A large crowd that included a special royal guest were on hand yesterday (Wednesday 24th August) at Sizewell beach to greet six people who commemorated the 70th anniversary of the bravery of two brothers from the Netherlands who fled their Nazi-occupied country by rowing across the North Sea.
Olly Hicks, Ben Stoel and Chiel van Bakel all completed the grueling journey of around 130 miles, while three others who set off, Alec Greenwell, Harry Franks and Ed Cooper, had to pull out last night because of complete exhaustion. All four English men are from the district, and Prince Harry was among those waiting for their arrival.
“To see first-hand the condition of these three highly experienced rowers when they tried to step ashore brings home once again the astounding bravery and indeed stamina of those who tried to cross the North Sea 70 years ago,” said Cllr Andrew Nunn, Suffolk Coastal’s Cabinet Member for the Green Environment.
“The story of the original Engelandvaarders was an almost forgotten one, so it was a great pleasure for my Council that a statue marking these extraordinary efforts was unveiled at Sizewell beach two years ago.
“I would thank all the rowers, these modern Engelandvaarders, for once again putting the spotlight on the heroics of those who attempted to escape Nazi rule during the Second World War. I hope as many people as possible will support them with cash donations to their worthy charities of Combat Stress and the Suffolk Foundation,” added Cllr Nunn.
The route sailed over the last two days followed that of Henri and William Peteri, who departed from Katwijk, north of The Hague, 70 years ago and landed on the beach at Sizewell 56 hours later.
Betty Peteri-Peet, the widow of Henri Peteri who died in 2007, officially unveiled the sculpture in June 2009, and her son Niels was present to greet the successful rowers.
Between 1940 and 1945 more than 1,700 Dutch people, including 50 women, escaped to England in order to join the allied forces. Most of these Engelandvaarders, or England voyagers, took a long, dangerous route over land through Spain and Portugal. A smaller group reached England via Scandinavia. No more than 200 succeeded in crossing the North Sea in small motor boats, kayaks or other vessels. A much larger number never reached their final destination. They were arrested or drowned.
This latest crossing, and also the monument, was sponsored by Quooker UK Ltd., a subsidiary of the company started by Henri Peteri, which turned his invention – the Quooker boiling-water tap – into a resounding success.
The expedition is raising money for two charities, both of which do great things for people in need. The Suffolk Foundation supports charities and voluntary groups across the county, while Combat Stress looks after those suffering from psychological conditions resulting from their Service career including depression, anxiety, a phobia or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Their services are free of charge to Veterans.
To donate to the Engelandvaarder expedition, in aid of The Suffolk Foundation and Combat Stress, please go to www.engelandvaarder.com