The Memoirs of John Krispyn (Occupied Holland 1940-45)
Early in 2015 I was delighted to receive quite out of the blue, an email from John Krispyn of Western Australia. John has made his life down under where he has brought up his family, but his own upbringing was in very different circumstances as he spent his boyhood in his country of birth, the Netherlands, during the time of the Nazi occupation. His memories of those dark days, though vivid have been suppressed over the years as John and his family built their lives, but now these memories are resurfacing with startling clarity and I am honoured that he has entrusted them to me.
Before the war, John’s father was the chief editor of a newspaper in Deventer on the River Ijssel with known and open anti-Nazi views, during the occupation the family became aware that they would be wanted by the Nazis and had to go underground, so the family were split up. John moved in with an uncle in the village of Hertme, close to Almelo, his mother and five other siblings were spread around the extended family. After a year or so when things had settled down they were reunited and moved into Almelo together, John’s place of birth. So life went on, precariously, under the heel of the Nazi jackboot.
After the liberation, John trained as a watchmaker, but his life was interrupted by the call to national service where he was trained as a radar operator on an anti-aircraft unit, which sat very uneasy with him, for reasons we shall see. A few years after his service time, John met and married Henrietta, not three days after their wedding they were en route to Australia to begin their new life and put the memories of the years under Nazi occupation firmly behind them. Sadly, Henrietta passed away around the turn of the millennium, but John keeps in contact with his childhood friend Hilde and they visit each other when they can.
Recent commemorations of World War Two have served to awaken the vivid memories that John has of this time and his quest to find out more about certain events has lead him to me, as the first and most vivid of his memories concerns the crash of Lancaster ME732 on Almelo, an event closely linked to the Lancaster LM658 story. John has only recently learned the full story of the Lanc and crew that he watched fall to earth that night and fully intends to return to Almelo to pay his respects at the graves of Flt/Lt Don Stone and his crew who died that night.
In John’s own words:
The Crash of Lancaster ME732 on Almelo
World War 2 started in 1940, five years prior to that I was born in January 1935. I still remember quite a bit of that time; when it began, during and after the war. I would like to share an experience which is still engraved on my mind after nearly 70 years. As I have pondered about it on and off, I cannot escape the thought that the pilot of the bomber that crashed in the town of Almelo In the east of the Netherlands was an absolute hero.
I will give you the reasons for my way of thinking, at the age of 9 on hearing the constant drone of planes coming back from their mission into Germany, I had gone upstairs through a bedroom onto a balcony a vantage point to observe the goings on in the sky. It was not something my parents would have approved of but little boys do sometimes do things they should not.
It was last year prior to the remembrance celebrations of our countries at war over last century that I was watching some films about the war when a picture appeared with a pilot wearing a leather helmet, at that moment I had a flashback to what I saw from that balcony.
High up in the sky on my right I saw a little light appearing that grew into a flame, it became bigger and bigger and turned out to be a plane on fire. It seemed to be coming straight at me nearly throwing me into a panic, I was as if nailed to the floor. It came nearer and nearer and as it was coming closer it started veering away from me and levelling out no engine sound except the whoosh of the flames in the passing by. I saw the leather helmeted profile of the pilot, a man racing to his death.
It is only in later years that I realise the man made a heroic attempt to steer the plane away from the centre of the town to the fields outside. He did not quite make it. The plane crashed on a school on the edge of town.
I have lived in Australia for the last 54 years and it is only because of the fact that I remembered from all those years ago the location, the approximate time and the year of the crash. Thanks to the Internet and the war records I now know it to be the Lancaster bomber Mk III with registration number ME 732 that crashed on Saturday 23rd of September 1944 in the town of Almelo, in the province of Overijssel, The Netherlands.
With all the information I gained although it is late, to give witness to those brave men in their flying machine, I am moved to give you this information. I may have been the only person to have observed it from that close up.
The Spitfire Raid
One day in 1944 my father and I were riding his bicycle on the road from Almelo to Zenderen. A road flanked on two sides by a green strip aligned with trees and cycle paths. Over the road ahead, in the distance, we heard the sound of an oncoming plane. As it approached and flying very low over us, we heard the screaming wail of its engine. After passing, we could hear the plane had started making a big loop behind us over the fields on our right.
From the opposite direction a vehicle was approaching, apparently spotted by the pilot of the plane. It was a small German personal carrier with four or five soldiers in it. My father quickly sensed the pilot’s intention, he stopped the bike, we both jumped off and dived into a manhole, dug between road and bicycle path. These holes were intermittently made along the roads exactly for that purpose.
The Germans had also sensed the looming danger, had also stopped, had alighted from their vehicle and were also rushing towards a manhole as if set upon by the devil. Meanwhile the plane, a Spitfire, I think, from the allied forces, came screaming again towards us, now strafing. A burst of thudding bullets were ripping through soil and road, throwing up dirt on us.
With heart on tong and palpitations we endured these frightful moments. Diagonally behind us was a smoking vehicle about to burst into flames. The soldiers had lost their vehicle and were still in their hole.
We did not wait, “Quick” said dad, “On the bike, jump on, let’s go!” We sped away from the catastrophic disaster, dad peddling fast as he could. Soon we left the enemy far behind, dad knew that waiting could mean that our bike might be confiscated. Many citizens had lost their bikes to the Germans, just because of their whim or need on a particular day.
Did we have some story to tell that night at home!
Hotel Prince Bombed
One day in 1944, many planes were coming back from bombing raids into Germany.
Little specs of planes in small and large groups were leaving many trails of white vapour behind, an awesome sight, thousands in number so it seemed, a constant drone of many engines steadily filling the sky.
A good view of the actions above was restricted in amongst the houses, so upstairs I went, through a bedroom and then onto the balcony, then scaled the balustrade and climbed on top of the dividing fence which was stepping up towards the large flat roof.
A wide expanse had opened up. I could observe the sky over the town for a great distance. Oh, what an exiting place to be!
There was no end to the flow of planes going over. Then in the distance I saw several explosions taking place, debris flying up into the air, followed by rumbling bangs.
Fear started filling me, I witnessed bombs exploding, the urge to flee was rising fast! However I overcame my initial fear and stayed. Looking closer, high up I saw a cluster of bombs being released from a plane.
Fear was filling now my heart, this was going to be close. Oh no, “Hotel Prince” was going to be hit! I still kept looking, at impact a big bang followed, debris going sky high, distinctly coloured glass, from leaded windows, reds, blues, greens were sailing over the market place towards our street. You have no idea, how quick I made the return trip to level ground, seconds no milliseconds I would say. These were anxious times!
When I was visiting my brother Nick and his wife Cecelia last year in the southwest of Western Australia, I retold my story again. My brother had heard it before but Cecelia had not. Her eyes were wide open when she exclaimed with amazement that was the hotel of my aunty! I never knew she was connected to that happening so long ago, she had lived in Hengelo, a town some 20 km away. About the same time, there were nearly daily masses of planes coming over, sometimes they were shot at from the ground, sometimes hunted by German fighter planes.
One day, I did not see the plane that was hit but I saw two crewmen, not far apart, suspended on their parachutes, they clearly had left their crippled plane.
Eyes fixed on the two airmen hanging there, I saw little puffs of smoke appearing around them, followed by the crackling sound of exploding grenades.
My memory, after such along time is a bit vague, but I saw them make swinging movements under the canopy, presumably to descend faster. I knew what that meant, those two men had no chance to survive under that deliberate fire directed at them. With pain in my heart I saw the two figures had stopped moving and were now drifting away, high in the wind. I never heard about them again, neither did I talk about the incident for a long time, I think it was a too painful memory to share around.
Almelo, Later During the War
During wartime, things were not always easy, all sorts of things were happening. Raids and house seeking by the Germans were often at the order. They were sometimes looking for men from the ages 18 to 50, to be put on transports to Germany, there they were to work in factories or as farm a hands on the land.
In the front of our house was dad’s office, the rest of the dwelling was occupied by us, across from us there was an entrance to the local watchhouse.
One day there was a commotion outside; a German military truck attended by several soldiers had stopped on the road, just outside the office window. With uneasy hearts we watched from behind the curtains.
The door of the prison opened up and out streamed a long row of prisoners all under guard. They actually were innocent men, picked up the previous day on a raid and now readied and being loaded for transport to Germany.
The population had been expecting this. News travelled fast, in no time a lot of women, wives, mothers and girlfriends had gathered, they were kept at a distance with pistols and rifles. You could see and sense the anxiety and trauma it was causing, many were carrying little parcels, with food and clothing to give to their loved ones.
Once the men were loaded, the women, without concern for their own safety rushed the truck and eager hands tried grabbing the goods on offer. For a few moments it was reluctantly tolerated, then followed a snide command and the women were rudely rebutted again, the truck drove off, destination not known, leaving the women behind, many of them crying.
These sorts of actions brought home the seriousness of war! The brutality of it all was driven home again another day, not long after……
The Bravery of the Resistance
One day, a young couple passed arm in arm, close together and much in love you would say, with his free hand he was guiding a bike, with two carry bags suspended from the rear. As they approached the jail door, it suddenly opened and four or five uniformed men rushed out, heading straight for the young couple. Sensing the great danger he was in, he let go of his girl friend, dropped his bike and took of, direction market, pursued by three or four of the Nazis. Momentarily the girl friend stood there, not knowing what to do. Then a man, riding past sensed what was going on and heroically urged the girl to hop onto his carrier, they both sped of in the opposite direction.
In the mean time the poor fellow was cornered and caught on the market.
He was than dragged back to the front of the jail and given a cruel and merciless public beating. Satisfied with their public barbarism, they dragged him away into the building, face bloodied and smashed to pulp.
One may ask, why didn’t any one say or do something? The simple answer is, it could cost your life. Some of those characters were cruel and ruthless and what is worse, amongst them were traitors, our own countrymen. As they say, in wartime, scum sometimes rises to the top.
It is a very sad fact to state, the man was executed in other words, murdered the next day, he had been transporting weapons in his carry bags. He had been a member of the Dutch underground which as you can see was quite a dangerous occupation.
I am not sure anymore but the victim’s surname was I think Rohoff.
John Krispyn 2015
Many thanks for opening up and sharing that with us on here John, stories that do so much to set the scene at that time and place, but more importantly, a snapshot of history now preserved. Yes, as we write and record this in 2015, these events all took place over 70 years ago, but to those who were there, it could have been yesterday.
Lest we forget.
Alan J Barrow (Author – Lancaster LM658 Website)