A HARD FOUGHT SHIP
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Victims of Aggression
The Dutch Passengers

On the Zeemanshoop

With the exception of the four Dutch university students and Jhr Marinus de Jonge most of the passengers were Jews but they were treated very differently from the German Jews. After landing at Dover they left by train for London and after a night in a Salvation Army hostel went to the office of theNetherlands Emergency Committee (NEC) in Dorland House. The Dutch doctor from Amsterdam who had escaped on the Zeemanshoop "with only his stethoscope" (Jewish Telegraph Agency, London 17 May) was one of those in the long queue seeking assistance. They were provided with accommodation at "a small hotel off Russell Square" and later in a hostel created from a row of small family hotels in Bernard Street. The large Dutch community in Britain was generous in its support of the work of the NEC.

Loet Velman's extended family were concerned about the disruption to his education and despite his excellent English decided to accept a grant from the Dutch government in exile to move to the Dutch East Indies where he could complete his schooling. This decision led to their internment by the Japanese and to Loet Velman spending several years as a Prisoner of War during which he worked on the "death railway" from Thailand to Burma. Joop van der Laan, an experienced journalist and former editor of the Deli Courant at Medan, on Sumatra in the Dutch Indies, worked for the Dutch Information Service in London.

Freddie Knottenbelt, the Secretary of the Netherlands Emergency Committee (see below), took a particular interest in the four university students who "crewed" the Zeemanshoop and found them accommodation at a small hotel in Putney not too far from his beautiful family home in Roehampton where they visited him. They were keen to join the fight against the invader of their country but found that neither the Dutch army or navy had any need for untrained volunteers at that stage in the war. To begin with all four students served on ships of the Dutch Merchant Marine which were at sea when the Netherlands was invaded and made their way to England.

Jo Bongaerts and Harry Hack joined
the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service, the Marine Luchtvaart Dienst (MLD), and served with Squadron 320, Jo as navigator and Harry as an engineering officer. Karel Dahmen joined the Royal Netherlands Navy and gives a vivid first hand account of his wartime service on this web site. Lou Meijers became a fighter pilot flying spitfires with 322 Squadron, the famous Dutch squadron of the RAF. Karel Dahmen is the only crew member alive today. Marien de Jonge who had tried to persuade Harry Hack that it would be "collective suicide to continue" served with distinction in the Princess Irene Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army, became a professional soldier after the war and celebrated his hundredth birthday in September 2011.

The Netherlands Emergency Committee (NEC)

The Committee was established by the Dutch community in London, the Dutch Church and the Dutch Benevolent Society following the invasion of the Netherlands to assist people of Dutch nationality suffering hardship as a result of the war and was funded by donations from companies and individual ranging from as little as 2/- up to 1,000. It was chaired by Th. H. de Messer and the secretary was F.H. Knottenbelt. He and his family took a particular interest in the student crew of the Zeemanshoop. The first meetings of the NEC were held at Dorland House but in June it moved to Bush House and in July to 120 Pall Mall where the office of the Committee relocated. The premises were lent by sympathetic individuals and secretarial assistance was provided by Lever Bros and Unilever. The Committee met monthly and day to day management of its affairs, its office and staff was the responsibity of its secretary Freddie Knottenbelt.

The NEC worked closely with Jhr. Ir. O. C. A. van Lidth de Jeude, who had been appointed by the Dutch Government in Exile as High Commissioner for Relief work (Regeerings Commissaris) and later became Chairman of the London Committee of the Netherlands Red Cross Society. It also co-operated with the Joint Jewish Orthodox Committee which was instrumental in forming the Inter-allied Committee for the Evacuation Overseas of Refugee Children.

Freddie Knottenbelt, the Executive Secretary of the NEC, was very much in charge but many of those who were most active in helping the refugees were not members of the Committee. Mrs Swaab and her helpers, Mrs Byl and Mrs Osorio, organised accommodation for the refugees in the Bonnington Hotel in Southampton Row.The Hollandsche Kamer in the Bonnington Hotel became a place where refugees could be welcomed and meet socially. At the meeting on the 25 June it was mentioned that "the Netherlands Government had proposed to give a tea to Dutch refugees in the Bonnington Hotel on the 4 July".  Further details of the accommodation provided for refugees were given at the meeting held on the 14 August. The Bonnington Hotel was expensive, 10 a week for a room, but Mrs Swaab found cheaper accommodation at 11 Bernard Street for 27 refugees and there was room for more nearby. These houses were to be converted into a hostel for Dutch refugees costing only 40/- per week for a couple.

Arrangements were also made for refugees to be evacuated, mainly to the Dutch East Indies but in smaller numbers to Australia, New Zealand, Curacao (a Dutch colony) and the USA. The meeting at the Piccadilly Hotel on the 14 August 1940 decided to transfer the executive powers of the Committee to the Netherlands Red Cross which shared the same aims but was better placed to raise funds. By the end of 1940 the Committee had received 21,764 in donations and had total outlays of 14,867, most outright gifts or loans to refugees but including the purchase of clothes, transport and a donation of 1,000 to the Central Committee for War Refugees.

The initial generosity of donors following the invasion tapered off. A meeting on the 14 February 1941 attended by Jhr. Ir. O. C. A. van Lidth de Jeude, the Chairman of the London Committee of the Netherlands Red Cross, confirmed the decision to transfer executive powers to the Red Cross.  By the time the Committee met on the 3 July 1942 the bank overdraft had increased to 11,000 and the decision was taken to wind up the affairs of the Committee.

This brief account of the work of the Netherlands Emergency Committee ia based on the published report of its activities in 1941 and the minutes of its meetings in the archive of the Netherlands Instituut voor Oorlogs Holocaust en Genocide Studies (NIOD), Amsterdam (Collection 273b)


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