- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Location of story:
- end April 1945
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 November 2003
Manna and Lancasters,
My parents, my sister and I lived in the Dutch East-Indies, on the island of Sumatra. My father was a geologist and worked for the Dutch oil company. Life was pleasant there; everything we needed was there, nothing exceptional. In September 1939 we went on leave to my parents’ hometown in the Netherlands and were due to return home to the tropics about May 10 1940. But a few days before departure the Germans started war in Holland and occupied the country. We were not allowed out, we had to stay here, we were trapped. Our luggage for the coming five-year-stay in Sumatra had already been brought on board the steamer which should have taken us home. The ship escaped to England with 400 POW German paratroopers on board. All our belongings disappeared in the following chaotic circumstances.
About three months later, after living at five or six temporary addresses we moved to a third floor apartment with an attic in the heart of The Hague, there we stayed during rest of the war. All we possessed were the things one needs during a three weeks ships voyage, the clothes we had on, a few little things and some toys. I was just six years old then.
From the time the Jerries overran The Netherlands, the Tommies, as the British were named, counter-attacking the Germans, flew over the Netherlands.
The British had not given up.
On many days British airplanes flew over The Hague, mostly very high, sometimes very low. Then the air raid sirens wailed over the town and from all sides the German anti-aircraft-guns tried to hit them. The sky was full of white contrails of the aircraft and of white and grey puffs of the ack-ack. Down below trickled the fragments of the grenades. On one occasion (in ’41?) I saw five parachutes escaping from an aircraft on fire. Gradually one grew accustomed to the presence of the planes and the shooting.
Later on, when the British planes became equipped with radar, they flew at night. In the dark they did not fly in formation, but in long streams, one behind the other, to prevent mid-air collision. Those aircraft produced a loud droning sound that often lasted very long. It was not there every night and gradually I got accustomed to the sound and slept through it in my attic-room.
From mid 1943 things changed. From then on there was the rumbling drone of aircraft almost every night and in the long winter nights it lasted much longer too than in summer. We knew that they attacked the Germans and that in The Hague we ran no danger....
Often in those dark nights, searchlights could be seen by which the Germans tried to locate the planes. Never I have seen that they did succeed. But sometimes the noise was so overpowering that I got scared and called my mother. When she then came up the stairs to comfort me she peered through the window into the pitch-dark sky and told what she saw, which was in most cases the stars and the moon, but once she said that very far in the East she could see a red glow on the horizon.... The glow of some of the burning German towns could be seen in The Hague.
It was the time of the heavy bombers; we did not know what they looked like, but the sound got forever imprinted into my brains. As soon as it went dark hundreds of these aircraft passed over us, destination Germany, and early in the morning the last ones returned. We never saw one of them. That went on till almost the end of the war.
In the second half of 1944 bombers also appeared in daylight. They were Americans, who were not yet equipped with radar, as they were in the war only shortly. They could fly at much higher altitude than the British bombers, as their "Flying Fortresses" (the name was already known) had air pressurized cabins. In the beginning the Germans could not reach them with their ack-ack, but that was soon over. On one clear sunny afternoon a formation of about 50 "Flying Fortresses" was flying land inward high over Wassenaar/The Hague, when two aircraft got hit and left the group to try to get home.
Then the hunger winter came. The already too small rations were cut to hardly anything, a half loaf of bread a week, a few grams of vegetables and meat, and so on. But this food existed on paper only. In practice there were hardly any potatoes, no corn for bread. There was no supply, traffic, by road, by rail or on the (frozen) waters had stopped. What was left was sugar beetes and tulip bulbs and a few frozen potatoes. Cats and dog were eaten. Desperate people stole food from children, and vica-versa. There was no fire-wood, coal or oil for heating; most trees in town were felled; abandoned houses in the ”Sperrgebiet” behind the German minefields were demolished for a few chunks of wood; in the hard frozen soil the landmines’ igniter pin was not pushed down and the mines did not explode. When frost was over they did. That winter over 20000 people died of starvation and cold, some died of mines.
In February/March 1945 the "Bezuidenhout" in The Hague was bombed. For us, at hardly 4 kilometers distance, the target was clear: the German V2 rocket launching sites. From my window I could see the light bombers dive down and drop their bombs, I watched it all, first rank. We had already experienced the daylight precision bombings of the telephone-exchange at less than 200 meters from my school and on the population-registry-office beside the Peace-Palace, so we expected the launching site to be totally destroyed. There where no newspapers any more then, and it took several days before we realized that this bombardment had been one of those awful mistakes....
The first time the British heavy bombers became visible for me was during the food droppings over Holland, the operation "Manna/Chowhound". It was at the end of April 1945. I was nearly 11 years old by then.
The long, cold winter was over by then, but not so the malnutrition, the outlook was extremely grim as almost all known food reserves had been used up.
Rumors circulated, telling that Allied aircraft would drop food, some day. But there had been so many rumors throughout the war. The droppings were to take place over specially designated terrain, but nobody could tell where.
Then, on a bright sunny morning when I was playing or reading in my attic-room, I heard the usual nightly sound approaching. But this time it was very unusual, it was broad daylight! The sound quickly grew louder and louder, the attic trembled and a moment later a dark shadow flashed past the window. I rushed to the window and must have stunned.
There they were, "Lancasters", the first time we could see them. I thought they would fly straight into the room; they were at such low altitude, and one after the other they roared over the houses. In the distance there were many more. Coming from the East the Lancasters flew in loose formation over The Hague. They were over the whole town. I could not count them; it was one broad, mighty stream of aircraft, many more than a hundred. Far away, in the direction of the Malieveld (an ancient tournament field) one could see clouds of dark specks falling from some of the aircraft, I did not understand what that could be and at that moment it did not matter at all. Other aircraft did not drop anything there, must have done that over other places. In a second I climbed out the window into the rainwater gutter, went 3 meters to the left, than to the left again, and halfway between the slanting roofs I clambered over the tiles up on our flat roof, where I had a still better view!
Those aircraft that flew over us so many times unseen were so close now. They were black-and-brown giants, had four engines and a double rudder, guns poking out everywhere. One could easily look into the glass turrets and cockpit, could clearly see the airmen. They waved to us, made the V-sign; some of them had the Dutch or British flags fixed inside the front gun turret.
Some of the aircraft roaring over, had their bomb doors still open, sometimes an aircraft rolled slightly to and fro, meant as a greeting. The coloured roundels on fuselage and wings were clearly visible, as were their registrations. Some of the airmen will have seen the little boy on the flat roof, but of course, they raced past. And I was not the only one waving. There were many people, waving from windows. Some were even waving the Dutch red-white-blue flags, though that was dangerous because of fanatic Jerries.
Ten minutes later the euphoria was over, all the aircraft out of sight. Two days later they were there again and again I stood there waving on the roof. It was my last time on the roof, my mother forbade it, and there would be no other occasion.
The operation "Manna/Chowhound" must have been as impressive for the aircrews as it was for us down below. The aircraft were not allowed to fly below 300 meter, but some of them maneuvered between the church towers.
Operation "Manna/Chowhound" presented a second fact. The undisturbed flying of so many Allied aircraft over occupied territory demonstrated their superior power over the Germans: the end of the war was in sight.
The Germans prolonged their stupid struggle for ten days. By crossing, they managed to prevent the immediate distribution of the food. It was only after the glorious entry of the Canadian Ground Forces that this was carried out.
Bread was distributed for everyone, and biscuits, lard, tins with Meat-and-Vegetables (a kind of hotchpotch), what a wonderful taste, delicious, never to forget! How these tins were crumpled at their arrival onto the ground.
Every child under 14 got a bar of chocolate, dark, black! The feast of my chocolate bar lasted a month. I rasped it into small cuttings and put them in an old biscuit tin. Every night before going to sleep I took one cutting and intensely enjoyed its taste and deeply inhaled the scent from the tin. I was not convinced that there would ever be another bar.... This went on for 4 weeks till my mother realized that this was not normal behavior and ordered me to finish my chocolate. A month later there was another bar!
Over The Hague I have only seen the Lancasters, but other aircraft like Halifax, Flying Fortresses and Liberators flown by airmen from so many nations took their part in the food droppings of operation "Manna/Chowhound". Probably they flew over Amsterdam or Rotterdam or one of the many other towns, or I just missed them because of the excitement.
It was many years later, in the beginning of May 1985, about noon. I was working at my desk in an 18th century house in Delft, when I was distracted from my work by some sound. It was the sound of an aircraft flying over the town, and there was something very unusual about it. I simply dropped my work, went straight out the door and hurried in the direction of the Old Church, away from under the budding lime-trees, then looked upward.
There she was, rumbling and droning at 2500 meters high, back again, the Lancaster of the endless long fearful nights and the impressive food droppings. The Royal Air Force Memorial Flight, consisting of a Hurricane, a Spitfire and a Lancaster, was flying parade over Holland. The sound was there again and though I could not immediately place it, I immediately recognized it, 40 years afterwards. The memory is still alive, very alive.
I put these memories on paper in January ‘95. There were two reasons.
The first reason was that I want my two children to know a few of the things that happened during the war, as seen through their daddy's eyes. When I just tell them they can't believe me.
The second reason was, that till that time I had never seen or heard of any written report or memory of the food droppings. But people should not forget about this event, somebody had to write it down! So I did. Later that year, when I heard that a number of Manna veterans would visit our village, I translated the story into English, just in case!
By chance, at the end of April '95 a 112 pages A4 size booklet was published, filled with memories of the event in Dutch and English languages:
”Memories of a Miracle, Operation Manna/Chowhound”
by Hans Onderwater, ISBN 90 6100 407 1.
I did not know that it was to be edited, so my story was not included; our village weekly newspaper "Telstar" published the Dutch original on April 28, 1995.
On July ’96 I sent copies of this story to two ladies, the next of kin of Scottish airmen, together with copies of the booklet by Hans Oudewater.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.