A story from the great-granddaughter of a Dutch soldier who died in World War 2.

It took 3 attempts of recording, and a trip to the actual town, so I’m especially happy to have it.

Recorded in the cemetery in Valkenburg.

Read more about the battle in Valkenburg.

Transcript

My name is Hilde Couperus and my story’s focused around my great grandfather Feike Couperus. He fought during the Second World World War in a little village called Katwijk. He fought during the Battle of Valkenburg, which was a battle centred around an airport that was located next to it, which was still in construction at the time. The Germans, in the first few days that they invaded Holland, really wanted this airport. But the Dutch also wanted to protect it with all their might. So a large battle took place in a village with lots of civilian casualties too. In the end the Germans did win, unfortunately. But you know, also in the next few days, Holland would stop resisting and would be taken over by the Germans.

The interesting part is – but also the sad part, I think – was that the airport was actually completely useless. The ground in Valkenburg was too soft so the airplanes that the Germans landed on the ground would just sink into the ground. So there wasn’t really any use for it. Which made the battle completely useless, which, you know, is also quite part of the story where it’s this whole tragic event that wasn’t necessary to begin with. And my grandfather was shot on the third day of the Germans’ invasion I think. He is buried in Valkenburg, which is also still where we go every year, on the 4th of May on the Remembrance Day: Dodenherdenking.

Then last year we did go, and it was quite an interesting experience. Because when you’re eight you don’t really realise like, you know, the heftiness of it and stuff. But what happened was, we went with the entire family; so my grandmother, grandfather, my dad, my sister and I. So we went there on the 4th of May, and there was this beautiful ceremony. You also have to realise that there was like 100+ casualties during this battle. So a lot of soldiers were actually killed. But not many were actually buried in Valkenburg. A lot of families after the war, ask to bring their men back to their own village. My great grandmother chose not to do so. And I think it was actually a really great choice of hers because when we went this year, it was this beautiful ceremony with flowers. And we had a minute of silence.

And the moral for me of this story is that Feike to us, Feike to my grandfather was his father, was a man who he barely knew. He lost his father when he was four years old. And it’s so incredibly tragic that he lost his dad at such a young age. So to us and to all of those who died and all of those they left behind. It’s almost interesting to see how they are treated like heroes. Like these boys, these soldiers are treated like these amazing war heroes, you know. Like, these legends that fought a heroic war against an oppressor. But in the end, when you look at the graves, these were 19, 20, 21 year old boys who weren’t supposed to be there in the first place. I think treating them like heroes is kind of taking away the tragic of it all. You know, like, Feike wasn’t supposed to die that day. He’s not a hero for dying. It is not a hero story. It’s a tragic event that never should have taken place.

So I guess yeah, that’s for me, the moral. It’s like these… when you have an event like this, we like to make it such a legendary thing. But in the end, it’s just tragic. It’s just not heroic. It’s not… Feike wasn’t a hero to me, he was my great grandfather. And that’s what he should be. He shouldn’t be like glorified for dying without a cause. Especially because in the end, the battle was pointless since, you know, the airport wasn’t useful and the war to even begin with wasn’t a war that should be fought. So, for me, that’s, I think, what I take away from this.

And now we do go every year, we’ve decided that we, as Couperus, do have some sort of responsibility to be one of the only families to keep Valkenburg alive. Because how long will we have Remembrance Day, you know? For how long will we have this day to remember Second World War? Because, you know, at some point it becomes more and more of a legend. So we have the feeling to keep the humanity of it in a sense, I think. Yeah. I think that sums it about up. Yeah.

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