MY LITTLE FELLA
On 28 August 1939, the Dutch army was mobilised to prepare for war. The Netherlands prepared itself for armed neutrality and 280,000 troops were assembled at locations around the country. The mobilisation excelled in improvisation and delightful chaos — improvising in a strange environment with an ambiguous perspective, the young lads made the best of it.
In the summer of 1939, reserve officer Acksen was given an important operational task — the role of quartermaster in a battalion of mobilised soldiers. The young lads arrived in Boekel one by one, nervous and awkward — like most, they had never been part of a mobilisation before. Nevertheless, they set to work, constructing and tinkering, and created their own encampment, somewhere they could sleep comfortably at night atop the straw bags that Acksen had given them on behalf of the Dutch army.
In addition to camping, the battalion also carried out drills and exercises. Although the Dutch had declared themselves neutral, with the Germans there really was no telling. The group was to carry out an exercise of several days that involved the battalion going to Veghel, singing as they went. But the residents of Veghel were not interested in welcoming the ‘intruders’, and with ‘Boekel’ in sight, the cook rushed to close the kitchen and refused to reopen, so Acksen and his battalion broke in. Food! The following day, the military police arrived to compile a report.
As time went by, organisation improved and the lads had more, and better, facilities. They were able to go home more often, travel freely and take part in sports or go to the theatre. Acksen had a feeling for these things. One day he managed to purchase a mobile bathhouse which he put in a large tent. The tent was actually intended as a place for decontaminating soldiers following a gas attack, but that didn’t seem much of a likelihood.
So Acksen invited, ordered and commanded his group to shower, but no matter what he tried, the lads would not go in. ‘What is this. What’s going on here?’, he asked. One of the group finally answered, ‘Well surely you don’t think I’m going to let them all see my little fella!’. They just didn’t want to shower together naked, something the minister supported them in. Acksen was the only one willing, but he was still determined to get them under the shower.
It was in situations like this that the quartermaster excelled. If the lads didn’t want to shower naked, they’d have to do it some other way. He sent two of the lads into the village to the nearest textile shop and they each returned with a bag. Acksen took the bags and gathered the group together. ‘Perhaps now you can go in the shower?!’, and he handed each of them swimming shorts — army green, nice and tight.
The mobilisation didn’t last long and on 10 May 1940, the Germans invaded. All thoughts of neutrality were gone and in the days that followed, there was heavy fighting in eastern Brabant. Sadly though, the Dutch preparations had little effect on the advancing Germans and the country surrendered on 14 May.
Toelichting op de foto