Jansen knew a barge skipper who could smuggle escapees onto his barge and past the sentries. A pilot boat moored next door would be my passage to England if I could steal it away. They needed seamen to handle the boat and read a compass in order to reach England. Sounded easy.
Adriaan van der Craats
So my naval friend Addy van der
Craats agreed to come with me. When we reached the barge cabin there were eight
men and one woman inside, Jansen included. A couple in the group, Mr and Mrs
Levy were Jewish, and the Gestapo were after them. Addy and I were then told
that we had these extras as passengers. I wasn’t worried as long as I could get
The boat we needed was not next to the barge but further up to the jetty, next to the German tugboat. There were two German sailors on the deck of the tugboat. Addy and I had to sneak up and climb over the side and down the ship’s ladder. Unfortunately there was a locked chain onto the German tugboat. I stayed in the cabin to check the motor, while Addy smashed the lock. The noise attracted the German sailors who shone torches at the boat. I hid in the cabin and Addy went down into the anchor hold. After their light was extinguished and all was quiet we counted the steps taken by the sentry. We untied the boat and we went to the back of the adjacent tugboat. I was checking the boat and Addy climbed up a ladder to the jetty to get the others.
We brought them down two at a time. The underground officer had calculated the tides. We drifted out to sea. It was amazing that the German sailors had not noticed our boat. We thought all our homework was done but we had not accounted for a new searchlight, which had just been installed. It went on when our boat was in the middle of the river but was sweeping to the left and we were heading to the right. When it returned its sweep, our boat was out of range. A German Torpedo Boat came into the river and we saluted. They saluted back. They were so close I could see the officer’s face. I had on a naval cap and jacket, which was the same as the German ones. Addy hid on the other side of the boat. We had already hidden all our passengers. When we were out at sea we turned the motor on. We couldn’t find the water-cooling tap, but when we were far enough out to sea we could turn a torch on and locate it. The motor was red hot. We turned it off to let it cool down and we drifted towards Norway. I recorded the numbers on the buoys. Then we switched it on and we motored on for hours, but the motor broke down. I think there was a petrol block. Luckily there was a tool box on board and we could dismantle the fuel line and fix it. I got ill sucking the petrol line. The motor ran on for another couple of hours and broke down again.
We made a sail out of a storm cover, a mop, a hook and several lengths of rope. I again noted the number on each boy we passed. In the UK, we dodged the mines, followed a fisherman and landed in Margate and were arrested by the home coast guard. They had only one rifle between them, but we wouldn’t have escaped because we had reached our destination at last! They took us to Herne Bay Police Station and locked us in the cells overnight. The next day we travelled by bus to London. There we were questioned for four days in a special interrogation house. Every day there was a different man asking the same questions.
The English were aware of our escape, but had to be certain about who we were. Over the BBC radio broadcast in London it was announced that Big John (Jansen) and Little John (me) had arrived safely and we sang a Dutch song. When the interrogation was confirmed we were free to go.
The English approached Jansen, Daalhuysen and I to ask if we wanted to work for the secret service. We agreed and they trained us to blow up railway bridges, etc. Every day we had to eat carrots because they said that we would see better at night. So one night they took us out in a truck and they put us in the middle of no0where and the instruction was that our house was West from there. We had to find our way home.
We went through a field full of cabbages, so we pinched some and gave it to the chef to cook for us. We were not popular. One day the commander had a party, so we sneaked out, past the sentry on the road and we walked five miles to a country pub. We enjoyed a few drinks and despite being in English uniforms we were picked up and returned to an angry commanding officer the next day. Jansen, who could speak English, said: “Sir, you have trained us so well that we have passed your sentries.” He was so pleased that he puffed out his chest and asked that we not do that again.
After all that training our Queen had to approve that we join the English Secret Service. She was concerned about all the innocent citizens of Holland who would be killed as a result of our sabotage and destructive missions. Queen Wilhelmina refused to sign. Jansen and I returned to the navy where he became a radar operator and I went to Scotland to learn submarine detection.
I was assigned to the Tjerk Hiddes, a destroyer for three years. We were sent out to the African coast, and under British command, assisted in the Battle for Madagascar. Later on we were stationed at Fremantle, under American command, and did escort duties from the Middle East, such as bringing the 9th Division home to Australia and New Zealand troops to their home.
We received an order to travel to Darwin and were attacked by Japanese planes on the way. A significant order was to rescue about 800 Dutch and Australian commandos, and Timorese women and children from Timor, and we knew that three ships had already been lost trying to complete this difficult task. We had loaded plenty of Swan Lager beer before leaving Fremantle and we invited Australian servicemen on board to our party. We drank the lot and this added to our Dutch courage. Luckily we managed to avoid bombing and torpedos from the Japanese and after two trips we were loaded up for the third trip with all the rubber. We looked like a merchant ship.
While we were sailing back to Darwin on the first trip I met a man called Bruce Smith who had been one of the commandos hiding from the Japanese. He asked me if I would see his beautiful mother in Melbourne if I got back before him. He forgot to tell me he had two beautiful sisters. I went out with the eldest Heather first, but Heather never answered my letters. Nancy, the youngest child, did and to cut a long story short I married Nancy on August 6, 1946, while I was on four day leave.
Eventually at the end of the war I was discharged and my Navy offered to book my passage back to Australia in two years’ time. So I went around to all the harbours of Europe to find a passage back. I met a New Zealander in Rotterdam when I was giving directions to him and he mentioned that his ship was looking for two seamen.
We went back to the Captain straight away and he couldn’t sign me on because only the Swedish Consul could do that. At the Consular Office there was a tall woman who directed me to the foreign ships office. The clerk at the desk was not looking up at me when I arrived so I threw him a packet of Lucky Strikes on the table. He still didn’t look up but asked for all my details and he processed my card.
I returned to the Swedish Consul and I received notification to board that ship on Saturday. I was supposed to get tropical immunity injections, but I forged the Doctor’s signature instead. I still had to get a police clearance that I had no criminal records. Fortunately I knew someone at that office from the Navy and I got cleared in that time. I worked on the Swedish tanker on the day shift, but I didn’t work hard enough and they put me on the Dog Watch 12 midnight until 4am, 12 noon until 4pm. While on the tanker I was sent a telegram from General Motors Holden offering me a job as an electrician. It turned out that my sisterin- law worked with a lady at White Crow whose husband was the employment officer at GMH. She mentioned that I was an electrician and her husband knew that they needed one.
The tanker came into Sydney and Nancy was waiting there. Back in Melbourne I went straight to the SEC and with a B-class permit was able to start work at GMH. While I worked there during the day I attended night school to familiarise myself with regulations in Victoria and to obtain my A-class license. I worked six years at GMH and learned a lot about machinery.
I decided to start electrical contracting for myself and worked seven days a week and 24 hours a day on emergency calls. I purchased an electrical business in Malvern Road, Toorak, and with Nancy’s help we operated the business from this shop. We were in hardware and electrical gifts for 12 years. Nancy retired from the shop when her mother died as there was no-one to look after the children. I went on contracting from the family home in Elwood. We moved to Brighton in 1972.
We lost our first baby, but were fortunate to have a son Ross, who is now a Periodontist, and a daughter, Janice, who is an Optometrist. We had a very happy married life for 50 years and nine months, after which time Nancy succumbed to Pancreatic cancer. One of Ross’s patients asked about the name Bastiaan, because the group she volunteered with, were trying to trace Jan Bastiaan. That same night I was given the telephone number of Mrs Levy, the only women in the boat all those years ago. I was given the number of one of the men, Tony Loontjes. Both were alive and well and living near each other in Utrecht. I rang them and arranged to travel to Holland to have a reunion. My friend Dorothy Shapter travelled with me to that meeting. She said that when we all saw each other we just looked and cried. Greta was 90 years young and Tony was 80. I have been over with Dorothy a second time and we regularly correspond.
Postcript: I was sad to hear two weeks ago that Greta Levy died at 94. I’m so glad I met her again. We were lucky.
vlnr Aad van der Craats, Jan Bastiaan en Jan Jansen
These were the people on the vessel:
Levi, born 1910.
Greta Levi, born 1910.
Adriaan van der Craats, born 1921.
Jan Bastiaan, born 1921.
Theodorus Daalhuysen, born 1917.
Walrave van Krimpen, born 1894.
Gerardus van Asch, born 1922.
Anton Loontjes, born 1922.
Johannes Jansen, born 1917