Mineke and Bill Spencer place a wreath for the Dutch Underground during the 2017 Remembrance Day ceremony at Sorrento Memorial Hall. (Contributed

Mineke and Bill Spencer place a wreath for the Dutch Underground during the 2017 Remembrance Day ceremony at Sorrento Memorial Hall. (Contributed

Fearless allies: Shuswap woman reflects on childhood in Dutch Resistance

Mineke Spencer was three-years-old when Germany invaded her home in the Netherlands

As Nazi German airplanes flew overhead towards Rotterdam, three-year-old Mineke Spencer, née Koelsag, learned the meaning of the word “oorlog” (Dutch for “war”), and witnessed the chilling effect it had on the people around her.

“They absolutely flattened Rotterdam… All I remember is the fear on the faces of people,” explained Spencer. “Of course, I didn’t know what oorlog is, but I knew it was serious.”

German forces invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940, and occupied the country until surrendering to Canadian, British and Polish troops in May 1945.

In the years f0llowing the bombing, Spencer’s family would become active in the Dutch Resistance, defying Nazi occupiers through acts of sabotage, and by hiding downed Allied airmen, helping them escape when possible through Belgium to England.

This continued until the spring of 1945, when Canadian troops liberated Spencer’s home of Laren.

As an expression of her undying gratitude, each year on November 11, Spencer, now 83, lays a wreath for the Dutch Underground during the Remembrance Day ceremony in Sorrento.

“Holland couldn’t have done it without the Canadians. We’re so grateful to the Canadians,” said Spencer.

Spencer was one of 13 children born to Johanna and Albert Jan Koeslag. The Koelsag’s had a farm in the town of Laren, in the province of Gelderland, on the far side of the river from Arnhem where Operation Market Garden (chronicled in the movie A Bridge Too Far) failed in 1944.

That year, though only seven years old, Mineke was well aware of the risk her family and others were taking by hiding Allied troops, preventing their capture by the Nazis.

“The Nazis, they liked to interrogate children too, and I knew where the hiding places around the farm were,” said Spencer. “And my mom took us (Mineke and one of her sisters) aside and said, ‘Now, if you ever get questioned, don’t you say anything.’ And impertinent little me looked my mother in the face and said, ‘Do you think I’m that stupid?’”

The Koelsag family poses with Allied airmen who were being hidden and cared for by the family. (Contributed)The Koelsag family poses with Allied airmen who were being hidden and cared for by the family. (Contributed)

The Koelsag family poses with Allied airmen who were being hidden and cared for by the family. (Contributed)
The Koelsag family poses with Allied airmen who were being hidden and cared for by the family. (Contributed)

Sharing Mineke’s bravery were her older brothers Johan and Albert “Appie” Koelsag (alias Willem van Laren), who Jan Braakman, author of the book War in the Corner and grandson of Mineke’s uncle, described as “informal leaders of the resistance.”

Appie was involved in several deeds of sabotage in and around Laren, including blowing up railways and destroying telephone lines, writes Braakman.

“That was Albert,” laughs Mineke, who continues to admire her brother’s fearlessness. In one story about his role in the Dutch underground, Mineke said Albert was leading a group of Allied airmen out of Holland when they decided to stop at a restaurant for coffee. Before going in, Albert advised his company not to say a word. They were inside the restaurant when several German soldiers entered, also for coffee. Albert and company kept quiet, had their coffee and, when the bill arrived, Albert motioned towards the enemy and said it was on them.

“So the Nazis paid for their coffee,” laughed Spencer. “That’s the kind of person Albert was.”

In November 1944, Albert junior was arrested a second time — he escaped a previous arrest that had him on a train to a German concentration camp. Albert senior shared his son’s fate along with other members of the resistance leaving Johanna and several of her younger kids, including Mineke to operate the farm. Two of Mineke’s brothers were later let go to work the farm which was tasked with providing food for German troops.

In April 1945, Canadian troops with Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, The Black Watch and the 48th Highlanders of Canada, were tasked with taking the town of Laren from the Nazis. As the conflict reached their doorstep, the Koelsags hid in a root cellar behind their house. During the fighting, the Nazis, who had taken over the Koelsag home, also fled to the root cellar. Mineke said they would run out to shoot at the advancing Canadians and then return to the safety of the cellar.

“Eventually, when they were pushed back enough, then it was the Canadians that would come in with us,” said Spencer.

Read more: Remembrance Day closed to public in North Okanagan

Read more: Salmon Arm man’s annual Remembrance Day trail work a tribute to veterans

Read more: Salmon Arm residents encouraged to observe Remembrance Day, but not at cenotaph

About a month after the Koelsags in Laren were liberated, their imprisoned family members, including Albert senior, were released. On his way home, Albert learned the Canadian troops had burned down the family home thinking the Nazis were still within, but his family was safe at a neighbouring home.

While some of the Koelsags remained in Laren after the war, in 1948 Albert senior, Johanna, Mineke and some of her siblings, including Appie, moved to Canada.

Through one of the Canadian pilots they assisted during the resistance, the Koelsags found someone to sponsor their immigration, and relocated to Durham, Ont., where Albert senior and junior were celebrated when they received the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom.

“Durham put on a big feast for us,” said Spencer. “The governor general came and my brother Albert, he had not only the King’s Medal, but also had French and American medals.”

Reflecting on those years between 1940 and 1945, Spencer said not many Dutch people did what she and her family did. For her own part, Spencer said she has never been a fearful person.

“I’ve always had sense of right and wrong,” said Spencer. “I’m not afraid to kick somebody in the shins if they’re wrong.”

Susan Arens, Spencer’s daughter, said stories of the Dutch Resistance are shared among the family to this day.

“We share them and try and keep the family history continuing on to the next generation so they know the stories and their roots,” said Arens.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Remembrance Day

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

This collage shows the Koelsag farm before and after the Second World War. As Canadian troops advanced towards Laren in the spring of 1945, the house was used as a command post by Nazi occupiers. It was later torched by Canadian soldiers who didn’t know the Nazis had already fled. (Contributed)

This collage shows the Koelsag farm before and after the Second World War. As Canadian troops advanced towards Laren in the spring of 1945, the house was used as a command post by Nazi occupiers. It was later torched by Canadian soldiers who didn’t know the Nazis had already fled. (Contributed)

The Koelsag family poses with Allied airmen who were being hidden and cared for by the family. (Contributed)

Just Posted

Masks are now officially mandatory in all City of Campbell River facilities. (Black Press File Photo)
Interior Health reports 49 new COVID-19 cases overnight

302 cases remain active; two in hospital

It’s crucial to follow provincial health guideliens to stop further spread of the virus, according to the Physicans of Golden. (File photo)
Positive COVID cases confirmed in Golden

The exposure occured at the Golden arena through one of the hockey cohorts.

After nearly 20 years, the Golden and Area A Community Forestry Team is trying to bring a community forest to the Golden area. (File photo)
Bringing a community forest to Golden

There’s been a desire to bring a community forest to the area for over a decade

Concerns over the water in Nicholson have been raised since 2005. Residents continue to reject solutions from the CSRD. (Cranbrook Townsman file)
Nicholson residents reject community water system

The results of the one-year water monitoring program have been released.

Grizzly.
Morning Start: Humans might be able to hibernate like bears

Your morning start for Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

(Pixabay.com)
Man, 28, warned by Kootenay police to stop asking people to marry him

A woman initially reported the incident to police before they discovered others had been popped the question

Winston Blackmore (left) and James Oler (right) were sentenced on separate charges of polygamy this week in Cranbrook Supreme Court.
No more charges expected in Bountiful investigation, special prosecutor says

Special prosecutor says mandate has ended following review of evidence from Bountiful investigations

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Garage in Kelowna burns to the ground, blaze deemed suspicious

Fire crews responded to the scene just after 4:30 p.m.

(Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Refuse to follow B.C.’s mask mandate? Face a $230 fine

Masks are now required to be worn by all British Columbians, 12 years and older

(Ty Hainsworth / Facebook)
No injuries after fire rips through South Okanagan fruit stand

A fruit stand caught fire Tuesday afternoon, closing Highway 97 for two hours

Damien Smith, with father Thomas Smith, is “frozen” with joy as he watches a special message Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds recorded for Damien’s 9th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Contributed)
Shuswap boy celebrates 9th birthday with family, community and Ryan Reynolds

People from around the world send birthday cards showing young Canoe resident he’s not alone

A major reconstruction project on 32nd Avenue is nearing completion and the road is now re-opened to traffic between 33rd Street and 35th Street. (City of Vernon photo)
ROAD REPORT: More roundabouts coming to North Okanagan

New intersection lights up Dec. 13, 30th Street paving delayed, PV Road completed in Vernon

O’Rourkes Peak Cellars is located in Lake Country, B.C. (Contributed)
Lake Country winery temporarily closes due to possible COVID-19 exposure

The establishment plans to reopen on Dec. 4 after a deep clean

Most Read