Written by Bert Plomp
The name “holiday colony,” despite the pleasant element of a vacation intertwined within it, doesn’t sound very sympathetic. There was no holiday to be had in the children’s home. A stern colonial regime prevailed there. Children were not approached with love but with an almost military discipline. You were dealt with like a little criminal by those authoritarian women. You were disciplined as strictly as children in an old-fashioned reform school. Submission was instilled with an iron hand.
The idea of going to bed at night to sleep was acceptable. However, the requirement to also take a nap in the afternoon was truly absurd. Once in bed, before falling asleep, all the children had to face the same direction. They were probably afraid that you would talk or see too much or cause a disturbance. Well, you should have been a streetwise boy from the heart of Utrecht, a stubborn little kid who had recently had his head stuck in the revolving door of Hotel Smits on Vredenburg. When it came to facing in the same direction, one of those “starched white aprons” would forcefully turn your head in the desired direction if necessary.
The food served daily was always some kind of disgusting gruel. If you hadn’t consumed your portion, even after strong insistence, the same slop would be placed in front of you at the next meal. Of course, it wasn’t all misery. There were also bright spots. Descending to the beach through the dunes daily and inhaling the delightful salty sea air provided a lot of compensation. Receiving mail from family was also a daily highlight. I preferred postcards featuring images of cowboys like Roy Rogers. It was a big disappointment when the stack of mail didn’t include a card for me. That was truly embarrassing.
We were encouraged to write home as well, but we weren’t supposed to mention anything negative. Outgoing mail was routinely checked for that. You often hear about members of the male sex misbehaving towards those in a weaker position. Well, many of these substitute mother figures were no different from those jerks.
It didn’t make much of an impression on my parents when I expressed that I had strengthened enough. That a new mission to a holiday colony was not suitable for me. That I felt as healthy as a fish and as strong as a horse. I thought, surely they don’t intend for me to return as a muscular “Atlas” from such an expedition. Shortly after the war, people were unfortunately not so concerned with a child’s emotional well-being. If you complained or resisted as a child, you would quickly be told that you hadn’t experienced the war. I heard that accusation so often that I wished I had experienced the war.
The next summer, despite everything, I was the unfortunate one again. While I thought that my younger brothers might also have a chance to gain strength and enjoy the healthy sea and forest air. It could have continued for years, certainly not longer than the moment when I had actually developed the muscles of an Atlas.
At the end of the third year of being sent to these places, my colonial era came to an abrupt end. That year, for a change, I had been banished to the vast forests of Arnhem. Despite the delightful forest air, I contracted a severe form of dysentery. Due to this unpleasant illness, my stay in the Arnhem forests was extended by two weeks. This time, I was the only one remaining among all those “starched white aprons.” I returned weaker than when I had left. Hence, a next trip to a holiday colony was spared for me.