Engelandvaarder is the name given to a unique group of approximately 1700 Dutch men and women, who during the Second World War escaped occupied Holland to join in the fight against the Axis powers.

It is estimated that over 1600 men and at least 48 women made this hazardous journey, although the exact number will never be known, as registration on arrival in England was fragmented. There are a number of reasons why the young men and women of the Netherlands attempted this journey. Some wanted to actively contribute to the war effort, and others were wanted by the German Authorities. There were a number of Jewish Dutch who escape deportation at the hands of the Nazis, and there were also a number of students who were looking for an adventure when they set off. The Dutch government itself was in exile during this period, and decided that some people were indispensible and they should attempt to get to England.

The Engelandvaarders enjoyed great respect from the Dutch Queen, Wilhelmina, who was in exile in London. They
would be invited to visit (in the early days separately, later in groups) the Queen, who poured them a cup of tea and
bowed to her guests. She was extremely interested in the stories they had to tell of her homeland, and the situation
there. She received each person with the phrase: “You are the link between those back home and me.”
Engelandvaarders consider Queen Wilhelmina to be the “Mother of the Engelandvaarders,” and each year on August
31st a group of Engelandvaarders meet in the Church where she was buried in 1962 to commemorate her birthday.

The British wanted to ensure no spies would enter England. Therefore on arrival, all Engelandvaarders were put in
isolation and had to undergo lengthy questioning by the British intelligence service SIS or MI5. After this, the Dutch
intelligence service questioned the new arrivals. Everything was checked, the way the trip was made, background, etc.
If the crossing had been particularly easy, this was cause for suspicion on behalf of the interrogators.

The Escape Route

Many Engelandvaarders escaped from Holland the long way around. They followed routes through
Southern Europe, via Belgium, France and Spain. Others took routes through Switzerland, Germany
and Sweden and even used stolen German Aircraft to escape to England.

The shortest route of escape was across the North Sea. Attempts to make the crossing were
attempted in a large variety of vessels. As far as is known, approximately 95 attempts
were made from 40 different places of departure. 31 crossings were successful, involving 179
people. During the earliest attempts, the vessels used were too big, causing them to ground on
sand banks or be discovered by the Germans. Later attempts involved smaller vessels, often
with an engine, but this meant that fuel needed to be stolen. Seasickness was a serious problem.

On September 19th 1941, two brothers, Henri and Willem Peteri attempted a daring escape in a
collapsible kayak. They departed from the town of Katwijk, and after making it through the surf, they
headed for the coast of England. 56 hours later, the two men struggled ashore on Sizewell Beach.
Henri and Willem Peteri were just two of the 32 men that made the crossing during the course of the War.

The Results

The Engelandvaarders didn’t go to England in vain. They wanted to be actively involved in the fight against the enemy, so most of them joined the armed forces. Some were placed in specialist departments such as the intelligence corps, because of their training or background. 108 Engelandvaarders were dropped over the Netherlands as secret agents for the British intelligence service. Of course they were very suitable for this role, because they were Dutch and knew the country well. 54 of these agents lost their lives in the performance of their duties. Many took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy with the Princess Irene Brigade. They played an important role in the liberation of Europe and the Netherlands.
Henri Peteri sailed on HNLMS Jacob van Heemskerck, which fought the Germans and the Japanese in both the Mediterranean and the Pacific. Due to mechanical defect, HNLMS Jacob van Heemskerck did not take part in the Battle of the Java Sea. His brother Willem was less lucky. The motor gunboat (MGB 78) on which – as a civilian – he took part in a patrol to the northern French coast, was torpedoed. He swam to the coast and because he did not wear a uniform, the Germans deported him as a spy to Berlin. After spending three weeks on death row, he was moved to a POW-camp, where he spent the remainder of the war.

Of the eight men that survived the kayak crossings of the North Sea, only three survived the war.

The Monument

Henri Peteri took the initiative to erect a monument at their landing spot. The monument consists of a canoe
and three bronze oars, of which one is “snapped”. Written on the monument is text remembering both those who
were successful and those who were not. Henri Peteri passed away in 2007, therefore he did not live to see the
unveiling of the monument, which took place in the summer of 2009 by his wife Betty Peteri-Peet.


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