Friday, February 26, 2016

The Winged Watchman

A book chat by Serena:

The Winged Watchman written by Hilda Van Stockum in 1962 was set in Holland during World War II. It gives a hands-on perspective of living in an occupied country - ration coupons, empty shelves, hungry people begging for food at doorsteps to carry back to loved ones miles away. It also has lots of fun details like Dirk Jan reminiscing in the times where there were chocolate and sugar cakes, and the store owner said thank you for coming! Imagine that!

The main characters include the Verhagen family - Joris, his older brother Dirk Jan, Mother, Father, and little sister Trixie, whose red-haired identity is a bit of a mystery...

We also meet the Shenderhans family, Joris' neighbours. Hendrik, the youngest son, is Joris' good friend but has an unbecoming tendency to blurt out secrets and blab until his head falls off. Hendrik's older brother is Leendert Shenderhans, a mean young man with no respect for his parents, property or countrymen. He quickly becomes a landwatcher, a despised traitor working for the Germans with great authority and the assignment of ratting out lawbreakers.

That leads us to Uncle Cor, or Kees Kip.  Uncle Cor is the leader of a group of resistance fighters, known as the Underground.  Kees Kip is Uncle Cor's secret Underground name.  The Underground does weapon drops, hides English fighter pilots, stores ration coupons and attacks German police stations.  The Verhagen family are very proud of their brave Uncle Cor!

Father Verhagen is a millwright, a Dutchman born and bred to work the mills the old-fashioned way. The Verhagens live in their mill, which sits on a piece of polder land. Polder land is reclaimed land that has a dike and uses its windmill to drain the dike to keep it from overflowing and ruining the crops of the reclaimed polder. Electric mills threatened to take away the old fashioned mill, but in the end electricity is less reliable than people thought...

Photo Credit: www.ricksteves.com
The "Winged Watchmen", as the Verhagen family calls their mill, is much more useful than you would think. By changing the position of the sails, a millwright can signal to his neighbours many secret messages, such as joy, sadness, and need of repair. When Catholics were persecuted in Holland, a white flag tied to the wing meant that a priest had come to say Mass.  There is also the St. Andrew's cross, the position least likely to attract lightning.  And if the Winged Watchman hadn't been slowly spinning its wings one night, Joris would not have escaped from the prying eyes of Leendert and a very big predicament!

Do you know why the Dutch wear wooden shoes? These shoes originated with the polder farmers and millwrights, who disliked getting their shoes and socks soaked when they walked along their soggy property.  Wooden clogs were the perfect solution!

1 comment:

  1. Reading this brings back memories of when i was a boy
    It also reminded me of the flood of 1953, when the dike broke and the polder flooded. I found the wooden shoes always hurt the top of my foot. to keep our feet warm in winter we put newspaper in them .It really worked. Thank you. Love Nanny & Papa

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