The Dutch

We spent our honeymoon in Dulwich because it was near Willie who had never met Sophie. From there it was easy to commute to Central London and all the excitement, if not bright lights, but much more difficult to reach Balham and the rest of the family. Indeed it was quicker to walk than ride. GLENLEA
Willie was living in a house called Glenlea in Dulwich. It was a huge house standing within its own grounds and had been taken over by whatever Department of the War Office was responsible for receiving, training and returning Dutch escapees from German occupied Holland, who wished to become saboteurs and Resistance workers. A cousin of ours who was a ship’s captain pre-war, and had lost a leg in an action earlier in the war, was now a Commander in the Navy, liaising with the exiled Dutch government officials. It was uncharitably suggested by some in the family that he had been a smuggler before the war, so this might account for his close association with the Netherlands.
For whatever reason, he set up this sort of spy school and then persuaded Willie to take charge as housekeeper. When I went home on leave, Willie had obtained permission for me to stay there at Glenlea with the ‘Dutch Boys’, as she called them, and I was privy to much that went on. They had a radio room where they learned to use radio transmitters and, one assumes, code books although that was never discussed. On one side of the garden was a very tall tree growing close to a wall and from the tree a thick rope hung. Although I was never there when it was used, I understand that the routine was to climb onto the wall with the rope and then, like Tarzan, swing until it was at full extent and then let go and thus learn the technique of landing with a parachute.
Every Sunday evening, a ritual was performed. The BBC would play, in turn, the National Anthem of each country which was in exile. The radio was on, the evening meal was over and we sat smoking or drinking, all were listening. Then it was the National Anthem of the Netherlands. The men would stand, some would sing, and at the end they would toast Queen Wilhelmena in unison.
Over weeks the men would disappear from time to time to go on courses in other houses or at some other location and then they would return, all without comment. The idea was that no one should know if they had gone on an operation or merely a course, but in spite of these precautions many were caught as they landed in Holland. It was said later that one of the men I used to go to London with for nights out was a Nazi spy who had been passing information. I was never able to confirm that.
I remember one of the men in particular, but not his name. He had been caught by the Nazis and had escaped. I forget how he arrived in England, there were two main routes, one through Sweden and the North Sea, the other through Europe to Spain and then to London. When he arrived in England this man had a strawberry mark on his face which made him very easy to distinguish, yet he was so keen to get back into the fray he was prepared to undergo a skin graft. When I last saw him his face had not healed enough for him to leave our country.
Many of the men had come from the Dutch East Indies and when the school broke up they gave Willie two beautiful silver bon bon dishes of Javanese origin.

Categorized as General

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