Feb
07
2010

How did the Dutch royal family escape the Nazis in World War II?

Beatrix, now queen of the Netherlands, aged nearly 7, with sisters Irene and Margriet.

Beatrix, now queen of the Netherlands, aged nearly 7, with sisters Irene and Margriet in December 1944.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands was a two-year-old princess when German paratroops landed in the Hague on May 10, 1940 with orders to take the entire Dutch royal family to Berlin. Her grandmother, Queen Wilhelmina, wanted the younger generations to flee to safety as soon as possible.  Apart from any personal feelings she wished to ensure the continuity of the Royal House of Orange.  But how could any of them leave?

Two days later Crown Princess Juliana, her husband Prince Bernhard, and their two little daughters Beatrix and Irene were inside an armoured van belonging to the Netherlands Bank.  They were driven to IJmuiden to meet the British ship HMS Codrington.  On the way to the coast a German plane appeared, the Dutch military escort opened fire, but the family reached the dock safely. Next stop was England, a staging post on the way to their wartime home in Canada.

The van which took them to the ship can now be seen at the National War and Resistance Museum at Overloon, near the border with Germany, about 150km south-east of Amsterdam.   The story of the Vluchtwagen, or ‘flight vehicle’, is told in an online exhibition organised by the National Library of the Netherlands.

Only one day after the younger royals had left, Queen Wilhelmina decided she too must leave Holland, along with her government.  She met British ships at Walcheren, and HMS Hereward carried her to England.

After a few days staying in Buckingham Palace she moved to a house near Claridge’s Hotel in London. When bombing started, she shared the air raid shelter in the hotel cellar, sometimes appearing there in a flannel dressing gown, according to an article in Life magazine of April 16, 1945.   Later she had a home in South Mimms, Hertfordshire. Even a house in the countryside was not really safe, and when bombs fell in the garden two of her guards were killed.

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