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Introduction by Bruce Bolinger

For the last eleven years I have been researching the aid given to downed Allied airmen by the Resistance during World War II in The Netherlands, Belgium, and France.  Most of my research has concentrated on two subjects:

  • An American airman, Tom Applewhite, a bombardier on a B-17, “The Wild Hare,” who was shot down near Heusden, east of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (also known as Den Bosch), on 11 November 1943.  Thanks to the aid of three escape and evasion lines, one Dutch and two Belgian, plus the British Embassy in Madrid, he reached the British naval base at Gibraltar two months later.
  • A Dutch escape line, the Smit-van der Heijden Line, headed by Karst Smit, a marechaussee (Dutch Royal Military Police), stationed first in Hilvarenbeek and then in Baarle-Nassau, and his partner, Eugene Van der Heijden, a teacher from Hilvarenbeek.  The two towns are located near the Belgian border.

These two subjects are interrelated because Tom Applewhite was the last person to successfully pass through the Smit-van der Heijden Line.  The next man in the line, Nello Malavasi, a member of the crew of “The Wild Hare,” and his guide, Willem Schmidt, were arrested by the Germans in Turnhout, Belgium, on 15 November 1943.  This led to the rapid arrest of many members of the line and its destruction.

I became interested in this subject for several reasons:

(1) My great-uncle, Arthur Schrynemakers, a Dutch national living in Brussels during the war, hid Tom Applewhite for over a month from November-December 1943, as well as two Jewish families and two members of the Luc-Marc intelligence line.

(2) Schrynemakers’ son, Arthur Britton, was responsible for the arrest of Heinrich Himmler.

(3) A cousin, Charles Henri Schrynemakers, was a member of Service D, a Resistance organization in Liege that, among other things, intercepted denunciations sent in the mail and warned people before the denunciations reached the Germans.  As a mailman, Charles was ideally situated to participate in this.  Later he was also involved in armed Resistance.

(4) Another cousin, Georges Moeren, was a member of the Forces Belges en Grande-Bretagne (Belgian Forces Great Britain) during WWII.

(5) My oldest first cousin, Ralph Hichens, was a top turret gunner and flight engineer on a B-17 in 1944.  (See http://www.wwiimemorial.com/registry/search/plaq.asp?HonoreeID=1649081&print=y for a brief account of his service.  For more details, see http://384thbombgroup.com/php/person.php?PersonKey=1714.)

Below is a photo of Ralph and the other members of the crew of the “Stag Party.”  Click once on it to get an enlargement.  Click a second time and it will enlarge even further.

Back row from left to right:

Pilot: Thomas H. “Pete” Fitzgerald
Co-Pilot: Edward J. Bullitt
Navigator:- Edwin N. Dexter
Bombardier: Richard D. Eide
Front row from left to right:
Top Turret Gunner/Flight Engineer: Ralph “H” Hichens
Radio Operator: Edward Gramc
Tail Gunner: Edgar L. “Pappy” Heeg
Ball Turret Gunner: Charles O. Beckham
Waist Gunner: Michael Kimak
This crew was originally assigned to the 384th Bomb Group/546th Bomb Squadron at Grafton Underwood where they flew 16 operational missions before being transferred to the 305th Bomb Group where they finished their tour.  This picture was taken Sep. 21, 1944 at Chelveston when the crew was assigned to the 305th Bomb Group, 422nd Bomb Squadron.  My thanks to my cousin, Greg Hichens, for providing the photo and the names of the crew.
Evolution of This Website

The original purpose of this website was to enable people with shared interests to contact me.   But as I added material to it I realized that a second purpose would be to provide people who are doing their own research with some useful tools.  Examples would be the advice on use of the Textual Research Room at the U.S. National Archives, the lists of Belgian and Dutch helper files by box number, the translation of the questionnaire used in The Netherlands for airmen, sources for information on aircraft crash sites, the directions on how to access the escape and evasion (E&E) reports online, the indexes to the lists of Dutch and Belgian/Luxemburger helpers, the list of passengers on the Nazi Ghost Train/Phantom Train,  links to other useful websites, and two Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), “What Did My Father/Grandfather/Uncle/Mother Do in the Resistance?” and “How Do I Learn About an Allied Airman Who Was Shot Down But Escaped?”  Each FAQ has a variety of suggestions for research combined with links to sources.

The website was established March 31, 2010.  At the outset I would have been happy with a few hundred hits.  As of Apr. 2, 2014, according to WordPress, the company that hosts this website, the cumulative total was 238,417 with the highest number any one month being January, 2014 with 10,376, and the highest any one day being Jan. 9, 2014 with 1,114.

By calendar year, the number of hits has been:

  • 2010   15,373 (March 31-Dec. 31)
  • 2011    38,939    
  • 2012    68,981
  • 2013    90,205
  • 2014     24,712 (Jan. 1 – Mar. 31)

The number of hits in 2012 was 77% greater than in 2011.  The number in 2013 was 31% greater than in 2012.

This response and the emails that I have received have given me the incentive to add more material, which I hope to do regularly.

In early March, 2012, WordPress began including in the statistical analyses it provides to its clients  the number of hits on the websites by country or territory of origin.  For example, the 174,966 hits on this website  from Feb. 25, 2012 to Apr. 2, 2014 were from 181 different countries and territories.  The breakdown for the top 32 countries, representing 97% of the hits,  was as follows:

Country/Territory

Number

Percent

United States

51,477

29.4

The Netherlands

33,012

18.9

United Kingdom

21,802

12.5

Belgium

16,701

9.5

Canada

12,030

6.9

France

8,780

5.0

Australia

7,339

4.2

Germany

3,964

2.3

New Zealand

1,866

1.1

Philippines

1,583

0.9

Denmark

1,258

0.7

Spain

1,136

0.6

Italy

1,002

0.6

Ireland

851

0.5

Sweden

810

0.5

Poland

612

0.3

India

609

0.3

South Africa

601

0.3

Israel

560

0.3

Norway

550

0.3

Portugal

466

0.3

Brazil

437

0.2

Switzerland

421

0.2

Czech Republic

393

0.2

Greece

384

0.2

Russian Federation

378

0.2

Croatia

229

0.1

Indonesia

229

0.1

RomaniaHungaryFinlandArgentina

225

223

210

204

0.1

0.1

0.1

0.1

The remaining 3% of the hits were divided among 149 other countries and territories, including such unlikely ones as United Arab Emirates (100), Gambia (103), Ghana (51), Saudi Arabia (49), Qatar (81), Azerbaijan (8), Georgia (9), Botswana (16), Oman (25), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (5), Bhutan (2), and Tajikistan (1).  There were 174 hits from Hong Kong, 150 from Singapore, 59 from Taiwan, 3 from Macao, and 7 from mainland China.  The Nordic countries had 2877 hits.  In addition to the figures given above for Denmark (1258), Sweden (810), Norway (550), and Finland (210), Iceland was represented with 37, Greenland with 6, and the Aland Islands with 6.  The Baltic countries produced 138 hits (Latvia–55, Lithuania–40, and Estonia–37).  I find it fascinating to see where the traffic to this website is coming from.

Beginning on Dec. 3, 2012, WordPress began providing statistics differentiating between views (hits) and visitors.  During the first 16 months during which this information was compiled, this website had 37,728 separate visitors who viewed it 124,278 times, or, on average,  3.04 visits per visitor.   Applying this ratio to the cumulative total of 238,417 hits from the website’s inception at the end of March 2010 to Apr. 2, 2014, there were approximately 72,378 different visitors during that time period.

Because I have added so many pages to the website–for a total of 625 as of April 2014–it soon became apparent that visitors probably would have difficulty navigating through the site.  For that reason, in November 2010,  I switched to a new layout which provides cascading menus at the top of each page as well as the menu in the right hand column, which has a clearer hierarchy than before.  In addition, I have been adding internal links in pages to other pages to allow visitors to go directly to something that interests them.   The logo, which replaced the template provided by WordPress, combines the Oct. 31, 1943 photo of “The Wild Hare” and some of its crew (Tom Applewhite is the third from the left in the front row), a scene of B-17 vapor trails from an Air Force Historical Research Agency photo, and a map of the major escape routes from Sherri Greene Ottis’ book, Silent Heroes, Downed Airmen and the French Underground.   Follow the links to see where they appear elsewhere in the website.

I am particularly grateful to Mark McLaren of McBuzz Communications for guiding me through the process of setting up a website, answering scores of questions, coordinating the creation of a very effective logo, and modifying a basic WordPress theme to my specifications.  McBuzz Communications specializes in search engine optimization and social media marketing. He is a Google AdWords and Analytics Consultant.  I recommend him to anyone seeking to improve the effectiveness of his or her website.

Further Research

Between May 23 and June 20, 2010 I made my fourth research trip to Europe,  spending four weeks in The Netherlands and Belgium visiting WWII archives, doing interviews, and visiting the places where the Smit-van der Heijden Line was active.  Cities and towns visited included: Amsterdam, Den Bosch, Zwolle, Leiden, The Hague, Baarle-Nassau, Goirle, Poppel, Zutphen, Enschede, Tilburg, Turnhout, Arnhem, Utrecht, Antwerp, Herentals, and Brussels.

The following photo, taken by John Meulenbroeks on June 5, 2010, shows our group of historians after retracing the route of escaping airmen across the Dutch-Belgian border.  We began at the home of Ad and Anneke van Rijswijk in Esbeek and followed the paths through the forest of the Landgoed de Utrecht, across the border, and ending at the former farm of Jeanne Willems of Weelde.

From left to right: Bruce Bolinger, A.C. de Bruyn (our host at the “In den Bockenreijder”), Anneke van Rijswijk, Ad van Rijswijk, and Kees van Kemenade.  The “In den Bockenreijder” was the location of the Dutch student hideout where Allied airmen, Dutch Jews, Engelandvaarders, and others hid before being moved across the border into Belgium.  It is now a popular spot for outdoor recreationists.  It also features a fine memorial by the Werkgroep Heemkunde Esbeek commemorating the students and others who were part of the escape line.

In June 2011, I made another trip to National Archives II (NAII) in College Park, Maryland, the location of the escape and evasion reports of American airmen in WWII and the military intelligence files on their helpers.   I spent a week there copying files and will be incorporating what I learned in the pages of this website.  The information in the page on use of the Textual Research Room at NAII and the new page on Appendix C’s, part of the escape and evasion reports, already reflect this.

In May 2012 I attended the annual meeting of the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.    In late October 2012, I made another trip to National Archives II.  In addition to copying Dutch and Belgian helper files, I searched American prisoner of war records   I had hoped to find debriefings of members of Applewhite’s crew and airmen who were helped by the Smit-van der Heijden line but who were later captured by the Germans.  However, the only POW records I found focused on war crimes.

I have posted two interviews, one of Charlotte Ambach, member of Service EVA and other Resistance groups in Brussels, and the other of  Bill Bettinson, 3rd Radio Officer on the Norwegian ship “Lisbeth,” and will be adding one for Amanda Stassart, a guide for the Comet Line.

A list of approximately 977 political prisoners on the Phantom Train/ Ghost Train is now part of the website.  Click here to view it.  Also on the website there is now a list of upwards of 8000 names of Dutch helpers of Allied airmen and other military personnel from a master list at the British National Archives.  To see them, click here.  Following that list I have posted the names of approximately 2,079 Dutch helpers sorted by 74 selected cities, towns, and villages that had some connection to the Smit-van der Heijden Line.  To see them, click here.  In August 2012 I posted the index to approximately 16,000 helpers from Belgium and Luxembourg.  To see it, click here.  And to see the names sorted by seven  selected Belgian cities and towns, click here.   I have also posted in PDF format material from two government reports on escape and evasion:

- The entire text of It’s the Little Things

- Four parts of the M.I.S.-X Manual:


Recent additions to this website are Ed Renière’s autobiographical account of his boyhood in Brussels during WWII and Louis van den Brand’s memoirs of the same period, also in Brussels.

Visitors to this website will want to view a 44-minute Dutch documentary about the Dutch-Paris Line made in 1967.  Thanks to the Weidner Foundation, it is available with English subtitles on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x96V6SiqMlc.  Rarely do you get to see the helpers of people fleeing the Nazis talk about what they did.  Here you do.

In 2012-2014, I added a set of maps showing Belgium, France, and The Netherlands as they were in WWII.  One map was prepared specifically for my use; the others were published immediately before or during the war.  Click here to be connected with the maps.  One of them was a 1938 map of Tilburg to Weelde, Belgium, showing the area where the Smit-van der Heijden Line was particularly active.

In December 2012 I added to the website two Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).  The first is “What Did My Father Do in the Resistance?”.  The next is “How Do I Learn About an Allied Airman Who Was Shot Down But Escaped?”.  Periodically I add new suggestions.

The Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies (AADAS) had its biennial conference at Central College, Pella, Iowa, from June 5-8, 2013 on the topic, “The Dutch-American Involvement in War: U.S. and Abroad.”  There were 26 speakers.  My talk was entitled, “By Trial and Error: The Experience of a Dutch Escape Line in World War II.”  It seemed to be well-received.  Following are a couple of photos taken by conference coordinator Lisa Zylstra during my talk.  My thanks to Lisa.

Bruce giving AADAS talk IMG_3470

Bruce giving AADAS talk IMG_3485

From late October to Nov. 29, 2013,  I added to the website the list of French men and women who helped Allied airmen as compiled by Allied Military Intelligence.  The official title is Register of Helpers, I.S.9 (Awards Bureau) Paris.   At the end of November I added the Danish helper list.  In January 2014 I added a Hungarian helper list and a list found at the Dutch National Archives of American airmen shot down over The Netherlands who evaded capture.  As of April 2014, we now have a database of French helper names that is under construction, the A-C part of the alphabet having been completed.  To view it, click here.

In May I will attend the annual meeting of the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society which will be held in Charleston, South Carolina followed by a week at National Archives II in College Park, Maryland.  I will be searching Dutch and Belgian helper files and will look for lists of helpers from other countries to add to the ones I have already posted on this website.