(Levens)Verhalen

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After the battle Ian was posted missing, believed killed. And two years later a letter came to Mrs. McLeod. This was the letter: I imagine your surprise when you receive this letter from a Dutch girl of the same name as yours. My name is Non McLeod and I am 25 years old, working here as a teacher in a little place called Westzaan. My mother lives in Heemstede and now I am with her during the holidays. My father died in 1927. He was an officer in the army of the Dutch East Indies. (LINK to Aad's site about the Dutch East Indies)

You'll know little more from my dear little country than the fact that your son, the Flying officer I D McLeod fought and gave his life to liberate it. Be sure my people will never forget the soldiers of the allied forces. We'll always be grateful for what they did for us. We had such a hard time during the years of German occupation, But I don't write this letter to tell you that. Please listen to my story.

Churchyard On The Hills

I told you already that my father has died. He was buried at a very beautiful churchyard, situated on the hills in a sandy part of Holland, near Arnhem. Perhaps that name you saw in the newspapers during the liberation. My mother and I lived some five miles from Arnhem till 1939. Every time I come back there now I go to my father's grave. So I did some months ago. When I entered the gates I saw some new graves, apart from the others. One of them was the grave of your son. I didn't know your address or anything about you or him. I simply recognised my own name on the brown cross on the grave and of course I felt something more for this man than for the others. I asked people who were working there and after some time of searching I found a man who had seen your son fighting and being buried afterwards.

He told me this:

A big ammunition train stood near De Steeg, 12 miles northwest of Arnhem. It was December 1944. Your son came flying over it with two or three other planes. The Germans began to fire so heavily that the planes returned in the direction of their base, only your son attacked the train and set it on fire. But he and his plane were also hurt and fell.

When the man who told me all this found him in his garden your son had already died. I know this is a terrible story for you, but I hope you feel it the same as I do: Better knowing that he died fighting than only hearing that he died in a country far away. You don't know the place where people buried him. Be sure that mother and I always go to him when we are there and that we will take care of the grave and bring flowers to him in your name.

Search For Name.

The Information Section of the Red Cross took four months in the search for your name, but at last I got it yesterday. I hope that the idea and the feeling that somebody takes care about the place where he rests will comfort you a little. If you know the Germans and could see how they left Holland alter five years of hunger and robbing you would be able to imagine our thanks for the men who gave their lives for our country. We are free now and that's a great thing. My mother and I live in the part of Holland, which was liberated last. We had a terrible winter then, and evacuated into two rooms living with a Jewish lady of 60 years, who would never go out because of Germans. Many thousands of people died of hunger and cold that time. The only thing that gave us hope was the radio and the underground newspaper….

That was the beginning. Mrs. McLeod lost no time in replying, but soon after she died and her daughter, Mrs Nellie Finlayson, continued the correspondence. And then towards the end of last year, Mrs. Finlayson received another letter in Non-'s fine handwriting.

".... I've such a good message for you," she wrote. "It will make you happy and a little bit sad at the same time, but I won't keep you waiting any longer and here is my story: Yesterday I received a letter from Mr Kelderman at De Steeg (I don't know him) and he wrote me as follows:

You will wonder no doubt to receive a letter from an unknown person from De Steeg. But I'm so glad to get your address at last. I got it from a teacher here who adopted the grave of an English pilot at the churchyard "Heiderust". There one of your relations is buried also. This man and his plane came down here in our street on the 25th of December 1944. He died a hero. I saw what happened then. Some time ago I was picking up potatoes in my garden then suddenly I saw a ring in the earth, a seal ring carrying the letters McL. I handed it over to the police but neither they nor my boss could find out the address of the relation in New Zealand. And now I ask you to write for me in English - I cannot because I'm only a common man working in a factory. I feel this McLeod family will appreciate receiving the ring of their son who gave his life for us. I know how they must feel, because just yesterday we said goodbye to our son going to Indonesia to fight there and we don't know if we will ever see him again. Saying goodbye I thought of those people in New Zealand. You know. They loved their son like we do. Please help me and let me know as soon as possible.

Good Men Are Brothers

And so humble Meneer Kelderman working in his factory in Holland, proves once again that good men are all brothers the world over and that kindness, sympathy and understanding have no territorial boundaries. And surely, New Zealanders can sympathise with his son being caught up in the war machine to fight in Indonesia.

"What do you say about that?" excitedly asks Non in her letter to Mrs. Finlayson. "It sounds impossible, don't you think? But it is true. And off course I'll try as soon as I can to send you this ring." (The ring arrived in due course and is in Mrs. Finlayson's possession)

Here the article in the Invercargill newspaper 'The Southland Times' ends, but the story went on. It is taken up by Yoka McLeod-Saris, the wife of Ian McLeod and nephew of Ian McLeod, who died in the Netherlands. Yoka was born in Rotterdam and immigrated to New Zealand in 1958:

The correspondence between Non and Nellie continued until Nellie died in 1979. In 1978 my husband Ian, who worked for Philips went to the Netherlands and met up with Non and her Mother, who took him to Heiderust Cemetery. While Ian and Non walked around the peaceful cemetery Ian asked to be shown to Non's Father's grave. However she was loath to reply He was in an unmarked grave, she admitted. Then, reluctantly, the story unfolded. Her Father had been Rudolph MacLeod, a major in the Dutch East Indies Army. (LINK to Aad's story about the Dutch East Indies Army, the KNIL)
He had been married to the infamous Mata Hari, a spy during the First World War, who he later divorced and as time passed he had remarried. From this union Non MacLeod was born. But the Major remained very ashamed of his involvement with Mata Hari and had requested to be buried in an unmarked grave.

Non MacLeod tended the grave of Ian McLeod for many years. Ian and I kept in contact with her until 2000.

And still the story goes on….. Some time ago a New Zealand author, Errol W. Martyn wrote a book called 'For Your Tomorrow'. In it he recorded all who had died while serving in the NZ Air Force. He had interviewed my Ian, who by the way is also ex-NZ Air Force as is our daughter Tania, regarding Ian McLeod, the pilot. When to book was printed we received a copy from Mr Martyn. On that afternoon Mr Martyn told us to refer to a book called 'Spitfire Diary' by E A W Smith, a former R.A.F pilot in the Second World War. This Ted Smith had left England after the war to live in Texas. In his book he told about his good friend Big Mac McLeod (another coincidence my Ian is also nicknamed Big Mac). He told how he always took Big Mac home with him during leave because Ian had nowhere else to go as his home, New Zealand, was out of the question! They had also planned a dinner at Ted's place with his parents and sisters to celebrate Christmas 1944. But at the last moment Ian's leave was cancelled at the last moment. The reason given, by a British officer, was that Christmas in England would be more appreciated by anyone domiciled in England than by a Dominion candidate!
Ted and his family were quite crestfallen. They decided that Big Mac would still have his Christmas dinner during his next leave. The one and only rooster left in the Smith's backyard was called "Mac's Dinner". The terrible event in De Steeg on Christmas Day left a very bitter taste in the mouths of all his friends. More so because they never were told what happened after the Spitfire went down. Shortly afterwards the war ended and everyone of the 66 squadron went their own way.

Through reading Ted's book my Ian's many questions about his uncle and his pilot's career were answered. While he was young no spoke about such events and now that he was older all those, who might have had any information, had died. So Ian tried to get into contact with the author, Ted Smith. However all we knew was that he had been a radio station manager in Austin, Texas. Via the internet we made contact with the present manager, who told us Ted had retired in 1991 but did know his email address and would contact him for us. A very delighted Ted Smith contacted us and was over the moon to hear our side of the Big Mac McLeod saga. Ted contacted all the other pilots, who were still alive and we received in the weeks that followed emails from all over the world. Ted said that after 55 years the last link in the circle had been found and now it could be closed. Ted flew to England to tell his sister what had happened to Big Mac. She was sad but relieved to finally know. The story goes that the rooster 'Mac's Dinner', in spite of the hunger suffered in England, had died of old age!

Ted has updated his book Spitfire Diary and enclosed this amazing ending.

In the year 2000 Non MacLeod died in the Netherlands and Ian and I decided that as there was nobody to put flowers on the grave we would go over to do the honour on the 4th of May of 2001. However fate intervened and Ian was struck by a brain hemorrhage early that year, so we could not go. But through my membership with an email group of Nederlanders all over the world I made contact with a gentleman in Malden (bij Nijmegen), who also knew of the yearly silent procession to the Heiderust Cemetery. He rang Mrs Kelderman, who was 14 years old at the time of the event. She had seen the Spitfire come down. She is also the daughter of the man who took Ian from the wreck and buried him. So through the kindness of two people, who we had never even met, there were red roses on Big Mac's grave that year. The small card with the flowers said:

From your relations in New Zealand and your comrades in arms, now living in Texas and Vancouver

Eigenaar/BronNon MacLeod
Datum1946
Verbonden metJeanne Louise (Non) MacLeod

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