Her sister Reintjen gave us permission to include another segment out of
the diaries of Jeanette (Coot) Callenbach (126.96.36.199). It is a human story that
fits in very well in the spring of the year 2005. We have published the story as
The following explanations may be helpful:
NZ = Emergency Hospital. (A temporary hospital established in the building of the family publishing firm next door to the house where Coot lived)
Father = CC (Kees) Callenbach (1.3.6) with his wife Reintje Callenbach-Haspels
Uncle = FJ (Frits) Callenbach, Kees’ brother, (1.3.4) with wife Paula Callenbach-Maas, who, with their three children Juut, Kees and Lisa, had been evacuated from their home in Amersfoort to live in “the Meinskamp”, the home of Coot.
Vermeulen = The then shire secretary. The (anti-aircraft?) battery referred to stood near the railway crossing at the end of the Hoogstraat. This was very close to his house.
Anneke = One of Vermeulen’s children.
The Aunties = HJG (Heleen) Callenbach (5.1.2) and DRC (Diek) Callenbach (5.1.3), who lived a few doors down from Coot.
Four days under Canadian fire. 16 April 1945.
All sort of rumours were doing the round that evening. The whole day had been characterised by the frantic activities of the Germans.
I came home from the NZ by about 7.30 pm. My Father and my Uncle were in the kitchen discussing how things were going. Things were going well I heard. I had been hearing that for four years so that was nothing new.
We could hear somebody walking out side so I went to the door. It was Jo, (a girl from the office, who always listened to the radio) she was totally out of breath when she came in. “The English and the resistance are near Driedorp. I have spoken to them my self, look here.” and she showed the few cigarettes she had been given.
I went straight back to the NZ, because I had promised them that I would come and tell them as soon as anything significant happened.
I went to bed earlier than usual but I could not sleep. I had put my clothes and backpack next to the bed.
At about 10.30 pm I heard the first shell explode. I grabbed my things and raced to the cellar¹. Oom Frits went back when things calmed down a bit, the others followed later except the children, who slept on a mattress.
I finally collected all my courage and went and slept on the floor in the dinning room for an hour or so. Later it got worse again so we went back into the cellar. By 4.30 pm it was quiet for a while so my parents and Uncle and Aunt went upstairs to cook. From then on I had a beautiful sleep on the couch with Kees. I didn’t wake up till 6.30 am. What woke me up was a lot of loud screaming by Germans and the noises of carts and horses. I quietly crawled upstairs and peered out of the window and saw all sorts of agricultural carts and landaus.
I met the rest of the family in the dining room and asked them what was happening. Nobody knew.
Soon I discovered what the cause was a 15cm anti-aircraft battery was going to be installed eight houses down the road. The homes across the road from the battery were commandeered. Quickly I ran over to see if I could help the people that were evicted. The Germans had already moved in. The Vermeulen family moved in with us. “The Meinskamp” was rather crowded now with 21 people of which 10 were little children.
In the afternoon the guns started firing in the direction of Voorthuizen. We were very scared that the English would fire back to silence the battery. We spent the afternoon again in the cellar. Off and on you could hear the shells whistling through the air. That went on the whole day. I went
back to NZ by 4.00 pm. By 5.00 pm the English started to fire at the German gun and the shells.
Were now exploding quite close by. There was a red glow over the town centre of Nijkerk. When the second shell exploded we crouched down low. Sister Benting told me that I should go home. I waited for a quiet moment and then raced home. When I came home everybody was in the cellar. We sat there all night although it was more like hanging with 19 people in such a small space. We never slept a wink all night and it could not have been any different. When Lisa was not crying then Anneke took over (both were two years old) and when they were quiet then somebody else would start whinging. In the evening it was quiet between 6.00 and 7.00. A couple of boys came running past. From them we heard that Nijkerk had been badly damaged.
By 7.00 pm it starts again and it is never quiet all night. By 5.00am the shells are getting closer and closer to our place. By 6.00 the last one fell in a garden of the house a couple of doors down the road. We wait with bated breath for the next one. Fortunately it does not come. The adults are going outside now. The sister of a servant girl passes. She and her family want to flee to the heather meadows. She told us that they spent the night in a ditch behind their house and that the shells were whistling all around them. This was because in her street the houses did not have cellars. One family from that street, who were also lying in a ditch, were hit. All the people in the van Renselaar Street have taken flight. Bewildered people walk by with faces white with fright. They don’t know what to do. They flee to the heather meadows where they think they might be safe.
I go inside and I reflect on my situation. I have spent the whole night in relative safety in a cellar; thinking if we only can survive this then nothing else matters. I never gave a thought to those poor wretches, who did not have a cellar and had to lie in a creek bed. How terribly egotistical of me. From now on I will try to be more conscious of the plight of others. Slowly I go to my room to freshen up a bit because I look like a Gypsy. I am dead tired. I have hardly slept in two days. The cold water will do me good.
We eat together while walking around in the lounge room. By about 8.30 Father and I went to the Aunties, cousins of Father, to have a sleep in their cellar. We are longing for some rest. We go home again, after sleeping for about an hour. The shells are still whistling even though they are not as close as they were during the night.
Next morning the Germans have disappeared with the guns. The Vermeulens go home again. The rest of the day is reasonably uneventful.
That evening we take all the mattresses down to the cellar. That night I slept better than I had in days. I never heard the whistling sounds of any shells. The next morning, Thursday 19th April, we didn’t wake up until 8.30. Father goes to get some milk and I had to make little orange pompoms even though I did not feel like it at all. Nothing much happened that day except the whistling. That night we again sleep in the cellar.
Nijkerk’s liberation on 20th April 1945.
We get up at 8.00. Father goes for the milk again and I continue with the pompoms. After my Father has returned, he suddenly says: “Quiet for a second, please, I think I can hear cheering. Sure enough it was true. A bit later we can hear the tanks rattling down the main highway. I go to see the aunties for a while and when I am on the way back I notice lots of people running towards the corner². I go to have a look what’s happening. Six personnel carriers are coming our way. They are the first ones. Finally the hour of Nijkerk’s liberation had arrived, but not in the way we expected because there are 54 fatalities to mourn and the town is badly damaged. In the afternoon we go into town to see the terrible devastation. In Lange Street we see the first Canadian, with a girl on the pillion seat of his motorbike. There are tanks in the town square. We are given all sorts of things, mainly cigarettes. Lisa gets a piece of chocolate. We are allowed for the first time in years to fly the flag on Princess Juliana’s birthday.
On 30th April we had a thanksgiving service, together with the Canadians. This was the first time since the liberation that we were allowed to go to church again.
This was because it was still too dangerous as it was possible for the enemy to fire on Nijkerk from Amersfoort. There were two ministers, one English and one Dutch minister who could speak English
4th May 1945.
My mother’s sister and husband, who is the head of the Scout movement, arrive from Nijmegen. We are very happy because we had not heard from them since September. That evening I went to the children’s home because they had asked for my help. Just when we were discussing when I was required to come to work, the door was thrown open and two boys stormed in who yelled: “Ladies, ladies, The Netherlands is free, Germany has capitulated. I leave immediately to tell them the good news at home. Now the people in the Western part of the country will not have to starve anymore.
The church bells are ringing and everybody is walking in the streets even though it is 9.00 pm. In our street I meet a bunch of boys and girls from our neighbourhood with three Canadians. They are dancing towards the town centre, I join them.
By about Midnight I met the same group again and they asked if I was coming along. They were going to the kitchen of the Canadians who had been billeted with them. We also had Canadians billeted with us. One was an officer, who provided us with the Maple Leaf³ every day. The other two were orderlies, who gave us cigarettes. I joined them. It was pitch dark and most people had gone home. We walked through Nijkerk singing at the top of our lungs. When we arrived at the kitchen, Nickie, the Canadian, took a handful of candles and lit them. Then they put some big kettles with water on a large fire. It took forever to boil. From a jute bag they took a couple of handfuls of real tea and threw them in the kettles. There was a cheerful marching song on the radio, our spirits were high. Finally the tea is ready. Russ took a loaf of bread and cut beautiful slices of blindingly white bread. Nickie poured the tea into mugs and put them on the table and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, sit down, please. Our noisy mob went and sat down. We were allowed to eat and drink as much as we wanted. On the table stood tins with jam, a dish with cheese, a jar with butter and one with sugar. We had first noticed this when we came in. By 12.30 am we went to listen to the news broadcast. It was about 1.30 am before we left for home.
¹ The cellar was reinforced with timber in case the house was bombed and collapsed.
² The corner referred to was the intersection of Hoogstraat, Kleterstraat, Molenweg and Spoorstraat.
³ Maple Leaf = the daily news bulletin for the Canadians in Western Europe.
First published in the family magazine “The Prophet of the Velue” No 71, early 2005.