Interview with Katherine Thompson and Roy Briggs


Interview with Katherine Thompson and Roy Briggs


Katherine Ellen Thompson remembers her time in Rotterdam during the war and particularly during Operation Manna. Mentions various episodes: food shortage, bartering linen and silver for food, members of the Dutch fascist party paraded through the streets and publicly humiliated, police officers concealing rations from the people, German soldiers searching houses looking for Jews. Remembers seeing the food drops although she and her family didn’t benefit from them. Mentions her relatives being members of the Resistance. Tells of food rationing and people dying from overeating after the war. Roy Briggs, a RAF veteran, remembers his involvement in Operation Manna and gives a vivid and detailed account of how they carried out the food drops. Tells of how he met Ellen Thompson.




Temporal Coverage





00:55:23 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the eighth, nineteenth of April 2016 and I am in Hemel Hempstead with Mrs. Ellen Thompson and we are going to talk about her experiences in Holland during the war and particularly her experiences with Operation Manna. So, Ellen, what I’d like to do is start from the earliest days, what is the earliest recollections you have of life and then just talk through.
KT: I remember when we lived in Rotterdam, I remember walking a long, long way to school every day. I used to go to Montessori School and we had no leather shoes, we had wooden shoes to walk on, so we walked with my brother a long way to this Montessori school and walked all the way home again. This was probably in 1942, but there was a time when we were evacuated, we couldn’t go to school anymore because it was too dangerous to go, so we went to a Roman Catholic school just up the road, a few, well maybe about two hundred yards, so we went there for a while, we were evacuated from the Montessori school and there, I don’t really remember very much what we did there, we must have done sums, we must have done Dutch but all I remember is having to learn to knit and it was very, it wasn’t easy because the nuns were very strict, I had to hold my thumb on the needle all the time while I was moving the wool across. So, that’s all I remember from this school. Now, we lived in a house in Rotterdam which was, there was a pond in front of it, a lot of Dutch streets have got singels, they’re called, and they’re water, there’s a lot of water there and it was just, it was a bolver house, so there was somebody living downstairs and we were upstairs on the first floor and the second floor. And I remember during the war we were quite hungry most of the time but we managed fine because we had a housekeeper who every half year would go with a pram and took linen from my mother’s cupboard and took silver from the cupboards and used to walk all the way to the east of the country, so that would be easily a hundred miles with a pram and she wasn’t the only person who did it, a lot of people went because there were rich farmers in the East and there she would get eggs, she would get rice, I don’t know why she got rice but I remember that she brought back rice, cause the rice wouldn’t have grown in Holland so why she had rice? And potatoes she brought back and other foods, that you could get there, they didn’t want money, they wanted linen, they wanted silver. And I said, well, what did you do? What did you eat then on the way back? Oh, she said, I just had an egg, a raw egg and I just ate this egg and then walked on again. How she guarded these possessions during the night, when she slept, I don’t know because people would have wanted to steal those I think, you know, it was precious stuff, the food in particular. So I remember that and then she would come back and we had some food again. There was a central kitchen where we got, I remember getting pea soup there, you could go and collect this pea soup there. I don’t remember being hungry but my father had this hunger oedema, his belly swelled up and his legs swelled up, he would have died if the war have gone on much longer, but we were fed like you would, you would feed your children other than yourself. We had in the attic some tins of evaporated milk and we were quite naughty, we opened some of these tins when we were really hungry and we were told off, my parents told us off, they had to be kept just in case we were really dying of hunger. So we stopped eating this evaporated milk. How we opened it I don’t remember but we did open it. My brother was born in 1944, which was not a good time to have a baby and my mother fed my brother Walter himself, herself, but she must have also got some milk from a sort of central depot, I don’t know because I remember we had a little stove in the sitting room and my mother would heat up this milk and there was one day when one drop of this milk fell on the stove and my father scraped this burnt milk off to eat it, that’s how hungry he was, one burnt drop of milk. We ate tulip bulbs, very nice, you know, if they were cheaper here I would buy it and eat them. That was really quite nice. We ate sugar beets, my mother used to boil the sugar beets and then she made pancakes with the fibre and the syrup, the sugar syrup came out of that and we had that draped over the sugar beet pancakes, which was fine, was alright. Now, one day I do remember, the aeroplanes coming over and my brother and I were upstairs and we’ve seen it, it was all meant to fall on the cattle market, but of course not everything fell on the cattle market and we knew that it was coming because there’d been an edict from the police station and we lived next door to the police station that if you had any food that fell in your garden or on your little front garden or wherever you lived, you had to give it to the police station and they would then distribute it. So we looked and it looked really as if little bits of paper fluttered down but maybe there were bits of paper that fluttered down as well, that’s what I remember. But there was flour that fell down, big bags of flour, one of these bags of flour was seen to fall in the water in front of the house and one bag of flour fell in a tree and people of course climbed up the tree and tried to get this bag of flour out and even weeks later there were still people climbing into the tree to get little bits of flour, scraped them off this tree and people were also trying to get, they must have seen this flour coming into this water and trying with a hook and a piece of rope, trying to get it out, I don’t think they got it. Now on this little street we had in front of us a bag of chocolate fell, a chocolate was I think in tins, and my father brought it into the house and said yes, here, look, this is chocolate, we must give it to the police station, my father was a very honourable man, who always did as he was told, my mother said, no, we are going to keep that. My father, no, no, no, we must give it to the police station. So we never had any of this chocolate. Not even one tin we kept. And my mother is, thought of, to seeing policemen eating chocolate of course. Did we ever get any of this chocolate? No. It was, they could have distributed one bar along the road but they didn’t. So we never had any of that chocolate [laughs]. End.
CB: Ok. So, we are just restarting on the basis that Ellen remembers the drops, the drop of food and flour and chocolate. What food did you get from the police as a family?
KT: None at all. No, we were never, it was never distributed. My mother said that she saw the police eating chocolate, well, it’s quite possible they did because how would they have distributed it? And my father didn’t even keep one tin of chocolate out of this big bag which fell in our garden really, right in front of the house. So, no, we didn’t get any. But a lot of people must have had food and we didn’t, we weren’t actually dying of hunger, so, it was alright. My grandmother had a garden and I think we got potatoes probably from this garden, I can’t remember, we did have potatoes and that may well have come from my grandmother’s garden. But we didn’t have a car so how any food from my grandmother, who lived a long way away about, well, about forty, fifty miles away, how that would have arrived in Rotterdam I’m not sure, because all we had was a bicycle and trains weren’t really running and you couldn’t get petrol anyway. So we didn’t get, we personally didn’t get any food but I am sure that other people kept a chocolate and good luck to them and had flour and were able to make pancakes or bread or something but we personally did not.
CB: So you talked earlier about the housekeeper going to collect food from a long way but that wasn’t that often so where did your food as a family come from, most of the time?
ET: Yes, things were rationed, you could get certain things so, well, yeah, there were very basic things, there were potatoes, I remember potatoes and there were sugar beets and that’s what we ate most of the time, sugar beet, I remember, almost every day. Potatoes we ate and there was a central kitchen where you, once a day you could get soup and we had somebody who collected this soup and we ate this soup. We had some bread but not very much.
CB: What was your father’s job?
ET: My father worked in the harbour in Rotterdam. I think, he wasn’t a harbour master but he was sort of one below the harbour master, so he went to work every day in the harbour, which was quite dangerous as well because they were bombing the harbour. But, yes.
CB: He always worked in the harbour, did he?
ET: Yes. He did.
CB: Ok. And that carried on after the war as well?
ET: No, he, then he left, he left, in 1946 we went and lived in Flushing, Vlissingen, used to have a Sheerness ferry from Flushing to Sheerness and he went to work there. And that’s where we lived on till he retired in 1967.
CB: So where you were in Rotterdam was in the middle, on the edge or where was it?
ET: Right in the centre.
CB: Right.
ET: Yeah.
CB: And so you knew other people in the area?
ET: Yes, yes.
CB: And were there other children? Because you went to school, so were you playing with other children?
ET: Yes, we were playing with other children and we had quite a large garden at the back and I remember this playing with my brother and my sister there a lot, just in the garden really. We didn’t go out, we didn’t play much with other children, I don’t remember. I did have some other friends who lived near the Montessori school and, but locally I don’t think there were many children living there at all. No, I don’t remember playing with children in the neighbourhood. Near the Montessori school I had friends there and went to their house but we, I don’t we had children coming to our house, not really.
CB: What do you remember about other families and how they were fed?
ET: I don’t remember.
CB: Ok.
ET: I must have been very self-centred.
CB: Well, as a
ET: As a child, yes.
CB: As children you have other things.
ET: Yeah.
CB: How old, was your sister older than you?
ET: No, she is younger, she was born in 1940.
CB: Younger, right.
ET: My brother was born in 1938.
CB: ’38?
ET: Yeah.
CB: Right, ok. So, what did he do? Did he go to the same school or?
ET: Yeah, yeah, he went to the same school, we walked together to the school. Yeah.
CB: Ok.
ET: Every day. And I remember picking up, I don’t really know why, cigarette ends, I think I gave those to somebody, they were just lying on the street and he was very pleased to have all these cigarette ends, so he must have rolled another cigarette from all these leftover bits.
CB: Could he have then sold them to people for pocket money?
ET: Maybe he did, I gave them to this old man and he was always very pleased to have all these bits of cigarettes.
CB: Right.
ET: It’s all I remember.
CB: The Montessori school you were evacuated from, why was that? Where was it?
ET: It was in Rotterdam.
CB: Yes, but where? Was it close to the docks? I wonder why
ET: I don’t think it was.
CB: Why they evacuated from?
ET: No, we couldn’t go there. I don’t think it was bombed. I don’t remember, maybe it was too dangerous to go there for a while. We weren’t in this Roman Catholic school for very long. Maybe for a while we couldn’t go there, I don’t’ remember why we couldn’t go there. No, I don’t remember.
CB: So, what we are talking about is this experience of the delivery by air of food, was the end of April 1945 and the beginning of May.
ET: Yes, yes.
CB: What did you know about other drops? Did you get to know about air drops of food?
ET: I think we saw a picture in the newspaper that other people in other areas in the country had also had drops, yes. Yes, we did know about that, yeah, definitely.
CB: What did you know about why the food was being dropped?
ET: Oh well, because, you know, we were hungry and people were helping us. And we were very pleased, it was really exciting to see this food coming down, definitely. Yeah, yeah.
CB: And what was the Germans reactions, because there must have been Germans around?
ET: Yeah, there were Germans, I really don’t know, we did have Germans come to the house sometimes because we had Jews living in the house. We did know and they searched houses because other people had Jews in the house. We didn’t, we had Jews for not very long but we had them for a while. And they searched the house, they were right in the attic and they didn’t find them thank goodness sake. So that’s the only thing I remember these Germans coming in and we didn’t know any German at the time so If they’d asked us something we couldn’t have answered so that was just as well. And so, that’s all I remember about the Germans. I remember after the war, is that interesting? After the war there were people who collaborated with the Germans and they, and we lived right next to the police station and we remember sitting there, day after day, right next to the entrance of the police station, because the people who collaborated with the German, NSBos they were called, they had to walk down the street with an orange ribbon in between their thumbs and they had to have their heads shaved and they were a sort of, I can’t remember, I can’t think of the word now, but they were put down, you know, they were all [unclear] and they had done a bad job during the war and they shouldn’t have done that. And then they were just let go again. I don’t think they were put in prison or anything. Later on my mother went to a hairdresser who was called [unclear], after the war when we lived in Flushing, and my father said she was not allowed to go there because he was one of these people who had collaborated with the Germans, but she still went. But he said, no, he didn’t like it that she went there.
CB: So, just as a question on that, they were effectively with a ribbon between their thumbs, they were paraded around the street.
ET: Yes, they were paraded around the streets, yes.
CB: Yes.
ET: And you could throw things at them.
CB: And who did that? So the police organised [unclear] or someone else?
ET: The police organised, yeah, they were taken to the police station, so, who organised that I don’t know, maybe the police or maybe the people who felt, I think the police probably organised that.
CB: So, as they walk around, then what did the population do?
ET: They booed and things and then people felt better about themselves, people that were put down.
CB: Did they throw some things?
ET: They did throw things, I
CB: What did they throw at them?
ET: Tomatoes, I remember. Yeah, there wasn’t much food to throw, of course. They wouldn’t have thrown eggs at them, they would have eaten the eggs, but, I remember I was quite excited sitting there watching these people going into the police station, what happened there I don’t know. They weren’t put in prison or anything but they were just shown that they shouldn’t have done what they did.
CB: Men and women?
ET: Mostly men. There were some women, but mostly men, yeah. They thought they were onto a good thing. But of course the hairdresser, I remember, he was called [unclear], so that’s rather a German word, the German name, so maybe he had relations in Germany, I don’t know.
CB: Right. Ok, we’ll stop for a minute.
ET: Ok.
CB: Now the origin of the interview with Ellen Thompson is that Roy Briggs, an RAF veteran introduced, did the introduction in the first place and he’s got his logbook open, so we are going to talk about how he was involved in Operation Manna. So, Roy, you were on the first of the sorties? What day was that?
RB: It was the 29th of April 1945.
CB: Yeah.
RB: Prior to that we did know that they were trying to get food into Holland, they were talking to the Germans about getting ships in and they wouldn’t play ball. We didn’t, we went on a cross country before that and we went round Norfolk looking for windmills [laughs], but of course I had no idea why we were going around looking for windmills. On the 29th we got called into the briefing room and we were told that we were not gonna drop bombs, we were gonna drop food from a pretty low altitude and a pretty low speed. We had, they had not got permission from the Germans, they had been trying to but they were gonna announce over the BBC to the Dutch people that we were gonna go over, they were hoping the Germans wouldn’t fire at us. We were told there was various foods which the Dutch people needed and we took off as normal and kept low over Holland and dropped the food.
CB: Your first sortie was where? Your first drop?
RB: Yeah. Sorry, I lost the pages, coming over.
CB: Just checking the pages.
RB: Yes, on the 29th we dropped food on Valkenburg airfield, that was a three hour trip. The next day, on the 30th we got called to the briefing room again and they told us that we had to drop food and there’d be no firing at us so they’d gonna have to send more aircraft over on the next day and we dropped food on Delft, that was a three hour trip. I’m not too sure of this, whether or not it was after we came back from the second or when we came back from the third but they said that they had agreed with the Germans that they, we could do it and they weren’t gonna fire at us. The third one was on the 5th of May, on the first of May and that was on Rotterdam. That was a two hour forty five trip. When we were going over, we were low enough to see people waving to us and with flags and anything out of tall buildings and that, yes, so after that we carried on and on the 2nd we went to Rotterdam again and that was the same time, two hours forty five and on the 3rd we went back to Valkenburg airfield, which is a two hour fifty trip and I know on the 7th we went to Rotterdam again, that was a three hour forty trip, so, yeah, that was it. At the time, I think we all enjoyed it afterwards because it was a, felt we are doing something good. Afterwards, we did get some feedback and they said that there were about eighteen to twenty thousand extra deaths in Holland during the winter of ’44-’45 which in the main they put down to peoples being shorted of food. A little while afterwards, there was also an article [unclear] but they learned a lot about food and feeding babies as they came, got born because people were forced, you know, being short of food, but they, they had information of what, when babies got back to normal depending on when they conceived and the food become back again.
CB: What was your reaction as a crew to what you were seeing as you made the passes to make the delivery?
RB: Yeah, we were pleased that we were doing something and people were giving us a great welcome. I don’t, I can’t remember this but it was a, in my mind that about the last there was a field marked thank you RAF in flowers. They had done it, I can’t say we saw it but this is the stories that were going round anyway. I believe there was just an odd German fighter, the odd bullied up but I don’t think we lost any aircraft on Operation Manna at all.
CB: And what speed and height, so when you were at Valkenburg, that’s an airfield, so what height and speed did you operate?
RB: I think it was about two hundred and fifty feet, if I remember rightly. Yeah.
CB: Right. What was the significance of that height, did you know?
RB: Well, They’d only done in nets the food, there was no parachutes, and they worked out that they thought that would probably do less damage at that sort of height.
CB: I was wondering why they didn’t put it down lower, if it was on an airfield, you see.
RB: Well, I think it was the same height wherever you were, yeah.
CB: Yeah. Now, Rotterdam you got some tall buildings there, so what height?
RB: I think as far as I can remember, it was all about two hundred and fifty feet, yeah.
CB: Yeah. And how did you know where to drop?
RB: I believe there was smoke markers dropped by Mosquitos, I believe, but you know it was daylight and that we, we could do map reading and get there fairly good, yes. And the aircraft in front of you were dropping, so, you just, yeah.
CB: So the RAF bomber system was to fly a stream rather than in formation.
RB: Yeah.
CB: So, here we are, that’s normally at night so he we are in daytime, so how did the stream work? How close were you?
RB: I mean, not all that close to be dangerous, it’s, you would keep away from anybody in the day you could see where you couldn’t at night.
CB: A quarter of a mile apart or closer?
RB: Oh no, no, less than that.
CB: A few hundred yards?
RB: Oh yes, yeah, yes. Yeah, I mean, we would take off once every, less than a minute so if we were all going to the same, from our squadron, you know, we would all be following that and, yeah.
CB: So, where were you flying from?
RB: RAF Fiskerton.
CB: Right.
RB: Which was just about four or five miles from Lincoln Cathedral.
CB: Yeah. So what route did you take?
RB: We went down to [unclear], we crossed the coast at Southwold, I believe, and went across and then
CB: And it was always the same route, wherever you were dropping, was it?
RB: On that part yes, I believe, yeah.
CB: Ok. So, and the sorties were, the length varied according to how far you had to go or the speed you went at?
RB: Yeah, but, [unclear]
CB: And did you, in order to make sure the minimum impact damage occurred, did the pilot throttle back to a much lower speed than usual?
RB: No, I don’t think so, he just carried on in normal speed and then the bomb aimer just opened up.
CB: So that would be what speed?
RB: I think it was about, I think that was about two hundred miles [unclear] Yeah.
CB: Ok. And when in your position as the wireless operator you were looking out, where were you looking out from?
RB: I could, I don’t know, long [unclear], if I was on, I was in the, I could put me head in the astrodome and look round, yes.
CB: And you could see backwards what happened to the drop? What did you see?
RB: Yeah. Well, I remember, I think, you know, people kept out all the way because there was other coming down, you know, you just saw the other aircraft dropping.
CB: And then, the delivery was by net so it was [unclear]
RB: The nets opened uply and let it get all scattered
CB: Ah, right, the nets didn’t go on the ground.
RB: No. They only hold, I mean, in the aircraft.
CB: Ok. And then what about the impact, how many of the delivery items broke?
RB: We couldn’t really tell.
CB: [unclear] cause flour is a [unclear]
RB: There was, some broke but, yeah.
CB: Ok. Thank you. Yes, ask the questions.
ET: Did you drop the flour and the chocolate or did you drop other things?
RB: Yes [unclear], I think dried egg was one thing.
ET: Right.
RB: I believe salt and tin, it was a lot of tin stuff in it, I think, yeah.
CB: Cause that wouldn’t be damaged in the impact, would it?
RB: No, no, no. Yeah.
CB: And when you were loading up, before the sortie, did you see what was being loaded into the?
RB: No, not really. We were being briefed when [unclear]
CB: [unclear] dropped
RB: It was all in and the bomb doors were closed, the [unclear], yeah.
CB: Ok. Right, we are restarting now with Ellen. And having had the fill in from Roy about actually doing the delivery, we are back to Ellen on her being on the receiving end. So, in theory the deliveries would benefit everybody but from what you said just now, the family directly didn’t.
ET: No.
CB: But do you think that other people did?
ET: Definitely, yes. My father must have been the only person who gave his chocolate that fell in his front garden to the police and I don’t blame people for keeping their own bit that fell in their garden or in their street, maybe sharing it with the neighbours but my father didn’t, he was very sort of honourable man and he gave it to the police station and the police benefitted I’m sure. But nothing was later on distributed, we didn’t get anything, I’m quite sure we didn’t. But other people would have shared their load what fell in their garden with their neighbours and their family, so a lot of people did benefit, definitely, yes.
RB: I would think that yours was an odd drop, you know, because what I remember the airfield and that, it was a big area where it got dropped and, you know, there’s people round and collecting.
ET: Yeah, my brother said it was meant to fall on the cattle market and, which was quite near us, the cattle market, so that didn’t all fall exactly on the cattle market.
RB: I think the cattle market would be a very small drop.
ET: Yes.
RB: So, you can drop it on [unclear]
CB: And what about your neighbours, did they manage to get some of the supplies from elsewhere?
ET: I don’t remember that at all, I don’t remember that at all, so.
CB: So, at what stage did the food supplies start to get better?
ET: Quite quickly, quite quickly after the war because there was food imported from England, from America and you think that the Swedes gave us bread after the war but there must have been still quite a lot of scarcity of food because I remember we all got this little white loaf of bread, like half of white loaf you would have here and we ate it all, the children all, we had this loaf of bread disappeared and we all had our own bread and I think I ate it in two days but my father only had one slice every day and I remember after a week it had gone mouldy but he still ate it, you know, because he was still hungry. So even after the war people were still quite short of food. But it did get better quite quickly. And there was still rationing definitely after the war, you couldn’t get sweets or anything but we didn’t want sweets, we just wanted food really.
CB: But there was rationing in Britain until 1954.
ET: Yeah, of course there was, yes, yeah.
CB: Yeah, so, the end of the war was effectively the, I’m just getting that, oh!
RB: Oh, crikey, it broke!
CB: The end of the war was the 8th of May and what recollection do you have of the population at that time?
ET: Oh, we were all cheering out in the streets, I remember that, waving flags, yes, people went all out in the streets and they were happy and I didn’t go to school and we had a day off school, I think and orange flags were flying and, red, white and blue flags of course and everybody was singing and yeah, was a good time, definitely, I remember that quite well. Cause that’s over now.
CB: Do you recall that the authorities arranged parties, street parties or were they spontaneous?
ET: I don’t think so, people just spontaneously got together and did things. There may have been but I don’t remember that.
CB: And did, was there more food at that time?
ET: Yes, there was, there was definitely more food because we got Marshall Aid, did we get Marshall Aid from the Americans? That definitely did make a difference.
CB: So moving on after the celebrations, what are your recollections of the period after the war?
ET: Well, I think everybody felt much happier, of course my father had something to eat again, definitely, he was looking better and we cycled a lot, we went out and cycled a lot to my grandparents, we went there, I’m sure we went on the bicycle, it took quite a long time to get there with my little brother on the back and we stayed there quite a lot with my grandmother and it was safe to travel because it used not to be safe to travel. And that was in, yeah, that was in 1945 and then we left Rotterdam in 1946.
CB: Why was it not safe to travel during the war?
ET: Well, because there were Germans who could hold you up and they would ask what you were doing, grownups definitely, children was alright I think, but grownups would be stopped and asked where were they going and what were they doing, because there were a lot of, my aunt and uncle were in the Resistance, there were a lot of people in the Resistance, my father wasn’t but my father’s sister worked for the Resistance, which was very dangerous, she had friends who were killed by the Germans because they were found out to work for the Resistance. So you could be stopped any time and asked what you were doing and why you were there and you know, who you were and that sort of thing.
CB: And did other members of the family know who was in the Resistance?
ET: I think my father knew that his sister was in the Resistance, yes, yes. They did a lot, they did, [unclear], and she had, I remember later on she had photos of people on her desk, that were in the Resistance, who’d been shot at by the Germans and she kept all these photos on her desk, it’s quite sad. So
CB: So, after the war, how did the Resistance people come out in public or didn’t they?
ET: I don’t think they did, they just kept that quiet, I only found out later, I don’t think I knew during the war, definitely not, my father must have known but we didn’t know, no.
CB: So, what prompted your parents to leave Rotterdam?
ET: My father became burgomaster in Flushing, in Vlissingen, and he got an odd job and he went there. He was a good, he applied, you know, the Queen appoints the burgomaster and he was very happy there and he had a lot to do with people that had helped Flushing in the war, a lot of English people that he, they came to see him and he came to see them. I remember there was a colonel Dawson and I don’t remember there is a memorial in Flushing to two English people that helped Flushing to be liberated, because I think that was liberated before Rotterdam was. The South was liberated before the North was. And he did a lot of inviting English people to come over to, for this memorial. Bob and I went to Colonel Dawson, didn’t we? We lived in Rye and I don’t remember what division he was, in the English army he was, I think.
CB: Holland being on the way between Britain and Germany, got it more than its fair share of crashed, shot down aircraft. What understanding did you have about that?
ET: None at all, I think, I really didn’t, my parents didn’t really talk to us about these things, you know, you shelter your children from all these dangerous things, so, we just lived a sort of rather sheltered life and stayed totally innocent, I think. My parents wouldn’t have said anything about danger or about terrible things that were happening and we didn’t have television and of course there was no television and we did have a radio, you were allowed to listen to the radio, I think, but my parents didn’t tell us much.
CB: And after the war, what happened then? I mean, did people start talking about it? Or just get on with that?
ET: Yes, just, they just got on with normal things again.
CB: So you went to school in Flushing?
ET: Yes.
CB: What did you do after that? When did you leave school?
ET: I left school when I was eighteen and I went to Amsterdam to the university and then I came to England and I married, came to England.
CB: What prompted you to come to England?
ET: I married an Englishman.
CB: No, but, what in, did you meet him in Holland?
ET: Yes.
CB: Yeah, right.
ET: Yeah.
CB: At the university?
ET: No, no, he was in the navy and he, there was a [unclear] that was my first [unclear].
CB: Yeah.
ET: He was in the navy and he was an officer on a minesweeper and they came to Flushing and my father being the burgomaster invited the officers and that’s how I met him and I just happened to be at home. So
CB: So then he stayed in the navy, did he? So you moved
ET: No, no, he didn’t stay, he was in national, he did national service then.
CB: Ah, right.
ET: And then
CB: So when are we talking about?
ET: We are talking about 1957.
CB: Ok. And you met Bob later.
ET: Met Bob later, yes. I met Bob later in 1982, so much later.
CB: What were you doing then, Bob?
US: 1982.
ET: You worked at [unclear].
US: I had already started at [unclear].
ET: Yeah.
CB: Were you working there?
ET: Yeah, no, no, I was a teacher.
CB: Oh, were you? What did you specialise in teaching?
ET: I taught in a junior school, I went to a teacher’s training college.
CB: Over here?
ET: Yeah, over here.
CB: What’s your degree in?
ET: Psychology.
CB: Right. Are we being analysed at the moment? [laughs]
ET: No, everybody thinks so, but that’s total nonsense. [laughs]
CB: These are interesting things, you know, in the background. Right, and then you came to Hemel Hempstead when?
ET: 1984 I think, must have been 1984. So we’ve been here for like thirty two, thirty one years.
CB: In the time after the war, did you have any links with people who had experienced war activities and discussed those with them?
ET: No.
CB: So, your first husband was in the navy
ET: Yeah.
CB: So you met a lot of navy people. Did they discuss experiences or was it something they didn’t talk about?
ET: No, they didn’t, I don’t think they talked about it really. He, I only knew he was born in 1933 and he was born in Leeds but his mother as German, his father was German and they came, they had their children born in 1933 already in Leeds, because they had family in Leeds. His sister was born in 1938 in Oxford and they were still in Germany, in Berlin, but they fled Berlin in 1939, only just but their children [unclear] English because they knew
CB: Cause they were born here.
ET: They were born here, they knew they would have to leave, so. They were Jewish. Or they still are Jewish. So, it’s quite an interesting background.
CB: So what was the origin of your father’s and mother having Jewish people in their house? What prompted them to do that?
ET: They were, they must have known these Jewish people, and people, the Germans rounded up Jewish people, sent them to camps and we must have known these people and they came and they sheltered there, not for very long, I don’t know where they went afterwards but they definitely were there. Other people did as well, was dangerous because if you did, if they knew you did, you’d be shot.
CB: So when the Germans came to search the house, what did they, they were looking for Jewish people, were they?
ET: Yes. Yes.
CB: What did they do when they came in?
ET: I just, I remember being upstairs and they came into the room and they just, there was a cupboard behind, they looked in this cupboard and I think if they, there was an entrance to where the attic was through that cupboard but they didn’t look any further so. Then they left again. They searched a lot of houses, not just our house.
CB: Then the Jewish people in the loft, did they stay up there all the time or did they come down in the daytime?
ET: Oh, they never came down.
CB: They never?
ET: No, no, they didn’t come down. But they weren’t there for very long, maybe a month or so, they weren’t there for very long.
CB: Because you said other people in the street also sheltered
ET: Not other people in the street but other people there, that we knew or had heard of, had Jewish people as well, sheltered them. That’s what she did really, if you knew somebody like that [unclear]
CB: Yeah, absolutely. Ok. Thank you.
ET: Thank you.
CB: What was your recollection or the family’s experience early in the war?
ET: Yes, I was really too young to remember because I was only three and a half at the beginning of the war but I believed that my parents took us to a little cottage in the countryside, my father had a friend who had this little cottage and he lent it to my father when it was very bad the bombing at the beginning of the war. There, I remember there is a photo with me and my sister and my brother in a go-cart and we are being taken to the beach somewhere in this go-cart. And that was because it was safer to be there than to be in Rotterdam. So we were lucky that my father was able to take us there. My father stayed in Rotterdam and only came at the weekend, my mother looked after us in this little cottage.
CB: This is before the full invasion by the Germans took place?
ET: Yes, yes.
CB: So we are talking about
ET: 1941, probably. My sister was born in 1940 and she is very small still in this photo.
CB: 1940, yeah. Ok. Thank you.
ET: Thank you.
CB: Now, Ellen, bearing in mind that your husband is an ex-navy man, how did you come to be linked in with the Royal Air Force Reprobates?
ET: Well, Bob used to go to a keep fit class, for people that do keep fit sitting in a chair and it was run by a lady called Leslie and Roy was there as well and there were two other people from the charity shop, they joined in as well and I used to take Bob to this gym club and Roy was there as well and then Roy became friendly with Ines, Ines also was there doing her keep fit, and Roy and Ines used to come into the charity shop where I help out a few times a week and so then Roy and I got talking and then I realised that Roy used to be in the RAF and told me that he dropped food in Holland and I told him that I was probably one of these people who at least saw the food coming down, maybe we didn’t eat it but at least saw the food coming down and that’s how we got to know each other.
CB: Sounds really good. Yes. So he said he didn’t expect to be feeding you again?
ET: No, no.
CB: Sixty five years later.
ET: Yeah, that’s right.
RB: I like that.
CB: It’s good, isn’t it? A good [unclear], but it’s a serious one. Coincidence, it’s an extraordinary coincidence.
ET: Yes, it is, it is really, yeah, yeah. And we’d been to Roy’s Christmas dinner, haven’t we? We’ve been twice, I think, haven’t we? And you’ve had some other celebration.
CB: This is the aircrew association.
ET: Yeah, the aircrew association, yeah, which is a nice bunch of people, aren’t they? And you have had some of your grandchildren there as well, haven’t you?
US: Yes, yes.
ET: Yes, it was a very nice connection.
CB: What have your children done in the forces? Did they do anything in the forces?
ET: No, no, because conscription wasn’t relevant anymore, no. They have not.
US: [unclear]
CB: We are just going to run a video about Operation Manna that is taken from the telly a little while ago and we’ll want to link this with the interview. [file missing] After the war, occasionally you perhaps engaged in conversation about this, what other stories do you remember coming out that were appropriate about the time?
ET: Well, I do remember that after the war of course people, it was easier to get food and people after the war died of eating too quickly too many foods left over that are rich in nutrition [sic] and their bodies really couldn’t cope with it and people did die of overeating. So-called overeating at the time.
CB: So when the RAF and the Americans were dropping this food, was it all the same or did it come in stages in nutrition value? So was it more nutritional later so that people didn’t suffer from overeating?
ET: I think it was probably almost immediately after the food drops that people ate chocolate which is very rich food of course and people weren’t used to eating it. I think it was initially and then gradually people realised that they should only eat a little bit at a time and not overeat too much, cause their bodies really couldn’t cope with it.
CB: How many people did you ever meet who had been starving during the war? How many people did you meet later?
ET: Who actually died of starving?
CB: No.
ET: Who starved? Yes. Well, everybody, everybody had, was hungry. Just the neighbours and everybody, just round about. Definitely.
CB: Was there rationing of food in Holland after the war?
ET: Yes, there was, definitely, there was sweet rationing, you could only buy a little bit of sweet and there was rationing of eggs, I think, were rationed and I think also meat was rationed, till about 1948, ’49 and then I think you could get most things again.
CB: I asked the question because food rationing in Britain didn’t stop until 1954.
ET: No, I know, yes, yes. No, I don’t think it went on that long in Holland.
CB: Ok.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Katherine Thompson and Roy Briggs,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 25, 2024,

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