Zena Perkin was a Bollington girl, born 1st October 1921. She married Dutchman Albertus Greeve in 1941 and they lived much of their long married life in Bollington. Zena is remembered by many Bollingtonians mainly because she established a popular ladies hairdressing salon which at different times occupied various buildings in the town. This page is their fascinating story. I am extremely grateful to Peter Greeve, their son, for providing much of the information below and all of the pictures as well as encouraging me to publish it all on the page. I thank Peter very much indeed. I am also grateful to and thank those many who contributed their memories to my Facebook post on the Old Bollington page regarding the 100th anniversary of Zena’s birth.
|Pronunciation: It is inevitable that non-Dutch readers will have a problem with the pronunciation of the word Greeve. It is definitely not like the English word ‘greave’! Unfortunately, in my experience (I have a Dutch wife and worked for an Anglo-Dutch company) even when folk know how the Dutch ‘g’ should be said, it is often very hard to actually say it correctly. Don’t worry, say it like Greave and no-one will be offended! But if you do want to try and get it right, try ‘hchray-va’, really guttural!
The picture above is made up of two extracts from a bigger picture (in full below) of the audience at an event – thought to be a Christmas Fayre in aid of St Gregory’s church or school held in the Big Sunday School which, until about 1970, stood where the Civic Hall and Library are today.
Zena was born on 1st October 1921. She became a ladies hairdresser and established her own business which occupied various premises in Bollington at different times.
But first …
Peter Greeve has written up the fascinating story of his father’s early life and contribution to Adolf Hitler’s downfall. From his upbringing in Poeldijk near The Hague to returning in 1945 to relieve The Hague after it’s terrible wartime deprivation and to be the first allied soldier to make it to Poeldijk – on a bicycle. Here is Albert’s war …
My Dad was born on 7 February 1919 and was christened Albertus Marinus Greeve (pronounced ‘hchray-va’ in Dutch — and luckily easily ‘translated’ into English but sounding the double ‘e’, although most people fail to spell it correctly. The Dutch had a penchant (French now!) for Latin spelling: my grandfather (Opa), was christened Petrus Johannus but everyone called him Piet. I am generally called by my full name Peter (pronounced Payter in Dutch).
If this all sounds a bit double Dutch then I’m relieved not to have my grandmother’s maiden name: Van Bergen Henegouwen — imagine that over the telephone!
Albert, as he was more commonly known (shortened to Ab (pron. Ap) and as a very small child ‘de klijne Ab(p)’ — little Albert.
The village where the family lived is called Poeldijk about 10 miles south of The Hague (Den Haag). The area is known as The Westlands and was, and maybe still is to an extent, a major market gardening area, growing vegetables including tomatoes and grapes under glass. My grandfather was an engineer fitting heating systems into the greenhouses.
On leaving school at aged 14 my dad worked in the ‘gardens’ but after a spell of backbreaking work in harsh conditions his father got him a job in a factory making tomato boxes. The timber was brought to the factory by canal, offloaded into a sawmill, cut to size and made into the familiar shaped tomato box before being loaded onto lorries to take to the greenhouses. The growers sent the produce to the local auction (veiling) for sale. My father’s cousin was a buyer there for Marks and Spencer.
On one of our annual visits I was taken to the auction and was fascinated by the sight of tiered seats with a central water channel for barges to file through. Buyers would place bids registered on a huge dial and come onto the barges to inspect the goods.
From the veiling tomatoes were then taken to various destinations including overseas, The docks at the Hook of Holland being just down the road.
My first encounter with the veiling was as a very small child, joining other children, ‘begging’ a tomato. Interestingly, my father overheard me, making my request in fluent Dutch; not surprisingly since at that time my parents and I had gone to live in Holland — my father was returning home after the war, with his new family.
And so now what about my Dad’s war?
In 1939 Albert, aged 20 was guarding the border with Germany as war threatened. He was initially called–up for National Service. However, in May 1940 Hitler launched his blitzkrieg against the Low Countries. After a brave resistance Holland capitulated within a few days. The Dutch had not fought a war since the 19th Century, being neutral in WWI — interestingly the deposed Kaiser Bill took refuge in Holland and lived comfortably, long enough to see Germany rise to power.
So their armed forces were no match for Hitler’s Wehrmacht. In fact, after the Luftwaffe had almost obliterated Rotterdam, the Dutch government capitulated under threat that Amsterdam would receive the same treatment. Queen Wilhelmina and members of the Dutch Government fled to England. At the time my dad did not know that he too would be joining them!
Faced with surrender and an unknown fate at the hands of the enemy, his unit decided to try and escape through Belgium to reach the French coast and England. After some near misses, including an accusation of being German and thereby liable to be shot — fortunately rescued by a French-speaking Dutch officer — you see it always pays to study a foreign language!
Eventually, the bedraggled men reached Brest in Normandy and were transported across the Channel before the fall of France, Albert’s mini-Dunkirk. Some ships were torpedoed and sunk. My dad was lucky, all the more so since he never did learn to swim, and him a Dutchman!
Once in the United Kingdom the remnants of his unit (the Prinses Irene Brigade) were stationed in various locations, Porthcawl, Barrow-in-Furness, Wolverhampton, Malvern Wells and eventually Congleton in Cheshire; more places than the average Brit ever visited.
Whilst stationed in Congleton, in an old mill, Albert and his friend Wim took a bus ride to neighbouring Macclesfield. As two young men they naturally enough met two girls. One of the young women needed to buy something and on stepping out of the now dark evening into the shop, with the light on, Albert quickly noticed that his girl was far less attractive than his mates. So he did a quick swap. Luckily for me because the girl he fastened onto became my mother. I also knew the other women later — wise choice dad!
Mum and dad married in Spring 1941 and I was born at the end of August in the following year. I was an only child. My mother later conceived twins but they were never born.
Now, apart from getting married and becoming a father, Albert had quite a good war for a few years. He was a talented footballer; played for the Army and also for the Dutch national squad. By coincidence most of the international team had escaped to England so Albert was amongst the top players. Before the war, his footballing career was set to rise, although in those days footballers were not the well-paid players of today. Holland did not have professionals until the 1960’s! However, the Dutch team included men who played for top clubs Feyenoord (Rotterdam), PSV (Eindhoven) and Ajax (Amsterdam).
His position was number 7, outside right — the same as the legendary Stanley Matthews. In one match Albert played against the full England team, Matthews would have played but was instead attending a wedding.
The key match for Albert was a thrilling international between rivals Holland and Belgium played on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium. The commentator was Raymond Glendening and unbeknown to my father his parents were listening to the radio at a clandestine meeting in a cellar, hidden away from the enemy. On hearing my father’s name as he hurtled down the right wing, it was the first knowledge that their son was still alive! Belgium came out the victors after a thrilling 4-3 win.
All good things come to an end and in June 1944 Albert found himself on the beach in Normandy supporting the D-Day invasion. The Dutch brigade was attached to the Canadian army and fought in the bloody battle for Caen. Moving north the Allies halted at the Scheldt River in Belgium as the decision was made to cut east towards the Rhine and leave northern Belgium and Holland until later. Strategically this may have made sense, although the gamble at Arnhem was a disaster.
The dire consequence for those further North resulted in the Hungerwinter. Dutch people were already short of fuel and food. This delay caused thousands of deaths. In fact food supplies were scare throughout the occupied countries as more and more produce was ear-marked for Germany.
Eventually, the allies moved north and brought ultimate liberation. My grandfather heard that Dutch troops had been sighted in The Hague and along with my father’s cousin (the buyer for M&S) they set off in true Dutch fashion by bicycle to the camp.
Albert, on hearing that his dad and cousin were at the camp gates asked for leave to go with them to Poeldijk. Although the official cease fire was announced, German troops were still in position. Albert’s superiors said he could go but the risk was entirely his own.
So the sight of three cyclists riding along the canal, one in British battle dress, bearing the Dutch lion, was a sensation. People flocked from their houses to line the route, crying out, “The Tommy, the Tommy”. On reaching home the tiny house was crammed with folk and a few items of food from his rucksack had eyes out on stalks.
People had endured great hardship and Albert’s own father was so emaciated that at first he had not recognised him.
My father had two sisters, one of whom, Riet married an Austrian, who had fled the Eastern front to join the ‘underground’ and his other sister, Tien, … dare I say it … married a German sailor who she had met whilst working in the kitchens at the Hoek van Holland. For many years, Tien was not allowed back into Holland from her home in Cuxhaven in North Germany.
Given my dad’s wartime experiences fighting Hitlerism, it is small wonder that he felt bitter towards the enemy in general and his sister Tien in particular. They did eventually become reconciled. Tien’s husband, my Uncle Otto, was a very nice man and totally non-political.
I visited my Austrian relatives in Vienna, once driving there with the family, and have also been to Cuxhaven. All three are now deceased, my father in 2005, aged 86. I have four cousins in Germany and three in Austria, all bar one being younger than myself.
After the war, my dad returned to Holland with his new family, Zena and I. We stayed with my grandparents. Dad was at a Police College motivated to root out collaborators. My mother, a young women, had to acquire a new language and I was turning into a little Dutch boy (without the baggy breeches!).
I may well have become a teacher in a Dutch school but fate intervened, or rather a near fatality. My mother contracted diphtheria having drunk some contaminated water. There were no drugs and the doctor said it was all down to the strength of her constitution that she survived. I also caught the disease but fortunately had received a vaccine before leaving England.
Being homesick after her recovery, and very weak, my mother wanted to return to England, initially to visit but then my parents decided to stay in England. And so my father’s life, as indeed all the family, took a different course.
Although championing his adopted country, my dad was always reflecting on what might have been had his career in Holland continued. He never really settled to a job even though he worked all his adult life. Initially, in Bollington, he worked in a local stone quarry, secretly since for a time he was classed as an alien (despite his wartime record!) He then worked on a building site and helped to construct our first family home, a council house with all mod cons.
Over a 20 year period he was variously a factory worker, lorry driver, window cleaner and part-time fireman. His one ‘professional’ occupation was to become a gent’s hairdresser, paying for lessons and opening a business on the same premises as my mother’s ladies’ salon — it was here that I met my future wife, Jeannie Tondreau, when she first came to work at the salon (we Greeves lived on the premises) — but that’s another story.
Ultimately, towards the end of his working life he secured a satisfying job as caretaker of the indoor market in Macclesfield. He was in it heart and soul, popular with tradespeople and the public in general. Ironically, as he reached aged 65 he was required to retire since council policy did not, at that time, permit employment beyond retirement age.
Albert continued to play football after the war but only at local level. He was offered a trial at a club called Manchester United but for various reasons he declined. Wow!
At that time most people had a two-week main holiday and ours was always spent on a visit to my grandparents in Holland. We spent a lot of time visiting friends and relatives — long evenings over coffee and a glass of wine or beer. My how the Dutch could talk — now you know who I take after!
We also visited towns and villages on the tourist route and also the local seaside just a short bike ride away — me initially on dad’s carrier. Cycling is de rigour in Holland. I recall the baker and greengrocer doing their rounds on bikes with special attachments for produce (bakfiets). Courting couples would ride hand-in-hand along the cycle paths. So many memories.
In recent times I was asked to contribute to a book produced to chart Dutch Football during the war years. I donated information including copies of programmes and medals including the prized one from Wembley.
A family friend has also produced a booklet charting my dad’s escape to England and his return in 1944 as an allied soldier. In 1995 Albert was invited as guest of honour by the local council in Poeldijk on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Liberation — he being the first Dutch soldier to enter the village.
I have my dad’s medals, also a diploma from the French Government in honour of D-Day, and a painting of Poeldijk church commissioned for the 1995 celebrations.
In a classic episode of Fawlty Towers, Basil was obsessed not to mention the war — “Don’t mention the war!” Very difficult not to in the context of our family’s involvement. Jeannie’s dad was an American GI. Her mother went to New England with him and Jeannie was born there — an American citizen until 1995. Things didn’t work out in the marriage and her mum with her baby of 11 months returned to England.
In a strange sense, had it not been for Adolph Hitler and WWII neither Jeannie nor I would have been born. And there would be nothing to write about My Dad’s War.
The webmaster is most grateful to Peter Greeve for providing all the historical information and pictures of his family, the Coynes and the Greeves.