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Escape from Neutral Holland - continued

...and got back on the road further up as a couple of very disreputable civilians.

We avoided the town and found the road for Assen which was about twenty miles away, and of course we were terrified we would be picked up on the road, but we got there late in the afternoon and went into a café and I ordered two beef steaks with potatoes. We were starving by then! But the man was suspicious and right away he asked us if we'd escaped from Groningen and he also told us that the police would give him fifty guilders reward if he reported us. So I said, 'Well I'll give you a hundred if you don't' and I showed him the money.

His manner immediately changed and he said we should be safer upstairs and showed us to a bedroom and he said he would cook us a meal if we paid extra. We were a bit worried when he went out and locked the door from the outside, but he played fair and came up with two plates with gorgeous steaks and vegetables and two glasses of lager and he said that in the morning he would take us to the railway station and told me what tickets to ask for and made me repeat it in Dutch. He would walk in front of us next, he said, but we were on no account to try to speak to him. I told him if he did this I would give him an extra fifty guilders.

Wrong town
Next morning after we'd had a good nights's sleep and some coffee, he was as good as his word. When we go to the station I asked for Twee kartyes naar Rotterdam, which I had practised saying. I bought a paper and pretended to read it when we got on the train and Southin closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep. We should have changed trains at Utrecht, but we stayed in the train because we saw some Dutch police on the platform and eventually we arrived, not in Rotterdam, but Amsterdam!

Well, of course, our idea in going to Rotterdam was to try to get on a ship, so we hadn't the faintest idea what to do next. We started walking round the town and after a while I spotted a shop with an English name. It was called Bell's Asbestos Company so in we went and I put on as casual an air as I could. When the man came forward to serve us I said, 'Is Mr Bell in?'. He laughed and said the place was part of a chain of shops in Europe and there was no Mr. Bell. So I then spilled the beans and explained who we were.

He was very nice, and an Englishman, because Holland being a neutral country there were any number of English people living and working there, but he told us that if he were caught helping escapees he would be expelled from Holland. However, after he phoned the British Consul and the Consul said that on no account were we to go near his office and that he didn't wish to know or hear anything about us, he decided to help us himself. Needless to say this was a huge relief.

He didn't like the look of our scruffy caps so he went out and bought us two straw hats and then took us to a café in a side street and bought us a meal. Then, the same way as we'd done in the morning, we followed him to the station where I bought tickets for Rotterdam and then followed him on to the platform where he stopped and watched from a discreet distance as we got on the train.

Into the docks
We reached Rotterdam without any other mishap but the next problem was to get into the docks because there were police at the entrance. So we hung about and then we saw a man with a huge load on a barrow pushing it towards the docks, so we whipped off our straw hats and bent down and helped him to push the barrow through the entrance. He was quite pleased about that and we were delighted. Nobody challenged us, and the police took no notice.

Our friend in Amsterdam had found out that the ss Cromer was leaving that night and told us to make for it. We waited until no one was about, then ran up the gang-plank on to the ship and were met by the cook who was lounging about the deck. I greased his palm quite considerably, but I think he'd helped us anyway. The cook was the only man on board and he hid us below until the Captain and the crew came back.

Then our troubles were over! The Captain had us dressed in greasy overalls and told us to look busy when the police came round to inspect the boat before she sailed. When they came into the engine room the Captain came with them and he kept telling them to hurry up, because he didn't want to miss the tide. What a night it was, for the cook had used the money I gave him and sent ashore for a lot of beer, and next morning we were up on deck feasting our eyes on dear old England as we approached Harwich."

Until so far the story of able seaman Jeremy Bentham, as he narrated it to the writer Lyn Macdonald. Jeremy and his friend Bob Southin had a last adventure when travelling by train from Harwich to Liverpool Station, London.
During this train journey they were approached by a lady who had noticed their untidy civilian clothes. In a high voice she demanded to know why the hell they, apparently being young and healthy lads, hadn't joined up yet with the other British braves...

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