteps half eaten in their hands. Even Kees walked over—and-lef-t Maggy with me with bread and water, until Robbie invited us to join them. Then I understood what it meant to go to a New Zealand picnic. Sandwiches, cookies, cakes and jellies with cream and lemonade for the children and a cup of tea for the adults. Yes, even on the beach they “put the kettle on” over an open fire. In Holland this would be strictly forbidden. How uncivilised I felt when I packed up the rest of our picnic jlunch after I had thrown bits and pieces to the seagulls. | For the Robinsons there was not much to pack up except I the empty plates, glasses and teacups. It
The next morning Robbie and I had a chat about the Picnic while drinking our ten-o’clock >cuppa. “I don’t think I’ll ever manage to prepare such an elaborate picnic”, I told him. “Don’t try”, he said, “my wife has to stay in bed the whole day because she’s so exhausted”. i^Does she always stay in bed after a picnic?” I asked «um. “Not always. But this was a very special one”, said. “And very much appreciated”, I added.
Another male person who helped us, and me in par-Ocular, to adapt to our new life-style was our grocer, Stan Glover. Once a week I rang the shop in Motueka ** the next day Mr Glover came around in his van to deliver the groceries.
He was a very gentle and patient man who left me not only with the groceries ordered, but also with the answers to a long list of questions and helpful information:”No, you could not buy buttermilk in New Zealand. “Yoch—yoch—urt”, stumbling over the throaty ch. “What’s that? Never heard of it”. “We don’t drink coffee, or very seldom, but I have coffee essence and chicory in a bottle. Watch out for the sun. Always have a hat on when you are outside in the sun”. (Hats again!). “You call these little flies sand-flies. They are a nuisance, aren’t they?Next week I’ll bring you some Dimp. That’ll do the job”.
One day, when Hein felt miserable, Mr Glover who was a St. John’s Ambulance Officer, rang the doctor for me and that same day a different Mr Glover with a St. John’s uniform on came around in the ambulance and took Hein to Nelson Hospital where he was operated on for acute appendicitis. Another time he took me round on his delivery trip and introduced me to the people he delivered the groceries to as far as Ruby Bay. During that) trip I wanted to tell him a bit about our background, and in between the stops at houses and baches I stumbledi on with my limited vocabulary, but when there were no questions asked it seemed as if he was not interested. Or was he, and was it the custom in New Zealand not to ask more than you were told?
I had noticed that the neighbours were not “on our doorstep” – an expression I learned much later. They never interfered with-our way of living, although they were well up to date with what was happening at our place and when there was trouble, like Hein being rush into hospital, sympathy was shown by a plate of scones on the kitchen table or a jar of freshly made jam on th«| bench. But as soon as I started to talk about Hollani they seemed to close up as if I was trespassing over invisible but strongly marked border line. I did not have this restricted feeling with Syd Strong. She asked me many questions about the social services in Holland, the school education system, the different religions (Syd was a newcomer to the Catholic Church) and also the place women had in the Dutch society.
I also had contact with Sonja Davies. Sonja, who stayed in a bach at Mariri for health reasons, had the time to talk and to listen. I must admit that I was sometimes exhausted after these intense talking sessions, but they also gave me a great sense of satisfaction and were a welcome break from the many new things I had to learn daily.
One of them was that I had to take our cow to the bull at Strong’s place to be served. It must have been when school had started because there was no-one else at home besides myself and Maggy and Lou. I had never handled a cow and the animal seemed to feel it and didn’t want to go in the direction I wanted to move. In desperation I rang Syd. “Don’t worry”, she said, “I’ll be there in a few minutes”, and so she was, running along the farm road on bare feet, a stick in her hand, and without wasting a minute she was back on her way home with the cow trotting in front of her.
Through my relationship with Syd I developed a great admiration for the country women of New Zealand. She introduced me to the important role the woman plays as homemaker and mother and also as farmhand or farm-partner. And in spite of their busy lives the women read a lot and made great use of the library.
The Country Library was a great asset to people living on farms especially as at that time only a few had cars and there was no T. V. The Strongs didn’t have a car and when they went to mass on Sunday mornings they used the tractor and when Syd asked me to come to the -Mothers’ Club we biked over the winding gravel road to Tasman. It was quite an effort for me to keep my balance and to keep up with Syd’s speed, but it was such a good opportunity to meet with more women that I made the effort once a month, or was it once a fortnight?
It was a small group of ten women at the most who talked non stop until the meeting started in an official way with the apologies accepted, the minutes read, and then, after the general business had been brought forward, a special subject was introduced for discussion. One evening the subject was how to make bedspreads. The instruction came from a woman who worked at a furnishing shop in Motueka. I was so surprised to have the making of bedspreads explained which to me were just pieces of material cut to the right size with a hem at the top and the bottom, but there was far, far more to it than I had imagined1
Once they asked me to give a talk about Holland. I was delighted to have the opportunity to tell them about my home country, although I was a bit nervous too, but it was such a small and friendly group that I could not have had a better audience for this first performance. Later, I gave more talks to women’s groups and I have always enjoyed doing it.
After we had been invited to different places for afternoon tea, we felt it was our turn to return the hospitality offered to us. There was, however, the problem of where to receive visitors as the kitchen was not the proper place and the sitting room was partly made into a bedroom because of lack of space. At long last I worked something out. Opposite to where we lived was a small island. What about that as an afternoon picnic place?
Kees and the boys thought that it was an excellent idea. We could ask Mrs. Madigan if we could borrow her rowing-boat which Walter and Hein, who had stayed in the brown tent on the island, had already used and which seemed to be in good order.
The other problem that had to be solved was the afternoon tea itself. I worked until late that Saturday night with meagre results, but there were a few cookies and our Dutch “koek” to be packed in the basket with borrowed thermos flasks filled with tea and a sort of home-made lemon drink for the children.
Mrs G. looked quite elegant with a white sun hat and stockings and white shoes which made me feel a bit dubious about the boat trip, but she thought it quite exciting and so did her children. I can’t remember how we got the little ones to the island, but when it was our turn, the rowing boat didn’t seem to be in such good order as Walter and Hein had told us.
When we were half-way there, I saw Mrs G. shift her feet carefully and I could not ignore the water coming into the boat speedily. I put the basket with the goodies on the seat and whispered to Kees in Dutch: “Hurry up, the boat is leaking”. He tried to row faster and told Walter and Hein, who were swimming behind it, to help and push, and we just made it. Mrs G. had to take off her shoes and stockings to be dried in the sun, and she couldn’t put them on until later that afternoon when she sat in our kitchen with her muddy feet in a bowl of warm water after she had crossed the mudflat at low tide holding on to Kees’s arm for support.
Years later she told me how the whole story had so ^amused her husband who was terminally ill at that time too were in fits of laughter that evening, but little did we know that our visitors had laughed too. It would a long time before we could share a sense of humour this new land.
Another phase in our life as immigrants started when children had to go to school when the Christmas holidays were over. Walter and Hein went to the Motueka High School which was in a transition period of oming High School. Therefore we were informed by the Headmaster that the staff could not spend as much time with our boys as they would have liked to.
Walter and Hein were picked up by the school bus, but Jan and Will had to walk in the opposite direction to Tasman, three-quarters of an hour both ways. Sometimes they were lucky and got a lift. We had a choice between’ Lower Moutere and Tasman, but in both ways there were problems with the bus services, and as the Tasman School was smaller we were advised to send them there, and we never regretted it.
Jan, who was nine then, had to start in the primers, but he was allowed to work through the material by himself with the help of the teacher, which suited him wellj as he was used to this method of working at the Montessori school in Holland. At the end of that school he was in standard four and carried on from there the next year.
Will, who was six, had no problems either with the learning or with social adjustment. It was just the right age to start”. But he was homesick for his friend “Jaapje”, and later, when. we were advised by both headmasters, primary and secondary, to speak English in the home, it was Will who became confused and angry, stamped his foot telling us to behave “gewoon”, which means “in a normal way” and I did feel very strange sitting around the old dining table serving a Dutch hotchpotch meal and talking politely to each other in English with the many “please’s” and “thank-you’s” and “excuse me’s”, as if we were acting a play.
As soon as we got into deep water and started to argue, we forgot our second language and switched over to Dutch to express our feelings properly. No, it didn’t work. Once I tried to explain to another headmaster why we had given up speaking English in the home. “What would you do if you had migrated to Germany? Would you explain sexual behaviour to your children in German or in English?”. He blushed and laughed and said: “I think I would prefer English”.
It was much harder for the two older boys, Walter and Hein, to start secondary schooling with very little knowledge of the English language. They both had been to a High School in Holland for one year and had there been introduced to the basics of English, which we used to call the “Pass me the butter, please” language. The T. V. , which is a great help to the children of today, was not yet in use, and although the radio helped it was as intensive as the T. V.
It was not only the language that was difficult for them but also the differences between the two education systems. Holland you stay an individual responsible for one’s own behaviour, whereas in New Zealand you are first of all a member of a particular school of which you have accepted the rules. A visible way of showing that acceptance is the wearing of the school uniform/in Walter’s and Rein’s case grey shirts, grey shorts, grey jerseys and a black cap with the High School emblem attached to it, which is supposed to govern your behaviour both inside and outside the school. The regulations in Dutch schools were, and still are, as few as possible.
What I remember of the first New Zealand school concert we attended was not the musical performance, but the impression the group behaviour made on me. When the choir moved on to the stage it was as if one grey body moved forward, turned halfway around and faced the audience while concentrating on the conductor. My thoughts went back to the years I attended the secondary part of our One-to-Ten school when we had the annual “Recital Day”, and we performed as individuals from the age of six to sixteen, reciting poems, playing the piano, or singing a song, accompanied by another pupil.
I think as an immigrant I understood from the beginning that comparing in the way of “this is better than that” is of no use when you are still in a transition period, but that does not mean that you can’t have an opinion. My opinion after that first concert was that I was very impressed by the social behaviour and I wrote long letters back to Holland about the differences between the two cultures.
But then again we found it hard to understand that Hein, who was a good swimmer, and who could have done with a little boost, missed out at a school swimming competition because he kept his head sideways instead of looking in front of him and that was against the rules.
Years later when Will was in the sixth form we had a different experience in connection with sport. Will had been a keen rugby player, but as there was no rugby team at the High School yet, he had joined the Motueka rugby team. When the school started to form a team, Will was asked to join but he said he couldn’t as he could not belong to two clubs as both were involved in the Saturday matches and he had belonged to the Motueka Rugby Club for years, but he was “told that he should give priority to the High School club. As it seemed to become quite an issue, I went to see the^. headmaster, Mr Miller. “It is very hard for you to understand this, Mrs Kolff”, he said, “as school priorities here in New Zealand are so different from those you are used to in Holland”. I agreed, but still could not understand why Will had to toe the line and change clubs.
When I asked Mr Miller if it would influence his U. E. accrediting, he laughed and said, “No, we are not that bad”. Will remained with his original club, but as a consequence he had to accept unpopularity. We had been in New Zealand over 10 years then, but we are still learning.
Corporal punishment was difficult to come to grips with and may have been even harder for us than for the children. When Jan was at High School and I felt he was in danger of being caned by one of the teachers, I warned him because I thought he would not take it. We were doing the dishes together which I always found a good time to talk things over. “Don’t worry”, Jan said, “I know the rules of the school and when I disobey them I have to take the consequences”. Hein was never caned, but as he told me later he would not have accepted it even if that meant being expelled. Military training was still part of the curriculum and with the experience of war still very vivid in their memory it was hard for Walter and Hein to take part in that activity. Walter was not involved with High School for long as after three months when he had become fifteen, he decided to leave and to work on a farm. We talked it over with the Principal, Mr Miller, who agreed that it would |be better for Walter to get more practical experience.
He got a job at Noel Foote’s dairy farm where he worked for a couple of years and gained much experience while sharing daily living with Jean, Noel and their family.
While four of the children were finding their way in the schools and Walter was introduced to dairy farming, Lou and Maggy were pottering around at home. For Lou it was very important to have a home he could relate to and he liked to help in keeping it tidy and did it very well for a four year old. One day I put a feather from one of the hens on his head with a piece of cello-tape and Lou’s slightly squinting eyes looked so happily at me from behind his little steel framed glasses. “You should have it on your cap, Lou, but as you haven’t got one, I’ll put it on your head”, I told him. Maggy spent too much time in her play-pen on the front porch, but while I was doing the housework I wanted her to be safe. I did not yet feel enough in tune with our new environment to let her wander around outside. Although there were not the dangers of scorpions and snakes as in Indonesia, there seemed to be an overwhelming feeling very close around us, which I could only call NATURE in all its different forms.
Living daily with Nature on your doorstep was so different from the life in Holland where everything had to be so much more regulated to provide for a population of (then) 11 million in an area as big as the whole of Nelson Province. To step out on the front porch of our house in Mariri and to watch the tide coming in over the mudflats and to turn around to see “the hills” which were really mountains, was an overwhelming experience for someone born in the Low- Lands, protected by dunes from the sea and by strong dykes from the rivers. For the first months and even years I saw the scenery with my eyes but not yet with my full mind as part of me was apprehensive about living so close to nature. My feeling^ of responsibility for the children especially for the small ones was greater than when we lived in Holland.
I remember how a kind neighbour brought me a leg of a deer which he had shot. The leg was wrapped in a jute bag with a piece of string around the top where the hoof came out. The neighbour told me to hang it in the shed and leave it there for a certain time. When that time was over and I got i£ out of the bag, part of the skin that was left on moved while. I handled it which gave me a terrible shock and something like “Help, it is still alive” went through my mind. I had that same strange feeling of revulsion again when a blowfly had managed to get into our meat safe and the ox tongue there was riddled with maggots.
When I walked through the streets of The Hague twenty years later I understood my feelings better then than during these first years in New Zealand. Looking up into the Dutch night sky I could not discover the stars and during the day a very fine fog seemed to hinder the sun from breaking through. But the curtains of the front windows of the houses in Holland were never closed and whether it was daytime or at night you could share daily living by walking through the streets and enjoying the cosiness of the Dutch homes although, to my way of thinking, they were a bit too much like over-crowded little museums with the numerous pot plants replacing nonexistent front gardens.
Travelling by train through the Western part of Holland, where the high flats of one city almost meet the ones of the next town, you could see people sunbathing on tiny balconies with umbrellas hanging partly over the side to protect them from the hazy sunlight. It must have given them a feeling of staying at the Mediterranean and it also looked colourful to the people looking from the racing electric train.
I felt very happy then that we had left the old world’s over-crowded population, but during these firsts of migration we needed to make many adjustments, no longer protected by the culture which we had called our own for generations and we had to manage without the support of our families.
Bill Bryant, the English teacher at the High School, who gave conversation lessons to new settlers asked us if we belonged to a church, and was pleased to hear that we did. Not that he was over concerned about our spiritual well-being, but because it would help us to find our way in a new society. “So far the church has played an important part in the social development of New Zealand. For many people it has been the only contact besides women’s organisations, sports or the pub”, he said.
Encouraged by Bill Bryant’s statement, we tried to make the trip to the Tasman Hall most Sunday mornings although sometimes we gave priority to Kina beach when the tide was in and the whole family could enjoy a swim in the sea. Later, we tried to combine our outings with the Sunday School organised by the Open Brethren with the Tucker brothers as leaders. Will in particular enjoyed these Sunday morning sessions as there was a lot of singing.
So much happened during these first months that, looking back, I find it hard to comprehend that we stayed| at Mariri for just under a year. Because of the 1951 Waterfront Dispute the fruit could not be shipped and thej apples, after they had been picked, were dumped. In the beginning of the season Kees broke a rib by falling off trailer. As we could not receive social security for the first year, I had to pack apples while Kees looked after Maggy and Lou. This must have been before the strike started. I found it very hard to concentrate onj the job and made a terrible mess of it, but luckily I managed to make the top layer look “respectable” and as fl the control was not half as strict as it became later, managed to pack apples for a month without cases being returned. I am sure hardly any of the boxes had the right amount of apples in them.
The Waterfront Dispute was a terrible blow for the fruit growers, but we were so much involved in our own struggle that we were not aware of their problems, and what it meant to the Robinsons. It therefore came as a shock to us when Robbie told us that he was going to put the orchard on the market. He had two other orchards in the Tasman area and he found it too much to handle three orchards all separated.
I think that he had also hoped that he could have left the Mariri orchard in more capable hands, but realised after a few months that he had expected too much of us, completely inexperienced immigrants, although he offered to sell the orchard to us for (?)*:3,OOO and was willing to leave a mortgage on it. The idea was exciting, but it would have been a disaster for us to take such a big step so soon after we had arrived and with so little experience. Their son, Alistair Robinson, became the new owner, and we had to look for another place to live and a new job. We were lucky that we didn’t have to move out straight away although Robbie could no longer guarantee work for Kees.
The Morris family who lived at Kina, where Kees had worked before we came to New Zealand, had bought another orchard with a house next to the original one. Kees could work for Mr Morris, but we had to wait for accomodation until the Morris family moved out of their old house which I nearly put in between ” ” as it was an extended bach with two tiny bedrooms and a little kitchen without a window. But the living room had a beautiful view over part of Tasman Bay and we were delighted when it was offered to us, although most of our furniture had to be stored and Hein had to sleep in the Brown tent and share it with Walter when he came home on his days off work.
As we couldn’t move in yet, Kees had to bike along gravel road from Mariri to Kina, approximately six les both ways for four months with many frosty mornings during July. It must have been hard to start at eight in the morning and to come back after five with eight hours pruning in between, but there was no choice. Lou turned five in June, had started school and walked forward and backward to Tasman with Will and Jan, who had discovered short cuts through the orchards, foregoing any chances of a lift.
In the meantime, other Dutch immigrants had come to the area and some stayed in Mariri. The first one I can remember was Wink Voute, also from the Hague, although we had not known each other there. Wink came out by himself and stayed with us for a couple of weeks. Kees and he used to make apple cases to earn a bit of extra money, and Wink, who was a very precise person, put a matchstick in his pocket for each apple case he had finished.
I can still see them both standing in the shed, hammering away. Wink, with his little black moustache, a cap on his head and a short, elegant raincape around his shoulders, looked like a French nobleman. His ring with his family crest had to come off his hand as his fingers got swollen and I had to file off Kees’s wedding ring for the same reason. When Wink’ s wife, Corrie, arrived they moved to a bach in Barley’s Road and their country experiences ended with a few months on a dairy farm in the Takaka area, after which they moved to Christchurch. I’ll never forget Wink’s last visit when he told us of his trials on the dairy farm. “Sometimes I had to climb up the steps of our house on hands and knees in the evening after I had finished working, I was so tired”, he told us in such a tragic-comical way that we were in fits of laughter.
Nan and Wim Geerkens with their twelve-year-old son Berth also arrived at Mariri while we were there. Berth had been in the same class as Walter and Hein when they went to the Montessori School in the Hague, but we had never met Nan and Wim. They had heard about our migration and had contacted us as they needed sponsors. Robbie offered to collect them from Nelson and it was a great moment for us to welcome newcomers as if we were experienced settlers.
How strange it felt to see people walk into our New Zealand house with well-cut suits on and an elegant umbrella under their arm. They had travelled with a woman friend whose husband was already in Christchurch and whom she was going to join. The Geerkens too stayed only for a short time in a bach which belonged to the Savilles. Country life did not suit them although they were both practical and capable people and Wim straight away put on his brand new overall and he told everybody that he was willing to do any job, even digging ditches!
I’ll never forget the glass cheese cover on their meticulously set breakfast table when I walked in one morning shortly after they had arrived. How they managed to have it there I can’t even understand to this day, but there it was. After a few weeks at Mariri, the Geerkens decided to move to Christchurch where their prefabricated house which they had brought from Holland was set up and where they lived until Nan died in the mid 1970s.
During the August holidays I went all by myself to Christchurch to visit the Jansens (with whom we had travelled to Australia). I have always had a great need to break out for a few days and in Holland I could do it because of the support of the wider family, but here in New Zealand I had to rely on Heih who, with Jan’s help, looked after the three youngest and that included Maggy who was only a year-and-a-half. I’ll admit;that I felt guilty and even now while writing this down, I think: How on earth could I have done it?
But Oh!, that feeling of freedom when the bus took and I was sitting there all by myself watching the different scenery and in particular the part over the Lewis Pass. I couldn’t believe my eyes;it was quite overwhelming. For two nights I stayed with the Jansens and we talked non-stop. We hardly moved outside the house, but I managed to buy an electric heater for k3 to heat up the bedroom where Hein had to do his homework.
It was also during these first months that we came in contact with the Community at Riverside. A cousin of mine, Frits Gerritsen, with whom Kees had travelled when coming to New Zealand, wrote from Levin where he was working on a dairy farm: “There seems to be a Christian Pacifist community in the area where you are living”. I was so excited when I read the words “Christian Pacifist community”, and memories came back from the time when I was six and watched Kees and Betty Boeke-Cadbury in their horse and cart, Kees playing the harmonium and both of them singing:”I feel the winds of God today”, and Ma being upset because my sister Truus and brother Huub having joined the Peace Movement of the Socialist Party walked around the village with the emblem of “the broken gun” pinned on their clothes. Their behaviour distressed the village people because of my father’s position and Ma was well aware of this. It took many years before Socialism and the Peace Movement became respectable. I asked Robbie whether he knew where this community was. He did tell me, but with certain reservations, which I ignored, and I rang these Riverside people who lived somewhere in Lower Moutere.
Not long after the phone call, Nancy Willetts and Hannah Gamlen came to see us and then we were invited to visit the community. Hubert Holdaway, the founder of Riverside, came to pick us up. All I can remember of that first visit is Hubert turning around and talking non-stop while driving us along the coastal road to Loweij Moutere. Half of what he said I didn’t hear as I was so scared the car would land in the mudflats.
Later, I was asked to give a talk about Holland to the women of Riverside. I still have a vivid memory of Joy Cole, sitting up straight and her head with beautiful red hair pinned around it in two plaits, moving from left to right and from right to left asking questions after I had finished, which she helped me to answer when I was a bit slow in finding the right words. Talking about family life, Joy said, “I’ll have six children”, with such determination that nobody doubted she would. The Coles had two boys at that time. Joy’s questions and answers were accompanied by the clicking of her knitting needles, which moved with such a speed that it sounded like a knitting machine.
A few weeks later, Jan and Arch Barrington came to tea at our place. The young ones had had their meal beforehand so that we would have an opportunity to talk together. I was repeating to myself in English what I wanted to tell them about Betty and Kees Boeke-Cadbury and the Pacifist movement in Holland, but I didn’t have a show. Barry, as we called him later, was on his personal soap box that evening, and although I tried hard, I didn’t have a chance to get a word in. I felt a bit flat after they had gone home.
Robbie, who had watched the growing friendships between us and Riverside Community, warned us to stop. He himself was not antagonistic towards the community, but most people in the district looked upon them as “outcasts” because of their withdrawal from military service r during the Second World War. He told us that it would ; be hard for Kees to find work if we continued to keep up |our contact with them.
We wrote a letter to Riverside explaining what our position was and they agreed that it would be wiser to |stop the just-begun relationship. “Maybe we can con-|tinue later when you have settled down here and have Pound your place in the wider community”, they wrote.
It was at the beginning of September that we said good-bye to Mariri and shifted to Kina. We thanked Robbie for his support during these first months, and I felt rather sad to lose the more or less daily contact with Syd Strong. Before we left she gave me one of the last prints of “Tui’s Third Book on COMMON SENSE COOKERY” and underlined the first sentence of the introduction -“Few women are born good cooks”. She had added in her own writing – “the whole story”.
I had learned from Syd how to make scones. I had never made them before as we don’t have them in Holland. “The easiest way is to make a whole batch and then to cut them up”, Syd told me, and when I made scones I always did it her way. When I told her that I found it hard to cut a pumpkin, she advised me to drop it on the concrete so that it would split open and to do that until it broke up into pieces. I have practised this method for thirty-four years now and always think of Syd when the pumpkin lands on the concrete with a crashing bang.
The slogan used during the Second World War “Give a New Zealander an empty kerosine tin and he will survive” made sense to me after we had been living for a few months in the country and I thought you could use the same slogan for the New Zealand women.
Sometimes I questioned Syd’s advice in the way the children should be dressed. The winter in New Zealand was much colder than I had expected but at that time the “being tough” attitude was still in vogue. It surprised me how the women managed to get through the winter with very light clothing. Most of them wore summer dresses all the time with the ever-present cardigan on top. “They don’t feel the cold as much as you do”, Syd told me. But I was not sure if she was right. It seemed to me that they walked round-shouldered with their arms in front of them to keep themselves warm. But Syd contradicted me. “The New Zealand women have not enough self-esteem. That’s why they walk around round-shouldered”, she said. Maybe it was a combination of the two.
While we were still at Mariri, Dolf and Anneke Buutveld decided to immigrate to New Zealand with their two children, Edy. and Helen, and they asked us if we could sponsor them. It was an exciting thought to have close friends coming to live with us, but they too needed accommodation and a job before they could get a permit.
Dolf had had office jobs, and he was also a handy man although he had no special qualifications but he was much younger than Kees which was an advantage. Mr Morris said they could have one of the seasonal workers’ baches if they were both prepared to work in the apples. This was possible if I looked after two-year-old Helen during the day as Edy, who was the same age as our Lou, would be at school with the other children.
It seemed to be a workable plan and we were all looking forward to them coming. There was, however, a hitch which made it necessary for Anneke and myself to reverse jobs, Anneke having become pregnant on their way to New Zealand, and as she had trouble with morning sickness and had to be careful to prevent a miscarriage, there was no other choice than that I took on her job and she looked after the children.
After my experience of four weeks packing apples at Mariri, I managed better than the first time, but I never became a fast packer and I have never liked working outside the house. I was excited about it in the beginning as it made me feel more like the New Zealand women who seemed to be able to take everything in their stride. Later I learned that some of them had to pay a high price with their health, even dying at a fairly eaxly age.
Kees and Dolf also worked in the shed. Kees had to feed the grader with apples which meant lifting case after case, and after Dolf had nailed the packed cases down at the other end of the grader, Kees had to load them onto the truck that transported them to the wharf at Mapua. It was a hard eight hours’ job. Walter, who was going to work on the dairy farm of my cousin, Frits Gerritsen, at Palmerston North, was also packing apples at Morris’s shed.
The Dutch element was very noticeable and especially because Kees and Dolf talked in Dutch to each other which was not appreciated by the other workers nor by Mr Morris who stood at the grading table overlooking the whole scene. Slowly the tension was built up and came to a peak when a fire started in a pine forest not far from where our house stood. Anneke rang the shed to warn us and asked if we could come up as it was becoming dangerous. But Mr Morris said it was not on his property and that the fire brigade had been warned and could we please carry on with our jobs as the fruit was to be collected later that afternoon.
The phone rang again and again but we carried on packing and loading apples until Jan came down with Will and Lou, clutching the money box in his hands, and told us, crying, that all the furniture had been carried outside the house because the fire was coming so close and. . . . . . . . Before he had finished we raced up the hill where
Anneke and Hein, with the help of some neighbours, had carried most of our belongings into the orchard. I was even more concerned about part of the furniture that was stored in a sort of haybarn without side coverings, but the fire was stopped in time.
That fire was stopped, but the emotional fire continued to smoulder under cover of daily conversations in English or in Dutch, and finally flared up one morning after the season was finished and Dolf and Anneke had shifted to another orchard in Mariri.
We were planning to alter a shed behind the house into sleeping accommodation as the two tiny bedrooms were too small for two adults and four children and Hein could not spend another winter in the tent. We all felt like staying at Kina as we loved the spot with the beautiful view and we were so close to the beach.
We were much closer to the Tasman school than when we were at Mariri and the three younger ones were very happy there and Maggy could play around safely in the sunny spot up the slope where our little house stood. She had developed quickly during these months at Kina with the company of Helen who was her age and both were well looked after by Anneke while I worked in the shed. My only worry was that the outside loo had such a wide hole in the wooden top cover that I thought Maggy could fall in if she tried to climb up by herself. As the loo was put on top of a well that would be the end of her! I had nightmares about it.
One morning when the children were ready to go to school, Kees came home from work, followed by Walter. “My mouth is hurting so much, I can’t stand it any longer” Kees cried and flopped on his bed. He had had some teeth pulled out the day before and it was still very painful, but I knew that there was more to it than an aching gum and I looked to Walter to get the full story while putting the kettle on to make a drink for Kees.
Walter sat on a chair, his hands in front of his face sobbing: “Pa has got the sack and we have to look for another house”. I was dumbfounded. On the whole, Kees and Mr Morris got on quite well together, but the pressure of the Dutch group within the small circles of seasonal workers and the fact that Mr Morris had bought another orchard before the season started, had been too “much for our boss to take an insensitive remark from one of his workers, who didn’t feel well that morning. Later, Mr Morris apologized to Kees and told us that he didn’t mean that we had to leave as soon as possible, and I had the feeling that he would have liked us to stay that morning he made it quite clear that we had to go.
“Where will we go?”, Jan asked standing in front of me and wanting an answer there and then. “I’ll tell you this afternoon when you come home from school”, I told him, wiping the tears from his cheeks. “I’ll find a place where we can live for ever”. And that’s how I felt hiking along the gravel road that led to Mariri.
I didn’t have good feelings about Mr Morris and how he felt. I was upset and angry and determined to find a permanent roof for us all that day, although I had no clues where to look for it, but I was positive that I would succeed. After I had shared a cup of tea with Syd who was sympathetic, but remained objective to help me keep the whole situation in perspective, I felt calmer but also more uncertain.
After the war the housing situation in New Zealand was very difficult. You never saw an advertisement in the paper “House for Sale”. Most houses were sold by word of mouth. If I could only find accommodation on an orchard again we could land in the same trouble as we were in now and orchardists wanted skilled workers. Syd was frank. ” You people took the risk of migrating at an older age and without Kees having a special skill so you have to take the consequences. . . . . . “.
The gravel road from Mariri to Lower Moutere seemed very long that morning and the mountains that were called: “hills” in front of me, covered with an early snowfall, looked so severe and alien that I felt like turning around and going home, but there was no home and I had promised Jan that I would find one.
It was nearly dark when much later I biked home overs the gravel road to be met half-way by Kees and Jan who each carried a torch. I had given them a ring from the home of some Dutch friends where I had something to eat before I went on my way. “Have you found a house?” 3s asked. “I have”, I said, which was partly true. “(?)Bulj I’ll tell you when we get home”. Kees, with a woolen scarf around his face, was only too keen to go home as quickly as possible.
Sitting around the kitchen stove I told them the whole story. “After I had stopped for a cup of tea at Syd’s I biked to Foote’s place, but they were not too hopeful that I would find anything in that area, so I carried on and just knocked at every door asking if they knew where I could find accommodation for a family with six children. I went as far as people called Williams who live at the other side of the Moutere and they knew an old lady who had her house for sale just behind the Lower Moutere school.
It was about four o’clock when I had biked up a narrow path to an old house on a slight slope. When I knocked at the door it was opened by an old woman who asked me what I wanted. She looked a bit suspicious, maybe because I was wearing an overall, but when I told her that I was looking for a house and I mentioned the name of Williams, she asked me to come inside.
It was lovely and warm in the kitchen with the wood stove burning and the smell of a cake in the oven made me feel hungry but also very happy. It was an overwhelming feeling like: “This is it – this is the house we’ll have”. But Mrs Smith told me that an elderly bachelor was also interested in the house. “He offered me (?)tl,000. Would you be able to pay (?)el,100?” she asked me hesitantly. “I think so”, I said, while my mind whirled around thinking what we could sell of our “old stuff”: (as the packer in Holland had called it), to make it possible to buy this house that seemed quite clearly to welcome me.
“It has a kitchen”, I told them, “and a sitting room, two big bedrooms and one small one that used to be the old Lower Moutere Post Office, and a sunporch and a pantry and an enormous shed and two acres of land partly in |Pine trees. Mrs Smith showed me the property. It was so soft walking over the pine needles and everywhere there were toadstools and the chooks were roosting in the trees as it was getting dark. She has no hen-house and sometimes she finds the eggs between the bushes and if not it doesn’t worry her as long as the chooks are happy!
“Mrs Smith has lived in the house for a couple of years with her ten-year-old granddaughter whose parents are divorced, but she finds it too lonely and wants to go back to Wellington. The first owners, who had the house built in 19O5, were the two sisters Desaunais of French origin. They ran the Lower Moutere Post Office and you can still see posters on the wall in the little front room. People came on horse-back to collect their mail”.
When I had finished my story the audience was dead silent. It was too good to be true, but it had to be made true. Little did we know that as soon as I had passed the headmaster’s house by the Lower Moutere school on my way back to Kina, the telephone rang at Mrs Smith’s house, and the headmaster urged her to give priority to the family with six children if they were capable of buying it. “I heard from Mr Williams that they are in great need of a house and . . . . . . it will help the school roll”.
During the following weeks we frantically tried to get the money together. With Walter’s help we managed E3OO as a base to work from. Mrs Smith needed the full amount as she had to buy a house in Wellington. Where could we find the other t8OO? One afternoon when I had seen Mr Leppien from the Public Trust who told me that it was a good buy although the price was a bit over the government valuation, I met someone in town from Riverside with whom I talked about the possibility of borrowing money. They were not in a position to offer help, but there was a chance that they knew somebody who might lend us the money on reasonable interest. It was not long after that, that Kees and I hiked to the Moutere where we-were introduced to Mr and Mrs Starnes who were willing to| lend us the money for a period of five years.
I have a vague memory that we shifted on the shortest day of the year, June 21, 1952. Dutch friends, the van den Berg’s, who had started a market garden in Appleby lent us their truck and helped us to bring everything over in three loads. The last one included our few chooks. Hein, wKo perched on the top of the last load, sat on one of the hens and the poor thing was dead when the truck arrived in the,Moutere. For eighteen years we lived under the roof of that house which has been the soul of our family and shared with many friends. From the moment we moved in we felt the atmosphere of days gone by and I think we managed to keep something of the past in the old house, in spite of additions and alterations which were necessary for a large and later extended family.
The first thing we needed was a kitchen bench, which was made by Hein. The only equipment for cooking and washing up was the old woodstove and a tap, no sink and no drainage. Hein had to crawl underneath the house to dig out space for the pipe to drain the water. We had a little bathroom with an old enamel bath and a flush toilet so I didn’t need to worry about Maggy disappearing down the well.
The water supply, however, was limited and we had to rely on rainwater from the roof that was collected in two drums which was too small a supply for our family. At the end of the garden there was a small creek running down to the paddocks and later, when Kees and the boys had built a washhouse with a tank on the roof, the water from the creek was pumped up by a hand pump, the boys taking turns in pumping up the water for ten minutes before they went to school. But when during the summer months the creek ran dry, we were short of water again and a well had to be dug. A water diviner assured us that there was good water on the flat at the south side °f the house, and Kees and the boys started to dig – and dig – and dig, weekend after weekend. The muddy clay was hoisted in buckets and after weeks of digging the water came up slowly and was received with a loud HURRAY! and a glass of beer shared among the diggers and myself on the back porch.
When the hand pump was replaced by an electric one, the water problem was solved, but it took us years to come to a satisfactory solution. We even got a shower in the newly-built washhouse and as it was all done by unskilled labour, it was in the style of the old house.
The old Post Office that had been attached more or less as an appendage to the house was also improved and with a new and bigger window it became a warm and cosy bedroom for Will and Lou. The large bedroom was shared by Hein and Jan until Hein went to Nelson College and stayed with one of the teachers and his wife from Monday till Friday. Maggy slept with us in a room that was twice the size of the so-called large bedroom. It was a dark and cold room in the winter but very peaceful in the summer protected from too much sunlight by the back porch. The sun porch was ideal for an afternoon snooze, because I could not hear any knock at the door. In the summer, when there were too many people in the house, I could disappear somewhere among the bushes and have my half-hour siesta where nobody could find me.
The language barrier was hardest, for Hein as he had to start High School when we arrived in New Zealand. Staying with an English-speaking family of a teacher at Nelson College was a great help to Hein and he managed to. j get his School Certificate the second time he sat it and f his U. E. at the end of the following year by sitting it. It was good that he iived at home that year because he| was a great help to Kees with the many jobs to be done on| the old house and in the garden.
Each of the boys had their own place in the weekly routine that slowly emerged during those years. Walter, who had gone back to Foote’s dairy farm after his year away in Palmerston North with the Gerritsens, was the innovator of new plans. One of them was to raise hens from day-old chickens. There was a tiny porch next to the sitting room with a door opening into the room which must have been the original entrance to the house. This small porch was ideal to house a hundred chickens with a special electric light for heating and a run added where they had enough space to walk around. Walter had tried it out at Noel Foote’s place, shifting the hens when they grew bigger into a mobile run, which we could do later, on the flat part of our two acres. But we thought it would be better to sell them before that time. Calculations were worked out on paper and it seemed a possible and profitable project.
All went well until the last week. We already had a buyer for the fowls and transport had been arranged. During that week Jan was nearly killed by plugging in the light with wet hands and it was sheer luck that a Dutch friend, Go de Leur, who was visiting us and who was a trained nurse, knew how to treat him for shock, so that he came through all right, but it was touch and go. Then the chickens got a disease which killed them one after the other so that there were only six left on the day they were to be transported! So they stayed with us to produce some eggs at a later date.
Jan had another accident, which cost him the sight of one eye. It happened after Kees received a slasher for his birthday from the family as a present. He had warned Jan, who was very keen to cut some gorse, to wait until we had come back from a one night stay in a guest house in Takaka. This was a special outing for us both organised by Chris Damen, a young Dutch friend, who was in Takaka at that time. But Jan couldn’t resist the temptation and secretly hacked away at a (?)gorsfe bush in the back of the garden.
Shortly before we had to catch the bus I found Jan in the sunporch with one hand over his right eye in agony as gorse had pricked his eye. As soon as he saw me he assured me that it was already getting better and as I couldn’t see any damage done, I believed him and we went off to Takaka. When we came home the next day he told us that he couldn’t see anything with his right eye and I took him into the eye specialist in Nelson, who sent him immediately to Wellington by plane, but it was too late. The only assurance we got was that if he lost the sight of his other eye the damaged one could function fully with a contact lens, but at that time it was not possible to make the two eyes coordinate even with a contact lens in the damaged one.
When I came home from Nelson after I had put Jan on the plane to Wellington where he would be received by Dutch friends, there was a plate with scones waiting on the kitchen table with a note of sympathy from the headmaster ’s wife, Mrs Irvine.
Shortly after this accident, Opa Kolff wrote to us that a Dutch eye specialist, who was attending a conference in Australia, was also visiting New Zealand. Opa suggested that we should contact him to find out if anything more could be done to recover the sight in Jan’s eye. The letter we received back from the eye specialist was very sympathetic, but he wrote that what he had seen of medical care in New Zealand convinced him that he could not do anything more than had been offered to us. “I would like to help you”, he wrote, “even if it was only because a Doctor Kolff brought me into this world”.
To come back to the hens – Jan carried on looking after them for many years, organising new stock and keeping a detailed diary of the egg production as well as the costs, working out the yearly gain which was approximately (?)i 5 a year. We also bought another cow when we moved to Lower Moutere. The old one had had to be sold when we left Mariri as there was no grazing ground at Kina, but in the Moutere there was some land next to our place where the cow could stay until that part became school property and the cow was replaced by a goat called Annelie. She produced three kids not long after she had arrived and lots of goat milk.
The next time Annelie had to be served, her male partner arrived by truck from Riwaka. It gave me the shivers when this ‘enormous creature was unloaded and approached me aggressively, yellow teeth poking out at the side of its mouth, depending on me to take him to Annelie. “Don’t forget it needs a bath before you take it to your goat, Mrs Kolff”, the owner called out before driving away. I didn’t think it was a joke as the owner looked very serious and belonged to the Brethren sect, but Leentje who lived with us at that time and who had experience with goats from the time her family had lived in South Africa, helped me to bring the buck (unwashed) to Annelie. Happily two female kids resulted from the encounter.
I’ll never forget Jan’s farewell to Annelie when he left home to go to Varsity. “Good-bye Annelie”, his deep voice called out as he walked along the main road early in the morning, ‘hitching’ to Christchurch, “Goodbye”, and Annelie, standing on a tree trunk, answered in her way with a slight melancholy bleat as if she knew he was going away.
Will did mostly mechanical jobs like the fixing of the water pump. I am not a mechanical person myself, and I can’t give any details, but I remember that he was very thorough and that everything was in capable hands when Will took it on and “everything is in capable hands” became a family saying. He took his time over what he was doing and was not easily distracted but when he was breathing in a certain way, we knew that we had to leave him alone.
Lou was the home-maker, who wanted the place to look tidy, mowing the lawns, emptying the rubbish bin and storing the firewood neatly. Kees often had a struggle with Lou, who wanted to organise the jobs himself without consulting Kees first. Sometimes a tree was cut down that Kees didn’t want to be removed, or new gravel put on the drive where it should not have been. There were heated arguments as a result, Lou defending himself in his high-pitched voice.
Maggy and I moved together in this male dominated household. Not long after we had shifted to the Moutere the de Leurs arrived in the area. They had two children Anneke who was Maggy’s age and a younger boy called Banco. Maggy and Anneke got on very well together and so did Margo de Leur and I, and we shared many “cuppas” while the children played together. We had a lot in common with the De Leurs as they had lived in Indonesia after the war and migrated directly from there to New Zealand. For the time being they stayed on an orchard looking for a place where they could put down their roots but eventually they shifted to Kaikoura and thence to Christchurch.
Although for us the housing problem had been solved, Kees had a hard struggle to find permanent work. He managed to get work at Bloxham’s orchard where the Buutvelds also had moved to and where their third daughter, Harriet, was born. But when the orchard changed hands the Buutvelds moved to Edwards Road, where Dolf found temporary work on another orchard and Kees also had to look for another job.
During the first six years we lived in New Zealand, Kees went from one job to another. I have always admired his perseverance in ringing around to find out where labour was needed. When it was raining he was without work and without pay for that day. It was a kind of nightmare when the raindrops splashed on the iron roof in the early morning because that meant no work that day.
For three months he managed to get work in the Murchison area where ground had to be cleared to erect concrete poles for the electricity. He came home for the weekends if he could arrange transport, and later when Walter had bought a small truck, a 1928 Ford, which he sold to Kees, he started selling products for Watkins.
Early in the mornings he took his two suit-cases filled with toothpastes, soaps, special ointments, etc. and travelled around in the Nelson and Takaka area. The last play I saw in Holland before we left for New Zealand was “The Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, and when Kees walked over to the truck with a suit-case in each hand, he always reminded me of the last scene in that play. He liked the job as he loved driving around by himself, putting the car out of gear when going downhill to save petrol. When he went to the Takaka area he stayed with Dutch friends and carried on over to Collingwood going from one farmhouse to the next trying to sell the not over popular items. They became less and less in demand as people got their own cars and the local shops provided a wider choice of articles than Kees had in his suitcases.
In the beginning, the selling went quite well and it was exciting to see the truck drive up the road in the evening and Kees put the canvas money bag on the kitchen table to be emptied after we had finished the meal, and the money was counted by eager fingers. But more and more the canvas money bag stayed in the truck as there was not enough cash to be counted.
Finally, Kees gave up his job as a salesman and went to Christchurch where he got an office job with Andrews and Beaven, boarding with the de Leurs. As this job looked promising, we had to think of moving as a family to Christchurch and a sign “HOUSE FOR SALE” was put up at the main road. As many new houses had been built over the last couple of years the old houses were no longer in demand and when we had not sold the place after Kees had been in Christchurch ten months we decided that he would come back, work or not, as it was not goodn either for him nor the family to be separated any longer.
When I told the children that Kees was coming back and that we would be staying in the Moutere, Lou got the axe out of the shed and raced down on his bike to take down the roadside sign “House for Sale”, fearful that a buyer might turn up at the last moment! It was also Lou who said to me: “When I walk up the path the house smiles at me with the windows of the sunporch”. Is it surprising that Lou became a valuer of properties?
After Kees had come back from Christchurch, he worked at Park Davis, a fruit and produce auctioneering company in Nelson. This time he was offered accommodation by another Dutch friend, Rose Jaray. Rose and her mother, Mrs Vies, who were of Jewish origin, had arrived in New Zealand long before the Second World War. She was then married to a Dutch architect, Mr Zwartz. After he died, Rose married Walter Jaray, who also died. When we met each other Rose and her five children lived in Nelson.
Her house has always been open to us and I have many happy memories of spending a day in Nelson with Rose. It was so good that Kees could stay with her from Monday to Friday and that he could come home for the weekends, although it was still only a temporary solution.
One afternoon Norm Cole from Riverside Community walked in and asked me if Kees would be interested in becoming a permanent orchard worker at Riverside. This did not mean that Kees would have to become a member of Community. Riverside could also promise Kees work until his retirement when he reached 68 and we would have been in the country for twenty years, and thus eligible for N. Z. superannuation. It was so good that the Community did not offer us this opportunity only to help us. They also needed outside labour, but the assurance that they guaranteed Kees permanent work until he was 68 was a tremendous relief.
When we moved into the old house in Lower Moutere in 1952, we were only half a mile away from the Riverside Community so we could be called neighbours. Kees worked for them on and off and Jan, too, often on a Saturday or during the holidays. We also got to know them better through the Methodist church. The church services were held in an old hall close to where we lived and where the younger children also attended Sunday School. Early on Sunday mornings, Hubert Holdaway (the founder of Riverside) hiked along the main road singing hymns while on his way to the hall to prepare the Sunday School lessons. Through the contact in the church I got to know the Riverside women better and often went to see Joy Cole and Marge Brown and sometimes Nancy Willetts and Hannah Gamlen popped into our place.
It was at one of the Sunday morning services at the hall that I was introduced to a newcomer at Riverside, Magda Davies, who had migrated from England with her two children, Charles and Linnea. Later when I got to know Magda better I learned more about her background and the difficult years she had had during the war and the time after the war when she lived with her husband in Czechoslovakia and from whence they had had to flee when the communists invaded that country. Back in England she and her husband were divorced and Magda migrated to New Zealand.
Gradually and in bits and pieces we got to know the history of Riverside and of the people living there. Hubert Holdaway had been in the First World War and after he came back he decided – never again. He didn’t make that pledge because of his personal sufferings, but because of the things mankind did to each other in war and also it was against Christ’s teachings. After Hubert and Marion were married and Hubert inherited an orchard, they started a Christian Pacifist community and called it Riverside Community. That was in 1939.
When World War Two started, Hubert was over forty and; not eligible for military service. He and Marion carried on with a few women, some of whose husbands were in detention camps. Dave Sylvester, who had spent the war years in a detention camp,was the only male from that period we got to know. Joy and Merle, who would later marry Norm Cole and Bub Hyland, worked for Riverside as volunteers during the war years. Nancy and Jack Willetts got married while Jack was in the detention camp and joined Riverside after the war as did Jan and Arch Barrington and Marge and Merv Brown. Jean and Chris Palmer arrived more or less at the same time as we did when we moved to the Moutere in 1952.
By that time, Riverside had survived for thirteen years and these had been years of hard struggle. They had bought more land on the other side of the main road from where they had started on Holdaway’s orchard. Most of this was in scrub and the only house on it was owned by an old lady, Mrs Wise, who lived there until she died and then the house became Riverside’s. There was also a tiny cottage on the other side of the river where the Cole family lived with their two, and later three, children, and there was an extended bach next to where the vegetable garden now is where John and Hannah Gamlen and their two children stayed.
At the very beginning, accommodation had been even much more primitive than when we got to know the Community but also working the land had to start at grassroot level with more and more land to be broken in. It was a great advantage that they had the orchard to begin with and that Hubert was an experienced orchardist.
After the first few years when the internal structure of the Community had been established, the group became a registered company and then a Religious Charitable Trust, which in this case meant that if the Community should collapse, it would be taken over by the National Council of Churches. It also meant that, as with any other charitable trust, it did not pay income tax, but Riverside has always been generous in giving donations to charity.
Each member received a weekly allowance for eight hours work per day plus free accommodation, electricity, telephone, milk, meat, fruit etc. as well as free medical and dental care.
The two cars then available were used for free transport to Motueka for shopping trips or to Nelson when they were used for church or educational purposes. If the cars were used for personal trips the money paid for mileage was minimal.
The houses, which were the responsibility of the whole group, were maintained by Riversiders and insured by the Community Trust. The people who lived in the houses were responsible for the interior maintenance, although help was provided with wallpapering and painting or renewing floor coverings. When the owners left the Community or died while still living there, the house would remain Community property, there was no right of inheritance for the next generation.
Today, 1984, twenty houses are occupied by families with children, couples and single people including those over sixty, and they all live from the income provided by 50O acres, the main part of which is used for dairy farming and fruit growing. Although working opportunities are offered to people with different skills, Riverside is first of all an agricultural and horticultural community.
During the first six years of our life in New Zealand we often considered applying for membership which would have started with six months probationary membership and that period could have been extended to at least one year. Looking back now, I think our main reservation was that taking two big steps in a short space of time would have been asking too much of ourselves and the rest of the family. Immigration by itself had to be worked out within the family before we could make another commitments which would include certain regulations we were not will-f ing to accept.
The use of alcohol was forbidden at Riverside at that time. We were used to drinking a glass of beer occasionally and mulled wine played an important part in our New Year’s celebration. We felt that to share a drink with teenage boys would help them to find their own way in handling alcohol later in life, although it had never been a serious matter for consideration, just part of our way of living. For Kees it was also very hard to think of giving up his independence as far as the car was concerned. To have the old model A meant for him more than just transport for every-day living. It offered him the possibility of exploring which he did to the full together with the five boys. Most of the outings were shared with Maggy and me when we went camping to Totara-nui during the summer holidays. During the weekends we always tried to get away from the jobs around the place to go for a quick swim or a walk during the winter months and later the car was needed when walks extended into tramps.
When Kees’s father died and we inherited one-fifth of the Kolff estate, it was even harder for both of us to consider membership at Riverside as the legacy meant we could pay off the remaining mortgage on the house and it became entirely our own. Eventually we could buy another car, a 1962 Vanguard, in which I learned to drive when I was 56 and got my driver’s licence.
The attraction of becoming a member of Riverside was stronger for me than for Kees because it meant SECURITY -even though by this time we had our own house. The struggle for permanent work which we had had right at the beginning of our relationship in Holland because of the depression years and later because of the war, with a break of five years in Indonesia, had been “a burden for too long. To have a roof over your head and a daily income earned by taking part in the work process of the society you live in are two essential rights for every human being.
A few years ago when we were interviewed by a lecturer from Canterbury University who was writing a thesis about Riverside Community, I heard him muttering while looking over the information about the Kolff family in New Zealand – “displaced persons”. What he was reading from I do not know, but it was a strange feeling to have that label put upon us, and yet that was what we had been from the depression years until that afternoon when Norm Cole asked Kees to work for Riverside.
For Kees it had been very hard to get rid of that feeling of being a displaced person, although he would not have expressed it in those words then. But he had always felt that he was not accepted, but merely tolerated in the community, and it has been difficult for the employer, whoever he was, to work with someone who had become frustrated through circumstances which were worldwide . Many others shared Kees’s problems and each had to solve them in their own way. Merv Brown, who was a member of Riverside until 197O and who was the work-organiser, was a great help in understanding how Kees felt!
By mentioning before that we were interviewed by someone who wrote a thesis about Riverside, I give the impression that we joined the Community after all, but this is not so. For fourteen years Kees worked for Riverside while we lived in the old house beyond the Lower Moutere school until 197O when Kees was able to retire with a pension and Riverside offered us the opportunity to move into one of their newly-built pensioner flats next to Magda Davies.
A few years ago when people from Riverside appeared 5 on T. V. , Norm Cole answered when he was asked why he had | joined the Community – “Because that’s the way of living I wanted and still do”. And for me, that is the right answer. But had WE joined, for me the reasons would have been because I wanted security for us and for our children, I wanted to belong, I wanted to be accepted. I therefore feel that we did the right thing to sort out our lives by ourselves with the support and friendship of Riverside Community, but not as members of the Community.
Looking at our photo albums it seems as if we spent most of our weekends at the beaches, but much energy was also put into improving the house and the surrounding two acres. A major change was the cutting down of the pine trees which, growing so close to the house, had become a fire hazard. It was a pity they had to go as they had offered so much excitement to Will and Lou who had taken the place of the hens in building tree huts where the hens used to perch during the night. But the view from the back porch became much more open and we could see Mt. Arthur and Crusader and Brown Acres right in front of us.
The felling job was done by Baigents who paid us £ 3OO and left the clearing-up to us. With some of the money we bought a secondhand piano for £75 and from then on the piano was practised before breakfast and after school and even I became a pupil of the local music teacher, Mrs Light, for two years.
On the “flat” we had our vegetable garden which was Kees’s first priority and he achieved good results. One year we had planted a thousand cape gooseberry plants to make a bit of money but a night frost killed them the night after they had been planted, and after that we kept our efforts to “small is beautiful” although Schumacher’s book had not then been published.
We also used that flat part of the property for our summer celebrations. Our first St Nicholas Day, December 5, was celebrated around a bonfire and it was very impressive to see Saint Nicholas approaching through the pine trees, followed by Black Peter (Hein), who carried the bag with presents. Ruud Roborgh, who was a patriarchal figure, personified the old “Saint” so well that it felt like being back in Holland and even back in time.
New Year’s Eve was also shared with many Dutch and later also New Zealand friends, and year after year on December 31st the bonfire was lit and “oliebollen” fried in hot oil and Opa Kolffs wine kettle served the crowd and never seemed to be empty. The recipe was often scribbled on a piece of cardboard and passed on to more than one of the visitors. It read:One bottle red wine, one bottle water, ten cloves stuck in a lemon, half stick of cinnamon, 😯 grams of sugar. Let simmer for as long as possible, but do not boil, and see that the lid of the enamel container fits well. If you use a wine kettle, put a piece of paper or cottonwool in the spout. You should not smell the wine before you put it into the glasses and put a teaspoon in the glass before you fill it up so that the glass won’t crack.
For the first years we carried on celebrating St Nicholas with small presents wrapped as a “surprise” and with rhymes always signed by “Saint Nicholas”. We didn’t give each other presents at Christmas as we weren’t used to it, but we always had the Christmas tree with candles, which were sent out from Holland, and we sang Dutch Christmas carols. However, over the years we changed to the New Zealand way of celebrating on December 25th so that the children could share their experiences with the children at school and St Nicholas disappeared from the scene.
A great event was our first camping trip to Totaranui when we were the owners of the model A Ford, which had a hood built over the back. It was quite scary to sit in the back packed with gear and children being tossed from one side to the other while driving along the last part of the road to Totaranui and not being able to look around. We felt completely at the mercy of Kees, Walter and Hein, who were occupying the front seats.
The Old Ford Truck that took us everywhere and being unloaded at Totaranui
As the road was very narrow and winding and going up hill, it was not surprising that we banged into another car coming from the opposite side, although it was the only car we met all along the road. As we were both driving extremely carefully it was a gentle “bang” and the model A didn’t have any damage and stood there proudly puffing away, but the modern car had some severe damage in the front, and while we talked to the passengers of the other car, one of them, an elderly lady, fainted without warning and nearly disappeared into the gully at the side of the road. As nobody was at fault we carried on after carefully manoeuvering the vehicles to go each in the opposite direction.
There were two other families camping at Totaranui at that time. One of them shared the fish they had caught with us. I think their name was Jesperson. Years later when the number of campers had extended to several hundreds they ran a small shop at Totaranui during the summer holidays. But that first summer we shared the beach with just two other families and the many sandflies which have always inhabited Totaranui and still do.
After the experiences I had had in packing apples, first at Mariri and later at Kina, I was not very keen to do it again, but when Kees worked for Mr Bloxham during the apple season and Mr Bloxham needed another packer, I took it on and worked fulltime from 8 to 5 while Anneke Buutveld looked after Maggy.
Women were still paid less than men and I have often wondered if it was worth the effort as the housekeeping costs were higher than when I stayed at home and put my time and energy into looking after home and family. These were not yet the days of take-aways, but I could not make the most of the food available when working, and as far as clothing was concerned, although I was not a good sewer, I had always managed to repair the clothes and the household linen regularly for our large family. But while working in the apples, the pile on the trunk in our big bedroom was growing and I never caught up with it until years later when my sister Hans and her husband Pirn stayed with us for half a year and they both helped us to catch up with the many things left undone.
Dolf Buutveld also worked for Mr Bloxham and the family was housed in a small cottage next to the packing shed. All the houses or baches along School Road going up the hill and running through the orchards were occupied by Dutch immigrants: the Doyers, the Buutvelds, the Vriends and the Heringas while the de Leurs stayed for a few months in a bach at Riverside and all were working for orchardists.
As we were the only ones who had a permanent house, and a large one at that, we were more or less the central point, and on Friday evenings when everybody came home from late shopping, many “cuppas” were shared and future plans were worked out on paper, often followed by hard work the next day. We thought we would try to start some enterprise on the flat area of our two acres or begin making toys in our big shed to be sold later, but none of the plans succeeded.
Most of our Dutch immigrant friends moved away from the Lower Moutere area except Bill and Lydia Vriend, who bought an orchard, and Dolf and Anneke Buutveld who bought a small holding in the Ruby Bay area where they planted boysenberries. They had a hard struggle as Dolf had to earn a living away from the farm and Anneke had to help with the boysenberries. She gave it her full attention and the children, when they grew older, also helped during the school holidays. Years later, Anneke went back to teaching which had been her real career, and when Dolf had a fulltime job at the Electric Power Board in Richmond, they decided to sell the place. This was particularly hard for Dolf and he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 56. Anneke and the children moved to Richmond and she remained teaching at Broadgreen Intermediate school until she was 65.
I have also worked for two seasons in the tobacco, handing tobacco leaves to the person at the grader. I disliked that job intensely as I had little contact with the women working there. Most of them were much younger and the older ones had known each other from childhood and were happy sharing with each other stories of family weddings, the birth of a new grandchild or exchanging recipes.
But what really shocked me were the appalling conditions for the children, who spent long dreary days in the tobacco shed while their mothers graded the leaves. It was not only that the sheds were often cold, dusty and draughty but there was nowhere for them to play. Everything was concentrated on that wretched tobacco and the children had to fit in whether they liked it or not. The babies were better off in their prams where they were warm and kept quiet with a bottle as soon as they started to cry. Some of the older children came to the sheds after school was finished and hung around and were told not to be a nuisance. There was also the constant danger of children being caught in the belt of the grader and other hazards for little ones staying the whole day in a place which was no more than a working place for the mothers. After two serious accidents in the area, a play centre scheme for children was discussed and came into being more or less at the end of the tobacco boom, when most tobacco was replaced by Kiwifruit.
I have also cleaned the Lower Moutere hall once a week when the Saturday evening parties were over. Kees and I shared the job and the boys sometimes helped too. We got tl for cleaning the hall which was not too bad. What I learned during these cleaning sessions was how little respect people have for a building they use and none of them gives a thought for the cleaners moving in the next morning to scrape off the chewing gum spat out on the floor and trodden on by dancing feet or how unpleasant it is to clean up the mess in the toilets after people have been sick because of too much drinking.
It was during these cleaning sessions that I sometimes thought of the evenings in the club in Djember, Indonesia, where I was one of the group of people enjoying themselves. I had sometimes noticed the look of disgust on the faces of the Javanese “Djonges” or “Boys” who were the servants of the “Blandas” (whites), moving around with great dignity in their spotless sarongs and “kabajas” (jackets) . They too had to tidy up the mess after we had left. I can’t say it was a mess every Saturday evening, but special festivities left unpleasant consequences for the cleaners and that was the same in the club in Djember as it was in the Hall in Lower Moutere.
During the years in which I tried to earn a bit of extra money I have understood more clearly how necessary it is for housewives and mothers to have their own income so that they can concentrate on the job which I would call a profession. The child allowance was and still is a financial help, but it is not a recognition of the work done by the women at home.
If I could have had ’that recognition in the form of a salary, I would not have tried to prove myself by trying to find work outside the home. I have seen that urge in other women, immigrants as well as established New Zealanders, often encouraged by their husbands, not only because of the financial contribution they could bring in, but also because a paid job was a real job, while their job at home was what they were expected to do. It did not count.
When I thought of the wide range of subjects we were taught at the C. C. E. College when dealing with the normal development of the child, I became more and more aware of the skill and insight needed to bring up children. And later when we passed on what we had learned to other women of all ages and from all social levels, I realised that for parenting you need training. Maybe some women have an inborn feeling for the job, but you will find the same with people who want to enter any trade or profession. They also need training.
As Syd Strong underlined the words in the Tui Cookery book she gave me before we moved to Kina – FEW WOMEN ARE BORN COOKS – and added “the whole story”, I would underline in my story – FEW WOMEN ARE BORN MOTHERS. Often the potential is there, but without recognising that skill is needed to fulfil the most important task in life, that potential can remain dormant. I think it is a social crime that we let young girls, as well as older women, take on the task of motherhood without’training, nor do we give them the status that such a job demands by paying them a salary.
I don’t think women should be pushed back into the role of motherhood as it has been understood, but the opposite – the role of the mother and of the father should be brought forward in a realistic way without the unrealistic and sentimental approach we have put on it for so long. We should look at it from many different angles and I feel that opportunities would open up that would surprise us, especially today when we need to create more jobs, although the need for jobs should not be why we begin to recognise parenthood as a profession; it is a necessity in the evolution of today’s society. Where would the money come from?Our parents never dreamed of the social services we receive today and if they did they would have asked the same question.
When Opa Kolff died at the age of 92 and we inherited one-fifth of his estate, we considered buying an orchard, but we would have needed a mortgage and we felt we were too old to take on that responsibility. Also, because we didn’t have enough experience we would have had to rely on the help of the boys who were in their developing years and we felt they should be free to choose the direction in which they wanted to go.
With the extra money we received from Opa, we could continue to live our rather simple life style without the feeling of having nothing behind us. There was a resource to fall back on if we needed it, and we used it when it was really necessary, but tried to live on Kees’s weekly earnings. The boys from a young age had taken responsibility for their own spending and from standard six on they got their weekly child allowance which had to cover all their expenses, including their clothes.
Will and Lou earned some extra money by mowing the Lower Moutere school grounds and Jan worked for Riverside during the holidays and over the weekend. Hein became completely independent when he got his U. E. and went to training college, and Walter, who had looked after himself more or less from the beginning, started an apprenticeship at the age of 19.It was then already difficult to be accepted as an apprentice at an older age and without School Certificate, but with the help of the headmaster, Mr Miller, he was accepted and got his A grade.
To give the boys their child allowance and let them be responsible for, their own spending, which included entertainment, clothing and later the use of the car for which they paid so much for mileage, has been a worthwhile experiment. It was an agreement that worked out well during these first years in New Zealand, which coincided with the boys moving into adolescence, not only in a financial way but also creating a down-to-earth common meeting ground between us.
I remember Will standing in front of me with his underpants in his hands asking: “What do you think, can they still be mended or do I have to buy new ones?”It was a serious matter and I had to give my consent as he depended on me for the mending and paid me back by fixing my bike or bringing the wood in. I don’t mean that mending his underpants depended on bartering for something specific, but that was all included in our daily living programme.
I remember Lou asking my opinion on two different films as he could only afford to go to one so he had to borrow the money if he wanted to go to the other one. Kees urged the boys to write down their expenses and to do as he did – to divide the whole lot into bits and pieces and put them in small envelopes with what the money was for written on the outside. Money for the family kitty was put into a cigarette tin, which I had bought for Kees on board the “Sibajak” on our way to New Zealand and which is still in daily use after thirty-four years. Our butcher, who called in twice a week, commented on that tin after he had served us for several years: “I have never seen that tin empty”, to which I replied: “That has been possible with your help”. So often he put a piece of liver on the meat-plate without charging, and I don’t think he ever asked me the full amount for an ox tongue, the sort of meat we enjoyed most of all and which went such a long way.
The fact that the boys had to pay for the use of the car was a helpful reminder to them that they had to plan for their outings beforehand and were also responsible for the well-being of the model A and later the Vanguard. Another rule was that if they went out in the evening, they had to poke their heads around our bedroom door when they came home and say “back home” , which was often very late at night and I must admit that I often did not drop off to sleep until I heard the car drive up the path, followed by the quick “home” around the bedroom door and then the passage light switched off.
I am aware that I have hardly mentioned Maggy in this male-orientated circus. She certainly did not play the clown as Maggy has never accepted any role put upon her. From babyhood she had a determined and sometimes pigheaded streak in her that made her a person in her own right, and she was not overwhelmed by the noise that started early in the morning with footsteps running through the passage and across the back porch to the bathroom with the following: “Hurry up, it’s my turn!” while someone was noisily setting the breakfast table in the kitchen and then the constant sound of the bread bin being opened and closed while lunches were made.
At 8. 30 when all was quiet, Maggy and I started on our programme of cleaning the kitchen and doing the washing. The breakfast dishes were done by the boys before they left for school if they had time and they also made their own beds. All this sounds well organised and most of the time it worked out, but not always.
I can’t remember that we had any problems with Maggy during these first years in spite of the difficult start she had and with the many moves we had to make since she was born. She was rather shy, but that was not so ‘ noticeable as she lived in a house where people were a ways coming and going and in which she had found her place and stood her ground.
But later when she went to school she became awaire<m that she was different from the other children because of her Dutch background, made more obvious by the way she was dressed. One of my old friends in Holland sent me. clothes that her girls half grown out of which were still in perfect order. But they were different from the clothes the children in her class were wearing and she was often teased because of the pinafore dresses and the “funny” shoes she had on, not forgetting the way I did her hair with a little ribbon on each side. She did not make friends and always came home for lunch. “I hated school”, she told me later, “and High School was even worse”.
Although I was aware that she was not happy at school there was little I could do about it. She was also the first girl I had to bring up and as far as clothing was concerned, I never had had many clues for myself. It was a good thing that Maggy had friends among the Dutch people who lived in the neighbourhood.
Helen Buutveld was one of them and later Anneke de Leur became a close friend and when Jan and Anneke Drupsteen (Loggers) and their three children migrated from Indonesia to New Zealand in I960 and lived with us for half a year, Maggy became close friends with Otto.
But all that happened after Inez was born when Maggy, was four years old. When I realised I was pregnant, I went to see Dr Thomson straight away as Ber Schmidt, my doctor in Holland had told me that I should not have another baby after the severe kidney trouble I had when pregnant with Maggy. Dr Thomson, who was a laconic person, assured me that he would keep an extra careful eye on me and that I need not worry. He advised me not to put on too much weight and when I told him that I sometimes craved for sweet stuff during my pregnancy he said that I should eat dried fruit to compensate for sugar, and honey.
Ber Schmidt was really angry when he heard that I was expecting another baby and I appreciated his concern as he knew from the last experience how dangerous it could become. But I assured him in a letter that I would be very careful and that I was “in capable hands!”
What a difference it made to expect a child when you had your own roof over your head and we didn’t need to rely on the help of the family to pay the costs for the birth and the after care, which was in the hands of the Plunket Nurse and under social security.
Kees and the boys started to make the store room into an extra bedroom, which was small but could not have been in a better place as the morning sun streamed inside through the new window and the back of the kitchen stove chimney, built from bricks, also warmed the little room where the rattan cradle and the unmistakable Dutch “Baby-helping-table” were waiting for the arrival of number seven.
Every month I had my medical check-up and during the last month Dr Thomson wanted to see me weekly. All went well until the last urine test showed a slight poisoning in the kidney and Dr Thomson suggested that the membrane be ruptured so that the birth could take place a week earlier than the due date. Kees took me to the maternity hospital in Motueka during the morning of March 12 and left me in the hands of the nurses and the doctor as fathers in New Zealand were not yet involved in the birth of their children.
This last event was again totally different from the previous maternity births in Djember, East Java, where Walter and Hein were born and the next four home births in Holland.
The role of the doctor was much more remote from what I had been used to. Dr Thomson was more an onlooker who kept a watchful eye on what my body was doing by sitting next to the bench I was lying on and feeling with his hands the movements of the baby. Some painkiller was offered to me, but I didn’t need it as I had never found it necessary. I had to lie on my side and one of the nurses held up my leg which I found most uncomfortable and as soon as I was in that position the labour pains stopped, so I was told I could move onto my back and they then left the job to me as they didn’t seem familiar with that position.
One of the nurses, who was a nurse aide without qualifications, stayed close to me and that physical presence in the rather clinical atmosphere was a great comfort to me and I think also to the little one who was finding her way into the world.
Iny Hester was born at approximately 1 p. m. She was named after my two motherly friends in Indonesia: Iny Loggers and Hes Schuurman, and the name Inez, while being a telescoping of Iny and Hester, also came from a book called Kleine (little) Inez by Reinier van Genderen Stort, first printed in Holland in 1925 and still in print when we left for New Zealand in 1950. It was a classic at that time and has remained so.
How much I enjoyed those days in the maternity hospital. It felt like a private holiday in a first-class hotel, although the matron was slightly annoyed with me as I insisted on breast feeding Inez, which she thought was not good for a woman my age – 41. But an English nurse, who accompanied the matron on her daily morning visits gave me a wink and brought Inez over to me each feeding time and slowly the milk supply started to build up and I managed to feed this seventh child even better than I did the first one.
When Walter visited me for the first time and asked for my room, the nurse said, “Another one!” meaning another visitor. But Walter, who was slightly embarrassed that his mother had had yet another baby and thought the nurse referred to that, said “I can’t help it”.
The day after Inez was born we had a sudden cold snap with a low snowfall on the hills, but after that we had beautiful autumn weather and I thoroughly enjoyed the mornings sitting on the front porch of the maternity hospital looking out over the lawn with its shrubs and old trees which sheltered us from the passing traffic on the road beyond. From my bedroom I looked into the back garden with two enormous clothes lines, where dozens of nappies were hung to get dry before the sun went down. I was fascinated by the way the nurse put the nappies on the line and took them off later in the afternoon as quickly and efficiently as if a little machine moved her hands, and I thought of a saying I had heard shortly after we had arrived in New Zealand: “In the way a woman hangs out her washing you can see whether she is an efficient housewife or not”.
The change in feeding patterns must have started everywhere, not only in New Zealand, but also in Holland, because I received a letter from Opa Kolff who wrote: I hope you will not go back to the irregular feeding method. We have given all our energy to introduce regular feeding hours for the mother with no feeding during the night so that she can have her rest which she badly needs.
As I had grown up with this system, first when I became an aunt at the age of thirteen and spent most of my holidays with Hans and Pirn and their young family, and later in theory at the C. C. E. College followed up by three months practical work in a maternity home for solo mothers, and of course last but not least by breast feeding six children, by routine, I continued to stick to the six times feeding during the day with the last one left as late as possible, starting again between five and six the next morning. I would change their nappies when they started to cry during the night or put them on the other side, but I did not feed them, with the result that they settled down at approximately six weeks.
Inez certainly benefitted from the stable conditions she was born into. The safe old roof over our heads was such bliss that I have very happy memories of those first months of which we spent many hours – Maggy, Inez and I -on the back porch before the winter sun disappeared behind the hills and the others came home. The reality must have been slightly different because we still had a full house and it became even fuller as more friends started to share the cosiness of the old house and its two acres where, in the summer, tents were pitched to stretch sleeping accommodation.
It was quite a shock for Maggy to have to share her solo sisterhood with another creature and I think it would have been better for her if I had had Inez at home and could have shared her with Maggy from the beginning. Syd Strong’s sister, Connie Foster, came to stay with us to look after the family and especially after Maggy, but I don’t think that worked out very well for Maggy. Even during the peaceful winter months I mentioned. , Maggy found it difficult to accept the little intruder who took away a great deal of the attention she had received as the youngest child and the only girl in the family.
I had expected it to be difficult for Maggy in the same way as it had been for my brother Paul who was four when I came into the world, and my mother was forty-five. Although I was three years younger than my mother was, I knew, as she must have, that this was the last one, and although you don’t regret that the period of giving birth has come to an end, it means a definite farewell to that part of your life, so the birth of the last one has a special place.
Being the mother of these two little sisters I was aware of the problems facing Maggy as well as Inez, but I also saw the advantages of being able to share together the latter part of our family life, which would be so different from tha’t dominated by five boys. They had each other to work out things so that enjoyment as well as problem-solving could . come out into the open.
When Inez did not put on enough weight according to the Plunket nurse and she advised me to see Dr Thomson, he made a remark that quite amused me: “Here in New Zealand we are used to raising lambs, calves and pigs, and we are used to comparing their weight with that of babies”, he said. “You don’t need to worry. She is of a small build and will grow slowly”.
During the years we lived in the old house, the boys started to move out of the district. Walter went eventually to Christchurch where he finished his motor mechanic’s apprenticeship. Hein went to Christchurch Teachers’ Training College, and Jan went to University. Jan’s problem was “big expectations”. He had always been a keen learner and also a striver, with. the result that he finished High School as Dux and he also became head boy, which he disliked immensely as “you are put in a lonely position”, he told us.
As we were not used to the prefect system in Holland, it didn’t mean much to us that Jan became head boy, neither were we aware of the importance of getting prizes. I remember that I was shopping one afternoon when I should have been at the prize-giving in the Motueka High School where Jan received several prizes at the end of his first year.
Jan got his B. A. in economics in Christchurch and did his M. A. in Wellington, but in later years he threw it all in and chose a totally different way of life. Will also went to Training College in Christchurch, and after he had finished he went to University and got his B. Sc. in physics and Lou also joined the Christchurch clan and trained under a government scheme as a valuer.
This moving out of the house meant a double moving in during the summer holiday period, when the boys brought their friends to our place for accommodation while they all worked in the pea factory or thinned and picked apples. These were very busy months with irregular mealtimes as some of them worked on night shifts and although we enjoyed their company, Kees in particular, I was glad when they all trooped off again to their different destinies. If you want to know their names you can always look in the visitors’ book and the poems and drawings there illustrate their stay in the Moutere.
For me it has been difficult to find my way in the church in New Zealand and I have to emphasise “for me” as I came from a church background, and although I shifted away from the formal church from time to time, the need to be in contact with “the faith of my fathers” was very necessary.
The historical development of the church in Holland was based on the theology of Calvin and although there was a difference between the Nederduits-Hervormde kerk (Neather-German Reformed Church), in which I grew up and which was less orthodox than the Dutch Reformed Church, both had their roots in the teachings of Calvin.
Before we left Holland I was told by our minister that the Neather-German Reformed Church and the Presbyterian Church were most alike. The ecumenical movement was well on the way and we hoped that the differences could disappear, but the history that had created the differences could not be wiped out overnight and the movement continues.
When you shift from one culture to another you are searching for the parts you can share with the new community without losing your own identity. To let your children do the same while you yourself are feeling your way is difficult. The uncertainty makes you more careful and more protective because you want them to be accepted in the new society and you encourage them to fit in with often the opposite result. I am now grateful that our children have chosen their own way in the labyrinth of differences.
Kees and I have found our own way after years of searching. When we moved to the Moutere we went to the Methodist Church where the children went to Sunday School and Bible Class, which included going for tramps and attending Bible Class camps. The Sunday morning services were first held in an old hall. Later the Methodists built a new church at Riverside with a beautiful view of Mount Arthur and Brown Acres, but I have always thought it was a pity to have a big cross hanging on the window which impeded the view. A wooden cross standing at the side would have been more appropriate I thought, as though it was in contact with the earth.
For years Kees and I went to the Methodist church at Riverside and felt happy there and in tune with the people we met. The singing played an important part in the form of worship and the children who stayed with us during the first part of the service, to go later to their class-rooms with their teachers, had first priority in the congregation.
I often thought of my childhood when I stayed home with one of my sisters on the Sunday mornings when I had time to act out my own fantasies under the big dining table, which were often based on Old Testament stories, and later when I went by myself to a Youth Church where we had a special liturgy composed by and for our age group, and I wished we could let our children find their own way more as we would have done in Holland. Some of our children enjoyed Sunday School and others disapproved and would rather have stayed at home – as I had done – but I felt we could not allow that, because it would have meant closing off a great part of their social contact.
What I missed most in the services was the liturgy which was introduced by my father into the Protestant church in Holland in 1911, when he also published a little booklet called “Liturgie” (Dutch spelling). My brother-in-law, Adriaan Schuurman, the husband of my sister Willy, has also played an important role in the development of the liturgical movement in Holland, as he was a composer as well an organist.
The Methodist Church in the Moutere acknowledged the importance of social justice, and this was much appreciated by Kees and me and we felt our horizons widened through the different points of view expressed from the pulpit and always preached with reference to the New Testament teachings. But when these social issues came too much to the fore I felt that we were missing out on an essential part of our Christian worship which I would call “celebration”. There was also the danger of the lay preacher being, carried away by his particular hobbyhorse and not catering for the wider circle of the congregation, by which I mean the other people outside the Community, attending theV service.
I was not happy within myself over the criticisms I had as I felt very close to the people we met in the church and shared much of their outlook, but somehow I felt I was standing in the cold.
It still took a long time before I could acknowledge to myself that I was looking for a different form of worship. When Ormond Burton came to Riverside and led a communion service I felt this longing was partly answered in the way he celebrated the Eucharist, but when it raised a strong antagonistic feeling in a great part of the congregation, especially among the people of Riverside, I accepted a difference in outlook and I started to look in another direction by reading The Dutch Catechism, which was published in Holland in 1966 by the Catholic Bishops, and which my sister, Liesje, had sent to me.
Since I had met Anneke Buutveld, who was brought up a Catholic, Anneke and I had had endless talks about our faith and during the immigration years I often envied her, because moving to another country did not mean for her changing her way of worship. I also remember the two talks given by Ruud Roborgh, another Dutch immigrant, about Teilhard de Chardin. The talks were organised by the Motueka Council of Churches of which at that time Ruud was the chairperson. I read Teilhard’s “The Phenomenon of Man” on board ship when we were on our way to Holland in 1969.
I also remember a visit from the brothers from Taize to Riverside and when the Sisters from the Convent in Motueka joined us in some of the meetings, I had a childlike longing to belong to that part of the church which represented for me the Universal Church.
It came to the point where both Kees and I felt it was better to stop going to church for at least three months, but when we were still undecided after these months, I went to see Owen Jenkins, the Presbyterian Minister in Motueka. I think that already then the Presbyterian and Methodist churches were uniting and all the services were held in the Presbyterian church. Owen Jenkins’ advice was “Go to other congregations and see how you feel there. Have you been to the Catholic church?”, he asked me. “No, but I would like to”, I said. That was the beginning of another migration from the Protestant to the Catholic church in 1974.
Kees did not feel the urge as strongly as I did, and continued to go to the United church, but he did not feel happy with the change of services which he thought were too much of an entertainment for the children as well as for the adults, and eventually he gave up his membership although he did not feel happy about the decision.
Years later he started to come to mass with me and slowly he began to feel at home in the Catholic congregation and the last ten months of his life we received the Eucharist together.
I have come to an end of this last part, which I found the hardest to write, as I was not able to write in Dutch, and I feel that the picture I have given is not complete, but I cannot express more than I have done. There is also a whole area not covered which I feel I have to leave to the next generation as it comes too close to our extended family of today and has to wait to mature before becoming family history. The colourful photo that hangs above the dining table, taken at Easter 1981, when we all gathered at Riverside, tells more than many written pages, and so does the photocopy from the Nelson Evening Mail, March 9, 1984.
When the children found partners and the family tree expanded, it was like the beginning of a new era in which the Lowlands moved further away and the Hills became closer. This was particularly so for me when we sold the old house and moved into Riverside after Kees had retired at the age of 68. We lived in the Community for fourteen years, although not as members.
A year after Kees’ death I applied for probationary membership which lasted for one year and in March 1986 I became a full member of the Riverside Community. It was as if I had let my roots go down into the soil of the place I had known for 36 years.
It was a two-way feeling of belonging. Not only did I belong to the place, but the place belonged to me so that I had a right to be there, but also I had to take the consequences and the responsibilities of my commitment to the group that had accepted me as a full member.
A simple thing I had to learn was to say “we” instead of “they” when I talked about Riverside. The jump off the fence meant the opening of the gate to new and unexpected experiences, for which I am very grateful.