Cornelia Doyle: Things I remember

Planes, lots and lots of planes. Airborne soldiers jumping out of planes. It was the beginning of our freedom.

  • Nov. 4, 2015 8:00 a.m.
Lake Cowichan resident Mrs. Cornelia Doyle holding a photo album with her wedding photo and  a photo of the ship that brought her to Canada in 1947.

Lake Cowichan resident Mrs. Cornelia Doyle holding a photo album with her wedding photo and a photo of the ship that brought her to Canada in 1947.

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!

January, 1944

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

Just Posted

CVRD Area E director Alison Nicholson, right, hiked two hours to Waterfall Camp at the Fairy Creek watershed along with Comox town councillor Nicole Minion and Comox Valley Regional District director Daniel Arbour to meet with old-growth logging activists on Monday, June 7. (Submitted)
Cowichan Valley regional director visits Fairy Creek protest camps

‘They clearly communicated that they are committed to what they are doing’

Tim Wilkinson, who will attempt a double anvil triathlon on Vancouver Island on July 3, poses with his training partner, Shadow, who has been dragged up and down the Nanaimo Parkway many times. (Submitted)
Vancouver Island triathlete takes on ‘double anvil’ for charity

7.6km swim, 360km bike ride, and 84.4km run, all within 36 hours

An old growth cedar stands in a cut-block within the Caycuse Valley. More than 100 prominent Canadians, have signed an open letter calling for the immediate protection of all remaining old-growth forests in B.C. (Submitted)
Brian Mulroney and Greta Thunberg among 100 celebrities pushing to save B.C. old growth

List includes Indigenous leaders, scientists, authors, Oscar winners

From left: Thomas Kuecks, David Lane, John Ivison, Denis Berger, Rod Gray, and James Kuecks are Cabin Fever. Catch their performance on the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre website. (Ashley Foot photo)
A&E column: Music Festival winners, CVAC awards, and Cabin Fever

The latest from the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Bella Bella is on B.C.’s Central Coast, accessible only by air and ocean. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
B.C. provides $22 million for Heiltsuk development on Central Coast

Elders care home project, tourism, lumber mill supported

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

If implemented, the regulations would restrict all e-cigarette flavours except tobacco, mint and menthol

Seth Rogen’s vibrant orange sculpture was sold for $7,000 above Vancouver Art Gallery’s initial estimation at auction Tuesday. June 15. (Heffel Fine Arts)
Vase made by Seth Rogen sells for $12,000 at Vancouver auction

The B.C.-born comedian has a new pot habit and it’s paying off

BC Lions running back John White IV (3) runs with the ball during first quarter CFL football action against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Saturday, September 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
BC Lions file trademark for new logo

Canadian Football League team files for new design on June 1

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Camper van explosion burns Vancouver Island gas station to the ground

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. The website for a Broadway theatre showing "Springsteen on Broadway" said it would only allow guests "fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine" — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
No Springsteen for you: AstraZeneca not good enough to qualify for Broadway ticket

Victoria area mayor among those unable to attend New York entertainment due to COVID-19 restriction

Most Read