Cornelia Doyle Special to the Gazette
May 10, 1940: German invasion of Holland lasted four years.
Sept. 17, 1944: Oosterbeek, Holland, beginning of liberation
Sunday morning, Sept. 17, 1944
Sounds of aeroplanes during the church service. It was getting louder and louder. Planes, lots and lots of planes. Airborne soldiers jumping out of planes. It was the beginning of our freedom. We were so excited! There was not shooting yet, so we watched! Brother Bert, mother and I even went up the high water tower for a better look; that was a mistake. Thinking we were soldiers, they started shooting at the water tower. We got down from there in a hurry. It was some way out of town, and before long we saw Jeeps with Allied forces telling us to get home quickly. Back home there were still many parachutes dropping with soldiers. What a beautiful sight! Freedom ahead! By now the shooting from the air became dangerous and we had to hide in the basement, wooden floor on top, not very secure.
After the elation about freedom wore off a bit (because of the shooting) we became afraid for our lives. Very afraid! Dad was so frightened he asked us kids to get him a drink of water from upstairs. We disobeyed. Poor dad.
While all the noise of the severe shooting was going on, we heard the most beautiful singing: A Mighty Fortress is our God, sung with powerful voices. It was our next door neighbours, father, mother, three daughters, and five sons. Oh, how it lifted our spirits! They sang with such conviction, so ready to meet their maker. I will always remember that family and that hymn.
Sept. 18, 1944
A very anxious day. Canadian soldiers moving into town, and we seemed liberated, but the Germans came back, and the fighting was on again, but at more of a distance. My brother had a small factory out of town, so we decided to go there during the night. We took our bicycles and headed out.
At the bottom of the hill was a beautiful oak tree. When we were halfway up the hill a grenade exploded in the bottom oak, and a minute later another one exploded in the top tree. We were caught in the middle. Very, very afraid! We had to keep going because our village was on fire by now.
We finally arrived at the factory. Bert was repairing fire hoses at the time and we built a wall of fire hoses around us. Even though there was still shooting going on we felt rather safe. I even remember sleeping with my head on a fire hose coupling. Safe?
The following morning we went back to the village. It looked pretty bad. A quarter of it was shot to pieces. In the afternoon we had to evacuate, so we loaded clothes in a bag for each of us; not too much though, as we expected to be back in a couple of weeks.
We went to my sister’s in Heelsum, 10 kilometres from our village. While we were taking stuff off our bicycles the shooting started there too, so we didn’t have time to get our bags in and had to rush to the basement. Once there, we discovered that our mother was not there, nor an auntie (a little Jewish lady who was hiding from the Germans). Then, suddenly, a big explosion in the living room above us, but towards the right. After the shooting stopped we went upstairs to find mother and auntie, expecting the worst. But miracle of miracles, mother and auntie came out of the closet. They were covered with chalk and shivering. A grenade had hit the stone fireplace and the closet was behind the fireplace, so that saved their lives. Thank you God!
Sept. 20, 1944
My brother and I went out to find a safer place about 40 kilometres away. We found a home that belonged to a train engineer. He was in hiding with his family because he didn’t want to be a train driver for the Germans. The next day we went back to the family and brought them back to the Stroe place. There were 10 of us. Sometimes we all got on well and sometimes not. Dad was a difficult man, but I loved him.
Well, it wasn’t long before the Allied forces started to bomb the railway lines and before we knew it, all the windows in the house were gone. It was late in October and getting cold! Then, a couple of weeks later, they bombed a train loaded with ammunition, headed for the German front. The following day my sister and I were walking through a meadow, just going for a walk. I guess we must have looked like soldiers because a couple of planes came zooming from the sky and started to shoot. There were bullets all around us. We dropped flat on the ground and lay there, terrified, looking at one another. We ran home after that. Safe again!
There wasn’t much food for us as evacuees, so we have to move again. Mother and the pregnant women (my sister and sister-in-law) were riding on a flat-bed drawn by horses. It was January and bitterly cold. I can still see my mother sitting under blankets on that flat-bed, so blue in the face and so cold. I wondered how she survived. But somehow God gave us extra strength for such trials. Of this I am sure.
We stayed in a small town and had to sleep in a school overnight with straw on the floor. My sister and I got there by bicycle and were so cold. Lots of people had to walk!
Here I have to regress a bit. While we were still in Stroe town, my brother got married. I had knit him a sweater the year before, but when we didn’t expect to be away for long, I didn’t bring it or any other warm clothing. So my sister-in-law and I went back to our village, not knowing what conditions to expect. We entered the “No enter zone. Danger. Anyone entering here will be shot without question”.
Because I wanted most of all to get that warm sweater for my brother (he couldn’t go himself as he would have been picked up to work in the war factories in Germany). Finally we were stopped by a Dutchman who collaborated with the Germans. He just could not believe that we dared to enter after all the warning signs.
“Okay,” he said. “Go at your own risk.”
And we did. Oh glory! Our house was still standing, but our hearts sank as we got closer. We had put my brother’s brand new motorcycle (hidden during the war) in the basement with lots of stuff on top. The stuff was all over the house and the motorcycle was gone, so also were the beautiful gloves. (He was a motorcycle racer). We looked for the sweater, but it too was gone. Two very sad girls who had risked their lives left the house in despair, very cold, very hungry and very scared!
All of a sudden there were soldiers, (German soldiers). Great fear on our part of course. They took pity on us and asked us if we wanted something to eat. Yes, oh yes, please!
Well, they were cooking outside and they had goulash for dinner. It was fantastic. I never tasted anything like it. But there was a catch. After we ate, nervous and very afraid, an officer came down and asked me to come with him to the commander, upstairs. I almost got rid of my goulash I was so scared. He looked at this 18-year-old dark red-head with ringlets and all and I think he took pity on me. He went back to his commanding officer and when he came down he told us we could go. My sister-in-law was blond, 24, and was wearing her wedding ring. The officer must have had a daughter my age. I have often wondered about that. The soldiers hadn’t seen any women for about four months. We were whistled at, but no one touched us! When we got back home the following day the family was disappointed, but happy to see us home safe. We slept at a farmer’s in the hayloft overnight. (End of regression.)
After sleeping in the school with the rest of the evacuees we went on to Heerdum. Another 35 kilometres from there we were sent to district farmers. We were all separated. I stayed with a family with a daughter the same age as I was.
They were very nice and we stayed there until the end of the war. When we went home it was very sad indeed. Everything was bombed out and miserable, very miserable. But somehow, we made the best of it and started cleaning up because we were free.
Then, lucky me, I met a very handsome Canadian soldier. But that is another story. I came to Canada in June and married my soldier on June 27, 1947 and we were married for 52 years. My dear husband died of cancer on March 22, 1999.
The following memorial plaque was dedicated in Oosterbreek, liberated by Canada, May 1945:
England, Poland, Canada
We came to deliver you but we failed and caused you pain, destruction and sorrow
Please forgive us