A Remembrance Day Special Feature

This Saturday is November 11, Remembrance Day. It means a lot to our family since we lived in enemy occupied Holland during the 2nd World War. The story in this blog post is chapter 4 of my autobiography. The first 37 chapters are a written for children and will be published in January 2018.

In Hilversum during the bitterly cold winter of 1943—’44 my name was Hansje and this is a remembrance living in fear of the bad enemy soldiers. It would be another 16 months before good Canadian soldiers came to chase away the bad ones.

Chapter 4, Hansje Gathers Firewood

When Hansje was five years old he wished that he was older because he wanted to do things that big people did. His Papa and Mama were always talking about how they needed to find more food because their family was always hungry. And now that it was cold they needed to find more firewood to burn in the heater.

Hansje always kept his eyes open when he wandered around the streets of his neighbourhood to see if he could find something valuable that didn’t belong to anybody. One day he found three nails, a screw, and a long piece of string, so he brought them home to give to his parents. Another day he found an empty bottle.

His Mama and Papa were happy when he brought things like that home because they couldn’t buy nails or string in stores anymore since the stores were empty. Hansje was happy too, because when he brought things home, it made him feel like a grown-up and not just a little kid.

One day, Hansje did something that made his Mama very happy. It was a very cold, and they had only a little bit of wood and coal to burn in their heater to make the house warm and to cook their little bit of food on. But that day, when Hansje came home from playing outside, all his pockets were full of small pieces of firewood, and his arms were so full he had to kick the door until Mama opened it. Wow! She was so glad to see all that firewood! “We’re going to be warm tonight!” she said happily. “Where did you get this firewood?” she asked.

“Oh, I found it on the street,” Hansje said, not looking her in the eye. But that was only partly true. He did pick it up from the street, but he hadn’t really found it. Instead, he had done a very dangerous thing to get it. If his Mama had known how he got all that firewood, she would have made him promise never to do it again.

But she didn’t know, so the next day, Hansje took a cloth sack, folded it up flat and stuck it into his belt. He was only five, almost six years old, but he felt much bigger since he was doing something important for his whole family. He walked down the block to a certain street corner and hid behind a hedge with three other boys. The other boys were six and seven years old and told little Hansje to sit really still while they waited.

They waited until finally, Hansje could hear the rumble of a large truck driving down the street. One enemy soldier was driving, and one was sitting beside him holding his big gun. The back of the truck was full of—you guessed it—small pieces of firewood! And sitting on top of the pile was a prisoner with a chain on his leg. The chain was fastened to the truck, so he couldn’t jump off and run away. He was a good man from the city where Hansje lived. But the enemy soldiers had taken him as a prisoner and made him work for them.

Hansje and his friends scrunched down further into the hedge so the bad soldiers in the cab of the truck wouldn’t see them. His heart was pounding with excitement. He prayed silently that God would help him, although he wondered if God would be okay with helping him do something sneaky.

As the big truck slowly drove by, Hansje and his friends crept out of their hiding-place. They ran right close behind the truck so the bad soldiers in the cab couldn’t see them, not even in the truck mirrors. As soon as the truck began to turn the corner, the prisoner started throwing armloads of firewood off the back of the truck.

The boys picked up every scrap of wood that the prisoner threw off the truck. They could only do it by that corner because the road was so narrow that the driver had to be very careful how he drove and didn’t have time to look in the rear-view mirrors.

What Hansje and those other boys did was, of course, a very dangerous thing to do. What if one of the bad soldiers had looked in the rear-view mirrors and had seen some boys picking up firewood from the street? They would have stopped the truck, jumped out, yelled at the boys, and shot their guns to make them drop the firewood. Also, the prisoner would get into big trouble.

The boys knew this, so as soon as they had stuffed all the firewood into their bags, they quickly ran away home, and the prisoner just sat there looking as if nothing had happened as the truck kept driving away.

When Hansje got home, his Mama was very happy with the bag of wood. That made Hansje happy too, and he felt even more like a grown-up.  Hansje never told his Mama how he got that wood. Good thing too, or she would have been worried.

That night in his bedtime prayer Hansje thanked God for helping him get firewood and he prayed that God would soon sent good soldiers to chase the bad ones away.