After an invite back to the Netherlands from Mitchs’ Dutch relatives for a family reunion we jumped at the chance. Would be a good way to meet a large extended family he never knew from back in New Zealand. The reunion wasn’t far from Maasbree, in a town called Sevenum and it would be the first time most had all been together in 10 years (despite most living within 20km of each other).
Connecting after work on a plane to Eindhoven and by train to Horst-Sevenum was becoming a bit less of a logistical experience and we were getting better at the processes of taking public transport with tight schedules. Mitch loved being back in the Netherlands and didn’t waste much time persuading Tam into getting frites and boterkoek on the way.
We were staying again with Jori and Arjen in Maasbree. Tim had recently returned from his year long travels in Australia and he picked us up and filled us in on all his travels. Cam had recently been there a couple weeks after his UK Visa expired and had traveled to Canada for a wedding before his return home.
The next morning Tim took us on a guided tour of the canals and engineered peatlands of the Gemeente Deurne region, which up until around Second World War served as mainly swampy terrain, unsuitable for farming. Many invaders perished trying to cross the swamp; a museum contained a golden roman centurions helmet and a German Tiger tank, found during excavations.
The Dutch peat wetlands were cut and drained using mostly hand tools and systems of dykes to divert the water into large canals for barges, which became the transport arteries of the nation. This opened up the small pockets of islands and farms to the rest of the country to trade and also the export of peat to burn in the cities. One of those small town in the backwaters, was Neerkant, where Mitchs’ grandfather Bill (Wim) was from. Tim took us past this house.
During the Second World War, Bill was still a young teenager in the farm, where they witnesses the advance and retreat of the Nazi forces through Neerkant, a strategic location. The family home was home to over 30 people as the large family hosted many of the locals in the cellar. The kitchen was at one stage a temporary garage and hideout for a Tiger tank as it forced it’s way in to provide cover. A lot of ammunition, weapons and mines were left behind and are often found buried in the area, as successive layers of new land have been built and farmed on top. Bill left after the war and joined the Dutch army in Indonesia, later emigrating to New Zealand.
Arriving to the reunion was meeting a few familiar faces and a lot of new ones. Mitch did recognise a few from their travels to New Zealand and enjoyed his new found celebrity status as the lost Kiwi relative. The family were all really friendly and most spoke great English, which was good because our Dutch was bad. Tam learned about the finer points of Mink farming from one of the family, apparently the fur demand has been wiped out in Western Europe, but not the supply. Farms have tens of thousands of Minks that are exported to Eastern Europe to make expensive coats and hats – eight Minks make up one hat.
It was good to meet all the long lost cousins, second cousins, great aunts and uncles. Over 40 people made it and the next we were told would not be too far into the future. The Steeghs family when in Neerkant had many children, so there were plenty of family busy and unable to make it, plus those in New Zealand!
After a few too many beers, coffees and rich cheese we made it back via Eindhoven with enough time for a bike home through London. Mitch treated Tam to a dutch oven and that rounded out another good weekend in the Netherlands!
Note: Family Photo credits to Agnes (Bill’s sister) and her daughter Agnes