June 9, 2008
The following story was written by Frank Landman, from Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Frank came to Canada from Holland several years ago and he is working on improving his creative writing skills. He is a retired widower. Frank is a volunteer at the Southwest Crisis Centre. He is a natural leader and takes a lot of initiatives in helping his fellow classmates. Last summer, he facilitated ESL discussion classes as a volunteer. He is an asset in the ESL class and is always willing to share his expertise and experience with others.
It must have been late January, 1945. I came home from one of my foraging trips that I did daily for food and wood. My mother asked me to go out for as long as it took to bring in a large quantity of firewood to burn in the large stove, so we would be warm over Easter weekend. I could see the reason for her request, we just went through a miserable winter. It was very cold with hardly enough food to live on. A real warm weekend was not only good for the body but it would also lift up the spirit.
In those days, there were only steam locomotives pulling the train cars. To clean the firebox the fireman had to rake the fire to get rid of the cinders. The cinders fell between the rails together with some unburned coal, which we could burn in our stove at home.
To get the coal, I had to get into the railway marshalling yards or steal coal from one of the railway cars that carried the coal. I went on those scrounging trips between dawn and sunset when the curfew was not in place. It was unwise to be outside the house during curfew. The German soldiers shot first and asked questions later. A human life was not in high value anymore. We had martial law, that is suspension of ordinary law under an occupying German military government.
The transport of the wood was on a home built small cart. A couple of boards nailed together on a set of four wheels from a former baby pram. This contraption was dragged with a rope for miles to get the wood home. I can't remember exactly how many miles but it always felt like it lasted for ever.
To get wood was another matter all together. Cutting down trees was dangerous, not many left and fresh cut trees don't burn very well they are too wet. I had to get the wood from empty houses, which were located in the restricted military zone. The Germans had built a defence system all along the coast from Denmark to Spain, with bunkers and guns and obstacles as a defence against an invasion from the sea. We now know that the invasion took place in Normandy, France.
Normally, nobody was allowed to enter those defence zones. But children were roaming free there as long as they stayed out of real sensitive areas. The wood from the houses consisted of shelves, doors, stairs and floorboards. You had to be careful not to fall down from upstairs.
The dangers involved trigger happy sentries and low flying allied planes who were roaming the skies freely. Ironically, there were no German planes left to oppose them. Last but not least, the V-2 rockets were regularly launched from those restricted areas. I was in grade 12 and could speak in German with the sentries.
The allied fighters were another real danger, they were shooting at everything that moved using twenty millimetre calibre wing guns. I was hit one day with shrapnel from their explosive shells and will have the scar on my right thigh to prove it for the rest of my life. The V-2 rocket was the latest German weapon. It was supposed to go to England or Antwerp in Belgium, but like a good many it went up, the rocket engine stopped and because of gravity came back where it started from.
One day while loading cart with wood, a German soldier yelled at me, “Hinlegen!” It means “Take cover!” I dove down in a front garden and the whole world came apart. After the debris stopped falling I dusted myself off and carried on. This was the V2 that did not go to England.
I got my large amount of wood together and felt very good to accomplish my mother's wish. My mother a devout Roman Catholic had a dilemma, she prayed to the Lord to protect us while I was stealing. She prayed and hoped that when the war would be over the Lord would turn me into an honest and good person. The Lord only allowed mothers to get away with such request.