In an earlier post, What are Engelandvaarders?, we mentioned the first successful escape to England via the Channel by three Dutch students, Kees van Eendenburg, Freddy Vas Nunes and Karel Michielsen in July 1940. The crossing took place in a, not very seaworthy, 12 foot yawl, owned by the van Eendenburg family. It was two months after Germany had occupied The Netherlands. By this time the Nazi's had recently ordered the removal of all boats from the Dutch beaches. During the previous weeks the three friends had been practicing the first hurdle of the crossing which entailed maneuvering the 12 foot yawl through the sea surf. With the issue of the new German order the three could not postpone their escape plan any longer. On the 5th of July they managed to get away under the very nose of the German police. Having promised the police they would sail the yawl to a storage place further down the Dutch coast, they set sail for England instead. The police was not amused. A round of German gunshots, however, could not force the clever students to come back.
From left to right: Gijs, Peter and Kees van Eendenburg jr. in Museum Engelandvaarders with the original flag of the Bebèk. Note the small hole in the flag - this could have been a result of German gunpowder but it is not...
Once out of reach of German gunfire, an exhausting journey followed. Terrible seasickness plagued the crew, the boat appeared not entirely waterproof and they nearly lost its sail. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the Bebèk, which is Malay for Duck (part of Kees’ surname), was officially not seaworthy the little duckling did withstand the fierce beating of the North Sea waves. After two long and difficult days the crew was finally picked up by an English mine sweeper in front of the English coast near Great Yarmouth, the very spot Kees had initially set out for!
After being fed and watered aboard the mine sweeper, the three sailors were brought safely ashore and transported to London for questioning to prove that they were trustworthy allies. Subsequently, all three were awarded the Bronze Cross by Dutch Queen Wilhelmina and appointed a role in the allied warfare. Michielsen opted for a military role in the Dutch East Indies, both Vas Nunes and van Eendenburg became fighter pilots with the RAF. Kees van Eendenburg even became squadron leader of the Dutch 322 squadron.
Sadly, the Bebèk did not survive the war. The building of The Netherlands Shipping Committee in London, where the yawl was stored in the attic, was destroyed during an air raid in 1941. A small part of the boat that did survive however was the little Dutch flag which Kees carried with him when leaving the Bebèk. Very recently, on the 29th of December, the birthday of late Kees van Eendenburg, the flag has been donated by his three sons to the Museum Engelandvaarders in Noordwijk where it is now on display. It is only a little flag but what a story it has to tell!
Our next post will be on Sunday 21 January.
De Schakel. De geschiedenis van de Engelandvaarders - Frank Visser, 1976
Photo taken by Ineke ter Doest