Local Heart, Global Soul

December 29, 2017

Smuggling Letters Through The Lines…

Miet Verhoven. (photograph © Kiwidutch)

On our weekend visit to Baarle earlier this year Himself and I found an information board in the countryside nearby about the “Doodendraadroute“ (Route of the Wire of Death).

On Sunday, the next day we decided to look around the town a bit more before we went, and all of a sudden we found another one of “Doodendraadroute” series boards in one of the side streets.

This one was about the role of Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau in smuggling letters. Translated into English the board reads:

“Baarle-Hertog: letter smuggling centre”
In order to break the moral of the Belgian soldiers the German censor prohibited letters to and from the front.

But mail-smuggling networks were soon set up. Letters were collected in each provincial capital and sent to Baarle-Hertog via Brussels because Baarle-Hertog was the only Belgian post office on the border not controlled by the Germans.

From Baarle-Hertog the letters went via Baarle-Nassau, Vlissingen, London, Folkestone and Calais to the front (or to the government in Le Havre and visa versa).

For months on end families lived in uncertainty about the fate of their fathers and sons. It was a relief to receive the letters but they could not be delivered in the normal way. On the other first letter smuggling services was “Post de Geallieerden” / Post des Alliés” it was established in Folkestone together with the Belgium military censorship.

Post from the “werk soldatengroet” (literally: work for solders greetings) consisted of three similarly numbered strips, in this case: “NYH12/3 strip 2”.

The Germans could not find out who was the sender of the smuggled letters. Strip One, with the name of the soldier remained in Baarle-Hertog, strips Two and Three were smuggled into Belgium.

On strip Two came the reply and Three was the actual letter. Back in Baarle-Hertog strip One was sent together with strip two to the front.

(Kiwi’s note: this system appears complicated but if I have it correctly then it just means that only two strips are together at any one time and the sender and addressee are always kept apart.

Thus if a letter was intercepted then the Germans would only know where it was going or who it was from but not have both bits of information, thus the letter, and it’s possible postal route was more or less anonymous. Himself gave up trying to figure out how this all worked and said: “If it can fool the Germans, it can fool me”).

Belgian Post Office (Kerkstraat 1) the organisation “ Aide des Soldats Belges” sent parcels from here to soldiers at the front containing tobacco, food and clothing.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

By the end of 1916 more than 80% of all smuggled letters into Belgium came through here. The main smuggle services had their offices in Baarle-Hertog amongst others “Werk Soldatengroet (le mot du Soldat) “Union Belge, and “Post de Geallieerden”. Scan the QR code and listen to the story of Miet Verhoven.

When the Germans intercepted a Thank-you letter from England in 1918, Meet, a border guide from Hoogstraten was arrested for providing support to Belgian army recruits.

During WWII Miet was active in a group helping pilots to escape . On the site of the old town hall is a statue of this courageous woman.

Jacques Gevers, a refugee from Antwerp discovered a niche market in Baarle-Hertog. For a fee, he sent postcards with rare stamps from Free Belgium (unoccupied = this was only Baarle-Hertog) to collectors in the Netherlands.

These stamps were printed in London for the benefit of the Belgium Red Cross. They were made to replace the stamps confiscated by the German army.

Liberation Parade 12th August 1919, Soldiers from Baarle-Hertog were received in the town hall. Upstairs was the office of the local police were thousands of recruits of the Belgian army were registered and conscripts were medically examined.

(Kiwi’s note: Baarle-Hertog was a “safe” place for this sensitive information, because located safely within the neutral Dutch border it was the only unoccupied part of Belgium)
In 1918 it also hosted the “vredesgerecht” (type of local court) the large family of the local police officer lived downstairs.

Again, this is another part of “history” that we never learned in our History lessons, and with fewer and fewer people still alive from this time I can only hope that as many personal stories as possible have been collected and preserved for future generations.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

4 Comments »

  1. Many thanks for the effort of copying and making this available. A real education!

    Comment by Nan Mykel — December 29, 2017 @ 1:58 am | Reply

    • Nan,
      It’s a pity that textbooks on WWI and WWII do not cover this kind of thing. So many important events missed throughout Europe and yet we still cover the same tiny “slice” over and over and over. It was a revelation to Himself and myself as well… a shocking one that we had not ever heard anything about it earlier too.

      Comment by kiwidutch — December 29, 2017 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

  2. This history has been an amazing revelation to me and I had to delve into Miet Verhoven more deeply. I was able to discover that, sadly, she was executed by the Germans on Sept. 10, 1944 along with two men. The statue that commemorates them is beautiful. How horrifying that this heroic woman died after her selflessness in not one, but two wars! I wonder if a biography of her exists? All of these heroic acts by these courageous people should never be forgotten. I am always in awe of the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of insurmountable odds. I would hope that I would respond likewise, hoping to never have to find out. Thank-you for more of this valuable history.

    Comment by Ellen — December 29, 2017 @ 6:18 pm | Reply

    • Ellen,
      Look out for my blog post in a couple of days that covers that beautiful statue. (we found it just a bit further along in our tour). I found this memorial to be both beautiful and very moving, so took lots of photographs. Brave people who get caught up in horrific situations far from their own making, and do extraordinary, selfless things, should never be forgotten! This is also why that fact that this part of history is so relatively unknown is sad and lamentable.

      Comment by kiwidutch — December 29, 2017 @ 8:03 pm | Reply


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