Liesbeth's journey goes full circle
THE winter of 1944 to 1945 was terrible. They called it the Hongerwinter – the hunger winter. There was no food; people were down to eating tulip bulbs, so recalled pensioner Liesbeth Langford.
Growing up in German- occupied Holland during the Second World War, Liesbeth has her fair share of fascinating stories.
Born just two years before the war began, to a Dutch father and an English mother, Liesbeth now lives in Humshaugh.
She said: “My mother was English and married a Dutchman, and I did it the other way round!”
Liesbeth has spent many years of her life giving talks on the experiences of her family during the war.
The dreadful famine that became known as the Hongerwinter came towards the end of the German occupation, and claimed 30,000 lives across Holland.
But it is just part of the terrifying ordeal that an entire generation was forced through.
Liesbeth’s father, Anton Kalff, was a member of the Dutch resistance and risked his life aiding Jewish families whilst living ‘underground.’
She said: “People began to realise that when the Jews were taken away, something horrible was happening.
“We didn’t know exactly what was happening – no-one did then. But we knew it was bad.
“People didn’t want that for their children, so they would get non-Jewish families to adopt them.
“I can’t imagine how hard that would be for the Jewish families to give up their children.
“If people then began to get suspicious, or there were whispers that a child was actually Jewish, then my father and other members of the resistance would go in and move them.”
The risk taken by men like Anton no doubt saved countless children from the horrors of the Holocaust, but it meant leaving Liesbeth and her mother, Janet, alone.
Liesbeth continued: “My mother was in danger, because she was English.
“So she had to hide the fact she was English. We always spoke Dutch. Never English.”
Towards the end of the war, her mother, Janet, wrote a series of stories about their experiences.
Liesbeth said: “They were letters to my father. There was no electricity at this point, so she wrote them by candlelight.
“Of course, she couldn’t send them because he was in the resistance.”
In 2009, Liesbeth compiled these letters into a book, Written by Candlelight, which was published by Hexham- based publishing company Ergo Press. The book details the terrifying reality of living under Nazi occupation.
In 1945, Holland was liberated by Canadian forces. Janet worked as a translator for the Canadians, whilst eight year old Liesbeth was made an honourary captain in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (RCCS).
Liesbeth said: “The Corps sent signals and messages in battle. One Second Lieutenant said they wanted me to be in the RCCS.
“They gave me this jacket – the three stars here show the captain’s rank.You can see where my mother has had to repair it,” she adds, pointing to sewn-up holes.
“Recently, I was invited to lunch at Canada House in London with all the generals there and all their medals.”
The little jacket has accompanied Liesbeth throughout her career as she deliversed talks about her experiences during the war.
But at 80 years old, Liesbeth feels it is time to step back from her role.
As a result, her jacket is to be displayed at the RCCS museum in Kingston, Ontario, from September 18 – and Liesbeth is flying to Canada to hand it over.
Liesbeth said: “There’s going to be a dinner with the generals and I will be giving a talk.”
The return of the jacket to the RCCS is the end of a remarkable story, but Liesbeth’s work has ensured that the brave work of real heroes will not be forgotten.