Anniversary plaque back home

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JOHN.COSGROVE@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

Isn’t it funny how things work out?

The Clutha District RSA had been looking high and low for a very special missing plaque, and just last week it turned up again after seven years in the wilderness.

Clutha District RSA secretary Pauline Soper said that while clearing out an elderly veteran’s home recently the plaque turned up, and the veteran said he had no idea it was there.

The plaque was presented to the RSA by members of the Balclutha Netherlands Society on behalf of the local Dutch community in May 1995, to mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of liberation in their home country.

In 2012, when the Clutha District RSA went into temporary recess, much of the memorabilia that had originally been displayed at the RSA was removed.

Since the club reopened in 2017 it had been looking at trying to recover the historical memorabilia that disappeared.

Some items had since been rediscovered at the South Otago Museum, but Mrs Soper said because accurate records were not kept at the time of the items’ removal they are still looking for a lot more. She said many items were reportedly put into safekeeping, while others have simply been forgotten about.

The Dutch plaque was one of these, and two years ago the Balclutha Netherlands Society again asked if the RSA could locate and remount the plaque to allow its members to acknowledge the upcoming 75th liberation anniversary.

The RSA eventually started a media campaign to try to find it, but until last month nothing had turned up.

“I was getting desperate. I thought I would have to make up a new one, but all we had to go on was an old newspaper photo from 1995 and we couldn’t read it well enough to see what was written on it,” Mrs Soper said.

Now as the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland is celebrated, the Balclutha Netherlands Society will be able to view the plaque in a more prominent place at the RSA.

In the Netherlands, Liberation Day is celebrated each year on May 5 to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany during World War 2.

Dutch settlers first came to Otago in the 1950s when New Zealand sought more skilled workers from Europe.

One of the first Dutch immigrants on this scheme to settle in the South Otago district was Cor Conijn in 1951.

Now in his 94th year and at Holmdene, Mr Conijn remembers the war years as a time of extreme danger, hardship and hunger.

“When the Germans invaded many lost our jobs, including me, and so for many years all I owned was the old coat I wore and the boots on my feet.

“In 1950 I was sitting on the toilet in an abandoned house I had squatted in and spotted the call for people to immigrate to New Zealand on some newspaper I was using as toilet paper. So I came,” he said.

Mr Conijn settled in Stirling and for the next 12 years, while working on farms around the region, he also carefully tended his extensive tulip gardens until he could sell them to earn a living from them.

Fellow member of the Dutch community Peter Homan came to the New Zealand in 1965, and also remembers the war time in Holland as a time of great hunger.

“I was a 4-year-old then but I still remember parts of it: the hunger, the roar of the big planes flying low over us and the huge tanks rolling through the streets of Amsterdam at the liberation,” Mr Homan said.