by Gerard H. Verhoeven
To keep the writing of ON RAIL a bit more manageable, I have written it in fifteen year periods, from 1925 to 1940, 1940 to 1955, and will write (hopefully) from 1955 to 1970 and 1970 to 1985.
In the beginning of July 1939, we arrived in Holland and travelled widely to visit family as well as settling down in Heerenveen, Frisia(the Dutch province of Friesland). All our travelling was by rail of course in those days. It was summer and many people were on holidays. We went to see my uncle Kees in Venlo, where he was stationmaster. With his son Gerrit, we hiked around the area. The great attraction was the border with Germany, only a couple of kilometers away from where they lived, and seeing a foreign country! I saw a bit of the Maas buurt Spoorweg(MBS, Venlo - Nijmegen) which was really a roadside tramway. I also saw rails in the street in Venlo of the standard gauge and learned later this was a NS (Netherlands Railways) branch line. And of course there were other tramways.
After the economic depression of the early thirties, most tramways and railways were struggling: railway branch lines were closed down, stations closed, tramways changed to buses, closed down or changed to internal combustion traction.
I managed to take a few photos but nearly not as many as I would have liked. There was nobody to encourage you, to guide you in this railway interest, not as we know now. On top of that I soon acquired a bike and as Holland is a rather flat country with excellent bike paths and short distances, most of my travel was going to be on the pushbike in the coming years.
The suburb we settled in at Heerenveen was just being sewered. Continental contractors, who had to shift large quantities of earth and sand, etc., used 60cm gauge portable track and tip trucks. The track was generally the first thing they put down when beginning a sewerage project. What fun we boys had when the workmen had gone home for the day, lifting the trucks back onto the track and pushing them around. It is a wonder there were not more accidents.
Heerenveen was the headquarters of the Nederlandse Tramweg Maatschappij (NTM or the"Friese Tram"). It had an extensive rail network with the workshop in Drachten. The NTM was trying out motor locomotives and railmotors but many trams were still steam. Heerenveen was an important tramway centre, next to the railway station. The NTM, which was the same gauge as the NS, took over railway goods wagons for places away from the railway and at times the NTM rolling stock was used on the NS lines in Frisia.
I liked the system very much, the spoked wheels of their rolling stock, the variety of their passenger cars and their goods rolling stock. I never saw much of their railmotors, only occasionally a little yellow four-wheeler hauling one of their little box cars. The latter had a wheelbase which looked almost shorter than the width of the gauge, with a little square box on top of it. During the war some of them were fitted with a gas generator in one corner, which must have severely reduced the loading capacity of those little vans.
All goods vans carried the advertising sign of Douwe Egberts, a coffee and tobacco factory in Joure (always called "de" Joure). It was very distinct and typical Frisian. Another advertisement was "Persil blijft Persil" along the roof of vans. There was a lot of advertising along the roofs of tramway rolling stock, such as Turmac (cigarettes), Van Nelle (tobacco) and Van Houten (cocoa).
In September '39 the mobilisation of the Dutch army took place and I was frequently at the railway station to see all the military activity. Horses and road trucks were requisitioned and put on rail for transport to depots. Reservists were on the move and later the military were also coming and going on furlough.
I also took an interest in foreign rolling stock in the goods yard, to see their markings and wonder where they came from and what it was like there.
The nearby tramway station was equally busy. Much shunting took place as trams originated here for two directions, to de Joure and to Drachten and beyond. The locomotives, square ones with enclosed motion gear, had to change ends, the conductor's van had to be placed at the back, a few goods wagons had to be handed over, etc. There was always a hustle and a bustle around the tram station.
A local simpleton was there too (wasn't that the same everywhere),"Gekke Gerrit". At one stage this fellow acquired a whistle similar to those used by the conductors of the NTM when giving shunting signals. This whistle was taken off him after he caused some unscheduled departures of trams.
I had my Japanese electric train set running at a friend's place as there was not enough room in our place. My friend, Cas de Jong, also came from the Indies and lived along the Rijksstraatweg to Wolvega. The area behind his house was (then)open meadow and one could see the railway line. I remembered seeing the IC rolling stock the NTM bought from the Gooische Tramweg Maatschappij (GTM) running in one long convoy along the railway line on its delivery to Heerenveen. Sadly this rolling stock was soon to be put in store due to diesel fuel shortage during the Second World War. It only ran for a short time after the war. I got to know its history at a later date.
My father came home in December 1939. One day he took me to Groningen, unfortunately going by bus because the tram was too slow. The only thing that I remember of this trip is that I was given a bogie closed van with spoked wheels in O gauge (Märklin!).
A much older cousin of mine was called up during the mobilisation and his family shifted to Utrecht, where this cousin was based. Thus there was more reason for our family to stay in Utrecht for a few days on our way to my father's people in the South of the Netherlands.
It was always an experience to go back to Friesland again. One always had to change trains in Zwolle, as the train from "Holland" went on to Groningen. The train for Friesland stood ready across the platform, and people raced across to secure a seat. Within minutes there was that typical Frisian atmosphere then, the language spoken was different, and there was that smell of a mixture of "Heerenbaai"(a pipe tobacco, which came in huge kilo packets from Douwe Egberts) and the farm smell of a Frisian dairy farm. It was unique and one felt straightaway "at home".
Outside the carriages, as on all big stations in Holland, it was lively with people looking for seats, vendors of coffee with their trays and vendors of "broodjes (rolls) met kaas (cheese), worst (Sliced sausage), etc. with their three-wheeled glass cupboards.
In wintertime the steam heating was on and one saw the whiff of steam here or there from a leaking joint. Trains and trams were busy, the military was everywhere, the depression was over and there was money about again.
The fortifications around Utrecht were strengthened and extended. The "water linie" was being prepared. This was an inundation scheme to protect the fortress Holland, good in the days when there were no aeroplanes and airborne troops.
Utrecht had already got rid of its town tramway system in 1938 and the only tram left was an interurban going to Zeist, running on standard gauge track from the Central Station in Utrecht, through the city streets. This was the Nederlandse Buurt Spoorweg(NBS)
Outside the city it followed the main road. It went through the fortification ring and past the Royal Meteorological Institute (the KMI) at De Bilt. So as not to interfere with sensitive geological instruments it had to pick up and return its electricity by two overhead wires instead of the usual running to earth on the track. So outside Utrecht a second pole collector was put up which came down again some kilometers past De Bilt. Coming into Zeist this standard gauge track joined the 3'-6" gauge track of the same concern, but coming all the way from Arnhem as an electric interurban along the road. This dual gauge came to an end in the square in front of the Zeist railway station. The NBS had a big workshop here.
From Zeist tramway station, the narrower gauge continued on to Amersfoort, where it finished right near the railway station there. These places are now both big bus stations.
The narrower system of the NBS still had some goods traffic in car loads and to overcome the difference in gauges, it had goods wagons where the wheels could shift over the axle to the required width of the gauge. There was a piece of track in the Zeist tramway yard where this process could take place and it was most intriguing to see the grooved rails narrowing from the standard gauge to 3'-6". The NBS also used little standard gauge trolleys on which the narrow gauge goods wagons were lifted. These goods wagons ran behind a regular passenger tram to Utrecht. The goods wagons running on those little trolleys made a big racket and often had hot boxes as well because the little wheels had to make excessive revolutions.
In Zeist I saw also a 0-4-0 tram loco which had been converted from steam to electricity. Its boiler was heated by an electric element to generate the steam.
The standard gauge trams and trailers were all four-wheelers, painted green. In summer there were special open trailers attached. The narrow gauge passenger stock was all bogey rolling stock with a central entrance. The goods vehicles were mainly four-wheel closed vans.
The line from Zeist to Arnhem was originally built and operated by the Ooster Stoomtram Maatschappij (OSM).
This was a most interesting time in my life on which I look back with much nostalgia. Things were good and cheap. I had a guilder for pocket money each week which was a lot of money then.
I used the bike to go everywhere, like I was born to the bike saddle. In the next few years I made some really long distance rides, for example from Frisia to the Grebbe line just after the 5 day war in May 1940 was finished, to see the havoc of the fighting there, trenches, shot-up bunkers, and military cemeteries.
In Frisia itself I rode to the capital Leeuwarden, to Sloten and innumerable trips to my mother's family in the neighbourhood of Heerenveen.
As my father was due to go back to the Indies in June 1940, I went to live with an aunt in Wolvega, where I was going to board and I was going to high school in Heerenveen by bike each day (15 km each way).
My family was going to stay in a hotel in Oranjewoud prior to embarkation. This arrangement was going to start in the middle of May 1940. However on 10 May the war broke out for the Netherlands and prevented my family's return to the Indies. With hindsight they were very lucky in a way.
After about a month, my father was put on "wachtgeld"(literally, waiting money) by the NIS and we moved to Hilversum to live. My father was going to study freight transport with the Neth. Railways (NS) for which he got a free pass to travel all over the place.
I kept my eyes open for the railway and tramway scene, but not to the extent I would have liked to. One was considered a sticky beak, and in any case, one thought this scene would last forever, like everything else. How mistaken!
As soon as the five day war was finished, the German occupation began and road transport was finished, because of petrol rationing. Most tramway companies started to do up their remaining goods lines for passenger traffic again, steam locomotives were rescued from the scrap dealers and put into action again, and rail traffic became busier than ever. Many of the large bridges were blown up but repairs were quickly undertaken. Meanwhile ferries kept traffic moving.
Going to Frisia by train, between Zwolle and Meppel, one saw a tramline along a canal there, the Dedemsvaart. A few goods wagons were standing forlorn there as the traffic of the Dedemsvaartse Stoomtram Maatschappij (DSM) shifted to the road. The war changed all that. Soon this company was frantically trying to get steam locomotives on the track again. It wasn't long then before one saw, especially on the Zwolle cattle market days, a very long steam tram with country people from as far away as eastern Groningen.
In 1939 the Netherlands Railways (NS) were mainly steam and only the busiest main lines were electrified, viz Alkmaar-Amsterdam-Utrecht-Eindhoven, Amsterdam-Haarlem-Den Haag-Rotterdam-Dordrecht(the "old"line) and Hook of Holland-Rotterdam/Den Haag-Utrecht-Arnhem. Arnhem-Nijmegen was just being opened, while Utrecht to Hilversum opened just in time during the war when the electrification came to a temporary halt for the duration of the war.
The railway bridge at Zwolle had just been strengthened and the beautiful 3900 class 4-6-0 engines could run from Amsterdam-Amersfoort to Zwolle. Beyond Zwolle the 3700 class took over and I even saw a streamlined version of this class, which soon reverted to their ordinary outlook as the streamlining interfered with the quick maintenance.
The winter '39/'40 was severe and at the onset of winter, the traffic on rail increased enormously as the canals and roads froze over and people and goods turned to rail transport. Because of the mobilization there were a lot of military personnel on furlough and on the move.
Bridges were mined already and in neighbouring Belgium, a bridge blew up prematurely when its charge was hit by lightening.
Travel by rail (or road) in the summer of 1940 was hampered by most of the big bridges having been destroyed and one had to use ferries everywhere while the bridges were being rebuilt.
When we went on holiday from Hilversum, where we were living, to our family in Frisia, I had to go to Amsterdam and take a boot of the Koppe line to Lemmer (again "de"Lemmer in Frisian) as the bridge at Zwolle was blown up. It was an overnight boat service and at De Lemmer the NTM tram stood ready at the quay and took one via Joure-Heerenveen-Drachten to Groningen. This was to develop into a very busy artery during the war as an alternative to the railway, when trains became more and more overcrowded.
The NTM "boat tram" became longer and longer and very frequently was hauled by two locomotives with some nine passenger cars and a half dozen or so goods wagons and vans.
During the summer holidays, people in the Netherlands took their bikes with them when they travelled by rail. It was reasonably cheap to do this. At the other end one had transport ready to go. This was also advantageous to commercial travellers. However bikes are hard to load and unload in the train and with a shortage of luggage vans and manpower, bikes were discouraged during the war on the railway. But on the boats across the "Suidersea" this didn't matter as the bikes stayed on deck and were wheeled on and off the boats by their owners.
In Frisia before the war, the buses had a special roof, called the "Frisian Lantern roof", which was a clerestory roof with a sort of handrail along the roof above the windows. Bike wheels fitted perfectly in those "handrails" while the bike leaned on the clerestory. Thus one could take a bike on the bus too, which was good in stormy and windy weather in an open country like Frisia. The roof was also used to carry bulky items brought by the passengers.
In the summer of 1941 I planned a bike ride from Hilversum to Venlo along minor roads, whereby I followed the NBS line tracks most of the way to Arnhem and then the MBS tracks from Nijmegen to Venlo.
Gerrit Verhoeven (a cousin) and I rode bikes around this picturesque and interesting area of North Limburg province and then we both rode back to Hilversum via my grandfather's home in Eindhoven.
Holland was now an occupied country. The German army had signposted their main thoroughfares, using a colour code. The railways and tramways were also taken into their transport planning. Their military personnel had free travel on any tram or train. Each passenger train had some compartments reserved for their military ("nur für wehrmacht"). All the major stations had a "Bahnhofs Kommandantur". The Netherlands had a German-led civilian administration in contrast with Belgium and France which had military administrations.
Rail and tramlines that were due to be broken up were taken up and the rails carried away, as were spare locomotives and most IC rolling stock.
Troop trains had a gondola at either end of the train on which an anti-aircraft machine gun stood with its operators. Later in the war, when air attacks on trains increased, all locomotives had a little concrete bunker on the tender for the driver and fireman's protection.
Early in the war there were some sabotage attempts, cutting of the railway telegraph wires along the line near Hilversum. The adult male population of the municipality of Hilversum was drafted in guard duties along the railway lines in the municipality. I still have my father's call-up card, requiring him to be at a certain spot along the line at a certain time of the night. This card was at the same time an exemption to the curfew which was in force at the time. On top of that the whole municipality was fined a large amount to be paid through the rates.
Open sabotage stopped immediately, and was subsequently carried out more covertly. For example, foreign matter was added in lubricating material, or trucks were wrongly ticketed. On the whole the railways and tramways didn't need much supervising by Germans, and they carried on normally. This is in contrast with Eastern Europe, where all positions had to be supervised by German railway men.
Passenger express trains for the military ran all over Europe along the mainlines and I still have a facsimile of the timetable when this was at its greatest extent, from Narvik (Norway) and Finland to the Spanish border and the toe of Italy, from the Atlantic coast, the Channel and North Sea coast deep into Russia and into the Balkans.
In Hilversum we had the head office of the Gooische Tramweg Maatschappij (GTM), which had some tramlines running through this area of the Netherlands and a line from this area to Amsterdam. The latter was already broken up just before the war broke out and replaced by buses.
The area, het Gooi, was mainly recreational, with lots of pine forest and heather country, inhabited by artists and commuters who travelled daily to Amsterdam and their work there. In summertime there were many vacationers, especially from Amsterdam.
When the bus traffic was severely restricted once the Netherlands was occupied, the GTM pulled all their scrapped loco's and carriages out of retirement and did them up again
Their four IC motor wagons of a modern design with plenty of seating capacity and the two trailers had been sold to the NTM, as related before. The tracks in Het Gooi were rapidly brought up to standard again and steam trams ran from the station of Hilversum to Laren, Blaricum, Huizen en via Naarden to Bussum station. The commuter traffic between Huizen and Bussum became particularly heavy with the steam trams running into a dock platform at Bussum. The GTM had the normal standard gauge like the NTM. Because of its summer time traffic of vacationers the GTM had quite a lot of open carriages, which were closed in for ordinary traffic.
People seemed to travel more. Buses and private cars were no longer used, bikes and tyres became scarce too, and people had to travel frequently from the cities to the country to get something extra to eat, like butter, bacon or flour.
One day at Utrecht I saw a train of coal trucks come through hauled by an old-time multiple unit electric train. These trains had the buffers and couplings to fit the goods rolling stock, which the newer streamlined multiple units didn't have.
Coal traffic to the big cities was most important and went on throughout the year to stock the coal merchants. All heating then was done by each household itself in a hearth or stove.
Passenger trains in 1942/'43 were always very full and during special times like holidays or Christmas, second divisions were run.
The winter of '42 was particular severe all over Europe. The train in which my father was returning from the NS head office in Utrecht, got stuck in a snow drift between Utrecht and Hilversum, and it was well into the night curfew before he arrived home, hungry and cold.
Still, rail transport discharged its duties marvellously during the war. No matter where one was, Great Britain, Europe, anywhere else in the world, the railways kept the wheels of transport and commerce turning as well as doing the defence jobs, and they were tremendous commitments. Big cities had to be fed, factories supplied with raw materials, soldiers and their gear transported over the length and breadth of Europe. And all that still to timetable and without any hitches. A terrific organization it was, whether one looked in Great Britain, Europe, America or Australia and I would imagine, the same in India and Japan.
I find railway transport during the war such an interesting theme that I am still studying it and branching out to the transport situation during the First World War.
I went to a youth Sports Camp in Germany in early 1943. We travelled as a group in an electric train from The Hague to Rotterdam Delftse Poort, which still showed still bomb damage. It is now called Rotterdam Centraal. In Rotterdam, there was an old three-axle carriage reserved for our group and it was attached to a passenger train to Cologne. The rail traffic in the Ruhr area was very busy. At Cologne the carriage was shunted onto a local train to Daaden which is at the end of a branch line in the Westerwald.
It was just on dusk when we got to Daaden, a little village of halftimbered farmhouses clustered around a small square with a monument of the First World War and a church. The nearby camp was called Stegskopf. As there were too many of us we were divided in two groups and we set off the next day across a low ridge to the railway station of Burbach and took a train to Giessen via Dillenburg, where we changed to a train to Kassel. In Kassel we changed to a stopping train to Halle and got off at Heiligenstadt in Thüringen. The line Kassel-Halle was then a major double line artery, which became a backwater when Germany was divided between East and West, the border being just West of Heiligenstadt.
We took a bit of a roundabout route that day as the previous night high water in the Eder near Kassel had interrupted the line. That was the night of the famous dambuster raid. Trains were (as usual) full but little delayed.
Some weeks later we went back via Hanover, where we arrived in the evening and had to wait till the early morning hours for a very full express to Holland, standing all the way in a corridor coach. The Hanover station building was badly bombed, but the railway was going as normal I felt.
The tenders of the locomotives in Germany all carried the slogan "Räder müssen rollen für den Sieg" in huge letters (and as a joke "und Kinderwagen für den nächsten Krieg")(Wheels have to run for victory - prams have to run for the next war!!!)
I was called up for the Labour Service (Ned.Arbeids Dienst - NAD) a fortnight or so after my trip to Germany. After a few weeks at Overloon -Smakt in Limburg, I joined a contingent that went to make up the 4th section of the fifth corps (the Oostkorps), which had its HQ in Bielsk, present day Poland. The area was then part of occupied Russia.
The assembly point was near Steenwijk (Prov.Overijsel), where we were loaded on a goods train. There were two carriages in the consist, a three-axle "dog box" for the officers, NCO's and train guard and a three-axle coach with wooden seats for two along either side of an aisle. This coach was for the first group of which I was a member(I was the second tallest of the lot and thus in the first team of the first group). The other three groups went into closed goods vans, 40 to a van. There were also a few vans with gear. The consist was not enough for a goods train on its own, so we were forwarded as part of other goods trains.
Actually I don't know who were the best off, we in the carriage or the other blokes in the goods vans.
The carriage had wooden seats for two on either side of the aisle, with a lavatory in the middle of the carriage. In daytime it was alright, when one sat up and looked out of the window. We had straw all over the floor, but to sleep there was no space to stretch out. In the aisle there were people always having to go to the toilet, the seats and luggage racks were too short to stretch out on. In a goods van one had the whole floor space covered with straw (or palliasses) to sleep on or stretch out. In the goods vans with a high-rounded roof (tonnen dak), the straw or palliasses could be stored in a ceiling at either end of the van. It was summer and the doors were left open, a bar went across the opening to lean on. A large bucket was provided for a toilet, but was only used in emergency. Calls of nature were done outside along the track when the train stopped in a marshalling yard or for a signal. One could always see if a troop train had stopped somewhere by the little heaps along the line!!!
We had each a wooden box for our belongings and the fellows in the goods van had these boxes with them to sit on. We, in the carriage however, had our boxes in a separate van, otherwise we could have used them among the seats.
The toilet in our carriage was soon clogged up as it wasn't serviced. Many had diarrhoea as a result of eating their seven days ration virtually in one go. For cooked food, we relied upon kitchens which were staffed by women of the German Red Cross or other charitable organisations. These kitchens were at all big stations and marshalling yards where this type of trains stopped. I suppose they got word beforehand that a large group was expected. The train guard ran along the train then to tell details in each van to come and get the food. We had Dutch army dixies, water bottles and haversacks. It was mostly some soup made from bones and gruel, vegetables of the season thrown in and a thick slice of "kommies brot", a wholesome and filling bread made from mostly rye. And always there was coffee, of the "ersatz" variety. I think it was made from charred wheat or grain or chicory. I seldom drank it but used it to shave with.
I saw the effectiveness of the air-brake one day somewhere in East Germany, when a chap was leaning out of the window, with one hand on the chain of the emergency brake above the door. When the train started to move suddenly, he involuntarily pulled on this chain and the whole train stopped with a loud clash of buffers abruptly. Railway men walked along the train shouting and cursing till they found our carriage and righted the leak in the train pipe!!!
Each "transport" as it was called, had a "kommandant", not necessarily the highest ranking officer. This Kommandant liased with the transport Kommandants at the stations and marshalling yards.
Each transport had a number that it carried from start to finish and was made known beforehand along its route. This number was known to a central office and determined also the priority of the transport. Ours was a very low priority, fighting troops and vehicles, munitions and guns and food going to the front were first priority and coming back, wounded military and front soldiers on furlough were first priority.
The Kommandant had his "Zugwache" (a guard detail) who saw to it that the Kommandant's orders were carried out along and in the train. This guard detail came from our own men and saw to it that nobody strayed from the train, and ordered dispatch runners to get refreshments at stops, which was part of their job. A few men in each wagon were then detailed to go with kettles to the kitchen.
And so we travelled from Steenwijk, via Zwolle to Enschede and joined the important route via Hanover, the Berlin area to Bromberg (Polish- Bydgosz), Thorn(Torun), Warschau-West to Bialystok, where we went on to a single line to Bielsk and Bialowies (Polish - Bialowieza).
At Warschau-West there was a huge marshalling yard where we stood for two days among trains coming from all directions in Europe. These trains were ready to go either East or West, with soldiers, prisoners of war, recovery materials such as damaged tanks and planes, "Beute" (loot) and foodstuffs. I saw wagons from all over Europe here including one that was marked "Suomi" (Finland) with a stencil saying that it was prohibited to enter the Reich, because of its larger profile. These stencils appeared also on regauged Russian rolling stock that I saw here and in the big marshalling yard of Warschau, east of the Vistula, called Praga.
I saw very little civilian rail traffic in Poland. The few passenger trains I saw seemed to be short trains composed of very old four-wheel passenger cars, with people jam-packed in it and hanging everywhere outside it, standing on the steps.
Crossing the river Bug, between Praga and Bialystok. we came into territory that had been occupied by the Russians since October 1939 and from which they were driven out in June 1941. This route to Bialystok was also a major railway artery to the fronts at Leningrad and Moscow.
At Bialystok the transport went onto a minor line via Bielsk to Hajnowka and then onto a short branch line to Bialowies, which is at the end of the branch.
The station at Bialowies was a small building, no platform as was usual on the continent for small places, and the railway yard had a couple of run-around loops and a few dead-end sidings. There was also a short branch to the castle in Bialowies. Before 1917 this castle was a holiday residence of the Czar of Russia. At the end of the branch was a loop to run an engine around the train and a proper platform of the Russian type, made from timber with white-painted railings and a few light posts. It seemed to me that a train arrived here, the engine ran around, and took the train back to the station yard for stabling. The castle itself was occupied by a German Chief-Forester. There was a small natural history museum next to the castle.
Bialowieza is a village on the river Narew, in the centre of the Bialowieska Puszta. This Puszta comprises the following settlements: Stoczek, Podolany, Zastawa and Kryze. These settlements were established in the last 300 years as the result of forest clearing.
Bialowieza has a railway- and bus-station, post office and tourist facilities (hotel and restaurant - Gospoda).
The Botanic Park or Castle Park is an area of approx. 50 ha. and was created in 1894 in the English style by Walery Kronenberg. There are circa 150 different trees and bushes. Between two ponds is a commemorative obelisk of August III(1752).
The palace of the Russian Czars is located in this park, It was burned down at the end of the German occupation (1945). In 1962 the servants' quarter to this palace burned down. Not so long ago (1992) this building was rebuilt and given the name "Hunting Lodge". This Lodge, originally dating from 1845, was meant to accommodate hunting parties but is now a Gospoda.
The puszta of Bialowieza has been used since 1520 by the Polish Kings and later by the Russian Czars, to hunt large game.
In the vicinity of Bialowieza arose a tent-camp for the royal hunt. This camp was set upon the so-called Batory hill (Batory was a well-known Polish King). A special royal corps, "Osoka", took care of this area. The only permanent settlement was the hunting lodge of the Polish royalty.
A trusted adviser of King St.August Poniatowski, Antoni Tyzenhaus, wanted to use the area for agricultural development in 1765 - 1780, for timber milling, manufacture of tar, etc.
In 1795 as a result of the partition of Poland, the area was annexed by Russia. In the 19th Century buildings were constructed to accommodate the court of the Czar.
The railway was built here between1894 - 1897.
During the First World War, Bialowieza was occupied by the German army. During this occupation there was wholesale clearing of forest. There was a small military cemetery there with graves of Austrian-Hungarian soldiers (KUK).
Later, after the end of the First World War, an English firm, "Century", took over the forest exploitation.
Polish enviromentalists re-established the nature reserve here. Apart from the European bison, an endangered animal, there are relics from the czarist period, which can be seen. Cars are not allowed.
(This information came from the library in Warszaw and was translated by Mrs. B.Hooghoudt - Czranowski)
During the Second World War, in a nearby park there were about 20 European bison, which were protected under the "patronage" of Herman Goering. They were large powerful animals, kept behind a fence made from tree trunks. In the forest there were also wild pigs.
In Bialowies there were two sections of the labour service. My section was the last to arrive. The other section was improving the road from the station to the village, among other jobs. In the last week of our stay there, a group of our section had to help them finish the job. This road, which ran into the main street, was all cobble stone, the only paved way in these parts. Side streets were just sand tracks. The population seemed to me to be ethnic White Russian, belonging to an Orthodox faith. We were quartered at the edge of the village in a double storey stone building which, before the war, had been an office of a British timber company. Behind the building were some houses of the former staff and now taken up by the commander of our section and his NCO's and a small hospital section.
Around this complex were small farms, each of which kept a few cattle. Each morning a one-armed man walked through this area blowing a bugle, and people let their cattle go. They followed this man with the bugle into the forest to graze.
When he returned with his cattle in the late afternoon, each of the beasts turned into their own farm where they belonged.
The houses were all built from timber, of very simple construction, with a minimum of tools used, mainly an axe and a saw. The walls were all double, filled with saw dust which is plentiful here because of the many sawmills. For heating, a typical Russian stove was used. There were no shops, but there was a picture theatre with wooden benches, called the Kino. There was also a small post office and a sort of snackbar near the Kino.
The office building was on an unpaved extension of the cobble-stoned main street. At the end of the cobble stones, a "street" went obliquely to the railway station: this was the street that was being improved.
In front of the office building and across the street was the end of a 60 cm gauge line which went into the forest. I was told the forest was very large, stretching from Brest-Litowsk to Minsk and served by these narrow gauge lines. These lines used the fire breaks in the forest. In open spaces there were large farms (kolchoz, Gut). The forest was very dense jungle of mostly birch trees.
A branch of the narrow gauge served the railway station and a nearby turpentine works. The turpentine was extracted from the roots of pine trees.
Every day, three groups of our section took a half hour train ride on this narrow gauge forest railway to a farm, where the drainage on the lands around the farm had to be improved. The fourth group stayed at the camp to do all sorts of chores there. This went on rotation between the groups.
The little train was made up by a 0-8-0T of continental type, a carriage and some flatcars, all bogey rolling stock. The passenger car was a typical Russian type with longitudinal seats, small double-glazed windows, an open balcony at each end and inside a huge stove. One of the flatcars had a frame with a tarpaulin over it. These cars were for us to sit in and carry our tools.
Each morning we were followed by some Polish workmen (3 or 4) on a tiny trolley, which was being pushed along by a long pole by one or two of them. This mode went pretty fast too as our train went at a good speed and the "polers" managed to keep up with us. The trolley was a little square platform with bearings that fitted onto two axles. The men stood on the trolley.
There was some partisan activity in the area and we were armed with French rifles, which were very long and dangerous to carry when loaded.
Once we were recalled during the day by a man that galloped on a horse to us from the farm. The train came and after we travelled a while we stopped at a place where a huge stack of fire-wood was alight. When this burned down and posed no further danger to the forest we went back to the camp.
One day we were taken by this train to other farms and a sawmill, on a sightseeing outing.
These farms were entirely different from what we knew. Being summer, the pot stables were all empty, the cattle and horses all being in the paddocks. All the farm workers had a little plot near their house on which they grew vegetables.
In October '43 we went back to the Netherlands. This time the whole corps was together and we had a whole goods train to ourselves.
Our group had a goods van with a high-rounded roof, a Czech type. At each end there was a second storey where we could put the palliasses in day time, and a bar was placed across the doorway so nobody could fall out. There was a large bucket to cater for any urgent calls of nature, but this was generally done outside along the track when the train stopped. Sometimes somebody just hung his bottom out of the door, hanging on to the bar, when the train moved along. I remember leaving my trouser belt hanging on a tree branch at Neu-Bentschen, somewhere at the former Polish-German border.
The first day I was allotted kitchen duties. My job was to get cabbages ready for cooking in the big field kitchen. The field kitchen stood in one end of a PKP (Polish State Rlys) gondola. Next to it was a big heap of firewood. At the other end was a huge heap of cabbage. Cabbage, carrots and huge potatoes seemed to be plentiful in that part of Poland. Another fellow and I sat on a packing crate and with a large knife we both hacked the cabbages about. It was beautiful autumn weather and the train ambled along. Every kilometer there sat a Pole along the line on guard duty with a little fire in which he roasted a potato. Or they cut their tobacco on a little plank they carried with them. Tobacco grew everywhere near settlements too. They rolled their tobacco in newspaper: these cigarettes were called magorki.
A few times I saw results of partisan activity (or was it perhaps a hotbox!): a wagon turned over or on its side along the track.
As the train had to pick up a section in Kleszcele and the corps HQ at Bielsk, we travelled back via a different route. The train went via Siedlce-Warsaw-Poznan-Cotbuss-Magdeburg-Hanover-Osnabrück to Holland. Because it was one train we made it back in 3-1/2 day and arrived late at night in Nunspeet (the depot of the NAD).
I mentioned already that most locomotives in the West had a small concrete bunker. In later years I was told by a returned airman workmate of mine that it was extremely difficult to shoot up a train. I saw many bombed trains and railway-stations and -yards, yet the saddest sight I felt was a little tram loco of the NTM with a few wagons sieved by 2cm bullets standing forlornly in the open and quiet Frisian countryside.
I never experienced any bombing or shooting while travelling during the war but my father did. Just when he was leaving the station restaurant after lunch in Nijmegen, bombs fell on this city and a blast blew him onto the tracks with a few splinters in his neck. Some people dragged him onto the platform and sheltered him in the pedestrian tunnel between the platforms.
The Dutch railways went on a national strike in September 1944 and came out of the war badly damaged. A big reconstruction program was started and at the same time the system was modernized and electrified. By 1958 no steam locos were left but for some in museums.
The big railway museum is in Utrecht in the Maliebaan station. It was, until the end of the war, in one of the older buildings of the head offices of the NS in Utrecht along the Catheryne singel. I was most attracted by this museum and visited it quite a few times. It holds jubilee books of the former Dutch railway companies. These books hold the signatures of all their employees at the time. My Grandfather's signature is in the book of the HIJSM.(Hollansche IJzeren Spoorweg Maatschappij)
I had moved into the metal industry and went into training at a state workshop where I had to make various parts of steam engines as proof of my ability. I came to work for the wagon-and bridge-factory of Werkspoor in Utrecht, a huge concern then, which is now closed. With the rationalisation of industries in a European community, all this work went to German firms.
At Werkspoor in Utrecht I worked on the repair of the electric trains that came back from Germany, goods wagons that were being built for the NS, huge hopper cars for the Argentine railways and a Swiss-type 3-axle tram for the tramways of Amsterdam. I really became immersed in this sort of work, attended all sorts of courses in metal work, and shifted to Rotterdam, where Werkspoor had a big project at the Shell refinery at Pernis.
I got a two year contract to work for the same firm on their project in Curacao (Neth. West Indies). The Shell refinery in Willemstad, Curaçao (now closed) was the biggest oil plant around these parts. It used to have its own rail system but this was closed when I got there, although the rails were still in situ. Similarly the railways at La Guaira, the port for Caracas (Venezuela) were being phased out. The main line was already closed but around the docks some use was still made of the tracks and some wagons. These were very rich places in the late forties and early fifties, their currencies comparable with the American dollar then.
In Curaçao I did courses in Engineering Inspection, and Railroad Car Repairs with the International Correspondence School. I don't know whether it did me much good, but I think I learned to write and work in English and there is nothing that I don't understand in the engineering game. I studied then the American type of rolling stock building, which now prevails here in Australia. But I also read a lot about the "arch" British practices, still mentioning goods rolling stock (then) with timber frames. I never worked in it but I struck them in my subsequent times on the sugar mills and the various state railway systems in Australia. But they have disappeared now.
In the latter half of 1953 I migrated to Australia from Curaçao. In Colon (Panama) and along the Panama Canal I saw a bit of the railway there, all American style.
In Noumea (New Caledonia) there was a huge mountain of scrapped railway track and rolling stock on the Quay side next to the ship. In an open air night club "le Petit Train", a locomotive and some carriages formed the buildings of this night club. These were then the last vestiges of the railways in French New Caledonia.
With this background, I came to Australia on November 13 1953.
My interest in railways and things pertaining to railways became paramount, an absorbing hobby. As other people became engrossed in sports or other hobbies, so it railways were my overwhelming interest. I built models, collected anything written on railways and read anything I could find on railways.
When I came to live in Sydney, a shipboard acquaintance, Dr. Les Jury, recommended that I live in Bondi. It was very nice, but the worst place to live from a point of view of work, especially working in the railways. One redeeming quality was the fact that one had to travel by tram and I am glad I did, as in later years these trams disappeared. Thus I have still savoured a bit of the old Sydney scene, albeit not the Bondi steam tram, but the electric tram. In fact I went over quite a few lines of the Sydney tram system. "Taking off like a Bondi tram" has real meaning for me (where have all those real aussie expressions gone??)
I worked as an oxywelder in Pagewood at General Motors - Holden (now closed) and took a bus there to and from Bondi Junction. It was an experience to join such a well-patronised tram at Bondi Junction for Bondi. I had to get off before the tram took its own right-of-way at the tramway cutting at Bondi, because I lived in Fletcher Street.
These trams were all Californian type cars, a few compartments in the middle with doors, the rest open seats. In inclement weather heavy canvas blinds came down. The conductors walked along the footboards, to collect the fares as was the practice in Sydney.
Later I had some rides in one of the last 4-wheel Californian type trams, the service that ran from Neutral Bay Junction to Neutral Bay Wharf, when we went to live in Wycombe Rd. And boy, was that last bit of the line to the wharf a heart-stopper, it went steeply down with only a flimsy buffer stop at the water's edge.
There was also a line running from Wynyard across the Harbour bridge to North Sydney and beyond. The formation is now a motor-way on the bridge and was on the opposite side of the railway tracks.
One thing I regretted in later years was that I never bought a Bassett-Lowke made 0-6-0 Clockwork tank loco in "O" gauge in an Elizabeth Street store. A few years later they couldn't be got for love nor money and are worth a lot of money as antiques now. I bought a 4-4-0 tender engine of B/L make, but missed out on two CIWL carriages in Blue (Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Expresses Europeens) made by Märklin, seeing them bought by someone else. At the time I did not realise what collectors' items these would become, having always regarded them as being unobtainable by me as they looked always so expensive.
I bought a lot of Hornby tin track that lasted me till 1975, and I still have some of the points.
I tried to see the railways but somehow I could not get near them. I suppose I was still a bit apprehensive about walking to a station and getting a ticket to travel.
At Christmas in 1953, I went to see Joyce (my late wife) in Chinchilla. I caught a first class sleeper to Wallangarra.
The country trains were still big things in those days. Sydney Central was at its peak as far as passenger travel went, I would say. Towards night time, and this applied to most capital cities in Australia then, there was a real "exodus" of trains to all parts of the inland. There were "Mails" going everywhere, generally finishing up the next day at some remote place in the far West. The only air-conditioned train then was the Victorian "Spirit of Progress".
I had a TAM sleeper and shared the cabin with an elderly man from Tenterfield. The train went through the devastated flood area around Maitland, where the signalling was all done by hand.
We awoke at Glen Innes and at Wallangarra I changed to a 1st class sitter to Toowoomba and made the acquaintance of the son of a solicitor there, who had been studying at Sydney University. He took me to his home that night to stay and the next day I went on to Chinchilla by train.
Later I went back from Brisbane by train to Sydney and saw the abandoned formation of the Beaudesert Tramway. It was many years later that I learned its history.
Back in Sydney in January 1954 I was looking for work. Years later I came to write about finding my new job and will continue with that in the next story "On Rail 5570".