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“I'd rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.”
― Lucille Ball

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Episode 6: Curacao

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Levie (sitting middle with beard) after arrival in the USA


Curacao

By then Levie is already six months in Great Britain. But he didn't have an easy journey as well. In the summer of 1942 he gets a visa for Curacao from the Netherlands vice-consular in Perpignan, south France. This alternative sea route - Caribbean, USA, Britain - has been used in the war by several other refugees to finally arrive in Great Britain.

Levie travels first to Bilbao in Spain,where he gets a stamp from the English authorities, before he sets sail as an allied employee. The Cabo de Hornos sails with flash lights showing the word Espana (Spain), to let submarines know that it's a vessel of a neutral country.

Levie gets a canvas bed in the lowest part of the ship. "You can hear the rats patter. Big ones, yellow bellies", he says later. In Portugal the Cabo de Hornos is loading wine barrels for the US. Levie sits on top of the barrels and because of the evaporated alcohol he is continuously a bit drunk.
The ship stays a couple of days in Barbados (English territory), where the authorities check the ship. All passengers are interviewed, some are being arrested. Next they sail via Venezuela to Curacao. Levie stays here for three months in navy barracks.

The next leg brings him to the US. Levie enlists for the Saluta, originally a bunker-ship for cod-liver oil, that has been converted into a warship. After WWI the Germans gave the ship to the British as a kind of war damage relieve. Around the deck heavy cables should protect the ship for sea mines.

In training-camp, Levie standing left

The Saluta sails via Jamaica and Florida in a convoy of 50 ships towards New York. There is almost no water aboard, hence the passengers cannot shave themselves. With a heavy beard of 30 days Levie arrives in the USA. Almost immediately he travels to Stratford in Canada, where during the war Dutchmen are being trained before joining the forces in Britain. In December 1942 the trained soldiers are transferred by ship via Glasgow to London.
Trafalgar Square London, Levie  left side

Levie gets a posting at the 320th Squadron of the RAF, with B25 Mitchell bombers. "The work is heavy, but doable", he says later. It's not without danger, some colleagues fall in action, when a bomb ignites prematurely. One time Levie fractures his finger. Another time he escapes from heavy injuries, when he inspects a heavily damaged bomber. Suddenly a grenade explodes and he is fling away. Levie is unconscious for a while. The damage is a permanent hearing loss.

For his get-away to London, Levie gets the Cross of Merit. He got the award for his preparation and execution of a plan to escape occupied territory of  The Netherlands and after many difficulties ultimately succeeds to arrive in Britain.

Translation by Leo Kolwijck, 2014

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