February 21, 2015

Finest Hour 161, Winter 2013-14

Page 28

By Jack Mens

I was born in the Netherlands on 16 April 1943 in the midst of the German occupation. After the war Mr. Churchill received an invitation to accept an honorary doctorate of laws at the University of Leiden, and spent five days visiting Holland, together with his wife and daughter Mary.

The Churchills flew to Holland on 8 May 1946. Extra police protection was provided because wherever he went there were thousands of people, hoping for a glimpse of the great man.

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In Amsterdam he was received by Queen Wilhelmina, and together they marked the first anniversary of VE-Day. In the evening there was a dinner in their honor at the royal palace, the Soestdijk. On May 9th Churchill was scheduled to speak to the Dutch parliament in The Hague at 12:30 pm. Word spread that he might make a quick stop to greet people at the small town of Sassenheim. My parents lived only about four miles from this stopping point. I was too young, but my mother rode there on her bicycle with my 4 1/2-year-old brother riding in front. She retold the story many times, because when I was old enough to know something of history, I questioned her frequently, wishing to know every detail.

At about noon the Churchills’ open Packard came by, stopping beside the highway. Mr. Churchill stood up, doffed his hat and gave his famous V-sign. A small crowd of about 100 cheered enthusiastically. When the cars were ready to leave, Churchill tossed his cigar on the ground. My mother was able to pick it up, and kept it as a souvenir. Alas that was a long time ago and she later lost track of the artifact.

My mother’s experience made me a lifelong Churchillian. I am still proud to recall it, and still jealous of my brother. (He remembers the occasion very well, but was too small to realize what all the fuss was about!)

That afternoon Churchill spoke to our parliament, the States-General, in The Hague—a notable speech about European recovery—and then returned to Amsterdam. The next day was the presentation of his degree.

The University of Leiden is the oldest in The Netherlands, founded in 1575 by William of Orange, leader of the Dutch revolt against Spain in the Eighty Years’ War, in honor of Leiden’s resistance during a Spanish siege. The people almost starved, but they never surrendered. Leiden’s spirit of resistance was celebrated that day by Britain’s—six years to the day that Churchill had become prime minister, after France and the Low Countries had been attacked by Hitler.

Churchill’s honorary doctorate of law was presented by Professor and Rector-Magnificus Dr. B.G. Escher, who cited the degree’s three areas of qualification. The third of these, Escher said, applied to Mr. Churchill: “For his moral qualities and strong character that influenced history in a positive manner.” The recipient gave an eloquent speech of thanks.

On Saturday May 11th, Churchill received Amsterdam’s Gold Medal and took a cruise through the city’s canals. On Sunday the Churchills were guests of the Royal Family at the Soestdijk. On the 13th they visited Rotterdam, the first city to have been bombed in the war. Huge crowds turned out and Mr. Churchill was proclaimed an honorary citizen. Late that afternoon Mr. Churchill flew back to England from the small airport of Valkenburg, while his wife and daughter stayed behind to spend a few days with the British ambassador.

At the 2004 Portsmouth Churchill conference I met bookseller Mark Weber, who had a copy of Winston Churchill bezoekt Nederland, one of several commemorative booklets issued to mark Churchill’s visit. Since it was in Dutch, few could read it, but Mark asked if I was interested and of course I was. Although it contains only sixty-four pages, it is well-illustrated with photos of the Churchill visit, which Finest Hour scanned for publication here, while arranging to have Lady Soames inscribe my copy.

The author ([email protected]) exported flower bulbs from his native Holland, his family business, until 1981, when he moved to Frederick, Maryland and founded a garden center, the Dutch Plant Farm. A United States citizen since 1988, he has been a Churchillian since boyhood.

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