Pieter Aarsen

 

The following is an account of Pieter Aarsen's memories of the Battle of Arnhem and the months thereafter, as written in 1989 to his daughter's, Miriam and Sarah. My thanks to his nephew, Arny Vis, for the story, which is the copyright of Pieter Aarsen.

 

On September 1944, I was 5 years old. We lived at Heelsumseweg 33, Wolfheze, Province of Gelderland. Wolfheze is a small village located about 8 miles west of the Provincial Capital of Arnhem. The village is surrounded by woods, open fields, and farms... The people of Wolfheze were, for a living, mainly dependent on the Psychiatric Hospital in the village, and my father was a nurse there. Other people had jobs in Oosterbeek, the next town over, or in Arnhem, which was about 30 minutes by bicycle or 10 minutes by train. There were some stores, a bicycle shop, a barber and the train station... there was not a gas station; it was not needed because nobody had a car. If we had to travel any great distances, we would go by train.

 

My family at that time consisted of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters: Guusta, Cor, Hilda, Greta, Annie, myself and Henry... Also staying with us at the time were my father's parents, Opa and Opoe Aarsen. They had been with us for 2 years. Their home was in the town of IJmuiden, located not far from Amsterdam. For some crazy reason, the Germans had kicked them out of the house, so they needed a place to stay. Our place was considered safer for them as we lived inland, relatively far from the big cities. Boy they sure did not know what they were in for when they came to live with us. Also living with us was a 15 year old Jewish boy; his name was Karel (Charlies, in English). We still don't know where he was from, I think that his relatives had already been sent to the gas chambers by the time he came into our family. One morning, as my older sisters told me, they woke up, and there was Karel; he had appeared out of nowhere. When they asked my dad who he was, he told us that he was a distant cousin. I guess the Underground got hold of him, and tried to hide him at other people's houses but they refused. Actually you can't blame them too much, because the consequences for hiding a Jew in your house in those days was either being shot or if you were lucky, you ended up in a Concentration Camp. Karel blended in with our family, there were so many of us, that he more or less got lost in the crowd. I still wonder whether my parents even realised what the risk was for them to do this, but I guess they were so busy trying to keep us all fed and clothed, that they may not have thought about it much. Anyway, I think it is to their credit that they did this.

 

So our home, with 3 bedrooms and at attic housed our family, plus Opa and Opoe Aarsen and Karel (that's a total of 12 people)... To keep food on the table my dad grew a lot of vegetables in our garden, and my mother would can the veggies in those glass jars and put them in the cellar for the winter. We only had 1 stove in the kitchen where we did our cooking. However, when the coal for the stove became scarce or non-existent, my dad had to go out into the woods and cut trees down. He had to do that during the night, because the Germans had us on a curfew: everybody had to be in by 8 o'clock at night. He would go out with the neighbour in the middle of the night, cut the tree, bring it home, and then cut it up before morning, so there would be no evidence around the house. And then he would have to go to work the next day. That must have been tough.

 

We had just returned from Church and were sitting in the kitchen at Heelsumseweg 33, probably having "coffee time", when all of a sudden the planes came over real low, the bombs started falling from the sky, accompanied with a lot of shooting. Of course none of us was prepared for this, so we did not have a chance to dive into the cellar. We found cover the best we could under the table or under chairs. I remember that my dad was lying on top of me and that my mother was on top of my brother Hettie. My mother was screaming her head off, and Opoe Aarsen was praying out loud. I remember seeing fear in my dad's eyes and this was the first and last time that I saw him being afraid of anything, because usually he was not afraid of anything or anybody. I think he was more concerned about his family than himself... I don't know how long the bombing lasted, but I do remember that when it stopped we all went outside to assess the damage and to see which of the neighbours was still alive. Since my dad was a nurse he probably saw it as his duty to help where he could, and I still remember seeing him running down the street in the direction of the railroad station. I heard later that he rendered first aid to many people, but many of them died also; he could only do so much.

 

Why did [the] village have to be bombed? Well, our village also happened to have a German contingent of soldiers with Anti-Aircraft guns and other military hardware, and this stuff had to be knocked out first before the Para-Troopers would land. They did this by sending airplanes with bombs and big guns. They bombed the living daylights out of our village, regardless of the consequences for the civilian population, but that's what war is all about; sometimes these things just happen. Actually we were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

It did not take long for everybody to figure out what the objective was of this operation, namely to take Arnhem Bridge. We were then advised to leave our homes and get ourselves lost in the woods, because heavy fighting was expected between the British and the Germans for the rest of the day. Much of the fighting would take place in and around our village. We left our house, as did most of the other villagers. My mom told me later that I asked her if we could miss evening Church service that Sunday; we also had a service at 5:30 you see. Talk about getting your priorities right!

 

Anyway, the next thing I remember was that we were in a long dry ditch in the woods with just about the rest of the village. Just as we arrived a group of German SS soldiers came by. That was scary, because they were the enemy, but they left us alone. By now many thousands of Paratroopers had landed around our village and around the Arnhem area in general. I remember a little but of it, that it was kind of a pretty sight to see these guys come down and there were lots of planes too. Pretty soon we were joined by these Paratroopers and soon after that, the fighting and shooting started, because there were a lot of Germans in the woods too. The British were on top of the berm and were shooting like gangbusters, and we had to keep our heads down. In the middle of all this, and I still do not know why, I remember that [my sister] Guus had to go pee. Can you imagine that with all these soldiers and people around... Well, she and her girlfriend, (her name was Wekkie) did it right in the bottom of that ditch, my dad kept her in balance... Guus was at that time 16 years old; I'll bet she felt pretty embarrassed. The ditch by the way is located not far from a diary farm...

 

We stayed in the ditch until early morning when my dad considered it safe enough to leave and head for home. The shooting was still going on, but like a thunderstorm, it got farther away. So we got up and walked in the direction of home. I guess we must have been a bunch of easy targets for both friend and enemy, because we got right in the middle of the shooting again, shortly after we were on our way. My father, who had been in the army in World War I, had us fall on the ground as soon as the shooting started and we were not allowed to get up until he told us so. He did that by way of "Roll Call" something like this: Guus-yes, is Hettie (my youngest brother as he was called at that time) with you? yes, Cor-yes, Hilda-yes, is Piet with you-yes, Greta-yes, Karel-yes, Annie-yes, Opoe-yes. After "Roll Call" we could proceed. The reason my dad did it that way was to make sure that everybody was still alive. You probably missed my mother and Opa Aarsen in the roll call. Well let me, in my mother's words, tell you why this was the case: "Father and I had Opa Aarsen between us. He was stone deaf and did not know what was going on. Besides, he was not easy to get along with and he was also a bit senile. So every time father gave the order to hit the ground, father and I literally had to wrestle Opa to the ground, and he just did not want to cooperate. When we had him on the ground, he wanted to get up again, so father and I had to sit on top of him, and boy, was he mad!"

 

We made it home, somehow, and stayed for the next couple of days in the basement while the fighting continued. We got the mattress from upstairs and put them on top of the potatoes, which were stored in the basement for the winter. My father was, at that time at the hospital taking care of the patients. These patients were mentally retarded, and probably did not know half the time what was going on. By Tuesday night we were again advised, or told to leave the house, and spent another night in the woods since the fighting intensified between the British and the Germans. This time we stayed in a different ditch which was cold and wet. I don't remember much of this other than that some kid was crying all night, and as usual a lot of shooting was going on. The British soldiers were with us too, probably to ask us directions because they usually did not stay long. By then things were getting pretty tough for them, as they were meeting some unexpected tough resistance from the Germans. Also, this night came to an end, and early in the morning it was the same ritual again: pack up and leave.

 

When we arrived in our street, the Heelsumseweg, my dad thought that the village was still in the hands of the British. That was only partially true. However as we walked further down the street we saw that soldiers had dug themselves in alongside our street. Since it was quite dark, my dad did not distinguish right away whether it was friend or enemy, (maybe he forgot to bring his glasses along like I do sometimes), but anyway, he said in his best English to the soldier entrenched across from our house, "Good morning, how are you?" or something like that. The guy did not answer, and I still remember him saying: "They are Krauts".

 

It was our plan to go into the basement again, and wait and see what would happen next, but it did not work out that way. No sooner did we get into the house and the Germans were behind us and told us, in no uncertain terms to "get the heck out of the house, into the street", and that was the last time we were in our house: we would not return there until after the war, (about 10 months later). When we came outside, we saw that our next door neighbours, the Waringa family, were also there: they had 6 kids, all about the same age as ours. I am sure that the adults thought that we were all going to get shot, I don't remember anymore what I thought, but was probably as scared as anybody else.

 

What the German soldiers had us do next was line up the two families across the road and march in front of them while their guns were trained on us. The reason they did that was to flush out some British troops which were holed up on the grounds of the Hospital. Luckily enough the British chose not to challenge the situation and somehow we got rid of these German soldiers. My mom told us later that our neighbour, Mr Waringa, kept saying: "Those are SS troops, SS troops", and then my dad would say: "Shut up, keep on going and keep your mouth shut, or we will all get shot". The reason I mention here the German SS troops is, that they were the most feared unit of the Germany army. They were ruthless, merciless, would kill at the drop of a hat, were fierce fighters and would never surrender... No wonder my parents were so concerned!

 

We were still being followed by these SS troops, but got rid of them somehow on the grounds of the Hospital. We then ended up in one of the Pavillions; of course this pavillion was not equipped to accommodate 2 large families, so we ended up in the basement of the pavillion. The name of this building was "Vredelust", which in English means "Place of Peace". How ironic! For the next 10 days or so we stayed in that basement and slept on top of the coal. You see, this was actually the furnace room and they used coal to heat the place. Well it may sound exciting to have a large sleepover with your neighbours, but it sure was no picnic. There was no bathroom or running water, and the fighting just would not let up. I am sure that the adults thought many times that this was the end, and they must have been scared, but never showed it for the benefit of us kids. Mrs. Waringa said many times that if something would happen to us then we would all go to Heaven.

 

Whenever shooting and bombing was going on, there was of course a lot of noise. To overcome fear, the adults pretty soon had set up a certain ritual. Just about when the first bullet left a gun anywhere in our vicinity, somebody would say a prayer, and then we wound sing, mostly hymns from Church, and the louder the noise became, the louder we would sing. That must have been quite a choir down there in that basement. I wonder what the soldiers thought of all this. Just figure, there were 2 mothers who between them had 14 kids between the ages of 2 and 17, and then Opa and Opoe Aarsen. Both fathers were with the patients all this time and would visit us when they had a chance. These patients were all mentally retarded, did not know half the time what was going on, but were scared just like the rest of us. There were also quite a few Jewish people at the hospital, who were not mentally retarded, but pretended they were patients too, and actually got themselves "lost in the crowd". The Germans usually did not look in hospitals for Jews hiding there, and if they did, then the nurses would quickly hang a sign on a door "Contagious Disease" or something like that and that would keep them away.

 

Of course our stay was no picnic in that pavillion basement, and I don't remember what they did to keep us entertained, but maybe the fighting around us was entertainment enough. I have to tell you this episode though, and will tell it in my mother's words: "Well, Opa Aarsen did not feel good. Probably because we had spent a whole night in that wet ditch in the woods he had gotten a kidney infection, and could not get any treatment. So there he was, on top of the coal, moaning and groaning, and that was just terrible for you kids. So father and Mr. Waringa decided one day to take Opa out of the basement, away from us, and put him up with the wounded in the Hospital. So they put him on the balcony of the Hospital's Chapel. One day, Opoe and I went to visit him there. Well, as soon as we got there, the shooting started again, and of course Opoe and I, as soon as we could, ran back to all you kids, because Mrs. Waringa was there alone with all of you. Then, when the shooting had stopped finally, they found a piece of shrapnel this big [1 foot] in Opa's bed, and you know what else they found?: The Chapel's Bible in his bed. That Bible had gone through the air from the front of the Chapel all the way up to the balcony and landed in Opa's bed, and Opa did not have a scratch".

 

One day after we had been in "Vredelust" for a few days, my mother decided that we needed some clothes and food from the house, but the battle was still going on. The only way she could get through the battle zone, was by pretending that she was a Red Cross nurse. So she put on nurse's clothes, probably borrowed them from the nurses upstairs, put an armband on with a red cross painted on it and off she went to the house. At the last moment, she thought it was a good idea to take somebody along, and of all people that were there, she took Karel, the Jewish kid with her. Whether he volunteered or was simply told, I don't know, but the thing was, that if the Germans would have caught my mom with a Jew, they would have shot her on the spot. As it turned out, on the way she met both friend and enemy, got some clothes and food, and she and Karel made it back in one piece.

 

So much for the Battle as it took place around Wolfheze. The civilians that got killed were buried in a mass grave at the Hospital cemetery. The last time we visited there in 1987, the place was just about taken over by weeds, and that's a shame. I have told Mr. Janse my old neighbour about it and asked him to do something about that.

 

The next part I'll call "Evacuation", which meant to us that we had to leave Wolfheze completely, and I mean that everybody including the mental patients had to get away from that area. So we became refugees or what they call nowadays "Homeless" people. I am sure everybody has their own story to tell, but here is mine: From "Vredelust", we, with the Waringa family walked west in the direction of the town of Ede. That must have been about Sept. 27, but does not really matter. We walked on a road parallel to the Railroad line connecting the big cities of Utrecht and Arnhem, which in turn was a link to Germany. We were fortunate to have a wheelbarrel at our disposal, so whatever we possessed was on that. My older brother Cor or the Jewish kid Karel would drive it and I remember sitting on top of it when I got tired. My younger brother Hettie could sit on it too. We had not eaten much the previous couple of weeks, so we got tired easily I guess. The two mothers were of the opinion that all the women folk should wear something white on their heads. This way, friend or foe, would know that we had no harm in mind. You think that these guys in airplanes would see that? Anyway, the only things white that we just about available, was underwear, so my sisters had to wear underwear on their heads, and who knows, some of it may have been dirty, but who cared! I'll bet that must have been quite a sight to see my sisters walking around with underwear on their heads!

 

Sometimes we had to dive for cover when the planes kept coming down and they would shoot, not necessarily at us but at other targets. The fathers were not with us; they had to stay with the patients to evacuate them you see, so they had to leave the care of the two families in the hands of the 2 mothers. However, some men did not stay with the patients, and instead evacuated with their families. Well my mother and Mrs. Waringa would let them know in no uncertain terms, if they saw somebody who they thought should be with the patients. Anyway, we walked all day, and ended up that night in the village of Lunteren. A farmer by the name of Velhuizen took us in and let us sleep in the barn with the cows and pigs. You see, we must have been very dirty, from sleeping on top of the coal, and not having had a chance to wash regularly, that we must have looked like a bunch of dirty homeless people. Even Opoe Aarsen, who at that time was already in her late 70's had to sleep on the cement floor with some straw as a mattress.

 

Let me tell you here something about an experience my father had while he was evacuating with the patients, and I'll put it in his words: "As we were walking on the road alongside the rail road tracks with all these mental patients, I all of a sudden saw a wheelbarrel standing there in the woods with a man in it. I thought that looks like my father, but that can't be, because that Jewish man said he would take care of my father. Anyway as I got closer, I saw that it was my father, who was sitting there all by himself crying his heart out. That dirty ---- had put him there in the woods and had taken off by himself. If I had not looked in that direction by chance, nobody would have noticed him or looked after him and he would have died right there". (My father had a few more things to say, about that man who had left Opa there, but I won't repeat it here). We did not see my dad back until a long time afterwards; he ended up in Ermelo...

 

We are not yet at the end of our journey, because after staying in Lunteren for about 2 weeks we packed up and went in the direction of Baarn. That's a nice town not far from Utrecht. How we got there I don't know, but we must have walked for a couple of days again. Sleeping we did wherever there was a place, but I don't remember any of it. In Baarn we stayed with a Minister's family. These people already had 6 kids of their own, not much food, but were willing to share with us what they had. Their name was Bos. My mother, Opoe Aarsen, my younger brother Hettie, and my sister Annie and I stayed there. The others stayed somewhere else in town. It was in Baarn or otherwise between Lunteren and Baarn that we lost Karel. One morning he just was not there anymore. I think he did not want to be a bother anymore for my mother and therefore disappeared. According to my older sister Guus, he made it through the war, because he sent us a postcard when the war was over. So we were happy that he made it. That kid sure knew how to survive. Now that I think of it, we did not even know his last name. My parents always said that he was a distant cousin of ours.

 

I don't remember much about our stay in Baarn; we used to go to the Soup Kitchen in town to get some brew and it tasted terrible, and the people we stayed with were very nice to us... Greta told me of something that is worth noting here. Once she was by herself out in the street doing an errand, and all of a sudden the planes started coming over real low and started shooting and dropping bombs. Of course she was scared out of her wits. She was about 12 years old and did not know what to do or where to go. Then a German soldier told her to go under his truck and stay there, and when it was over he told her that she could go home. And all the time when the shooting was going on, he kept on talking to her, but she did not understand him, but he probably told her that things would be all right. Who knows, maybe he himself had a little girl like that back home in Germany.

 

It was in Baarn that my mother had to make one of the toughest decisions of her life. After a while it became apparent, that because of the food shortages, we could no longer stay there, so we had to leave again. My mother realised that she could not go on wandering through the country with 7 kids in tow; so she decided to send the oldest 4 kids to my father's relatives in Haarlemmermeer, that's an agricultural land not far from Amsterdam. So Gus, Cor, Hilda and Greta had to go there. My mother, Annie, Hettie and I went in a different direction, to the Province of Groningen, where my mother's relatives lived. Opoe Aarsen went to my Tante Gre in IJmuiden somehow.

 

So that was the itinerary. The way it worked out was that we went first early in the morning in the direction of Groningen, and the rest came to say good-bye to us. An open truck would transport us the first 10 miles or so, and after that we had to walk. Well, when the truck took off, my sister Greta who was only 12, became upset when she saw us take off in that truck, and kept on running next to and beside the truck for as long as she could, crying her heart out, and telling us that she wanted to stay with her mom. My mother said later that this was just terrible for her to go through but she had no other choice. The 4 oldest kids, Guus, Cor, Hilda and Greta, walked all the way to my father's folks in Haarlemmermeer. It took them several days, and I guess they lived from the land, I don't know any further details about their trip.

 

The trip from Baarn to Groningen was a little bit by truck and the rest was walking. By car it is now probably 2 hours by Expressway, but with many bridges destroyed and roads closed, it took us many days. I don't remember much of it. We slept whenever we could find a spot, such as in Churches or at other places where they were willing to put up some homeless people. We ended up at Opa Van der Velde's house in Hoogkerk, (he was my mother's father). Opa had a house a little bit outside the village of Hoogkerk in the Province of Groningen. He had a little land around his house, and a big vegetable garden. Opa also had some goats, and they supplied us with milk. It was here we finally found some peace and quite. My mother had plenty to worry about, not knowing where everybody was or even knowing whether they were still alive or not.

 

I remember playing in the yard with my brother and having goats there. I think we thought they were our pets. In the back of the yard was the shed where the goats were kept at night or when the weather was bad. That's where the toilet was also. So if you had to go you did not have to be scared because the goats were there too. They would stick their heads over the partition and I would scratch their heads.

 

One time my Uncle Durk came over to see us. He was my mother's brother and he was a policeman. When he walked into the yard he was wearing his uniform and I was so scared of him, that I did not want to come into the house. You see, at that time I had had my fill of people in uniform, so I thought something bad was going to happen to us. He was a nice man, though, and I am sure my mother explained the situation to him. The Germans did not bother us very much while we were at Opa's house, but we just could not escape the war here either. You see, Opa's house was close to a railroad yard and sometimes freight trains would be parked there. So one morning, the Allies must have gotten information that a certain train parked there was full of ammunition, and sure enough, all of a sudden the planes came over low, and started dropping their bombs and the shooting started again. This happened at mid-morning while my mother was doing some errands in the village. She ran the household because Opoe Van Der Velde had died a few years earlier. Luckily for us, we were in the house with Opa when the bombs started falling. My brother Hettie and I knew what had to be done (My sister Annie was at that time living with Tante Pie in Delfzijl, another town), and we told Opa that we had to go into the big walk-in closet. This was really the first time for Opa that war became reality, and he was relying on us as to what to do.

 

What happened next is best described in my mother's words, because over the years she has told the story so many times, that I just about know how she told it: "Well, I had just gone to the village to do some errands and the boys were home with Pa. I just sat down at Diet's [distant cousin], for a cup of coffee and all of a sudden the shooting started. I said to Diet, "I think that it is in the area of the railroad yard and Pa is home alone with those boys". Well, I ran as fast as I could out of Diet's house to Pa's house. But when I got to the edge of the village, there was a road block, and they did not want to let anybody through: "Too dangerous", they said. I said to that policeman, and I knew him, that I had to get through but he would not let me. Thus there I was, worried sick. And you know what, after a while, yes, there they came. The boys had their slippers underneath their arms, and they came running towards me and Pa was following them, and he was carrying something too. And you know what happened, when that shooting and bombed started? They were both in the house with Pa and the old man just did not know what to do, but the kids knew just what to do. They said to Pa, "Opa we have to get into the closet", so they went into the closet on top of the red cabbage. You see, Pa had a storage closet where we stored things for the winter, not a cellar like we had in Wolfheze. Well there they were, and then Piet says, "Opa now you have to pray", and Pa said, "I can't pray now", but Piet kept insisting that Pa should pray, because he said when the bombs start falling, then we always pray. Well, that man prayed out loud with those boys while sitting on top of the cabbage, something he never did with us. As soon as the shooting stopped, then Piet says, "Opa we have to leave now, before the planes come back; but, before we do that, we have to take something along. My mother always says, that whenever you have to flee the house, you have to take something useful with you", so those kids, Piet and Hettie, both picked up their slippers, and put them under their arm, and Pa took something along too. Then they ran out of the house in the direction of the village, and there I was waiting. When I saw them I just could not help myself, I cried, and Pa said, "Those kids knew just what to do", but then again, those boys had gone through so much already in their lifetime."

 

Actually we escaped death very closely that day. The shed with the goats got a direct hit, the shed was destroyed, and the goats were killed. We were very sad when we saw the goats lying there, but did not have much time to worry about it, as we had to get the heck out of there. Also Opa's house was badly damaged. We did not return to Opa's house, because the house was too badly damaged, and my Uncle Durk told us that it would probably be too dangerous to live there any longer. So we moved again, this time to someone by the name of Tante Trui, (that means "sweater" in English, so it was Tante Sweater). She was very nice to us, and she lived alongside the canal called Hoendiep. How long we stayed there I don't know, but again the war caught up with us. A battle took place here too, so we had to move again. This time we went on the other side of the village to a distant cousin of my mother who had a big farm. Their name was the Berghuis family, and the man's name was Uncle Luke, and the lady's name was Tante Eeke. They had quite a few kids, and it was a lot of fun to live there. We had plenty of food now, and there were horses, cows and also a big dog, (his name was "Wodan"). Funny that I remember that dog's name, but I was kind of fond of him I guess. I talked a lot to the dog, my mother told me later. My mother helped out in the house and at night she would help milking the cows and the sheep. It was our job to round them up at milking time.

 

We stayed there for quite a while, and I started 1st grade. I skipped Kindergarten, not because I was so smart, but I was busy with other things (you may have noticed) during the previous year. I remember that the teacher was very nice to me. Maybe she felt sorry for me; I guess my mother must have talked to her or one of my aunts that lived there. The teacher asked me a lot about my dad. All this time we had no idea where he was. We only received bits and pieces of information about him or about my other brothers and sisters. One time we heard that my dad had been picked up by the Germans, which actually happened twice, but he escaped both times. Had he not done that, then he would have probably been sent to a labor camp somewhere in Germany.

 

While we were at the Berghuis family on the farm, my mother had to take me once a week to the hospital in the big city of Groningen. I would sit on the back of her bicycle. The reason I had to go there, was that I was so nervous, and I would shake badly about nothing. Then somebody would talk to me, and the nurses were always very nice to me. Who knows, maybe they thought I was a basket case. We would go there in the afternoon, but sometimes on the way back my mom and I had to take detours when the Germans for some crazy reason would have blocked the road. That's about all I can tell you about the stay on the farm. When we were finally liberated, there was a big party in the village, and the Dutch flag was hanging from almost every house, something we had not been allowed to do by the Germans during the past 5 years.

 

Our trip back from Hoogkerk to Wolfheze was on the back of an old army truck. I guess my Uncle Durk who was a policeman, and knew a lot of people, had arranged that for us... We did not mind at all travelling that way, because we were going back to our own home again, but I was a little sad that I had to leave my friend "Wodan" behind (remember that was the dog on the farm!).

 

You may have asked yourself why I waited so long (45 years) before I wrote this story. Well, the request of my old neighbour Mr. Janse actually triggered it, but on the other hand I did not know whether anybody would really be interested in hearing about it...Those who knew, that we had lived through the Battle of Arnhem, would just shrug their shoulders as "no big deal, so, what", and that's another reason I kept it quiet.

 

When we came home I continued with school and pretty soon things started to go back to normal, although for a long time there were many shortages. My mother had to work with rationing coupons for many years after the war was over. Even after the war I think a lot of us kids were mentally in bad shape, but of course there were no School Psychiatrists or School Psychologists. If those guys had been around they would have had a field day, because many kids actually needed help. So you just lived with your own thoughts. I was for a long time very afraid to be in the dark, got scared when a plane would come over low, was very nervous, and would shake life a leaf about nothing... Many of us had gone through Hell, and my parents understood. They were busy themselves rebuilding their lives after the war. They had to start over again after the war with absolutely nothing, but they were tough...

 

After Grade school I went to High school in Oosterbeek, the next town over. Now that I think of it, all these years either in Grade school or High school, we never talked about WWII in any of our History classes. That was probably done on purpose; the teachers did not want to rekindle our memories, which were upsetting for many of us.

 

September 17th still is a special day for me every year... Also during my school years, on September 17 there would be a special Memorial Service at the Military Cemetery in the town of Oosterbeek. In the morning all of us school kids would go there, and then, sometime during the ceremony, we would place flowers on the graves of the soldiers who had been killed in the battle. My dad would always make sure that he would grow flowers in the yard that would bloom around that time, so we kids could put them on the graves, and he would give to other kids too, if they did not have any.

 

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