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The crossing to England...

By Sarah Groves, also posted in News on

Arie Stuurman's account from 1940A very big thank you to Karel Stuurman, who kindly emailed a copy of a hand-written account by her father, Arie Stuurman, detailing a dangerous crossing from the Netherlands (after the country capitulated to Germany) to Southwold in May 1940. Arie Stuurman served during the Second World War with the Dutch 320 Squadron which was first a pat of Coastal Command and later the second Tactical Airforce. At the end of Arie's account of his escape through three minefields, he mentions arriving at Southwold and visiting the Adnams brewery where, "we were treated to a generous round of beers." However, it ends on a heart-wrenching question, as he wonders what will he and his colleagues will face next. These remarkable documents were found after he died at 98 years old on May 16th this year: exactly 76 years to the day of this account.

The Crossing to England

(translation from Dutch) Wednesday, 15 May 1940 We had to hand in all our arms. De Lijn and I visited the Kalis family, where we received a warm welcome. There, we planned to flee the country in a small motorboat from ‘t Horntje harbour (on the island of Texel). We decided to take Hofland and Otten with us. In the afternoon, the four of us went to naval airbase De Mok. We found a compass etc. etc. Everything was ready for our journey. When we arrived back in Den Burg, we met Moll and Bruens. They told us that they and Mr Weber planned to leave by speedboat from the village of Oudeschild. We immediately decided to join them, of course. Everybody wanted to leave. Soon, we had a group of 15 people. Mr Spangenberg would get us two extra barrels of fuel. Kalis had all our addresses. Everyone was nervous. The Jerries could arrive in Den Helder at any moment. We all left for Oudeschild on our own. At around 7:00 p.m. De Lijn and I left by bike. On the road we met Otten, Bruens and Moll and got in their car. Mr Weber was already in the boat. In the village we waited for Mr Spangenberg. When he finally arrived, he told us that the journey had to be called off. No one was permitted to leave the harbour, the fuel tank had a leak and there was no extra fuel. But we talked him round and left all the same, with 700 litres of fuel and 9 men (the others had decided to stay at home). At first, one of the engines failed to start. The resulting delay gave the harbour master time to make a telephone call and to fetch his rifle. But just as he came running towards us, the other engine started and we left the harbour at full throttle while he prepared to fire at us. On our way to England and to freedom! It was around 9:00 p.m. We decided to take the route through the Marsdiep channel. Mr Spangenberg was in charge and Mr Weber was the man at the helm. We had one chart and a compass with a large air bubble in it, and none of us had any seafaring experience. We continuously sounded the depth of the water in the Marsdiep channel. It was pitch-dark. The wind blew from the east at 5 Bft. At around 10:00 p.m. we followed a course of 240º as best we could. Plotting our course with a piece of string!! This is how we left our homeland. At first, the mood was great. We sang and were full of good spirit. The sea was rough with a heavy swell. We navigated by the stars and the moon. And then a new day dawned. Thursday, 16 May 1940 As the sun rose, our spirits fell because there was nothing but sea around us. There was no land in sight, no ships, and we expected our fuel to run out any minute. We moved at half speed to make our fuel last as long as possible. The wind still blew with the same force. At around 7:00 a.m. we saw the first seagull and around 9:00 a.m. we noticed cumulus clouds in the distance. A sure sign of land. And then, at around 10:00 a.m., a lighthouse appeared in the distance. We broke into a loud cheer and hands were shaken all around. As we approached the English coast, we wondered where we were exactly. After some searching we found the harbour entrance and at 11:00 a.m. we sailed into Southwold Harbour flying the Dutch flag. We found out that we had sailed through three minefields. No wonder that we had not seen any ships. It was in these circumstances that we completed our journey: at night – none of us having any experience of the sea – no navigation instruments – only 700 litres of fuel – a leaking fuel tank – a rough sea – across three minefields. We found a hospitable reception in England. We could take a bath and were given a meal, and there were several formalities to complete. After dinner we went to Madras House at 5 Dunwich Road, where we were offered a place to sleep. But first we visited Adnams Brewery. Here we were treated to a generous round of beers. And finally, we settled down for a well-earned night’s sleep in our new homeland. For how long???  
  I asked Karel what did happen to her father following the war: "After their arrival in England, the group joined the Dutch 320 squadron flying Fokkers and Hudsons. The 320 squadron was then part of RAF Coastal Command. After America joined the war they then transferred to the B-25 Mitchell and the 320 squadron became part of the Second Tactical Airforce. My father flew combat missions throughout the war. When the war ended, he flew for a short period for a military transport squadron before joining KLM in 1946 (flying 747s) for which he flew until his retirement in 1974. An interesting career." Thanks again to Karel for kindly sharing her father's story with us all. We feel honoured that Arie and his colleagues were able to enjoy a beer with us at Adnams all those years ago.  

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