How one Dutch family sheltered a Shropshire soldier in the heat of war

During the last autumn of the war, with Hitler's forces still resisting strongly, a Shropshire soldier and his colleagues took shelter in a barn in Holland.

Hinkshay soldier Craftsman Underwood.
Hinkshay soldier Craftsman Underwood.

And before they moved on, they drew a shield for the Dutch family who had harboured them, along with a list of all their names and ranks.

Now, almost 80 years later, a member of the family who played host to those warrior "guests" is trying to find out more about that group, which included one J R D Underwood, who gave his address as 9 New Row, Hinkshay, his rank as "Cfn" – and also left a photo of himself.

Hinkshay soldier Craftsman Underwood.

It is an address near Dawley which has long disappeared, as New Row, which was also known as Ladies Row, was part of the old community of Hinkshay which was demolished around the late 1960s and is now within Telford town park.

The name and address on the back of the soldier's photo.

In pursuing his quest Tony VanDijk, who lives in Canada, is being helped by his friend Doreen Miller, who is Canadian but lives in Devon.

He was only about a year old at the time, so obviously has no personal memory of those events in October 1944 at the family home at Sint-Oedenrode, which is north of Eindhoven.

Ton VanDijk at the property in 1950.

Doreen said: "Tony was married to my late niece. He was born in Holland and his family emigrated to Canada when he was about seven years old."

Twenty years ago Jan Gibbels, the brother of Tony's mother Dora, wrote to Dora in Canada seeking her help in tracking down the soldiers – at the time it was thought that the group who stayed at the Gibbels' farm in Holland had been Canadian.

Both Jan and Dora have since died and the baton has now passed to Tony, who has so far drawn a blank.

"Tony lived in this home at the same time as the soldiers were in the family barn in Sint-Oedenrode," said Doreen.

The Gibbels' family homestead in Holland – Tony's bedroom window is one of those at the front.

A few years ago Tony's local newspaper in Canada ran a story about his quest, and as a result a Canadian army historian said he thought the soldiers were British and not Canadian, which resulted in Tony giving Doreen the details because she lives in Britain.

She has now started her researches in earnest and is hoping Shropshire Star readers will be able to help, at least in finding out more about Salopian soldier Underwood.

"There are names and ranks of 15 soldiers. There are also actual head shot photographs of two of the soldiers in uniform.

"One of them we believe is Underwood, as he wrote his name and address on the back of the photo.

"They also drew a shield of their unit, and coloured it in. We also believe they must have stayed in the barn for some time, as they left so much information."

The group drew this shield for the Dutch family who sheltered them.

Many of the soldiers give their rank as "Cfn" which indicates those members of the group were serving in REME, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, in which the rank of "Craftsman" is the equivalent of Private.

The complete list of soldiers was: Asm Macaleese, Cpl Padgham, L/Cpl Bond, Cfn Ablett, Cfn Jiggins, Gnr Mansell, Cfn Siddons, Cfn Underwood, Sgt Little, Cpl Smith, L/Cpl Rowe, Cfn Howe, Cfn Keiling, Cfn Pratt, and Gnr Summerill.

The shield they drew and coloured in with crayons features a gold sword or dagger within a black cross while typed at the top are what looks like "lad," "BLA" (possibly standing for British liberation army?) and "oct 1944."

If you have information about Craftsman Underwood or any of the other soldiers in the group contact toby.neal@mnamedia.co.uk and we will pass it on to Doreen.

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