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Veteranen-verhalen / Veteran Stories

Veteran stories of Frits van Schaik, member of the Dutch resistance group in Dodewaard, Holland, in World War 2
(By Geurt van Rinsum)


Background and family life of Frits van Schaik , born on the 25th of November 1918 in Ochten, today living in Dodewaard, Pluimenburgsestraat 29.
F. van Schaik, born on the 19th of January 1896; Father
A.M. Sander born on the 3rd of December 1889; Mother
C.W.v an Schaik born on the 2nd of May 1921; sister
C. Th. van Schaik , born on the 11th of December 1929; brother

My father was a cigar maker. In that time, cigars were completely handmade. Even the inner tobacco was cut by hand. Wages were low in those days and that is why my mother started doing some needle work in order to make some extra money.

I went to primary school and after the six years of school had ended the headmaster, Mr. Koldewey, came to ask my parents if I could continue my education. In his opinion I qualified for further studying. Although my parents were willing to allow me to do so, there was no money for it, unfortunately.
The legal minimum age for working in a factory was 14 and I worked on a farm first. After that I went to the Shipbuilding Yard in Dodewaard.

My sister to the cigar factory where my father work, to do light chores. Next to it she learned needlework from my mother. Later she took over my mother’s clients and stopped working at the factory.

After primary school, my brother did attend secondary school. This was possible because three of us earned money now. He attended college for 4 years, in fact he did a five years course in 4 years, and then he went to university with an interest free loan from the government, for Medical School. After getting his diploma as a family doctor, he went on to study psychiatry. For this he had to work for 10 years for the municipality of Rotterdam apart from paying back his loan. So he started with a large debt.

At the shipyard I had to work 60 hours a week for 4 guilders. I started as a rivet boy. Ships were still riveted in those days. I had to heat up the rivets using a transportable small blacksmith’s fire. The fire was fed with air by a ventilator, which had to brought in motion with one leg. You would stand on one leg all day long. After one year there came another rivet boy. I then went to work in the forge, also the fitting shop.

The factories in Dodewaard switched to using to steam with accessory engines. As we, on the shipyard were familiar with steam kettles and steam engines (because of the steam ships) these factories came to the ship yard for repairing.
The first steam kettle in Dodewaard came in a marmalade factory, which was in English hands at the time. This kettle arrived by train at the Hemmen Dodewaard railway station. It took a local transporter, Kees Ariese, to transport the kettle to the factory, using a cart drawn by six horses. The reason that it took a week was that the weak roads couldn’t take the weight, so that steel sheets had to be laid and moved after the kettle had past.
As factory – repairs belonged to my task, I had to do much overtime besides my regular 60 work hours. Those extra hours were not paid in the first years. Was there any holiday on a working day, e.g. Christmas, then we got fewer salary for that one day. Transportation for the working class was walking or cycling in those days. My grandfather had to deliver a shipment of nuts in Rotterdam which would then be shipped to England. In Rotterdam they were put over in a seagoing ship. Here they were declared unfit for use. He then went to Rotterdam on foot with a sack full of food on his back. He drank from a ditch or a river. The distance between Dodewaard – Rotterdam is about a hundred kilometers. He slept in haystacks. He sold the nuts to local dealers with a loss.


When the Germans invaded our country, we, the people of Dodewaard had to evacuate as we lived close to the so called “Grebbe-linie”; the Dutch defense line.
The ships in which we were to be transported had been ready for some time on the River Waal. It turned out to be ships which had carried coals. They had not been cleaned so we sat down or laid in the coal dust.
We didn’t know where we would be brought. Near the town of Tiel, we couldn’t go further, as retreating Dutch soldiers had laid a floating bridge across the River Waal. We spend the night there. Initiated by Beb van Breda some man rowed ashore and went into Tiel to get some milk for the children aboard. The next day we went in western direction and the noise of war got worse. In the evening we arrived in the town of Papendrecht and anchored. Around us we saw fires and buildings bombed by the Germans. The circle of fires buildings got so large during the night that it was decided to return to Sliedrecht, a distance of probably 15 kilometers. Here we were very welcomed heartily by the people and we were housed there. Now after about 70 years we still have good contacts with the children and grandchildren of that Vermeulen family.

After the Dutch surrender we, together with some other inhabitants of Dodewaard, went back home by lorry. Most people were brought back with the same coal boats. After coming home we found our house being broken open and we missed several things, mainly food and bicycles. So we had lost all our means of transportation.

The First German soldiers which I came across tried to make me understood that they had taken The Netherlands to prevent an English occupation, which would have been awful, as they said.

Slowly normal life returned except from the food which became scarcer and scarcer. It was stolen by the Germans. Food was distributed and only available on coupons which were issued by the government in special distributions offices. You needed to have a so called: “persoonsbewijs” (identity-card) which would later on give a lot of trouble for people who were hiding for the Germans, so called “divers”.

There was plenty of work at the ship yard and also in the house- building business, as there was a lot of damage done. At the cigar factory there was less work because there wasn’t enough tobacco. The big bulk of this and the best parts of it disappeared into Germany.

At the ship yard we had to work for the German Army. We dealt mainly with river vessels, designed to transport soldiers and warfare equipment. These ships were reconstructed by us. The bows were taken off and were replaced by moveable gates, which also could be used for driving on and off the vessels. The bow was replaced again, but fastened in a way that it was easy to remove it. In the bottom of the ships, the wooden floor was taken away and replaced by concrete. Via the moveable front construction, tanks and other war material could roll into the vessels. The Germans who controlled our work told us that these kind of ships were constructed to use them for the invasion of England.

Gradually we got less food, bud we could buy some additional food at a reasonable price from the farmers in our village. Only the transportation of it had to be done in a way that the Germans didn’t catch us. Iron and copper became scarce. You almost could not get that anymore. But we had to use it on the yard for building the ships for the Germans. So we repaired tools and engines with it for the local farmers, who paid for it with meat and butter.
As I did those forbidden tasks more often than not, I got a share of that food too.
Then another problem became apparent. As more and more German men had to join the German Army and go to the front, a shortage of laborers started in Germany.
Many Dutch men had to go to Germany to do “slave-labor”.
By the labor office in Tiel four men of our ship yard were appointed to go to Germany.
First they asked who were the best workers. They promised that these would be allowed to stay here. I was among those four.
But in the contrary it became evident that exactly those four were ordered to go!
For the appropriate documents I had to call at the local town hall. There I was helped by Mr. D Willemsen. He asked me if I wanted to go. Of course I said; “No, I don’t”.
He said; “Come and get a letter tomorrow, which you have to take to the labor office in Tiel and there you ask for the director. It won’t be easy to get to speak to him, but keep trying until you see him in person.”
I sat down in that office in the reception room and told the man there that I wouldn’t leave until I had seen the director personally. At last he came. What was in the letter I don’t know, but immediately I got a letter which said that I was exempted from work in Germany.

A bookkeeper named Menzo van Wely worked at the shipyard’s office. He asked if I was inclined to repair weapons for the Dodewaard resistance group, of which he was the leader. Later it turned out to be mostly German weapons, which were left behind in the combat areas of German invasion into Holland in May 1940 or were stolen from the Germans by men of the resistance.
In fact this work was less dangerous than taking part in raids. But when you got caught you got the dead penalty, after being tortured until you would betray the names of other members of the resistance group. In our group I knew only the name of the leader and one other resistance man. In this case it was Teun Meurs from Hien (a suburb of Dodewaard) with whom I carried out reconnaissance patrols and put the findings on maps. I think (but of course I did not know him either ) that our leader’s brother in law, Mr Koedood from Tiel, took care of the repaired weapons.

In the middle of 1942 I was to accompany Menzo to Mr. T. van Eck in Dodewaard. This van Eck had a rifle that he wanted to sell to the Resistance. When we came there he did not have the rifle in his house, but it was hidden somewhere. With Menzo he agreed that 20 guilders would be paid for the rifle. A few days later it would be delivered during the night. A resistance group from Arnhem would collect it and take it to Tiel. There turned out to be a traitor among them. In Tiel the recipients were arrested immediately and on the way back T. van Eck was taken away too. On my way to the ship yard I passed van Eck's house. After this night his wife stood me up and told what had happened and asked if I could send Menzo to her. He wasn't at the office> I asked his mother and she told me he went into hiding. Then a difficult time began. I was afraid if van Eck mention my name under pressure. This did not happen.

Food became more and more scarce. Warfare became more and more truculence. At first, Allied bombers only flew during the night. But later they started flying during day and night. They also began to attack railway and ship transportation. The consequence was that supplies of food were also hindered. Fortunueately we could get some liters of milk from farmer Reen, who lived in our neighborhood every day. Now and then we got some pounds of bacon from Jans van Breda when her husband had killed a pig clandestinely.

When, shortly before the liberation, I traveled by train from Sliedrecht to Dodewaard we were shot by fighter planes in Geldermalsen. Two people were killed and the steam engine was destroyed. It took more than two hours before another train arrived and this one was also shot and destroyed by fighter planes. At that moment I could get home with Jan Remmerde, a wagoner from Dodewaard who was in Kesteren with a wagon load of fruits.
But in that time on each train was a unit of Germans on a open box car with anti aircraft guns. Mostly on the last box car, but sometimes on two cars.
In Geldermalsen those Germans could not do anything. They could not see the planes there, because the train was under a roof or awning. But in Kesteren they could see them and fired at them. But the planes came in very, very low. Probably that was a flying tactic that gave them more safety. Anyhow, the planes were not hit.

More and more air battles took place over the Betuwe area and more were shot down. Also bombers that got hit, dropped their bomb loads in the Betuwe to have a better chance to get to back to England without the heavy load of bombs aboard. In a fight over Wely an English plane was shot down and came on the ground near a group of trees. The crew could get out but with heavy burns. My brother in law, Gos Vink, who lived nearby went to see what the situation was, and was able to hide the airmen in the neighboring wooded area. Usually the Germans would aeeive on the spot immediately to arrest the crew. They did come this time but drove by, probably because the plane was far from the road and the wood gave some protection. Vink later on took the crew to his house, partly through the fields and orchards to stay out of vieuw as much as possible.
( The Germans usually gave you the dead penalty for hiding Allied pilots. Note by the translator. G.v.R)

His sister applied some emergency bandages and then cycled to the local doctor to ask if he could come to cure the crew. Doctor Cornet thought it better not to come in person, because this might alert the Germans or Quislings to lead them to the airmen. He explained how to cure the men and gave medicines and bandages.
Next night the crew was led away by the resistance, among whom was a nurse in order to try and get them back to England though the liberated part of France, in which they succeeded.

Evidently they must have reported the details of their helpers because after the liberation the Royal Air Force Escaping Society took and maintained contact with my brother in law until he died. One of the crew members has some back once to pay a visit.

In September 1944 Allied fighter planes came to strafe the German Anti Aircraft Batteries in the Betuwe. This turned out to be the fore runner of the Battle of Arnhem. On Sunday morning, September 17th, the first gliders
passed over our heads and landed on the Renkum heath fields as did the paratroopers. They formed a bridgehead near Oosterbeek. It was an impressive sight. German forces withdrew from most of the villages along the river Rhine.

Soon after it the first English and American tanks entered our village. The Germans withdrew to the edge of Dodewaard in the direction of Ochten ( to the west). We came in the frontline with all of its consequences. By a combination of resistance groups, with the Rev. Teerink as a leader, I was called up to serve as a rifle repairer .

The resistance-movement started arresting Quislings and girls who had been too close with Germans during the occupation. They were taken away to a camp. The reason was that if the Germans would unexpectedly return, they couldn't betray the resistance people. They were not treated ill or shaven bald as in some other places happened. They were even told that they needn't to be afraid that they would be tortured as thousands of people had been in German camps.

The Germans had dug a number of foxholes when the Allies were coming closer. Now that the Germans had withdrawn these woles were every other night occupied during by either English soldiers or resistance men in order to stop German reconnaissance units if any appeared.
As the battle of Arnhem didn't go smoothly, more troops were needed and the Germans tried to gain back the lost terrain from the direction of Ochten, Kesteren, Opheusden, and the fighting got fiercer. We dug a shelter near our house covered with boards and covered it with the soil we had dug up.

During the battle of Opheusden I had to show civilians the safest way to escape from their village. I also was detailed to check if there were any disguised Germans in a signals house near the Opheusden railroad crossing. I did this together with a group of Englishmen who were stationed there.

In the meantime my family had to evacuate. I took my parents, brother and sister to Slijk-Ewijk on foot with a wheel barrow on which was a suitcase with many clothes and as much food as possible. There they were taken across the river Waal together with other people from Dodewaard. At that time this area was liberated already.
Later I had heard that they had been transported further by lorries. My parents got on another truck as the others but they were told that they would be taken to the same location. This turned out not to be true. My brother and sister ended up in Eindhoven and my parents went to a monastery in Mierlohout. It took six weeks before they knew from each other where they were. Only in January I got a Red Cross Message from them.

When I was convinced that they had reached the other side of the Waal river and were safe, I walked back to Dodewaard's town hall where the resistance group was situated. In the meantime we were reinforced by resistance men from Opheusden. Their leader was Stoffel van Binsbergen.
Then I got more work as a rifle repairer, but my "Red Cross task" was taken over by two first aid girls who had arrived with the Opheusden people. They were Mary Peters and Sientje van der Sluis. When something occurred close to the frontline, I had to go there but more often than not the work had already been done by Army medics. On such occasions these soldiers saw in my first aid bag with which poor materials we had to do our job. They supplied us with better items.
Then the liberators moved to Dodewaard with large number of artillery guns and for days on end they shelled Opheusden and Ochten.
They stayed on a location for about two hours, then they altered their location and began anew. The result was that we received incoming German shells which came down on the spots were the guns had just left. When the town hall and surroundings were battered the still present municipal staff departed to a house in the Groenestraat in Wely (East of Dodewaard).

The Germans did everything they could to destroy the road bridge at Nijmegen. This was the only connection between the small isolated area, called the Betuwe were we lived and the big bulk of Allied troops in the already liberated part of Holland South of the Waal river. So it was even more important for them to cut this connection because the Betuwe could be a starting point for a large attack at the German troops on the northen banks of the Rhine river. They sent floating mines to the bridge, accompanied by frogmen with oxygen bottles on their backs. When they came to the surface of the water, downstream from Nijmegen, a reconnaissance group of the Resistance saw something floating in the Waal, near the shipyard. Coming nearer it turned out to be three frogmen. When they were ordered to come to the river bank they dived under water but as their bottles were empty, they soon came to the surface again. Rifle shots were fired in front of them, after which they came out of the water and were arrested and handed over to the military. If they had been to swim an additional 2 kilometers, they would have been in the area of their own comrades.
In the meantime the resistance group was located in Vink's Jam cannery in the town of Wely and in some surrounding dwellings. When the Germans had advanced from Opheusden north of the little Linge river in the direction of Hemmen, the American Airborne troops (101st Airborne Division) in Dodewaard had beaten them in a smashing battle and had taken 256 prisoners too. Magnificent for us to see! Our liberators became stronger and stronger and only needed us to reach objectives which they pointed out on maps.
From the jam cannery we were transferred to the "De Geer" farm along the dyke in Wely. The military took over the spot we left.
The Germans blew up the dyke near Driel on the 2nd of December 1944. Water flooded the Betuwe which was reason why the last people present in Dodewaard had to leave. This happened in Army trucks. Some people left on their own.

We were reinforced with farmers in order to take as much cattle as possible to Lent. Wearing boots, it was possible using the regularroads. From Valburg we went across the railway embankment to Lent. When we arrived there we got food in a monastery. We slept there too. The next day we were taken to Dodewaard by truck. In the meantime the Germans began to launch their V1 's and V2's. One came down in a meadow in Wely, which fortunately didn't explode. It was an iron-sheet object, filled with explosives.

The Allies withdrew and only remained in position on the Waal dyke. The positioned Anti Aircraft Artillery. As many German factories had been bombed and a lot of their aircraft had been downed, only very few German planes were seen.

When all the inhabitants of Dodewaard had been evacuated, our group left for Oosterhout, together with substitute Burgomaster Schouten. Burgomaster Den Hartog had been dismissed because of his collaboration with the Germans .
The Allies took more and more positions in De Betuwe in order to establish a large circular front around the Nijmegen bridge. We accompanied them but we were only used as guards near military checkpoints in order to control civilians who had managed to pass through the German lines. The only women in the Betuwe were nuns in a monastery, nurses and doctor Huygens’ wife in Lent.

The circle around the Nijmegen bridge was enlarged so much that German curved trajectory artillery couldn't reach the bridge. They made a try with other types of artillery but this wasn't threatening the bridge. This artillery did hit Nijmegen however. A few German planes were shot down near the bridge.

The Dodewaard resistance group was located in a large house in Lent. Jan van Eck was our cook. When we were on duty we had our meals with the soldiers. I still remember that the English added sugar to almost everything.

The Germans still tried to blow up the bridge using frogmen. Only once the red outer surface of a pillar was damaged slightly. After that the Allies placed steel netting in the water across the Waal river. The frogmen couldn't advance anymore then. As they weren't able to swim upstream back to their own lines, they were taken prisoner.

Liberation and the following period. 1944 & 1945

When the Germans capitulated in the Betuwe the mines which had been laid in the roads were swept. As the first ones we were to go to Dodewaard to assist the police. There we found housed that were totally destroyed, damaged and littered.
From our house the roof was damaged, all windows-panes were broken and the funiture damaged. As a result of the Germans blowing up the Rhine dyke near Driel, water had entered the houses. Before my family returned I began to close the roof. Things I needed I took from the shed. I stopped the windows with wood and for glass I took the glass of picture frames which had "survived". After that I cleaned everything as far I had the materials to do so. My parents’ bed had remained fairly well. My sister's,my brother's and my own had gotten wet from the rain leaking through the damaged roof. The blankets were dried on the washing-line. I couldn't get the cotton from the mattresses dry and compelled by necessity I replaced it with straw.

People from the village started to return and so did our neighbours. They found a mine in the path behind their house. As I had a weapon I shot at it from the hay stack with the intention to explode it. Only at the third shot it exploded. The rest of our family was taken back to their home by military trucks from Brabant; the southern part of Holland.

Some people from Dodewaard got wounded by unexploded shells. Soon we learned that Mr. T. van Eck, the one who got that rifle, was murdered by the Germans on May 12th, 1944 as well as the arrested Mr. W. Hoogakker on May 20, 1944. In our family a cousin, M.Thijssen from the town of Wamel, was killed during a bombing raid on Nijmegen. Another cousin, from the totally damaged village of Ochten, got wounded when he hit a mine with his horse and cart.

Food only remained available through rationing but it got better and better. After everything started to become a bit normal again, I started a construction firm of my own, being helped by the Hendriks family where I worked. I ran this business for 30 years together with my wife.

Because of our experiences during the war, we kept admiring the English and Americans and we still appriciate them. Through the German occupation I got another view on our overseas territories of which we used to be so proud. I was glad when the people of these colonies had fought themselves free to become independent from The Netherlands.
I hope that this story has any value to you.

A note:
The Dutch name of the area between the rivers Rhine and Waal is known as De "Betuwe".
I have not translated that name. But the Allies called our area "The Island" and that name is used in most of the books about the war in this area.

Written by Frits van Schaik.


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