Sentimental Journey Continued
Sept. 26, 1945.
Entering Rotterdam Harbor. The Netherlands.
On board The Mexican In the English Channel.
From where the Rhine River enters the English Channel, it is about 20 miles up the river to Rotterdam, Holland. The harbor pilot had to navigate The Mexican carefully, as there were miles of WWII debris (sunken ships, bombed bridges, etc.). protruding from the water.
At 7:00 PM, the moment the gang plank was attached, many people, including several policemen, swarmed on board, wanting to buy tobacco, chocolate, gum, candies, clothes, nylons, and especially cigarettes. Knowing the shortages in advance, the gifts I brought were not for sale. Mastering the newly- issued Dutch currency (42 cents a guilder) while the old valueless currency was still being offered as payment, meant that one must quickly learn the difference. The 7-cent package of cigarettes were being sold for as much as 4 guilders (at that time $1.68). A pair of carved wooden shoes I found comfortable and were about my size, but I didn’t buy. The police uniforms were trim and attractive, with a boxy shaped hat.
Within an hour and a half after arrival, the Dutch stevedores started removing the horses. They had huge electrically driven cranes which ran on rails. The horses were led into a cage one at a time, and then hoisted off the ship to the dock below. The prolonged evening of excitement shortened our night of sleep.
Getting up at 5:00 AM to feed our remaining horses, I found three boys (apparently about 11 years old) sleeping in some hay in our section. They appeared unafraid but hungry. Dave Miller, who had earlier served in the Canadian army in Holland, commented that many children spoke English well. These did. They remained there until we brought them some breakfast from our kitchen, which we continued to do for the duration of our ship’s stay.
The small Rotterdam harbor appeared okay, but peripheral areas were a mess.
Quoted from my Memoirs:
On May 19th, 1940 the Nazis had surrounded Rotterdam, the Dutch government had fallen; the Queen had left to live in Ottawa, Canada through the war; there was no remaining Dutch army or air-force; and the airport had fallen to the Nazis, as previously agreed with the Germans, surrender of Rotterdam would, when the Dutch were ready, take place by putting up surrender flares. This the Dutch did, and then waited for the German Army to move in. Instead, at 12 Noon, 30 German planes took off from the captured airport, and forming evenly spaced distances apart, at 4500 feet, they methodically flew over the center of Rotterdam, carefully spacing their bombs in a grid pattern for maximum destruction. The shuttling planes with new loads continued for 2 1/2 hours, with no opposing Dutch planes or artillery. The end result was almost 25,000 men, women and children killed. (Producer Frank Capra’s film “Why we Fight” said 30,000). There were over 26,000 buildings destroyed including the City Hall, train station, major churches, and hospitals etc. The object was said to be to frighten Paris and London, so that they would surrender quickly when their turn cane. Paris’s turn was only 25 days away, and then they declared Paris an ‘open’ city, passing it over to the Nazis for bloodless occupation.
The sight of blocks and blocks of remnants of brick buildings is what greeted us on the morning of September 27th.