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Library Reference Number: 191

A Slap-Up Meal Courtesy Operation ‘Manna’/Operation ‘Faust’

Sqd Ldr Bill Campbell,AFC, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

Post War Rotterdam City CentreI enjoyed reading the stories from the various members who took part in Operation Manna and I thought they might be interested in my experience as a 15-year-old schoolboy on holiday in the Netherlands in 1955, when I was the recipient of a slap-up meal on the back of their efforts. Just to be sure I got my facts right I followed up their stories on the web and was delighted to discover a hitherto unknown family connection to these events.

I was with a group of Scottish schoolboys on a canal-barge tour of the Netherlands, probably one of the earlier school-age trips after the war. Our teenage minds were already full of war stories; the early 1950’s saw a plethora of WW2 books published, television (new to Scotland) had the wonderful series “War in the Air” in 1954 and in the same year came the “Dambusters” film. The Berlin Airlift had taken place and the “Cold-War” had begun, the Korean War had recently ended in armistice and our forces were currently involved in the Malayan Emergency and the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya. We, of course, were destined for National Service in a few years’ time.

We were particularly interested in the 1940 German bombing of Rotterdam and the 1944 Battle of Arnhem, and noticed that Nijmegen was very close to the German border giving us the opportunity to visit the country that had had such an effect on the lives of ourselves, our parents and grandparents.

Our itinerary took us from the Hook of Holland (Hoek van Holland) to Rotterdam, Delft, The Hague (Den Haag), Ijmuiden and thence to Amsterdam, although I think we were whisked through that city as fast as the barge could take us, to shelter us young men from its attractions! From there our journey took us to the villages of Edam and Vollendam on the IJsselmeer then to Utrecht, up the Rhine to Arnhem, down the Waal to Nijmegen and Dordrecht and back to our start point.

Netherlands in 1945Rotterdam was a real shock; I can remember the silence in the bus as we drove from the docks to the city centre through an area hundreds of yards either side of the main road where not a building stood, just a network of roads and the holes of empty basements. Bombs had hit and ignited some vegetable oil tanks on the dock side, resulting in uncontrollable fires that spread into the city centre. Although exact numbers are not known, 800 to 900 people were killed and 80,000 made homeless. Around 1 square mile of the city was almost levelled. 24,978 homes, 24 churches, 2,320 stores, 775 warehouses and 62 schools were destroyed.

Our trip into Germany was another eye-opener with scenes of past devastation as soon as we crossed the border. We had simply picked a convenient tram journey from Nijmegen via Wyler and Kranenbourg to Kleve, the first large town in Germany, not knowing that this route had been the “only promising axis of advance” for one of the Allied armies as they fought their way into Germany. “The concentration of fire which fell on the enemy was probably not equalled on a similar front during the entire war in the west”; Kleve itself had been a fortified town and had taken a pounding from Bomber Command and the Artillery. After the war, Kleve claimed to be the most completely destroyed town in Germany of its size, which explains the sullen attitude of the Kleve shopkeepers in 1955, the only exception being the Italian café owners at the top of the main street.

But it was our experience at Arnhem which was the most memorable and pleasurable of our trip. Three of us had intended to visit the Arnhem Military Cemetery and were on the way through the city centre to catch a bus when a couple with two young boys approached us. After identifying us as British, they insisted on giving us a meal in return for the help received from the British in liberating their country. So off we went to their nearby third-floor flat and were treated to a wonderful spread.

After the meal the couple told us of their personal wartime experiences. The wife motioned us to the front window and said that the day after the German occupation began in May 1940 she had kissed her new husband good-bye as usual when he went off to work. Pointing down the road, she described how she had watched him walk past the opposite block of flats and exchanged waves before he turned the corner and disappeared out of sight. That was the last she saw of him for 5 years. Round the corner, German paratroopers manning a checkpoint had lifted him and sent him to Germany where he languished as a slave labourer till the end of the war.

We then heard that the main reason for their generous hospitality had been in return for the life-saving food-relief operations undertaken by the Allies in April and May 1945. My recollection is that they were talking about events in the Arnhem area in particular as well as in the Netherlands as a whole and I was puzzled when the Operation Manna articles mentioned only drops in the western Netherlands with no mention of Arnhem in the east of the country. So onto the Internet looking for more details of Operation Manna and what a surprise; I discovered a little piece of my late father-in-law Jack White’s wartime service previously unknown to the family in a report titled ‘Operation Faust’.

Jack was a young gunnery Lieutenant in the 143rd (Kent Yeomenry) Field Artillery Regiment which gave artillery support to the operations of 49th Infantry Division (The Polar Bears), under command of 1st Canadian Corps, 1st Canadian Army, 21st Army Group (Montgomery). They had been involved in the Nijmegen-Kleve road bombardment in February 1945 then back-tracked to take part in the liberation of Arnhem on 14th April. Following this, 1st Corps was originally scheduled to clear German troops out of western Netherlands and feed the liberated population but the plan was changed and the Corps was stopped a dozen miles east of Utrecht on the 19th. The troops marked time, pending decisions by higher powers on the future of operations in the western Netherlands. General Eisenhower emphasised that operations west of Utrecht "would inevitably involve very heavy casualties among Dutch civil population through bombing and shelling of towns and villages, as well as from starvation and flooding" (it was hoped to prevent the enemy from flooding the whole countryside West of Utrecht which had taken over 300 years to reclaim). Ike concluded that the quickest means of liberating and restoring the western Netherlands "may well be the rapid completion of our main operations".

The first official meeting between Allied and German authorities to discuss emergency food supplies took place in a schoolhouse at Achterveld on 28 April. It was agreed that food would be introduced by air, sea, inland waterways and road. Special provision was made for Allied teams to assist the Dutch medical services and the enemy agreed that no further flooding would take place. A corridor was created, extending south from the railway linking Arnhem and Utrecht to the Waal at Ochten, for the passage of supplies. "Within these bounds there would exist a temporary truce until such time as the feeding arrangements had been concluded.

Operation Faust - feeding the starving people of the Netherlands in 1945‘Operation Faust’, began at 7:30 a.m. on 2 May as the first 3-ton trucks, including those of the Polar Bears, began deliveries to a depot at Rhenen, on the Neder Rijn. The food came from food dumps in Oss and Den Bosch and was transported to Rhenen through Wageningen. By the following day the operation was in full swing, with convoys of 30 vehicles crossing the truce line every 30 minutes. Twelve transport platoons (eight Canadian and four British), comprising 360 vehicles, delivered approximately 1000 tons of supplies daily until the 10th, when the "Faust" organisation was disbanded and responsibility for food distribution transferred to other formations.

The knowledge of this humanitarian operation involving her husband’s Division was a most welcome revelation to his 89-year-old widow whose knowledge of the war consisted of her own experiences of the bombing of Birmingham as she worked as an inspector of Hercules aircraft engines at the Rover Factory and the tales of death and destruction related by her husband as he made his way from Normandy to Germany.

So, thank you, firstly, to the Dutch couple for their outstanding hospitality, secondly to the airmen and soldiers who got us that slap-up meal in 1955, and finally to the aviators of the ACA Saltire Branch whose stories gave us a lead into ‘Operation Faust’.

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