How fleeing Dutch soldiers found love in Porthcawl as they fled from their …

It was May 1940 and Hitler’s forces marched through Europe with impunity.

One after another small, relatively defenceless states were unable to resist the might of the Nazis.

Among them was Holland from where Queen Wilhelmina fled The Hague and boarded British Royal Navy destroyer “Hereward” to cross the North Sea to Harwich, in Essex.

Their monarch gone, those who were left behind were powerless to protect Holland from the advancing Germans. Two days after the Queen left the country was under the control of the Nazis.

Many Dutch soldiers were captured, but about 1,400 evaded Hitler’s clutches and followed their queen to the UK.

‘Surrounded by barbed wire the men slept in tents’

Seventy-five years ago this month after initially going to Haverfordwest, the Princess Irene Brigade, as it became known, was quickly moved to Dan-y-Graig Camp, Porthcawl.

Surrounded by barbed wire the men slept in tents.

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They had arrived in Plymouth and Newport on the last two boats from Brest, in France, before being moved to Porthcawl on June 11.

Dutch school teacher and historian Richard van de Velde, whose military policeman father David was one of those who escaped to Wales, says at first the mood among the fleeing soldiers was low as they found themselves held in suspicion by British forces.

A second large group arrived three days later, bussed in by armed soldiers. There was an anxious silence among the Dutch, who began to feel resentment at being treated like prisoners of war.

Mr van de Velde said: “The first two, three or four days was terrible because they looked liked criminals inside the fence and they couldn’t get out.”

However Mr van de Velde said his father remained philosophical.

‘Were there German spies among them?’

“It was logical because they (British troops) didn’t know what types were in the military – were there German spies among them?

Initially locals pushed aside curtains and watched thinking they were witnessing captured Germans being marched along.

But it wasn’t long before they got a warm Welsh welcome – some ended up married to local women within six weeks or so of their arrival.

VE Day celebrations:

Mr van de Velde, 60, said: “There were some marriages in the area – I think there was two or three of them in the first two or three months – unbelievable.”

His father was among those to find love.

Though not in Wales – come October the men were moved on from Porthcawl when the tents became too cold.

They ended up in Congleton, in Cheshire, before moving on to a camp just outside Wolverhampton, where they saw out the rest of the war.

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It was in Congleton Mr van de Velde’s father met wife Doreen Lewis, 93, from nearby Staffordshire.

As well as Richard the couple went on to have two other children Christopher, who died 18 months ago aged 68, and Veronica Korpershoek, 66.

While Doreen still lives in Holland she lost her husband, with whom she had six grandchildren, 18 years ago.

Though the initial reception was frosty the British guard that brought the Dutch to the Portchcawl camp was stood down after a few days. Members of the Dutch Military Police, who were among the 1,400, were handed responsibility.

Meeting at the ice cream parlour

More freedoms followed and after a while the men enjoyed Porthcawl’s Coney Beach and local pubs.

They picked up English – often with the help of local girls.

The meeting point in town was the Ice Cream parlour of the Borza family. It was part of Porthcawl’s Esplanade Hotel – also owned by the family.

Eirwen Jones, who worked at the hotel, was one of the young women who fell for a Dutch soldier.

She married lieutenant Henry Hendriks on September 21, 1940, in St John the Baptist Church, in Newton, Porthcawl.

The local Evans’ garage was quickly hired for the maintenance of the Dutch fleet.

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A ten-strong team of engineers stayed above the garage as a place to sleep with meals brought from the camp.

Mr van de Velde said it was so popular “there were sometimes fifty sleepers”.

He said numbers grew “in proportion to the number of amorous relations established with the local beauties”.

But it wasn’t all a love-in.

Weddings and fights

During the four months the soldiers stayed there was also friction.

The Dutch military policemen were camped separately from rank-and-file soldiers.

Many soldiers and civilians in Holland had experienced fines or short prison sentences at their hands for offences like smuggling.

Suddenly being thrust into their company brought friction.

And alongside the marriages with the Welsh women there were fights.

In pubs there were often fights in the evenings: Holland versus Wales.

But a blue plaque sitting on a wall at St John’s Church, in Newton, recalls the goodwill engendered by the stay of the Dutch soldiers.

It reads: “I was a stranger and ye took me in”.

Mr van de Velde wants locals who have stories and photos of the Princess Irene Brigade to share them with him . You can contact him via r.velde@hetnet.nl, or visit his website www.prinsesirenebrigade.nl

Article source: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/how-fleeing-dutch-soldiers-found-9485847