Wednesday, November 17, 2010

World War II in the Netherlands ~ Kingsolver did her homework

Aerial view of the gap in the dike at Westkapelle, with the sea coming in
A very small comment by Shepherd caught my attention because I have a friend in the Netherlands.  Some of you will remember Margreet, who was one of the earlier Book Buddies when we met on Oprah's site.  This is the question I sent to Margreet this morning, followed by her answer.

I have been reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (2009).  I'm having trouble confirming -- for myself -- whether this part of the novel really happened or not.  The book is written mostly as journals of the main character (a novelist), and this section was labeled February 1.  It would have been 1945, I think.
"Tonight's news:  the Allies broke open the dikes along the Netherlands coast, letting in the sea and drowning thousands of German soldiers in the flood.  Like the Azteca opening dikes to drown Cortes and his men on the shores of Lake Tenochtitlan.  But fiction is nonsense, the war is real.  Tomorrow the farmers of Walcheren will wake to see a tide standing over their crops, the floating corpses of their cattle, every tree in the land scalded by the salt on its roots.  The glory of war is so frequently disappointing" (p. 294).

Flooding and devastation after breaching the dikes in the Netherlands
I looked up Walcheren in Wikipedia:  "Strategically placed at the mouth of the River Scheldt, Walcheren was the key that allowed use of the deep-water port of Antwerp..."  But I haven't found anything about the Allies flooding the area.  Oops, I just now found this:
"To hamper German defence, the island's dykes were breached by attacks from RAF Bomber Command: on October 3 at Westkapelle with severe loss of civilian life; on October 7 at two places, west and east of Vlissingen; and on October 11 at Veere.  This flooded the central part of the island, forcing the German defenders onto the high ground around the outside and in the towns, but it also allowed the use of amphibious vehicles."  (

Maybe I've answered my question, but I would like to hear anything you could add.  I agree with Kingsolver's protagonist that the glory of war is disappointing.  In my opinion, wars are not the best solutions to problems, and should be avoided if at all possible.

~~~ Bonnie

Margareet wrote back:
Hi Bonnie Bookworm:)

Interesting part of my country's history...and I never knew this. I am familiar with another part of Holland being 'inundated' as it's called here. The Wieringermeer polder. My grandfather had a farm there in the new land, with his family. My mom was 13 in 1945, when they were warned that the dikes had been demolished (on purpose) so they had one day to gather some belongings and flee back to family in Groningen. But Walcheren, I didn't know that. It was a common way of making access impossible for foreign armies, as far back as 1000 years ago. So I can assure you that it really happened.

Please let me know if you find more about this subject, love 'talking' to you hon!!

Lots of Love, Margreet


Bonnie Jacobs said...

This post about the Netherlands may interest you, even if you aren't reading The Lacuna with us.

Shirley said...

Not only was the confirmation fascinating, but it was great hearing form Margreet as well.