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Of the Great War

Van den Grooten Oorlog. Volksboek

Uitgeverij: Kemmel, 1978

Comprehensive collection of gripping eyewitness accounts of the most bizarre war of all time: World War I 1914-1918, compiled by the so-called Elfnovember Group. Profusely illustrated with black-and-white photographs. With list of veterans interviewed. Important documentation with first-hand information.

It was agreed in the Elfnovember Group that the young people – in January 1978 there were about 30 or 40 of them, but the group soon numbered about 100 members – would talk to people from the older generation and record the conversations on tape. The initiators, Jan Hardeman and Marieke Demeester, had recorded conversations with Jan Hardeman’s great uncle and great aunt a decade earlier. Jan Hardeman and Marieke Demeester travelled with a tape recorder from house to house in the Westhoek in the 1970s. They literally typed out the stories and collected them in a book, Volksboek van den Grooten Oorlog.



The coverage of wars is almost never about people, young people often. So many tanks have been destroyed, so many planes shot down, it is reported. But in every tank there are people, in every plane a crew. Neutralising the data makes the suffering anonymous. Steel does not cry. This story is about the Great War, a barely known phenomenon in the Netherlands. The Netherlands was neutral in ’14-’18, in Belgium there was fighting and destruction. That is what this book is about, the stories of ordinary people who one day became a soldier. Or witnesses.

The Elfnovember Group, which is the basis of the book “Of the Great War”, was formed in 1977. At that time, there was hardly any interest in the First World War, not even in the Westhoek. In this most western part of West Flanders, through which the front line ran, there were still many elderly men and women who had experienced the war themselves. But for the young generation of 1977, the First World War was as far away as prehistory.


The last witnesses
On 11 November 1977, the anniversary of the Armistice in 1918, the Heuvelland Reconstruction Agency brought together some young people in Kemmel, hoping to involve them in a meaningful commemoration of the end of the war. They listened to previously recorded stories of women and men, who lived through the war. For these young people, the Great War became a story of people. People who worked and had fun, who planned for their future, who loved, married and had children. People like them, who were totally unexpectedly overwhelmed by a war that would turn all their existence upside down.

Spontaneously, the idea grew to also visit other elderly witnesses and record their stories about the war. Thus was born the Elfnovember Group.


On 11 November 1978, the 60th anniversary of the Armistice, the book “Of the Great War” was published. The book contained not only stories collected from witnesses along both sides of the Franco-Belgian border, but also stories from French, British and German soldiers, who had experienced the war here.

Between 1978 and 2016, the book “Van den Grooten Oorlog” reached many readers in Flanders and the Netherlands. In 2016, a completely reworked edition was released with a lot of new stories.

Soldiers of the Great War

De strijd om het Polygonebos (fase II). © Jade Huysentruyt

Accessibility: By appointment via

These programmes can be requested from VRT at


link to archive




In Soldiers of the Great War by Erik Pertz and André Van de Vijver from 1985, witnesses, the last survivors, of World War I recount everyday life during that terrible period. Soldiers who lived through the war and civilians from the occupied country or frontline area as direct witnesses were given the floor rather than politicians or commanders.
A total of three broadcasts were made:

  • ‘In de vuurlijn’ (1985) In it, Flemish veterans recount their experiences as soldiers in the Great War. The Flemish veterans recount the early days of the war and the withdrawal behind the Yser, life at the front, gas attacks and self-mutilations, pay, transport and care of the wounded, rats and lice, and friendship and solidarity among fellow-sufferers.
  • ‘Achter de linies’ (1985) with stories about wartime events in the immediate vicinity of the Allied front. Soldiers recount life behind the Allied lines in Flanders. They bring the gripping story of the victims of the gas attacks, the coexistence of civilians and soldiers, the distinction between soldiers and officers, the soldiers from ‘foreign countries’ and the children from Flemish-British relations. 
  • ‘Unser Vaterland muss grosser sein’ (1988). In it, Flemish eyewitnesses recount life under the German occupation. the story of the German invasion and the resulting panic among the population, the hospitalisation of German soldiers, the fourth German army in Tielt, air battles, working for the German occupiers and the birth of Flemish-German children.

Forever connected

Foto's: Peter Groenenberg, Bertwin Leentvaar, Erik en Lyanne Paskamp, Frank Clement

Voor altijd verbonden – De inzet van de eerste Nederlandse blauwhelmen in voormalig Joegoslavië 1992-1994

Maranke Pater



Together with Anton van Renssen, Maranke Pater interviewed over 20 ‘Bosnia veterans’, including Sergeant Major Arie van der Marel from Harderwijk, about their experiences in Croatia and Bosnia for her podcast. The battalion left from the barracks in Garderen. When the connectors arrived in the UN-protected areas, some international battalions were not yet present, leaving the connectors to survive in an area where there were still several tense situations due to the conflict.


September 2023 saw the publication of the book ‘Forever Connected’, which Maranke Pater wrote based on these interviews and the more than 40 additional interviews conducted. The book is full of stories from veterans of the 1 (NL) UN Signal Battalion, the liaison battalion that travelled to the former Yugoslavia in April 1992 under the leadership of her father, commander Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Vermaas.

It not only tells her father’s story of the origins of this peacekeeping mission under UNPROFOR and the shelling of the Rainbow Hotel in Sarajevo where he stayed with the main force, but also the stories of 60 other veterans involved in the mission. In more than 30 locations in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, the liaison officers managed to rustle and pioneer connections that mattered to the UN. They are stories of survival, powerlessness, trauma, but above all: camaraderie. Forever Connected represents the connections these soldiers had to make, but also the bond they had and still have with each other. It had been the first and last time an entire liaison battalion was sent out. The biggest adventure for the Dutch Liaison Service.


Together with Anton van Renssen, Maranke Pater made the #podcast ‘Forever connected’ about 1(NL) UN SIGNAL BATTALION in former Yugoslavia, in cooperation with the Dutch Veterans Institute.

In time, the interviews with the #connectors will be included in the Interview Collection Dutch #Veterans of the #NLVi #ICNV #UNPROFOR

Connected forever

Podcast on the Liaison Battalion
Maranke Pater-Vermaas is the daughter of Hans Vermaas, the first commander of the 1 (NL) UN Signal Battalion going to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia in April 1992. A fierce civil war is going on between Serbia and Croatia and the UN sends peacekeeping force UNPROFOR to the area. It is the first time an entire battalion of liaison officers is sent out. In this podcast, Maranke delves into her father’s past and follows the tracks of the liaison battalion in eight episodes.

For the podcast, over 20 veterans were interviewed about their experiences in Croatia and Bosnia. Creators of this podcast are: Maranke Pater, Anton van Renssen, Misha van der Hoef and Piet Nelemans.

Oral history interviews with former BBs

Interviews with former BBers on Lunet 1
As concerns about war in Europe grow, calls for a contemporary version of the BB are heard. Four former BBers give their personal opinions and are happy to share their experiences in a conversation at the National Command BB bunker at Lunet 1 in Utrecht. And what they think of a BB 2.0


Thanks to the interviewees who share their personal stories:

  • Kees Walter, 84, with the BB Utrecht from the late 1950s
  • Dick van Schouwen, 71, BB Rotterdam, from late ’73 to mid ’75
  • Roger Unger, 91, BB Utrecht from ’62 to ’72
  • Cor Kaïm, 72, BB Rotterdam, from ’73 to dissolution in ’86


Interviews with former BBers:
Concept and interviews: Menno Heling (ifthenisnow, V6, Erfgoed Expert Team prov Utrecht)
Camera and editing: Willem Hoogenboom Contact:

With thanks to Gemeente Utrecht and Provincie Utrecht

Libera Me

Libera Me / one must know the history


The interviews were recorded for the documentary Libera Me (2015) in which both Indonesian and Dutch veterans reflect on the Indonesian War of Independence. Libera Me was shown at Museum Bronbeek (2015) as part and reflection within the exhibition War! From the East Indies to Indonesia 1945 – 1950.


The interviews discuss events and experiences in the years 1920 – 2015 with a focus on 1945 – 1949. They mainly discuss the Netherlands and Indonesia. Themes include Dutch colonial rule, Indonesian war of independence, Indonesian revolution, reflection, resentment, fallen soldiers, loss of family, grief, guerrillas, firing squad, executions, role of the Dutch government, recognition, recolonization, colonial system, crime, struggle for independence, KNIL, TNI, Special Forces Corps, artist.


Documentary Libera Me


Liberation or Merdeka


bevrijding of merdeka

Gérard Bueters wanted to make a documentary about the experiences of veterans of Battalion Zeeland and the impact that deployment to Indonesia had on their lives, based on a personal connection to the war of independence in Indonesia – his children’s grandfather was a soldier in the Princess Irene Brigade. This was the first Dutch post-war battalion, originally formed in 1944 from the resistance to liberate the northern Netherlands. When Germany capitulated, the volunteers were sent to Indonesia where they fought for 2.5 years against an independent Indonesia. He conducted 160 preliminary interviews with veterans (of the 280 surviving veterans of Battalion Zeeland). These were not captured on audio or video. Content summaries of about 50 of these interviews are available. Subsequently, eight veterans and the wife of a veteran were interviewed for the documentary.


The production was realised with support from, among others, the VSB Fund, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Provincie Zeeland, Stichting Ooggetuigen v/d 20e eeuw, Kattendijke-Drucker Stichting, municipalities Goes, Vlissingen, Middelburg and Sluis and was produced by Multi World Pictures in co-production with the NPS. The documentary was broadcast by VPRO, NPS in 2010.

The main questions were: Why did you make the choices you did at the time? What impact did your time in Indonesia have on your subsequent life?


Time, place and themes: The interviews focus on events and experiences in the years 1944 – present.
They mainly discuss Indonesia and the Netherlands. Themes include World War II, Zeeland, resistance background, denazification, liberation Zeeland in 1944, Zeeland residents, veterans, war volunteers, choices.


The collection is managed by Gérard Bueters. He wishes to transfer this collection and his working archive in its entirety to an archive institution, possibly the Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision.


Access: The collection is of limited public access. If interested, contact Programma Indisch Erfgoed Digitaal.


Preservation: The collection consists of digital videotapes. To preserve the interviews permanently for the
future, digitisation and transfer to an e-depot is desirable.

Defence Line stories


Dutch military history is an important part of our past and has influenced our landscape. If centuries ago many battles were fought at sea, water was also an important element in the defence of the government, king and capital. Inundation of a circle of low-lying areas around Amsterdam formed the basis of the Defence Line of Amsterdam, declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996. 42 forts and batteries had to defend that Defence Line, but there was never any fighting. In four projects, I let the people involved in the forts tell their stories about past and present.
The projects are commissioned by Stichting Verhalen Verbinden. The books are published by the North Holland Publishing Foundation. Already carried out and published in book form are the following projects:


  • Living along the Line Dike on the north-western front of the Defence Line
  • Living on the Stelling over the south-west front from IJmuiden to Kudelstaart
  • Kraijenhoff returns over the Zuiderzee and North Front
  • Heroes on the Defence Line

Overijsselians in the East

Stichting IJsselacademie

Interviewer: Ewout van der Horst



Under the banner of the national research programme Decolonisation, violence and war. Indonesia 1945-1950, the IJsselacademie Foundation made an appeal in January 2018 for eyewitnesses of this period in Overijssel to tell their stories. A dozen people responded, mostly children of Dutch veterans who saw their chance to record dad’s story once and for all.


No applications from Dutch East Indies veterans were received, giving the research a Dutch and military perspective. In the absence of applications from soldiers of the Salland volunteer battalion 1-11 RI and the Twente battalion 5-5 RI, with conscripts of the 1947 draft, a specific search was made for eyewitnesses of these army units. In the end, 12 veterans from Overijssel were interviewed. In addition, there was a circle interview with three veterans in Rijssen. Nine interviews were almost completely worked out. Besides six conscripts, these included two war volunteers and a Red Cross volunteer who worked on a hospital ship. All soldiers served on Java and spent some time at the front. One OVW member was also stationed in Sumatra.

About the Dutch Indies

The last eyewitnesses of Indonesia’s colonial past

Of the 30 people interviewed in this book, only 19 were alive when the book went to print. It is painful but not surprising as they lived in a colony that ceased to exist in 1942. First, Japan occupied the previously Dutch-owned country. In 1945, Indonesian independence was declared, followed by four more bloody years of war until the Netherlands acquiesced. That more and more people who can remember this time are dying underlines the urgency of this collection of interviews with these ‘last eyewitnesses’.

Journalist Frank Vermeulen, editor of NRC, spoke to them in recent years. He himself has previously been a correspondent in Jakarta. His mother was the daughter of Dutch parents born in the same city during the colonial era. Her death made him extra aware of the fact that the people who lived through Indonesia during this time did not have long to live. At the same time, he noticed that there are many young people who have heard precisely little about this era. It motivated him to start this series of talks in 2020.


Vermeulen chooses to let the interviewees speak almost exclusively. Apart from a brief introduction and conclusion to the book, he himself does not provide explicit interpretation or context. He leaves this to the narrators. In each chapter, an eyewitness recounts their experiences, both before and after independence, including their arrival in the Netherlands. Vermeulen omitted his interview questions because he felt this gives the stories a ‘more direct impact’.

Doing justice

Recht doenbataljon Friesland vertelt over Nederlands-Indie 1945-1948

Eddy van der Noord
Uitgeverij Louise

ISBN: 9789491536076

Battalion Friesland talks about the Dutch East Indies 1945-1948 This book features nine men talking about their personal experiences in the Dutch East Indies. The men talk about what they experienced and what they felt. Stories in words and pictures. A family member of a fallen soldier also has his say. A story that tells what impact the young man’s death had on his father, mother and brothers. This book is ‘oral history’, ‘sprutsen skiednis’. Written to contribute to a more nuanced portrayal of the struggle in the Dutch East Indies. So that the reader understands that there were many shades of grey in that struggle between ‘right and wrong’. The book is also intended as a tribute to the nine men interviewed and the one soldier who died. Ten men who symbolise the more than eight hundred men of Battalion Friesland. A battalion marked by a strong bond of togetherness and camaraderie. Officers and soldiers, who together and with respect for each other, tried to restore order and peace in the Dutch East Indies.