Posts Tagged ‘Hunger winter’

A cube of sugar and the war.

April 23, 2021


Gerard on the right getting a tubbing.

It’s funny how memories go hand in hand with ageing, almost as if begging not to let days go by, and so inexorably lead us to the grand finale, our final hoorah. I just thought I will tell you about a peculiar memory that hasn’t faded with the passing years, even though it is of such little consequence or perhaps it is, precisely because it so persistently lingers. 

This memory goes back to around 1945/46 when Holland was dealing with the results of ‘the hunger winter’, and scores of adults but especially children were suffering from serious nutritional deficiency. Food had run out and during the last few months of the war the importation of all food was stopped. The cities suffered most from this food shortage. I was born in Rotterdam 1940 which had the added disadvantage of having been bombed at the start of the war

The Famine Ended 70 Years Ago, but Dutch Genes Still Bear Scars – The New York Times (

The Dutch government decided to send the children suffering from severe malnutrition and at risk, to camps to try and fatten them back to normal safe levels. I was one of those children chosen to go to those ‘fattening up’ camps. I can’t describe the anguish I felt leaving my mother and forcefully being torn away. Of course, the pain of separation was soon sweetened by the availability of food. I was five and knew hunger. A main source was bean soup and a cube of sugar before bedtime. The communal bedroom had many beds and the children were told they could only sleep on their right side.  Was it to protect their frail undernourished hearts? I used to be clever then, and slipped under the sheets and turned around to the other side as a ploy to overcome that strict rule. 

During the next year or so I was sent to three of those children colonies and each was of six weeks duration. I remained skinny and still am today. But, now comes the sugar cube memory so get a bit closer to the screen! The first children’s colony I was sent to by the Dutch health authority was at the coast within walking distance of the beach and North Sea. The female staff made up of young girls had the job of feeding us to better health and we were weighed daily to see if this was happening. As I stated before, all I remember was eating soups made of beans and long walks along the beach. It was during one of those beach walks that the nursing girls put up a competition to see who could climb a large sand dune the fastest. The prize would be a sugar cube.

You can imagine how I coveted this prize. I ran and clawed my way up to that dune and came up first. I was so proud. I expected the prize to be given after we got home to this fattening up facility. But, to my bitter disappointment, I did not get it, nor during the next few days. I decided to take it into my own hands and reminded the girl; where is my sugar cube? Even then I did not receive it. I keenly felt this but waited till the girls were all having their teatime that I went to their staff room and asked there and then for my prize. It was then that I triumphed and received my sugar cube.

I have never forgotten.