Leo Feijten was 5 years old when, after having experienced the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, he and his family fled the area. The family had been given refugee status and left Arnhem.
With Leo and his family, so many others from Arnhem, Oosterbeek and the surrounding villages left on September 25th. For nine months they roamed The Netherlands, from farm to barn, haylofts and chicken coops to back rooms and guest houses. With handcarts, farm carts and on foot. Meanwhile ’treated’ to bombardments, grenades and V-1 missiles (they made a clearly audible sputtering sound). “These are the things, those moments, which are etched in your memory, you never forget them.”
Terrible but for a 5-year-old boy also very exciting, exciting enough to even enjoy it at times. That sounds crazy. “But it really was like that.” Leo says. “As a 5-year-old you see and experience things very differently. There were children who asked their mother: Mom, when are we going to flee again?”
Coming home was bad, everything in ruins with a terrible stench. But there was certainly joy too, the enemy was gone, no more bombs and grenades and they did celebrate an real exuberant liberation party. Leo remembers that he and the other kids went straight to school after that.
In 1954 Leo was invited for a short holiday in England, together with a number of other children from Arnhem and Oosterbeek. The initiative came from Robert (Bob) Stopforth from Caythorpe, a veteran of the Royal Signals who fought during Operation Market Garden. “That was amazing!” Leo says, “At that time you didn’t go abroad at all. That holiday has stayed with me all my life.”
They stayed there for a week. Then it became quiet until Leo suddenly saw his name in a newspaper, someone was looking for him! It was now 1989 and Bob came to Oosterbeek. For the first time since the war. He had never been back and wanted to see the children from then again while he stayed in former hotel Dreyeroord (The White House)..
Once together, Bob told them he wanted to hear their stories. He intended to publish a book with the stories of these children, who were of course grown up by now. Leo’s story is also in it, but then told through the eyes of his father. With the help of two Dutchmen, all the stories were translated into English, accompanied by drawings, and the book was ready in 1993. It was called ‘Arnhem after Arnhem’.
“It was soon no longer available in the Netherlands. To be honest, it wasn’t of such a very good quality either. I kept thinking about it. I was so bumbed, all our stories were gone. They were not allowed be lost.”
And so it was Leo this time, who made an appeal in an English newspaper. Unfortunately, he soon learned that Bob had passed away in October of 2002. Bob’s widow heard about Leo’s story and how he wanted to republish the book. She also knew Leo and the other children, of course she knew better than anyone the impact not only the war but also the memories of this group of children had on Bob. She thought it was such a good idea and gave Leo permission and everything he needed to republish Arnhem after Arnhem.
“Of a better quality though!” The book has had a major upgrade and can now be ordered via Brave New Books and is also available in the shop at the Airborne Museum.
Soon on this website: an extensive interview with Leo about Arnhem after Arnhem!