A Plumfield Kids Book Review by Jack Masarik, age 11
“The Watchman . . .The Watchman . . . Joris looked at it in despair. Winged Watchman . . . guardian angel . . . his breath came in wheezy gasps. He heard footsteps coming closer. Soon he would not be able to run anymore; there was a stitch in his side. Then he saw he was near the moving wings of the mill, dark and vague but unmistakable. He grabbed one of them and jumped on it, melting into the shadow.”
The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum is a beautiful book about a WWII Dutch family living in German-occupied Holland. We follow them through many adventures and hardships, many of which are caused by the Germans.
One of the real hardships in the German occupation of Holland is starvation.
“It was the Queen herself who requested it. The Dutch railway people obeyed at once, though it meant going into hiding. Now there were no more trains to transport cattle, food, fuel, and men to Germany, but there also were no trains to bring food to the cities, and many Dutch people faced starvation.”
When the Dutch railway people went into hiding by order of the queen, the trains bringing food and other supplies to Germany and to Holland stopped. This meant that many of the Dutch starved.
One of the saddest situations in this story is that of Trixie. Trixie’s family were Dutch Jews, and they knew that they were going to be sent to the concentration camps. To save Trixie’s life, her mother placed her in the bushes outside their home hoping that Mrs. Verhagen would take her and adopt her, which she did. This was complicated because the neighbors wondered where the new Verhagen baby came from. Trixie was a redheaded baby and she didn’t look like a Verhagen. So, to protect her, the family forged a birth certificate for Trixie and dressed up another person to be a red-headed family member. This saved Trixie’s life.
“ . . . there was the noise of anti-aircraft guns, the peaceful sky was rent with exploding shells. One of the bombers was hit. It reeled, burst into flames, and started to come down, scattering parts as it fell. It seemed to come right at the boat. Both boys ducked unconsciously, but it flew over their heads, some burning wreckage falling with a hiss into the water.”
In this scene, there were four aviators in that bomber. They all escaped and found hiding places. Three of them were found hidden in a farmer’s barn. When they were discovered, the farmer and his two sons were taken away, probably to concentration camps.
“Drawing a deep breath, he moved forward and lifted up the sail. It was wrenched out of his hand as a dark figure dashed from underneath and made a bolt for the stairs. Joris cried out in fright, and the figure turned to look at him. The light of the open hole fell full on his crumpled English aviator’s uniform.”
Remember that fourth aviator? He hid in a retired old mill called “The Giant” and was found by Joris Verhagen. With the help of their parish priest, Joris and his brother decide to trust their parents and their uncle Cor with the information about the hiding aviator, Charles. Cor, a member of the Dutch underground resistance, dresses up Charles in women’s clothes and passes him off as a female cousin named Tilly. Cor successfully smuggles “Tilly” over the border into safety with the help of an unwitting German officer. This was an ingenious plan!
One of the tragic and maddening things that some of the Dutch did was cooperate with the Germans. These “Landwatchers” were supposed to report on and arrest anyone who didn’t do what the Germans said. One of the nearby farm family’s eldest sons becomes a Landwatcher and does his job well, even to the point of threatening to tell about his father’s black market sales, just to win the favor of the Germans.
The Dutch do lie to the Germans, but as Mrs. Verhagen says, it is wrong to hide the truth from a person who has the right to it, but the Germans after all the things they did to the Dutch, don’t have a right to the truth.