War diary sparks Dutch memorial trip
Sea cadets from North Devon will visit the port after chairman discovers tales of his father’s wartime adventures.
THE discovery of a wartime journal has led to a special Remembrance Day trip to Holland for a group of young Sea Cadets.
Chris de Blocq van Kuffeler, chairman of the Bideford Sea Cadets, unearthed his father’s diary describing his wartime escapades following his death in 2005.
After the tales brought him back to the country he grew up in, Mr de Blocq van Kuffeler arranged for some of the sea cadets to pay a visit this weekend to where his father’s adventures all began.
On Friday the group of seven 16-18 year olds along with uniformed officers, a standard bearer, members of the Royal British Legion and Hartland vicar Shirley Henderson, will take the ferry over to Holland.
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The group will be hosted by the Dutch Sea Cadets and given a waterborne tour of Rotterdam harbour, before taking part in a Remembrance service at the Fort on Sunday.
Their journey will take them to the very place where 20-year-old Frans de Blocq van Kuffeler left his devastated family behind to fight the war at sea.
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Mr de Blocq van Kuffeler, who lives in Stoke at Hartland, said his father had rarely spoken of his time in the Second World War but the diary brought to life his day-to-day experiences.
“After my father died, I went into his study to sort his belongings where I came across a small notebook,” Mr de Blocq van Kuffeler told the Gazette.
“To my absolute amazement I found this diary – he had never mentioned it to me or to anybody.”
The diary, which is now in the safekeeping of the de Blocq van Kuffeler family archive in Holland, sparked a number of connections across the country which led to the Remembrance visit this weekend.
In May 1940, Frans de Blocq van Kuffeler, a third left lieutenant in the Dutch navy at the time, escaped the Hook of Holland on an overloaded motor torpedo boat (MTB), called in to be patched up from fighting valiantly in Rotterdam.
After a heavy blitz on the city on May 14, 1940, the Dutch government capitulated and the young lieutenant made his escape.
The only records the Fort museum, which now stands at the Hook of Holland, had of that fateful day was an official report which ended the moment Frans and his fellow officers decided to board the MTB.
Mr de Blocq van Kuffeler said: “I visited the curator of the museum who was very interested to have a copy of my father’s diary.
“It was when I returned home that the thought came into my mind to hold a memorial service at the Fort to complement what we do here in Bideford.”
On that fateful day 72 years ago, the young Frans left the Hook of Holland on the overloaded boat and the cold and hungry crew were picked up in the North Sea by a Destroyer which took them to Dover.
“Having not eaten or barely slept for several days, my father described the steel deck of the Destroyer in his diary as ‘extremely comforting’,” said Mr de Blocq van Kuffeler.
His father travelled from Dover to London and then Portsmouth, before boarding a nine-and-a-half hour train to Falmouth where a Dutch liner had come in from New York.
There he received new clothes and was allocated to various other postings, spending the majority of the war at sea.
Mr de Blocq van Kuffeler said: “One tale that particularly stood out from my father’s diary was when he was working on a Dutch Destroyer in the Mediterranean.
“After steaming 80,000 sea miles in one year, it came back to England for a refit and my father was posted onto a small gun boat in the Thames Estuary.
“He was very unhappy to have to leave the Destroyer, but after the ship returned to the Mediterranean it was hit by a torpedo attack and 85 per cent of the crew died.
“One of the torpedoes went into the exact cabin my father had recently vacated.”
In 1943, Frans met a young Wren named Stella, and the couple had two sons, John and Chris, living in Holland until 1964 when they moved to England.
He remained in the navy until retiring as the Naval Attach� for Holland in London.
Mr de Blocq van Kuffeler said: “This visit will hopefully extend an opening for future collaboration with the Dutch Sea Cadet corp.
“I would like to thanks The Bideford Bridge Trust and Stena Line for their generous sponsorship.”