Chapter I

IN MAY 1940 THE WORLD WAS SORELY SHAKEN WHEN the Netherlands, the cradle of tolerance, was overrun by the armies of a nation by whom tolerance and restraints are construed as weaknesses and to whom honour is but a faded and soiled anachronism. Holland (or the Netherlands--the terms are interchangeable) was a neutral. The Dutch people had no other desire than to remain neutral. They knew, as everyone knew, that well-built German autobahnen which led to their frontier could also be used for military purposes. They prayed, none the less, that this would not be so, and that their pleasant land would escape the ravages of war. But in the Spring of 1940 they could not ignore the rumblings that came out of Germany. They could no longer blind themselves to the dangers that threatened them. That which they had 'feared to fear' was imminent. There were no illusions left in Holland. At 3 o'clock on the morning of May 10th, without warning, German land and air forces launched an attack. In a note1 which the German Minister


at The Hague handed to Dr. E. N. van Kleffens, the Netherlands Foreign Minister, it was said, with almost childish naivete, that 'Germany recognized and respected Dutch integrity on condition that the Netherlands were strictly neutral.' Holland did not, in Germany's view, fulfil this condition. Holland, in Germany's view, favoured Germany's opponents. Once again Germany made use of the splendide mendax--so important and potent a weapon in the German armoury. Dr. van Kleffens, when handed the German note three hours after the German attack had been launched, at the unusual hour of 6 in the morning, rejected it in the following terms:

It is with the greatest indignation that her Majesty's Government rejects the supposition that they should have concluded any hostile agreement of any kind with any Power whatsoever against Germany. Because of the unprecedented attack made by Germany upon the Netherlands without any warning the Netherlands Government considers Holland at war with the German Reich.


There was no other honourable course open. The German armies were on the move; German aircraft already dotted the Dutch skies.

That same day her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina issued the following proclamation:

After our country, with scrupulous conscientiousness, had observed strict neutrality during all these months, and while Holland had no other plan than to maintain this attitude, Germany made a sudden attack on our territory without warning. This was done notwithstanding the solemn promise that the neutrality of our country would be respected as long as we ourselves maintained that neutrality. I herewith launch a flaming protest against this unprecedented violation of all that is decent between cultured states. I and my Government will do our duty. Do your duty everywhere and in all circumstances, everyone to the post to which he is appointed, with the utmost vigilance and with that inner calmness and strongheartedness which a clear conscience gives.2

The gallantry of Dutch arms could not for long stay the invading forces, especially as these forces were aided by what are known as fifth columnists,


but which, described less elegantly, were enemy spies and agents, and a few traitorous hirelings. The Government of the Netherlands were obliged to appeal to the Allies for help.

Unfortunately, the strict regard which that Government had paid to their country's neutral status was, in a sense, the very handicap which prevented the Allies from collaborating sufficiently fully in a military sense, in order that the invaders might be thrown back.

The Government of the Netherlands truly had been neutral. They had had but one desire, to remain neutral. They were not even 'non-belligerents.' Hollanders believe in a 'universal cause., They are not, any more than are the British or the Americans, a naturally bellicose people who laud war as man's highest aim and greatest achievement. They believe in the missionary effort of man. In their hearts, no doubt, most Hollanders knew where their sympathies, as non-combatants, lay. But this could not be construed in any court of international law as a departure from neutrality. The Dutch people wished to be left alone by all the belligerents, so that they might continue to practise the arts of peace in which for so long they have occupied one of the foremost positions among the nations. They expected, no doubt, to receive the side-blows which are the portion of all neutrals in wartime, but


that a neighbouring Power, ten times their size in point of population, should wantonly rape their country, though not inconceivable, was a thought to be thrust aside as something that must be guarded against, but only as a remote and unlikely contingency.

Such military assistance as the Allies were able to give at a few hours' notice proved inadequate. The Dutch forces could not resist the German military machine, aided as it was by treachery from within and terroristic bombing from the air.

The German invaders had neither moral, military nor political justification for their wanton attack. The flimsy pretext advanced by the Germans that the Allies were about to use Holland as a base from which to invade the Ruhr was so manifestly ridiculous as not to merit a second's serious thought. If anything, the comparative ignorance of conditions in Holland in high places in Great Britain and France was revealed all too clearly when the moment came for the Netherlands Government to appeal for military assistance. The campaign against the invader was a gallant and forlorn fight. None could have expected the Dutch forces to hold out for long in the face of such overwhelming odds. Perhaps, too, the Netherlands High Command relied too much on the strength of their own particular Maginot line. The so-called water-defences


were of little avail; certainly they could not hold off aerial attack.

Courageously and to their eternal honour, the Queen and her Government, though knowing of all the disabilities, accepted the challenge to their independence and sovereignty and that of the Dutch people. When, in the face of superior numbers and machines of war, it was realized that the military situation was becoming precarious, they could only choose temporary expatriation sooner than ignoble surrender to blackmail and military pressure. They transferred their headquarters to London in order that they might continue to exercise their powers in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the Netherlands, without being subjected to German tutelage and molestation. It was a brave decision, taken in adverse circumstances, a decision in direct succession to countless similar decisions taken throughout history by the leaders of a people, who, to quote an Englishman of an earlier day,3 have ever shown 'wisdom, honesty and gallantry.'

The war in Holland was short and fierce and violent. The Netherlands Government indeed had been strictly neutral. Not one unneutral act could be laid at their door. None the less, they must have


known where danger lurked. They had no need to guard over-zealously either their coastal areas or their southern frontier. It was unthinkable that Great Britain and her then ally, France, would land forces on the Dutch coast. But the fear of what her eastern neighbour might do very naturally animated the Netherlands authorities in all their military decisions. After all, they knew what had happened to Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway and Poland. Had they been willing to enter the German orbit and behave as a satellite State, as Denmark had done, no doubt the Netherlands Government and people might have been spared the distresses of war and the evils that flow from it. They could have disarmed, as did the Danes, so that no power of resistance remained. Instead, they built tank-traps and mined their roads and bridges. That their military plans went awry, as a result of a German technique which has been heralded as new, but which dates back to Troy, cannot be accounted as blameworthy. They were the first to suffer from the long-considered and carefully prepared German plan for attack by parachute troops. The Dutch military and civil authorities had no plans prepared to cope with such a form of warfare, conducted flagrantly in violation of all international law and decency. The base use of the sabotageur and the traitor, as practised by the


Germans in the campaign in the Netherlands, was something which had entered into the calculation of few.

Submission, other than after set-backs in the field, was never in line with the Dutch character. The magnificent spirit shown by General Winkelman, the Netherlands Commander-in-Chief, and his troops lends lustre to the Dutch name. It was all in vain. By sheer weight of metal and numbers the invader beat down Dutch military resistance. By raining bombs on densely populated Dutch cities and terrorizing an inoffensive non-combatant population he made sure of victory in the field. But the struggle was not ended. The spirit of the Queen, her Government, and the people generally, is the same spirit which urged a brave people almost four centuries ago to wage their relentless struggle against the Spaniards. That struggle endured for a generation. Dutch men and women died in their thousands for freedom of conscience and because of their hatred of the Spanish oppressors. To-day, the Queen of the Netherlands and her Government, exercising full sovereign rights from London over vast Netherlands territories overseas and in control of immense material resources, wage war by our side against a tyranny in comparison with which that of Phillip II of Spain pales into complete insignificance.


The poignant tale of the five days of terror through which Holland lived in May 1940 has been told by an eminent Dutch statesman.4

The duty of the Queen and her Government [he wrote] was to keep the Netherlands overseas empire intact, to marshal its resources for the continuance of the struggle at the side of the Allies, to fight for the resurrection of the motherland with the great economic power of the colonies, with Dutch naval power and with those Dutch land forces which are not immobilized by the German forces of occupation in Holland itself.

It was a grievous thing for these rulers of a great modern nation to have to leave their homeland, knowing that so much that testified to Dutch art, skill and industry lay shattered and in ruins, and that devastation and terrific loss of life had been brought to their people with such tragic swiftness. It was heroic that the Queen and her advisers chose expatriation, separation from their families and their homes, in the cause of right.

With English aid the people of the Netherlands of an earlier day drove the armies of Philip of Spain from their native soil. With our aid again, the soil of the Netherlands shall be cleansed of the tyranny which, on this occasion, is scourging the whole of Europe.


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