MAYDAY MAYDAY ON A DAY IN MAY
Wars are fond of ordinal numbers. But you only realise that after the second or third. In November 1918 Adrianus Brogtrop and Aurelia Nuyens were especially relieved: the Great War was over. Whether or not they lit up a cigar to celebrate in their ‘Aroma’ cigarette shop and smoking parlour on Breda’s main market square is not known.
After 1918 the couple raised four boys and two girls. Looking at the photos from their family album you can see rides in the ‘Flying Dutchman’ (an old cart), theatre shows and dance evenings. Son Frans is also in the photos. For many years the mirror on the wall told him how handsome he was, and no girl in Breda would deny that. He attributed his appeal to the Hot Hottentotters, the Dixieland quartet in which he played bass guitar with his face blackened. In 1938 he left for the Dutch East Indies as a professional soldier. A year later the ordinal number took its chance: at a killing pace – language sometimes will not tolerate other words – the Germans conquered Europe. The Second World War had started; the Great War would from now on be known as the First World War.
Night time exercises
In Java Frans fell in love with Miep van Zonneveld, who coincidentally also came from Breda. They married and had two children, Hanne and Ad ‘out East’. But Frans was no stay-at-home person. As a seven-year-old he had written in an autograph book that he wanted to be a pilot. Acting on his word, he found he could follow a pilot’s training course in Mississippi. On 17 February 1942 Frans took leave of his family. There is a photo of him, a Vera Lyn type of snapshot with every pixel singing ‘We’ll Meet Again.’
At the beginning of 1943 he had gained his diploma. The Naval Air Service took him on in the Fleet Air Arm 1847 Squadron that was stationed near the town of Londonderry in Northern Ireland. On 18 May 1944, flying sergeant Frans stepped into a Grumman F6F Hellcat for a night time exercise in formation flying. But something went wrong and his aircraft collided with another Hellcat. Both aircraft dived three hundred metres into Lough Foyle, an estuary near Londonderry. Frans and the other pilot – his friend from Tilburg Hendrik de Jager – did not survive. As for Miep and the children, shortly after Frans left they were arrested and imprisoned in a Japanese camp. Miep survived typhoid and withstood the bullying of the guards. In 1945 a notice appeared in her camp, listing twenty names, including that of Frans. “All dead”, claimed one of the Japanese. Miep did not believe it. It wasn’t until after the liberation in 1945 that she also to surrendered; surrendered to the hard truth of her husband’s death.
Some family histories could almost be a film. Time for the credits? No, soon after the liberation Miep and the children were back in Breda. The young widow would never remarry.
Harry, Frans’ oldest brother and head of the family, took custody of the little ones. Ad, the youngest brother followed in Frans’ footsteps. As a pilot he was a member of Prince Bernhard’s staff.
Frans and Miep’s children are still alive. Until a few years ago they believed their father’s body had never been recovered. After much detective work they found his grave in Mill Hill cemetery in London.
Hier toelichting op foto’s