I was born in
the very north of the Netherlands near the German border. The
dialect we spoke there was also spoken over the German border
almost right up to Bremen and Cloppenburg. After primary school
I went to a technical school 10 miles cycling as I did not like
studying. Later I had to, and did, technical high school as I
wanted to become a pilot. In 1933 I was conscripted and became a
Sergeant in the "motor service". In Holland they did not want to
spend any money on defence if possible and also had a strong
socialist party with the slogan "No man and no party.p; We had
Harley Davidson motorbikes of which the newest model was 1928
and further "G.M.C.s" and "Maztings" from World War One. They
had solid tyres and chain drives, could load less than they
weighed and had a maximum speed of + or ‑ 15 miles per hour.
However one should not do more than about 12 or 13 otherwise, in
no time, one of the big ends would go. Further we had some 1929
Fords and not to forget a force of one tank. It was a Renault
tank from 1917 or 1918.
In May 1938 I
became a pupil pilot in the Netherlands Air Force, if you can
call it that. Anyhow they had some aircraft. We started flying
on the Fokker SIV, a biplane from 1919. After that we were going
to train on the Koolhoven FK51, which had just replaced the
Fokker DV11 from World War One, which they thought was getting a
bit old. In the meantime we got Fokker DXX1 single seat fighters
with a Bristol Mercury engine. They had a fixed undercarriage
(otherwise it was too expensive), four Browning machine guns in
the wings, no bullet-proof windscreen, no armour plating and no
In July 1939 I
started on the Fokker CV. This was an aircraft designed and
built in 1924. Biplane of course. Most reconnaissance units
were still equipped with them in 1940. For the twenties it was a
good plane, not easy to land though. It had of course no blind
flying instruments. All it had was an altimeter, airspeed
indicator, rev counter, oil pressure gauge, and a little bent
glass tube with an air bubble for blind flying: How they did it
I don't know. My instructor was an old hand who was flying since
1920. He took me up for aerobatics once and we went into cloud
at 700 ft. At 6000 Ft. we were still in cloud and we decided to
go back. We broke cloud again at 700 ft. over the aerodrome; how
he did it, search me! Out of our course of about 24, with three
others I was selected for fighter pilot. We did a lot of flying
on the DXV1 with a Armstrong Siddeley Tiger, if I remember well,
from 1928 and DXV11 with a Kestrel engine from about 1934. Both
Fokker biplane single-seat fighters and beautiful to fly. Then
finally came the great day I got a Fokker DXX1 to fly. Though it
had a fixed undercarriage it was very manoeuvrable and climbed
very fast, out-climbing the Messerschmitt easily.
The first of
November 1939 I was posted to a fighter unit and on the third of
November I got my wings. This unit had nine aircraft and nine
pilots. We were mostly flying the DXX1 but as long as we were at
the main Air Force base we flew with pleasure the DXV1 and DXV11
as well. They were very nice to fly.
15th March 1940
- with the invasion of Norway we were moved to Eindhoven Airfield.
All day there were two aircraft on standby and two in reserve.
Sometimes we had a scramble when German aircraft flew over our
territory. We never saw anything. Units stationed near the coast
and in the north of the Netherlands had quite a few scraps. The
odd British aircraft flew over as well but it was 99% German
aircraft. The 10th of April we were moved to Ypenburg airfield
just outside The Hague. Our unit was there but also a unit of
Douglas DB‑8A. They had a retractable undercarriage but were
rather slow. They were two-seater reconnaissance planes. They
had four machine guns fixed in the wings and the Observer had a
The 8th & 9th
May 1940; we were already on stand-by with all nine aircraft at
04.00 hours. It was still dark. What could we do at that time?
We had only limited night-flying instruments, e.g. no horizon.
It was too dark. There was no instrument lighting. All the
instruments were fluorescent. However the longer it was dark,
the fainter many of the instruments became.
On the 10th of
May I was awakened by my C.O. at two o'clock in the morning. He
told me to wake the ground crew and get them to the aircraft as
fast as possible. There was a lot of aircraft in the air and he
expected we may get to do something in the morning. At three
o'clock we were running up our engines. There were eight
aircraft, one was unserviceable. Then we were sitting in the
aircraft on standby in the dark. How could we take off under
those circumstances? We had two sections of three and one of
two aircraft. At 3.55 the siren went and we all took off. My
leader was a 2nd Lt. and I, a mere Sergeant Pilot, was on the
left in the V formation and on the right another Lieutenant.
South East over the town of Delft I saw a large number of German
Bombers flying in close formation from South West to South East.
The leader did not attack, but returned to base and we landed as
well. The leader came running to my aircraft and shouted "My
guns are not working, are yours?" I replied "I do not know" so
he said "Get out and let me try them." Having tried them he
said "I shall take this aircraft and you can take mine". Off he
Mind, it still
was twilight and we had seen the bombers against the light
Easterly sky. The weather was beautiful, no cloud and no wind.
The guns were O.K. now and the ground crew asked me to test
them. I strapped myself in and they were going to start the
engines. That had to be done by hand, giving a kind of fly‑wheel
14000 revs with a handle by two men. Then from the South West a
formation of about 36 bombers (Heinkels) came over and dropped
their bombs over the field. I was sitting strapped in and the
ground crew had disappeared. The bombs fell in long rows about
100 to 400 metres in front of me. I watched them carefully and
saw there was a lane free of bomb holes where I could take off.
When the bombs
fell I realised that it was war. Two hours later war was
declared. I was very angry. The ground crew came rushing up to
start the engines. Another formation of bombers was approaching
from the South West. The engines started and I took off in the
safe direction. Behind me I heard the bombs falling. I climbed
in an Easterly direction and, at about 3000ft. against the
light Easterly sky, I saw the silhouette of an aircraft I never
had seen before. It passed from right to left in front of me, I
made a tight turn to the left and was about 200 metres behind it
closing in. I then saw the German markings and gave a short
burst. A very bright bit of violent flame came out of its right
engine and then black smoke. It went down straight away and made
a belly landing North of the Hague-Gouda railway line. It was
burning and produced a lot of black smoke. I climbed up again
and saw a large formation of Heinkels flying to the North West
in the direction of The Hague. I dived down on the hind-most
right aircraft and fired everything I had at close range. I am
sure I hit it, but did not have time to see the result.
When I pulled
away a bullet came through the hood and exploded in my thigh.
There was a lot of blood and I started to feel a bit faint. I threw
off the hood and bailed out. You have no idea how quiet it is
when you are hanging in the air. It did not last long and I was
unconscious until I came-to by the bump when I landed in a field
among the cows. It was 09.35. As the grass was cold and wet
with dew I struggled backwards until I lay on my parachute which
was lying behind me. I was very cold. Then dozens of JU52s came
over and dropped their loads of paratroops.
After about two
hours I was found by some farmers and taken to a small house
about 400 yards away on a ladder. I was put on a divan in the
good room and after a little while the farmer had found two Red
Cross soldiers. While they were dressing my leg two German
paras came in.
They asked what
was going on. I told them I was shot down. They said they were
very sorry and could not help it. They ordered one of the
soldiers to look after me well and asked the others to come with
them as they had been wounded too. They wished me well, said
very friendly "good bye" and left. About ten minutes later two
more walked in. The same ritual and they left very friendly.
Later the farmer came with two civil defence men from the town
of Delft. They put me on a ladder again and then onto a barge on
a small canal and so I arrived in the town and was put in
hospital. After about six weeks I could go home but after two
weeks I was in trouble again. I had an operation in the military
hospital in The Hague and after a fortnight I was home again.
As I wanted to
fly again I knew I must find a way to get to England so I joined
the Underground movement.