Brunel Court resident Adrian Ammerlaan, who grew up in the Netherlands, recalls an incident during the German occupation of his father’s dairy farm in May 1943.
Adrian was born on a farm in Den Hoorn nr Delft in the Netherlands on 24th April, 1924, son of Arnold and Johanna Ammerlaan, the eldest of nine children. Adrian went to the village school where he learnt German and English. He was 16 at the time the Germans invaded Holland and commandeered his father’s farm.
When the Germans invaded on 10th May, 1940, German paratroopers landed on his father’s farm. Adrian said: “We owned a Friesian dairy herd of 44 cows, but the Germans demanded meat and slaughtered all but 25 of them.”
One morning after an RAF bombing raid on Rotterdam Harbour, a market gardener came to the farm asking to speak to Adrian. He said: “Adrian, I have got an Englishman in my tomatoes. You can speak English, will you come with me?” Adrian agreed to check and found a frightened Englishman in a greenhouse. He told Adrian he had come from Birmingham and he was Flight Lieutenant Edmund. Adrian asked for proof, the young pilot produced a Midland Red bus ticket from his pocket.
Adrian agreed to help. The teenager knew he had put his life at risk, but took the pilot back to the farm and hid him while he contacted the escape route group. “I knew I had to get the Englishman away as soon as possible,” Adrian said, “As the Germans would soon visit the farm.”
It was not long before the Germans moved in. Adrian contacted a Mother Superior of a Franciscan convent who agreed to help. “I got the pilot to the convent. As I was leaving, German soldiers with machine guns were arriving.”
Adrian, along with many young men, was taken prisoner, loaded onto a train and shipped out to a Stuttgart prisoner of war camp. Adrian was in a camp of horror. “I saw the hated insignia of the SS. We were lined up and whipped,” he said. “The brutality of the SS was demonstrated as we were being told, “You will be shut in the cooler unless you play the game,” through an interpreter, who translated that “Our spirits would be shut in the cooler.” This was greeted with howls of laughter and the commandant had us whipped.”
The prisoners were put to work in a factory: “producing anything and everything,” Adrian recalled. There were machine guns destined for the Eastern Front. Adrian knew about machine guns and managed to remove all the firing pins from them before they were shipped out. Adrian also recalled a time of horror at the camp when 100 men were picked out, put against a wall and shot.
Adrian and several others joined an escape committee. Forged documents were obtained. After three weeks at the factory, Adrian and some others managed to escape to Switzerland, helped by a talented forger.
Determined to fight on, Adrian joined the Dutch Expeditionary Army, fighting with an American division in the Ardennes. Adrian was in the Battle of the Bulge, as the Germans launched their last desperate attempt of the war.
Adrian had not been under fire before. “I was wounded and alone after the Germans had bombarded us,” he recalls. “I was surrounded by dead bodies. I kept firing my machine gun. Suddenly I heard the sound of bagpipes; it grew louder as a Scottish Canadian unit marched each side of me toward the German lines.”
Adrian was transferred to England in 1945 as part of the Princess Irene Brigade stationed at Wrottesley Park, Wolverhampton. It was here that he met wife-to-be, Hazel Denning. Adrian said: “I knew this was the girl for me. it was love at first sight.” They married in Merry Hill, Wolverhampton, on 21st September, 1946. The couple, who were married for over 50 years, had four children: two boys and two girls. Adrian has eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Now aged 90, Adrian moved to Brunel Court in 2012. He said: “I love it here, I am very happy. The staff are very dedicated and helpful.”
Adrian worked at Goodyear Tyres from 1950 and was given a bravery award for attempting to save the British pilot who, it is thought, was captured by the Germans and shot.