Tag Archives: Waalsdorpervlakte

Illness

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photo credit: Michael de Groot, Pixabay

 

I was evacuated within hours of being born: an un-exploded bomb from WW2 had just been found in the hospital grounds. My mother and I were despatched to the nearby town of Haarlem. After a bike ride my father found us there in an old people’s home.

May last year I posted about the small memorial on the Waalsdorpervlakte in the nearby dunes, how the sound of the bells reached me, sitting inside the caravan. You can read more here. This year there will only be one person ringing that large Bourdon bell tomorrow evening, and the wreath-laying ceremony by the monument on the Dam, Amsterdam will also be scaled down.

Liberation Day, the 5th of May, is celebrated on a large scale only every five years. This year, 75 years on, would have been a major event and a Public Holiday. Flags will be flown, for sure.

 

Moensplein

 

The poem Illness is from my pamphlet A Stolen Hour which was published in March this year by Grey Hen Press. Because my mother’s father owned an electrical shop, we had a small black-and-white television soon after they became available. You can see the house still has that balcony. I like how in the poem the personal and the public are combined.

 

Illness

I’m sure it’s May 1956. Grandfather still runs the electrical shop,
but his wife is in hospital. Next month German tourists
will park their cars in resorts on the Dutch coast.
I’m sure I can smell the smoke from the butcher’s next door,
but I’m ill in bed, can only see pink trees above the balcony.

I’m curled up, a sniffy nose and my ears blocked,
but I can’t turn my face away from the place in the dunes,
a pile of boots and shoes. There must have been butterflies.
These twenty men marched out of town, the execution.

I can see myself at the ink-stained desk, a grainy photo.
Then the photo starts moving, shakily, away from the light.
I’m ill again, but not in my bed in my bedroom, because my mother’s
mother is there in her best dress, lying still. Downstairs
the front room curtains have been drawn.

Liberation Day

Bourdon

Bourdon bell, Waalsdorpervlakte

Even inside my caravan I could hear the dark sound of the Bourdon bell, just over a mile away in the dunes. The Waalsdorpervlakte is one of the major Second World War memorials in the Netherlands. On the evening of the 4th of May, there are formal gatherings everywhere in the Netherlands. The King and Queen will be on the main square in Amsterdam with other dignitaries, taking turns to lay wreaths.

However, there is something deeply moving about the gathering in the dunes. It is the location where around 250 people were executed during the war, many of whom had been active in the resistance. The area is part of a protected nature reserve, close to Scheveningen where those about to be killed were kept in prison (locally called the Oranjehotel), and close to the beach.

The first formal commemoration was here in May 1946 when there were just four wooden crosses. Later they were replaced with four bronze crosses. Local volunteers will have placed rows of flowers in the colours of the Dutch flag (red, white and blue) in front of those crosses. They also ring that large Bourdon bell and stop it just before 20:00. After two minutes’ silence and the national anthem, they start ringing the bell again. People can then walk past and leave a wreath, a bouquet, or just a single flower. The bell is rung until the last person has walked past and paid their respect. That may be close to midnight.

Liberation Day is celebrated annually on the 5th of May, with major celebrations every five years.

This poem will be included in my second collection, due out early autumn.

Here I am walking …

Here I am walking with a small horse.
I found it on the path to the supermarket
where it stood, eyes closed, by yellow gorse.

All this happened a long time ago,
before I was born, before the war,
and the rope in my hand smells of horse.

We can turn to the right, walk over
the dual carriageway, head for the dunes,
four bronze crosses to remember

the war dead and we’ll arrive,
place our feet on the beach
where it’ll soon be night.