Veteran Stories:
Henk van Duren


  • Henk van Duren at a Memory Project event held on August 15, 2012 in Waterloo, Ontario.

    Henk van Duren
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"Alex was caught by some of the Underground in the forest that was not too far away from us and they shot him. He was only 15 years old but he had done such terrible things to the Underground people and to my friend’s father, who was the leader of the Underground in the village."


In May 1940, Holland was invaded by the Germans and I remember the first day that the planes came over, they bombed Rotterdam and there were six Germans on horses that came to the village and my dad was in the army and he didn't fought, he was more with the Red Cross. So they had to pick up the wounded and the dead people.

And once in a while we saw somebody shot down. We saw a [Avro] Lancaster exploding in the sky and it came down on people in parts and pieces. I remember one of them, a big wing from one of the Lancasters came down and there was a parachute hanging on it. But that was all war. I think you grew up in an area—I was 8 years old when the war started—that became part of life.

But in 1944, it really started to get serious, you know. The planes flew lower and lower and sometimes you could see the pilots and the tail gunner. We could see him and we waved to him. That was all to avoid the radar.

But then the hunger years started, the hunger winter in Holland. That was the winter of ’44-’45. Then the people from the west, they came by pushcarts and old bikes. They came to the northeast where we grew up to get food. And you couldn't believe it, you know. A lot of farmers, they gave food to the people, food, and that kind of stuff, and they gave them a night over that they could sleep in the barn. I remember my uncle, he had sometimes 20 people in the barn sleeping there overnight. But the winter was hard, it was a very hard winter, ’44-’45.

We saw people die. There were three brothers. They went on their way and I think they were about 13, 10 and 8. A couple days later they came back and the second boy, the middle of the three, was laying dead on a cart. He didn't survive. But it came really close in 1945. We lived on a canal and in the east of Holland they found oil and the oil was from there by small tankers transferred via the canal up to the west, to the refineries. There were all the airplanes going over and we had a lot of trees growing on the canal, so often they could hide outside the areas where the trees were.

But one Sunday morning, it was February the 25th, 1945. The night before there was a small canal ship stopped there beside some trees. But it was in February so there were not many leaves on the trees yet. We were looking at some fighter planes, they shot at the train that was about 3 kilometers away from us. During the night, you know, you saw all the bullets going down, all light points, you saw them going down, you know, shooting at the train.

But on Sunday morning, I think it was about 8 o'clock, there were again four—later on there seemed to be four—those fighter planes again and they used to drop bombs on the canal bridge. Usually they missed it, they ended up in the canals somewhere. But then we went outside and they looked at it and they were attacking the bridge over the railroad again, over the canal.

But all of a sudden they were gone and the people that lived on the—it was a middle-aged couple—they came off the ship and asked if they could sit or stand beside the house, you know, as long as those planes were there. And the planes were gone. I think it was the Spitfires, if I recall it. So it was quiet again and this owner of the ship said out to his wife, “If you can stay here then I will get a boat, fire up the stove and if it stays quiet I will call you and come back.”

So we walked outside and all of a sudden, you know, we saw planes and heard planes again. I walked to look where the planes were and I was in a hail of fire, of bullets, you know? I was standing right in the center of it and they shot that ship and all four of them take their rounds over that ship. When it was over, our neighbor’s house was full of holes and our house had not one hole except years later we found a little shrapnel in a windowsill and that was all we found.

But in the meantime, I got wounded knee. I don't think it was a bullet but probably a piece of shrapnel that exploded from the neighbor’s house in my knee. That was all, but I was pretty close. And from that time on, I think I became the fastest runner in the village. I played soccer and I was the fastest runner, you know. I probably learned it that day.

And on the end of the war—ended a week before, I believe it must have been in the first week of April—we were already between German and Canadians. It was during the day the Canadians were in the village and overnight the Germans were back. And they blew up the bridges over the canal. Then one night, on a Saturday night, the parachutes went out and they were most French parachutes.

My dad was up all night and the next morning, they helped people to bring him to a barn somewhere in the country. That day, Alex, the son of the Nazi sympathizers, he stole some stuff that was dropped with the parachutes, something like chocolate and other stuff and little things, you know food. I don't remember exactly what in those big containers. I remember one container carried a motorbike that we found and my dad—and when we found it, I told my dad and when he opened it up he said let's hide it here and we will look after it later.

Alex was caught by some of the Underground in the forest that was not too far away from us and they shot him. He was only 15 years old but he had done such terrible things to the Underground people and to my friend’s father, who was the leader of the Underground in the village.

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