September 1944: Reformed Church in Otterlo becomes the centre of Red Cross

Reverend Willem de Bruijn from Ederveen married Neeltje van der Waaij from Ede on the 19th of  October 1941. He celebrated his 24th birthday on the 21st of October. He was confirmed on the 2nd of November in the Dutch Reformed Church in Otterlo. The young couple began an unknown future in a familiar environment.

Battle of Arnhem
The first years of the war are relatively quiet in and around Otterlo. In September 1944, the Allies failed to liberate the city and the region during the Battle of Arnhem. All the people of Arnhem had to leave the city, and the hospitals were evacuated first. Where do so many evacuees go? To Otterlo! 

Soup and Cots
On Sunday the 24th of September, during a service of only five minutes, Rev. De Bruijn, calls on the farmers to make brown bean soup for the evacuees. Many are 'surprised' with this soup, which is distributed from milk cans. The next Monday, the minister's wife manages to collect 40 cots and beds from houses in Otterlo and Harskamp. The school in Otterlo is temporarily set up as a children's hospital.

The Red Cross staff, with Sister Favorina, and several doctors travel with the sick. Due to there being so many sick people, only they are allowed to stay in Otterlo for a longer period. So, Otterlo becomes a Red Cross village. Red crosses are painted on everything. In the presbytery, the study becomes a meeting room for the doctors and the room behind it serves as an office. After a long period in which people had to make do with petroleum and candles, there is electricity again.

Transit with approximately 15.000 evacuees
Due to the location of Otterlo, the village is a haven that is easily accessible for evacuees from Arnhem, Oosterbeek, Renkum, Huissen and Schaarsbergen. At a village meeting, the people of Otterlo declare that they want to take care of the evacuees. During the first weeks of October, more and more evacuees enter Otterlo. Approximately 15,000 people, mostly travelling on foot. Otterlo becomes crowded. The presbytery is filled from the attic to the living room and becomes a kind of 'hotel in wartime'.  The evacuees are all at the end of their tether. They receive food and can sleep there. The Reformed Church also arranges beds out of straw. As soon as the evacuees have recovered, the inhabitants of Otterlo transport them using farm vehicles to the next safe place..

Memories of war locations