Monday, May 04, 2009

Pieternella (Nelly)

My Mum: Pieternella Kaatje Janny Schipper, known as Nelly, was born in Rotterdam, into a world between two wars: World War 1 and World War 11. She arrived on December 15th 1926, three days after her mother Kaatje's 31st birthday.

One of her earliest memories was of her twin brother Jan and sister Kaatje, being born May 28, 1928. At that time the family was living at their baker's shop.

Nelly had three older siblings. Two sisters: Cornelia Adriana and Adriana Dingena, and a brother, Dingenis Pieter. Nelly's father, Jan Schipper, named the children, and each child's middle name was the first name of the next child.

The twins each took one of Nelly's middle names: Kaatje Dina and Jan Adrian, although Kaatje was known as Kitty to her friends. The twins were followed by two more children, Dirk Louis and Alijda Marina Helena, making Jan and Kaatje's family of eight complete.

The years leading up to the start of World War 11 were hard, with ten mouths to feed on the meagre income from the struggling business. Nelly's father, Jan, was frail physically, having never fully recovered his health after having the Spanish flu. The Spanish flu pandemic swept the world from 1918-1920 and the disease struck healthy young adults rather than children and the weak elderly, killing an estimated 50 million to 100 million worldwide. The majority of deaths were from bacterial pneumonia, a secondary infection caused by the flu.

Jan was left with weakened lungs and asthma. A baker's shop with flour in the air, was the worst environment for him but he struggled on. He was generous to a fault, loaning money to others with just their word that they would pay it back, but often they didn't or couldn't. He didn't believe in insurance and when the shop caught fire, they were ruined financially.

Jan, by this time looked much older than his age, and Kaatje had to take in washing for other people to help the family survive. There was no hot running water, and she would carry hot water up the stairs to their flat in order to do the laundry.

Nelly was a peacemaker. She was especially devoted to her mother and although her brothers and sisters had arguments amongst themselves, she loved them all.

She was a natural beauty, with shiny, thick, dark hair, almond shaped blue eyes and rosy cheeks. In this photograph she was 14, which means that it was taken in 1940-41, a year in which her world turned upside down.

On the morning of May 10 1940, Nelly woke up to a noise like thunder. Her father came up to the bedroom and told the children that war had broken out. The Germans were invading the Netherlands although the country had intended to remain neutral in the war in Europe.

Nelly was relieved that it was planes and gunfire that she could hear and not thunder, which she was frightened of. On May 14th the Germans gave an ultimatum over the radio: surrender by 5.00 p.m. or they would flatten Rotterdam. The city had already been badly bombed and they surrendered, although Zeeland, to the south, continued to resist the Wehrmacht until the 17th.

Unbelievably, the children went to school on May the 10th as usual, but were sent home by their teacher, who told them not to come back until the war was over. Nelly said to her friend, "The last war lasted four years. Just imagine if we don't have to go to school for four years!"

This dream didn't come true, they had to go back to school after all, but were to move schools twice as the invading German army took the schools over for barracks. A dark shadow had fallen over Europe.

Across the North Sea, Britain had been at war with Germany since September 1, 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, and a 19 year old boy named Christopher was dreaming of joining the British army.

Next week...Christopher's Story, Part 2

3 comments:

Dave Hingsburger said...

I eagerly look forward to these Monday posts! They give us insight into another time and other lives. The old saying, 'everytime an elderly person dies, a library burns down' is so true.

Belinda said...

Dear Friend, It has been good for me, too, to have been commissioned by the readers of Whatever He Says, to write these stories down in some coherent fashion. Thank you.

Susan said...

It's interesting that your grandfather had given your mum two middle names, so that when the twins came along he had a name for each of them.

Just one more small but incredibly fascinating detail in this incredibly fascinating story...