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15 October 2014
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Serving in the Netherlands Merchant Navy during the war by Nicolas Wensveenicon for Recommended story

by Stockport Libraries

Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Nicolas Wensveen
Location of story: 
Channel, Atlantic, Mediterranean
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 June 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Chris Comer and Elizabeth Perez of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Nicolas Wensveen and has been added to the site with his permission. He fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

I was in Argentina when Hitler invaded the Netherlands. I was a junior officer in the Netherlands Merchant Navy and we had just loaded about 10,000 tons of maize for Rotterdam. We were told by our company to stay put until they decided what to do. After a week or so it appeared that our Government had been moved to London and would get instruction from them. We were then told to go to Freetown for orders, after that to Dakar, then to Casablanca, then Bordeaux, staying approximately a week in each port. it was while we were anchored in the mouth of the Gironde that a British cruiser told us to follow him. We finished up in Falmouth in the dark and to be told that we were in a minefield. Next morning we went in convoy towards London, it was then I spotted the first submarine of the war. On arrival in London, our cargo had started to sprout and was three feet high in the holds. Total time taken was about twelve weeks instead of the normal three and a half to four weeks.

While in London, I was trained as a Gunnery Offcier by the Royal Navy. We did not get a gun, but were issued with a rifle to be kept on the bridge and to be used to kill the pilot of any aircraft attacking us.

Because the Channel was too tricky, we sailed along the East Coast around Scotland into the Atlantic, where we scattered west of Ireland and proceeded on our own bound for Iraq round the Cape of Good Hope to the Persian Gulf. We loaded a full cargo of dates in various packages. Drinking the water in Basrah gave most of us diarrhoea and we had to go to hospital for tests.

Back to London the same way taking on cargo in South Africa. Very quickly the ship was overrun by cockroaches and in London had to be furmigated. We did receive a 4" gun and a few machine guns. We also flew a kite from the mast on the East Coast. The cargo of dates was well received as it was nearly Christmas.

We made another voyage around the Cape to India without bad experiences. By that time submarines were operating in the South Atlantic and even around the Cape. Ships were sunk in the South Atlantic, but crews going into lifeboats were usually well treated by sub-commanders. We had to go well south of the Cape to avoid the subs.

Back in London we saw the Blitz, discovered the Lyons Corner Houses for entertainment and also the pub life in London, not good!

Then we made several trips to USA and Canada. I ruptured myself in New York and had to go to hospital in Liverpool, then convalesced at a college in Epsom, Surrey. I passsed exams in 1942 and 1944 and became a Master Mariner.

We made various trips to the Mediterranean by then well equipped with guns, and we saw lots of action. The worst part was to see people in the water and not be allowed to pick them up. On the North Atlantic things were bad, all convoys being attacked and ships sunk. They had special rescue ships who were at the back of the convoy and in a better position to pick up survivors from the cold water. An interesting gadget used in convoy was the fog buoy we trailed at a few cables behind us and it helped a great deal to keep us close together especially in poor visibility.

On one of our Mediterranean trips, I was invited to play a game of roulette and I won a lot of money which was paid back in the form of a party at a posh restuarnat in Liverpool. Some girls from the British Council House joined us and we had a great evening, dinner, dance and plenty to drink. One of these girls became my wife in 1946.

At the end of the war I listened to music being played for each part of the forces including the Merchant Navy. It was then that I learned the hymn "Eternal Father stong to save". I was very grateful for not losing any of the ships I had been on and also for the many nice people I met. I lost a lot of my friends and now find that all wars are evil. No ordinary citizen gains anything from it. Millions of young people were killed What a waste! To rear your children, educate them and then have them slaughtered. In times of war honesty is thrown out of the window and some people turned into animals. We see the same in any war!

At the moment we are commemorating the D Day Landings. I was fortunate not to be included in that operation, but I went to Normandy when it was all over. I stood on top of the cliff where the German defences were overlooking the beaches and I could imagine vividly the fighting going on, and behind me were the many thousands of gravestones. After reading the many inscriptions I walked back to the car and cried for a good bit. Europe was devastated by bombing and fighting. It made a terrible impression on the people of Europe and the people of the Benelux because they always seemed to be the worst affected.

Winston Churchill touring W. Europe in 1946 urged the people to form a United Europe. Unfortunately it fell on deaf ears in the U.K. After a shaky start we now have 25 countries with a population of 450 million who think it is better to talk, negotiate, compromise than to declare war. The E.U. is bound by the United Nations to try and stop war in the bud!

Our prosperity in the U.K. is due to not having had any war in Europe apart from the war in Yugoslavia, the quality of life has never been higher. It's only a few years ago that gordon brown announced that the War debt that we had to the U.S.A had been paid off! I'd like to know how much we paid. WWI was unnecessary, WWII was caused by the War damages imposed on Germany to such an extent that people were looking for someone to rid them of that situation. Hitler came and thrived then it was too late.

Some people say that there will always be war but the E.U. has shown that it is possible to live in harmony and I wished that the U.K. Government felt a bit closer to the E.U. than to the U.S.A.

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