The Netherlands at War

H.S. Ashton

With a Foreword by
Professor Dr. P.S. Gerbrandy
Prime Minister of the Netherlands


Queen Wilhelmina
Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands
(After a drawing by Cor Vesser)


  Foreword by the Netherlands Prime Minister vii
  Author's Preface xiii
  Preface to the Third Edition xviii
I Introductory 1
II The Battle of Holland 10
III The Netherlands Empire 26
IV The Far Eastern Situation 48
V The Netherlands Government in London 60
VI Anglo-Netherlands Collaboration 70
VII Background to the Picture 83
VIII The Netherlands under German Occupation 98
IX The Future 114
  Appendix: List of Netherlands Ministers and Officials 126
    Statistics 128


List of Illustrations

Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands Frontispiece
General Winkelman, The Netherlands Commander-in-Chief 22
Professor P.S. Gerbrandy, Prime Minister of the Netherlands 62
The Netherlands Cabinet in London 66


by the
Prime Minister of the Netherlands

AN OLD SAW HAS IT THAT TO UNDERSTAND THE poet it is necessary to live in his country. If this is true of the poet it is most certainly true of a people. The man who has lived amongst a people will understand them and know their country. When anyone takes the trouble to live in that manner, he will automatically begin to share the moods of that country.

The author of this book has realized this. He has lived in the Netherlands, but not simply as a foreigner with a superficial interest; he was sufficiently interested to learn the difficult Dutch tongue. He read our literature and studied our history, and in this way he came to see the present of the Dutch nation as a reflection of its past, and so he learnt to understand the soul of the people.

This understanding is not as easy as it appears. It is difficult to understand the Netherlands because they have a very long, a very complicated and, in some respects, a most peculiar history; a history


which differs most markedly from the history of other European countries.

The Netherlands were once part of the Holy Roman Empire (a Count of Holland was once elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), but the Netherlands never became German. They passed into the possession of a Spanish king as a heritage, hence the line 'I have always honoured the King of Spain' in the national anthem of the Netherlands. The Netherlands maintained their own character until their integrity was threatened and the people rose and fought for eighty years until they were free. The country formed a close alliance with England (the English Earl of Leicester ruled the Netherlands for some time), and one of our Stadtholders, the brilliant William III, was crowned King of England, but the Netherlands never became English. Napoleon conquered the country and incorporated it into his empire as 'deposits of the French rivers,' but the Netherlands regained their freedom.

Louis XIV disparagingly called us a 'nation of fishermen and merchants,' and he was right, we were. That is the main reason why it was so long before the Republic became a Kingdom and perhaps it would not have happened even then could we not have had as King a descendant of the House of Orange, the House that was already


inseparably connected with our national liberation and which continued to be associated with our development.

But apart from commerce, the people were also attached to religion. Religious freedom had a considerable influence in the battte for independence, and religion remained to influence the national policy. The strength of this factor has been such that without an understanding of it our national development would have remained a closed book to all outsiders. Religion is one of the principal subjects of our education, our radio, our network of political and social organizations, as well as of our press with its widely divergent views. Perhaps nowhere else have Protestants and Catholics (approximately equal in numbers and particularly staunch in their own beliefs) formed a political alliance. In the Netherlands this was realized—an alliance between Calvinists and Catholics, an alliance wrought by a minister and a priest in the 1880's.

Perhaps nowhere else can a constitutional monarchy be found combined with ministerial responsibility, where the monarch possesses at the same time such freedom in the formation of a Cabinet. This freedom is theoretically unlimited and in practice can be adapted to circumstances.

For an English author to have understood this people to such an extent that in a few bold strokes


he can sketch their mode of life and cultural significance is no mean achievement.

But that is not all. He not only studied the Netherlands in Europe but he crossed the seas and lived for a long time in that Netherlands territory, sometimes called c Insulinde,' which forms ' a girdle of emeralds round the equator.' There he saw the spirit of the Netherlands expressed in a system of administration which, though perhaps equalled, has never been excelled.

To Mr. Ashton the Netherlands represent more than a country of windmills and sabots, of gin and cheese, of cigars and tulips. He has observed the agrarian and industrial development; he has noted the extensive international trading; he has appreciated their cultural force inside, as well as outside, Europe.

He could have written two thousand pages and, I suppose, he would have had favourable reviews, but he would have had few readers. For this reason he has written a concise book. Yet he gives a great deal of information and the English reader is given a good idea of the Netherlands.

These pages convey the truth that the Netherlands have won a position in the world which is peculiarly their own and that they rightfully maintain it.

They also maintain this position against the


enemy whose criminal attack brought such sorrow to a country which had not given the slightest provocation.

The author relates a few facts concerning attack and defence. His account is derived from authentic sources. There will perhaps be some readers who will understand, now that history has repeated itself in Crete, what it must have meant for the Netherlands to have to stave off, without assistance, the air attack of an overwhelmingly superior enemy who sent his 'planes and his parachutists hours before he even declared war--for the Netherlands had to be neutral and therefore could not call in assistance from outside until the last moment. Perhaps it will also be clear what it meant to the Netherlands to continue the war when the European territory had been overrun. Imagine what it means for our thousands of seamen to have to brave all dangers without ever being able to see their loved ones and never, so long as the harbours remain in the enemy's hands, be in a position to give them any real assistance. This book has done a great service by drawing attention to this and also by describing the extent of the war effort in the free parts of the Kingdom.

We know that the British are our faithful Allies who help us with the sword. But this book proves that there are also Britons who, purely out of


regard for our people, defend the Netherlands with the pen. We are grateful for their help.

I hope Mr. Ashton's book, written with such sympathy, will interest many and thus will contribute to the ultimate re-establishment of an independent Netherlands in a world wherein the life of God's free children will again be worth while in the 'smaller' countries too.



    May, 1941.


Author's Preface

THE DUTCH PEOPLE ARE AT WAR. They fight as our Allies. We are proud of having at our side a people whose gallantry has been proved in history again and again, whose leadership in almost every field of human endeavour is a tribute to the human race. The people of the Netherlands have never loved war nor the martial clank of military accoutrements, yet when war has come to them they have always been found ready to meet the challenger, whatever the odds. It was thus in history, it was thus in 1940, when their peaceful progress was ruptured by a ruthless aggressor nation. They never played at the cunning game of power politics. They desired but to be left alone, assisting constructively in building a better world on the shambles and ruins of that left for us to lament in 1918.

Three hundred and forty years ago it was written of the people of the Netherlands:

"They make their Landmen Seamen, their Seamen Fishermen, their Fishermen Marriners, Marriners Merchants, and of their Merchants Statesmen, to govern and make their country prosper."1


This wise and true observation has continued to hold good throughout the centuries. The people of the Netherlands have prospered. They have prospered because of their unremitting toil and enterprise, their careful planning and their zeal for all those ideals which have animated mankind for nineteen hundred years.

The Netherlands have given the world much that never can be repaid in coin or kind. In that twilight period when men were striving to see clearly they threw their doors open wide to refugees. The Pilgrim Fathers settled in Leyden before sailing to America from Plymouth in the Mayflower; Descartes, Jews of Spain and Portugal, a Kempis, Spinoza, Erasmus, Grotius, produced their great work in the Low Countries. It was in a ship of Holland--the Halve Maen, belonging to the Dutch West India Company--that Henry Hudson voyaged to America. The foremost cartographers of all modern times were Hollanders--Waghenaer, Blaauw, Hondius. Francis Drake employed one of them to draw his maps. William Adams, whose tomb is a Japanese shrine, reached Japan in 1598 in a ship of Holland. Van Diemen, governor-general of the territories of the Dutch East India Company, despatched Abel Tasman to Australia in 1642-4. In 1650 Van Riebeeck established a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope.


Men of Holland founded New Netherlands and Fort Amsterdam (now the U.S.A. and New York); they secured possession for a while of Brazil; they had their settlements in Ceylon and on the Gold Coast; St. Helena and Mauritius testify to their enterprise.

They are the greatest engineers the world has known. Almost literally, they have won their homeland from the sea. In a country largely devoid of natural resources, with the exception of those associated with agricultural pursuits, they have developed industries of world renown. In the arts they have ever shone.

In this book, however, it is hardly of these things that I have to tell. I have to write in the main of the simple and tragic fact that the Government and the people of the Netherlands are at war.

Military activities on Dutch soil in Europe have ceased. None the less the people of the Netherlands remain at war. Their Queen and Government and their brethren overseas are actively engaged in the struggle for liberty. Those who are left in Holland now can only carry on the fight passively. They are doing so with that stubborn devotion to their cause so typical of Hollanders. They give us their prayers and their faith.

Their Queen and the members of Her Majesty's Government, now in our midst, also give us their


prayers and their faith. They give us more, indeed. They give us moral strength to continue the fight. And if that be not enough, they give us material aid far more than they have received from us. But they do not count the cost any more than do we. The two nations have too much in common to count pennies--their joint tolerance in the field of religious thought, their broad liberalism and respect for political institutions of a parliamentary democratic nature. Englishmen and Hollanders have ever had a considerable esteem for each other's qualities. They have a communion of interests in a hundred different ways, from an appreciation of the sanctity of the individual in the democratic State to an admiration of the other's maritime and colonial achievements. Now, rumbling war has wrought havoc in every direction.

Twelve months have elapsed since Holland was drawn into the vortex, a melancholy twelve months for the Queen and her subjects, but their courage is high. Their spirit is undaunted. They fight, it is true, for their own liberation, but they also fight for the great cause of mankind. The Queen and the Government knew, when they joined their cause to ours, that they might be going into lifelong exile. They had no doubts. They fought for right and justice and the free existence of the Netherlands people. They continue to fight in the sure faith


of victory and the destruction of that vile and monstrous thing that has chained their people to its chariot. Their generous confidence in the British Empire, as manifested in word and deed, must never be forgotten so long as Britain lives. Again, we owe them more than they owe us. By securing their liberation we shall repay the debt.

H. S. A.

    May, 1941


NOTE: I am indebted to many authentic Dutch sources for much invaluable assistance received. The opinions expressed, however, are my own and must not be considered, in any way, as those of anyone else whosoever.

The Netherlands Government Press Service have been particularly helpful in enabling me to assemble some of the facts given in parts of this book, notably those concerning the Netherlands under German occupation in Chapter VIII.


Preface to Third Edition

THE BLIND ARROGANCE OF THE HERRENVOLK in their spurious and ephemeral splendour no doubt contributes to the self-deception in which they indulge so wantonly. They have no hesitations when confronting their problems or when belauding their bloody achievements. They wish to believe the people of the Netherlands to be their loving brothers, notwithstanding the German record of faithlessness, theft, rapine and bestial savagery. The people of the Netherlands will have nothing of all this. The canals of Holland flow slowly, but the canals of Holland are deep!

Since the first edition of this book went to press a few weeks ago the salients of the war situation insofar as they affect the Netherlands have shown little material change. Seyss-Inguart and his military master Christiansen still play the congenial roles of overlords of the Netherlands, while the Queen and her Government control the vast overseas empire from London. The affection which the people of the Netherlands bear the House of Orange is stauncher than ever in this hour of trial.

There have been changes and noteworthy events


of recent months, however, which call for notice. Professor Gerbrandy, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, has been given greater authority by the Queen. Previously he was President of the Council of Ministers, in which capacity he did not possess the full powers which a British Prime Minister has. As President he was indeed primus inter pares; as Prime Minister he heads the Administration. The Minister of Defence, Lieutenant-Colonel Dyxhoorn, resigned in July and Admiral Furstner was appointed Navy Minister in his stead. The Netherlands Legion has been reorganized and a Royal Brigade has been formed. This brigade bears the name of the younger daughter of the heiress to the throne, the Princess Irene.

In the wider political field the Netherlands Government have had to contend with problems which are common both to the British Empire and themselves. At the Conference of Saint James's, which took place on September 24th last at the instance of His Britannic Majesty's Government, the Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. E. N. van Kleffens, formally signified acceptance by the Netherlands Government of the principles of the Atlantic Charter. In the Far East there has been continued close collaboration between the two Governments. The commercial negotiations between the Netherlands and Japan, which are


mentioned in these pages, came to an inconclusive although friendly termination, but the Eastern scene became confused almost immediately thereafter when the Japanese occupied Indo-China with the consent of the men of Vichy. The Netherlands East Indies joined in the financial and economic measures of protest which were taken by Great Britain and the United States against this act of aggression. At the same time the Netherlands authorities made it clear that, although they had every desire to maintain peaceable relations with Japan, they themselves would resist any Japanese acts of aggression. The A.B.C.D. (American, British, Chinese, Dutch) front in the Far East is strongly supported in the Netherlands East Indies, though there are many regrets that this has not yet led to a defensive alliance between the four powers concerned. The defences of the Netherlands East Indies have been greatly strengthened in recent months. Munitions of war arrive with unfailing regularity from America. Organization of the territorial militia has been extended to cover the rural as well as the urban population. The political significance of the formation of this native territorial militia cannot be underestimated. The native peoples are imbued with a deep sense of responsibility and are seized with a complete understanding of the great issues at stake. Their support of the


Allied cause continues to be shown in a multitude of ways. Mr. Ch. Welter, the Minister for the Colonies, and Dr. van Kleffens, his colleague for Foreign Affairs, have returned to London from a visit to the East, well satisfied with what they saw and learned on the spot. The liner Oranje, mentioned in these pages, is now in commission as a hospital ship and has been transferred to the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia for service in the Middle East.

In the Netherlands the people continue to suffer the invader's vile presence with fortitude. They seek consolation, however, in the achievements of their seafaring and fighting men. These men of the sea engage in their hazardous tasks unknowing of the fate of their kith and kin, who only hear of their exploits by listening to broadcasts in Dutch radiated by the British Broadcasting Corporation for the Netherlands Government Press Service. Recent activities of submarines of the Royal Netherlands Navy in the Mediterranean have been remarkable and invaluable contributions to victory. Alongside these achievements, however, is that simple kindly sacrifice which impels brave men and women to risk their all. Only a few weeks have passed since five Dutch subjects were shot by the Germans for aiding the escape of the crew of a British bomber. 'Patriotism is not enough!'


But there is also that slow self-created creeping paralysis which lends its aid to victory, passive resistance. The Dutch people in the Netherlands are reducing 'ca' canny' to an almost exact science. Yet they have to bear with much, with constitutional changes so that the Fuhrerprinzip may be observed, with the activities of the few Dutch quislings, with German thievery and slave rule. 130,000 workers have been forced to labour in Germany. The Jews, as usual when they are helplessly in the power of the Germans, have been subjected to rigorous treatment. Since this book was first published the so-called Nuremberg laws have been applied to Dutch Jews. They have been barred from the liberal professions, except to serve their co-religionists. Co-education as between so-called 'Aryan' and Jewish children has been prohibited. 20,000 Jewish-owned firms and industrial concerns have been 'Aryanized.' Hundreds of young Jews have been sent to concentration camps in Germany and to the Balkans to labour in mines there.

The people of the Netherlands are bitter in their opposition to their oppressors. They are not misled either by fine words or by fair promises. They refuse to be beguiled. They do not accept the German view of a Bolshevik bogey. Anti-Communist propaganda has failed entirely to


influence Dutch public opinion. On the other hand, National Socialism continues to be condemned. In particular, the Roman Catholic Church belabours National Socialism with a fearlessness which is peculiarly its own. Attempts to form a Netherlands Legion for service against the Russians have failed lamentably, only some 1,400 recruits having come forward. These recruits are mostly Dutch National Socialists, youths of the same calibre as those in this country who, before the outbreak of war, played with the idea of introducing Fascism into the British political system.

Hollanders all the world over have an expressive term of contempt for Germans. That word is 'Mof' It is an ancient word and may even be found in a verse by Jacob Cats, the Dutch Herrick, who, inter alia, as a statesman of the United Provinces, once led an Embassy to the Parliament of England. The word 'Mof' is in constant use these days, wherever men of the Netherlands may be found.

H. S. A.

    October 7, 1941.


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