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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Episode 7: Enjoying cakes with Queen Wilhelmina

Izak Cohen in Britain

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Enjoying cakes with Queen Wilhelmina

Izak gets as well his award the Cross of Merit. Autumn 1943 after arrival in Britain he is assigned as stoker third class in the Dutch "Motor Torpedo Boten Brigade", part of the British navy.

Before he begins his operational duty, he is invited for a cup of tea in London, with the queen of The Netherlands, Wilhelmina. Like all other Dutchmen who are joining the military in Britain, the queen invites them before their active duty. She fled to Britain with her family when the Germans invaded The Netherlands, and will stay in London until the end of the war.

The table is covered with all kind of cakes and other delicacies. Izak, who is not accustomed to see and eat this delights for many months, is keen to get one or more. But the queen proposes to have a walk in the garden. Izak is afraid that he will not anymore be in a position to taste the delights. He is looking outwards and says to the queen: "Your Majesty, I believe it will rain soon. We better stay inside." Wilhelmina agrees. Izak can start filling his starving stomach.

Izak is finally assigned to the Her Majesty Gier, also known as MTB 229 (Motor Torpedo Boat). The ship is taken over from the British navy. The Gier is one of seven similar ships of the MTB-flotilla, which patrols the English Channel. The base from which they operate is Dover.



Izak Cohen sitting lowest row, fifth from right
Life aboard a motor torpedo boat is never dull. Izak will later tell many exciting stories to his children. For example they once were arrested by a German speedboat. However, the Dutchmen didn't want to surrender and fled into a minefield. Because of their shallow draft the wooden boat will not easily trigger a mine. The Germans with their heavy ship of steel must cease their pursuit, continuing would be suicide.

The MTB-brigade is entrenched offshore of Dover. One night there is again a party with lots of booze. One of the marines walks around naked, tipsy and swinging his pistol. He dares to enter the room of the commander without knocking and calls with double tongue: "Hands up". The officer and the naked lady besides him indeed put their hands up. Izak will later tell this story many times.

The MTB-brigade also crosses the Channel many times by night to visit French ports. The task is simple but dangerous: open fire in the middle of the night, such that the Germans have to react. Locate the enemy fire and escape as fast as possible. Thus the Dutchmen are collecting important information on the German defensive force. Izak is in agony each time they do such an expedition. Later he told his children: "I shit three colors of shit".

Motor torpedo boat of the MTB-flotilla, where Izak served as a stoker
June 6th, 1944 was different. On D-day the MTB-brigade is in the front line of the armada of Allied ships, which have to land in Normandy. Izak and his mates got the order to create a smoke screen that successfully conceals the armada for the Germans. After the war he receives a high award for his commitment.

Besides of all acts of war, the Gier is mooring in Brightlingsea, a port at the British east coast. The stoker third class Izak Cohen has to stock provisions for the crew. In the local pharmacy a young saleswoman 23 years old, is serving him: Mary Coppin. She will change the life of Izak forever. The two tittle-tattle a bit despite Izak's deficient English. There was an immediate click between them. When she invites him for a cup of tea, he returns the next day again. Not only Mary likes him, also her family. The humor and exciting stories are well appreciated by the Coppins.

Translation by Leo Kolwijck, 2014

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