Seven times lucky
We have asked several Engelandvaarders to share a particular memory of their journey from Holland to England during the war. This first contribution is by Engelandvaarder Marinus Zuidijk who describes seven subsequent incidents of 'a tiny angel sitting on his shoulder'.
Marinus Zuidijk was born on November 17 1921 in Rotterdam. He left Holland on April 2 1941 and arrived in England on July 31 1942. His perilous journey took him through Belgium, Central-France and Spain. After his arrival in England he joined the Dutch Royal Navy, where he remained throughout his long career. Holding the rank of Naval Captain, Mr Zuidijk retired in December 1973. He and his wife Maja live in Belgium.
At the following early stage of his journey he had just crossed the border between Holland and Belgium:
"On the first day of my departure from Holland, April 2 1941, I was stopped by German armed soldiers in a forest near the border between Holland and Belgium. They asked for my identity card. I truthfully told them that I had left it at home. After they had checked my bag I was nevertheless allowed to proceed on my way to Lommel in Belgium. This was my first stroke of luck!
The next day I headed for the house of my uncle and aunt who lived in Mol. When I left the station, I accidently ran into my uncle, who was on his way to work. This was to be my second stroke of luck. When I told him I was trying to get to England, he looked startled and said “It’s fortunate that we meet here, because we have two German officers at home who are billeted with us. He secretly led me inside the house through the back door. After a scrumptious breakfast and some helpful instructions I took the train to the French border.
Soon my third stroke of luck occurred. Near Antwerp the German police entered the train requesting all passengers to show their identity papers. They had just arrived at my section but had to suddenly quickly disembark when the train started moving again.
Near the village of Bony I got off the train myself and walked to the idyllic river the Somme. I took my clothes off and swam naked to the other side holding my bag above my head to keep it (nearly) dry. It took three arduous crossings to transfer all my clothes and my bag. With my clothes back on I proceeded to the American War Cemetery to contact the manager who was involved with the resistance. I had his name and address from a fellow student in Holland.
Upon arrival I Iearned that the Germans had arrested and transported the manager to a concentration camp. Understandably, as a result of her husband’s deportation, his wife was too scared to offer any help, so I moved on. After a while I found a barn where I could take a nap. A German voice woke me up. Apparently a German officer was walking his dog outside. Now it was time for my fourth stroke of luck: the officer was not aware of my presence. Nevertheless, I deemed it wise to leave and look for the nearest train station. When I arrived the last train had just left. Together with a dozen other stranded passengers I tried to make myself comfortable on the floor. My luck seemed to have run out because soon a German patrol arrived to check identity papers. Again, I had no option but to admit that I did not have any identity card. I was taken away and locked up in a police cell. The next morning I was brought before the ‘Orts Commandant’. In my best German I made up a story and I managed to convince him I was living in Paris. I gave him a Parisian address I remembered from a visit to the capital which seemed credible. They let me go with the promise I would receive a fine at my Paris premises.
I went back to the station and bought a ticket to Tours. After my arrival I walked in a southern direction, which turned out to be my fifth stroke of luck. At a farm I asked for directions to unoccupied France. The farmer told me “Tomorrow you can come along with Pierre in the horse-wagon. He has to deliver potatoes in Vichy-France”. Although Pierre did not strike me as particularly bright I decided to take the offer. However, my luck proved to be short lived. We were stopped by a German patrol and they took me to some barracks. When I was told I would be sent to a prison in Tours I decided to do a runner. I asked the guard where the toilet was (I was indeed nearly peeing in my pants from fear). He directed me to the courtyard. Circling the block of toilet cabins over there I eyed the two meter high wall at the back which was topped with barbed wire.
I took a desperate jump. To my own surprise I made it to the top of the wall, but just when I congratulated myself with my sixth stroke of luck, a shot was fired in my direction. I jumped down and disappeared quickly into some shrubs at the other side of the wall. Behind me I heard dogs barking, so I crossed a stream to erase my tracks. Exhausted I hid in some bushes until
it was completely dark. Then I continued my escape. However, after half an hour I was stopped by two French soldiers who gave me the option of either going back to the German barracks or signing up with the Foreign Legion. When I replied that I wanted to speak to their commander, I was informed that I had to wait till the next morning for his arrival.
The colonel appeared to be a sympathetic man. He approved of my intention to join the Dutch Forces in Britain and ordered his driver to transport me to the station. On top of that he gave me 200 Francs plus a false identity card in the name of Jean le Blanc. This was my seventh stroke of luck!"
Author - M. Zuidijk
Illustration - Acrylic by Peter Utton