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

(File image)
Break-in suspects arrested after foot pursuit by Kelowna RCMP

Two men have been charged with break and enter, theft under $5,000, and breach of a court order

Kate Pauling selling her cookies. (Contributed)
Kelowna newspaper carrier spreads joy to children in need

Kate Pauling fund-raises for Samaritan’s Purse Shoe Boxes

Ashley Stone’s Village App is one of the semi-finalists for the Total Mom Pitch. (The Village App - Facebook)
Kelowna mom’s app semi-finalist in Canada’s Total Mom Pitch

Ashley Stone is developing an app called Village, a community-based messaging platform where people can ask for and offer help

Business district is pictured during a traffic jam in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
Morning Start: By 2050, 95 percent of North Jakarta could be submerged

Your morning start for Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
UPDATE: Garage on Lakeshore Road burns to the ground, blaze deemed suspicious

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

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

A fentanyl test strip is used at Vancouver Coastal Health in Vancouver, Tuesday, January, 21, 2020. The test strips will be made available to drug users to ensure that their drugs are safe and free of Fentanyl. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Drug overdoses lead to 5 deaths each day in October; drug toxicity continues to increase

COVID-19 crisis continues to exacerbate the overdose crisis

The Vernon Public Art Gallery is looking to the community to support its programming, which VantageOne Credit Union is matching for Giving Tuesday. (VPAG image)
Vernon art gallery gets a boost for Giving Tuesday

VantageOne Credit Union matching donations

The Vernon swimming pool is closed Friday. (morning star file photo)
Swim, skate and play fees rise 5% in North Okanagan

Weekend hours also reduced as rec centre struggles with fewer people and fewer funds

The City of Salmon Arm erected a fence around the Ross Street Plaza on Nov. 24/2020, citing reasons centering on safety and security due to camping by people who don’t have homes. The closure is temporary but it’s not known when it will be reopened. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
City of Salmon Arm erects fence around public plaza to prevent camping

Lieutenant says lack of public space affects people without homes but he understands city’s decision

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

Interior Health and School District 83 are responding to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure at the Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan campus. (File photo)
COVID-19 exposure confirmed at Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan campus

School District 83 says member of school community self-isolating at home

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Gord Portman has been reunited with his dog Zippy after reaching out to the community for help covering the cost of Zippy’s surgery. Zippy had successful mouth surgery Nov. 19, 2020 and has made a full recovery since. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Penticton rallies to save dog’s life

Gord Portman reached out to the community to help with the cost of his dog’s surgery

Most Read