Warboy tells story of starvation and survival for local man
By Jenn Watt
Published April 12, 2016
Martin Hofland’s memoir, Warboy, is a story of starvation, fear and profound gratitude.
Many in the Highlands are familiar with Hofland, who for years has been working to preserve local memories of war, assembling a collection of soldiers’ photos, uniforms, letters, medals and other memorabilia.
But he had never written his own story down.
Hofland, 83, is a survivor of the Second World War. He was a seven-year-old boy living in Holland when the war broke out and, as Warboy details, his survival was uncertain for the six years that followed.
The family was based in Scheveningen, a town along the north coast of the country. While the Hoflands were able to stay in their home for the first several years of the war, in 1943, the German occupiers ordered the town be evacuated to make way for a defence zone along the Atlantic.
“Eventually we had to evacuate our home. Our first move was into a mansion that was owned by Jewish people who had been taken away by the Germans,” Hofland writes in the book.
“We only stayed there for a couple of weeks and were forced to move again, since the whole area became spergebiet, a restricted zone. This was our second move, but not the last. During the war, we were forced to move 10 times.”
The family did many risky things, from hiding Jews while living next to a V-1 launching base to one member joining the resistance, digging a secret tunnel from the shed to the forest and keeping a contraband radio to listen to the BBC.
The war took a toll. Food became more scarce the longer the war continued.
In the winter of 1944/45, “my stomach was swollen like a balloon from malnutrition,” Hofland writes. “The only thing that kept us alive was hope and sheer determination. All the cats and dogs had been eaten and people tried to catch birds.” People started eating weeds and grass. He says it affected his stomach, which gave him trouble in early adulthood, resulting in an operation to remove a large part of it.
Although Hofland has been active in preserving war history for some time, it took the persuasion of his children to write his own story down.
“They never knew what I did in the war,” he says.
“I talked to people about my story, but my kids started to press me [saying], ‘put it down. Put it down,” Hofland says.
So he did.
With the help of his younger brother, Hofland put together the pieces of his childhood in Holland into what is now Warboy.
Once he had assembled the story along with several photographs from the time, he took it to local publisher Patient News, which offered to do the first print run for free.
“I almost started to cry,” Hofland says of hearing the offer from Patient News CEO Wayne Lavery.
They printed 500 books. Only 80 are now left.
Hofland has decided to give away the books for free. He has taken them to schools and Legions and long-term care homes. He has sent some overseas.
“It’s an important message for the young generation,” he says. “The response is enormous.”
At 47 pages with a large font size, the books are perfect for school children or for those who find large print books easier to read.
Hofland says the books are his way of saying thank you to the Canadians who helped liberate The Netherlands in 1945.
He would like to get his story out to more people and is doing a second edition of the book. This time he will have to pay for the printing costs himself.
Books will be taken to schools in Lindsay and Minden and to museums in Ottawa among other places.
While the books are free for readers, Hofland is taking donations for the second edition. He has set up a separate account for any offers he receives.
“I don’t want to make one penny out of my suffering,” he says.
Donations can be sent to: Veterans War Museum, PO Box 1085, Haliburton, ON, K0M 1S0. You can also call Hofland at 705-457-2382.