Town has a very special place in the heart of Dutchman Wim

The Keuker family enjoying their holiday around Alnwick
The Keuker family enjoying their holiday around Alnwick

It was a love affair which started nearly 70 years ago. For Dutch national Wim Keuker, Alnwick has a special place in his heart.

Yet these strong feelings towards the town were born out of desperation and the necessity to survive.

Ena Robertson, Wim Keuker and Alida Keuker

Ena Robertson, Wim Keuker and Alida Keuker

Wim was just 11 years old when he was evacuated to Northumberland from post-war Amsterdam, which had suffered badly at the hands of the Nazis.

The guns of the Second World War may have stopped by then, but starvation was still rife in the city.

So Wim, who had been living on a diet that included tulip bulbs and wallpaper paste, was one of many Dutch children to be selected for evacuation; relocating to safer destinations around Europe for care and better nutrition.

Leaving his family behind, the youngster faced the daunting task of living in a new home in Alnwick for three months in 1946.

Wim Keuker

Wim Keuker

But for Wim, it turned out to be a blessing. In his own words, he was very lucky.

Not only would he avoid the post-war horrors plaguing his home land, but he would forge a life-long bond with Alnwick – a place he calls home.

And last week, 79-year-old Wim, and his wife Alida, 71, who live in Breukelen, within the Dutch province of Utrecht, were back in Alnwick, along with their two children and two grandchildren.

They have returned many times over the years, but this particular holiday was a special treat from the family to mark the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary in December.

“It was the best present they could think of. It was like coming home and has been very good for my health,” said Wim, who went back to the Netherlands on Saturday.

For the Dutchman, his home during the summer of 1946 was on Alnwick’s Stott Street, staying with Sidney Pickup – a former mayor of the town – and his family.

Their kindness and generosity, along with the friendliness of the town’s residents, kick-started Wim’s passion for Alnwick.

Turning the clock back, he remembered: “I loved it in Alnwick. It was the best time of my live. I couldn’t have found a better family to stay with. They were wonderful. They took very good care of me and I felt at home with the Pickups. I felt part of the community.

“You know, I was never homesick for Holland. But when I was in Holland, I was homesick for Alnwick.”

Life in Northumberland was certainly a far cry from what he had experienced back in the Netherlands, both during the war and its immediate aftermath.

His family had even taken the life-threatening decision of hiding Jews in their house, behind a false wall, to stop them falling into the hands of the Nazis.

Wim added: “My little brother died in January 1945 of diphtheria. He was just six and a half at the time.

“I actually got the illness too, on the day he was buried, but the doctor came and put some stuff in my arm and I was okay.

“There was a lot of hunger in Holland at the time and the country was in a bad way.

“After the war, the doctor decided which boys and girls needed to be sent away, to places such as Sweden and England.

“I came from a large family - I was one of seven children - and my sister was evacuated to Croydon, although she hasn’t the same bond for it as I have for Alnwick.”

He was evacuated from the Netherlands with a group of Dutch children. But Wim tells the Gazette that he wasn’t phased by the move to a new home overseas.

He said; “I had been hungry for a long time, so moving to a better place was alright. And it turned out that I was very lucky.

“Besides, I had been scared of the Germans, but not the English.”

Wim travelled to England via ferry, arriving at Dover before being transported to Doncaster, where he stayed for five or six weeks to learn English.

His journey continued north, heading to Northumberland to start his new life.

He remembered: “When I arrived at Alnwick station, I got straight off the train and climbed up a ladder. I remember Mr Pickup saying ‘that is the one I will pick’.”

Wim kept in touch with the Pickups after that summer of 1946 and regularly visits Alnwick. He often sees relatives of the Pickup family.

“People are so friendly here and I have got to know so many people,” says Wim, whose family has also fallen in love with Alnwick and the surrounding areas.

One of the many friendships that the Dutchman has formed over the years has been with the late Ian Robertson – the former councillor and auctioneer passed away in 2009 – and his wife Ena.

Wim was speaking to the Gazette at Ena’s house at Percy Villa. Ena said: “It has been really good to see Wim and his wife Alida. They are very good friends and it is always a pleasure to have them here.”