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Wartime England-bound resistance men honoured with special plaque 

Recognition for ‘Engeland-vaarders’

Tags: World War II

SCHEVENINGEN, the Netherlands - Crossing the North Sea in dinghies and un-seaworthy river crafts was not the only danger escapees from the German occupation faced. Enemy patrols at sea and in the air were no match for the slow-moving boats. Many people abandoned their attempts, others disappeared at sea, while some were picked up and brought back to their occupied country to face death or were outright killed at sea. Only 1,800 reached England, of whom many via land to Spain or neutral Portugal.

A recent initiative by the municipality of The Hague to dedicate a seaside plaque to these Engeland-vaarders was welcomed by the remaining group of 400 who have joined a Dutch foundation which promotes their legacy. Present at the Scheveningen beach dedication was author Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema whose book “Soldier of Orange” engraved this part of World War II history into the post-war Dutch consciousness. The two other main characters in the book, Chris Krediet and Piet Tazelaar, have passed away.

In particular Hazelhoff Roelfzema, now 85, embodies the legacy of the group which in England joined the battle to liberate their occupied country. The elderly Dutch East Indies-born author, who lives now in Hawaii, at the ceremony had part of the Scheveningen beach named after him. From their base in England, Hazelhoff Roelfzema and his two friends carried out several missions in the Netherlands.

Tea with the Queen

Engeland-vaarders upon their arrival in London were stringently screened by English security units who were distrustful of all newcomers. Once they passed the tests, they would be welcomed by Queen Wilhelmina for tea. Many of the new arrivals joined the Dutch army. Anyone who failed English scrutiny remained behind bars.

Many Engeland-vaarders enlisted in the Prinses Irene Brigade, while others, especially in the early period, were sent to the Dutch East Indies. A number of men were recruited for intelligence work and dropped over the Netherlands to set up a network behind enemy lines. Most of them were caught and on September 6 and 7, 1944 died a horrible death in the stone quarries of concentration camp Mauthausen. They were the victims of successful German counter-intelligence infiltration efforts and Allied failure to pick up a hidden warning code in radio transmissions from occupied territory. The scam eventually was detected and became widely known as ‘England Spiel’. In the Dutch armed forces the Engeland-vaarders became a highly regarded group of people. In the history of Dutch resistance they deserve a separate chapter to detail their blend of adventure and choice against foreign occupation and ideology.