During a visit to the bunker museum at Terschelling in August 2018, I had already seen the Udet Boje on the grounds. The top was missing and everything was covered under a layer of rust. A small information board told more about the object and I captured it all with my camera.
May the 20th 2021 – the day my father died from a very rare form of peritoneal cancer. He had been taken care of a week before at a Hospice ‘Lotus’ where he was cared for by a very committed team of doctors and nurses. His last word to us was: goodbye or in his last word: ajuus, in Dutch.
After his funeral, we had to empty his house. All the memories and items we loved we took home. The furniture and his bed were neatly picked up by a group of charity volunteers. I looked for his photos all the time, because I knew he had been very involved in photography in his younger years. I had seen the photo books once, but he never showed the photos to us.
In his younger days, everything was still analog: exposing rolls of film with a camera and then developing them in a darkroom, printing the photos on photographic paper. He did all by himself in the attic of my parents’ house on the van Dedemlaan in Hasselt. Those photo books were all standing inside the desk in the attic on top of which stood all his photo equipment. Above that all two lamps: red and bright white.
We never found the photo books, except those in the hung frames on the walls in his home. For a moment I feared they had been lost during one of the moves. When we were almost finished in the house, we walked outside to the small shed next to the house where we knew some old household goods and belongings were also stored. Most of it had no value. After removing most of everything, a large gray plastic crate surfaced in which Ella found all the photo books. ‘Shall we take these?’ Definitely! Some of the photo books were carefully inspected by me and fortunately the moisture had not been given time to affect the photos. In contrast, the corners of the paper and the metal pins used to fasten the pages had not survived the tooth of moisture.
I had heard my father tell about a trip with friends to the Wadden Island Terschelling. But I had no idea if he had taken pictures of that. I didn’t discover those photos until weeks later. They had all been neatly pasted into a photo book and kept protected by thin layers of film. A wonderful legacy of both my parents’ life stories.
After the war, my father and his friends visited the Wadden Island Terschelling in the year 1953. Together with his two friends on a bicycle to Harlingen and from there by boat to the island. Enjoying the peace and quiet, strolling through nature and climbing over high dunes. In between, they enjoyed a beer on a terrace. He took his camera with him everywhere and so I have lots of pictures from that period of his life.
In some pictures where they had taken pictures on the beach near a wreck I noticed something. At first I couldn’t figure out what they had climbed there together, but not much later, while browsing through my own digital photo archive, I came across a photo and then I knew immediately: the three men had discovered the wreck of the Udet Boje in 1953.
The Udet Boje’s were a series of buoys scattered in the North Sea by the German occupation forces in ’40-’45 and anchored by the German Navy. Each Udet Boje was hollow inside and completely furnished with beds other means of survival for a time. Thus, shot down pilots could save themselves. In each Udet boje they also had access to a radio transmitter in order to alert the Coast Guard and thus the pilots could be rescued again by the German Navy.
It was pure luck that the three men discovered the wreck in 1953. Despite its enormous size, the wreck was regularly buried by sand and sea during a storm, only to reappear after a year or so. Presumably the three men never knew what they were standing on top of. Ik heb mijn vader er ook nooit over horen vertellen. De foto’s waren stille getuigen van hun ontdekking bij paal 23 op Terschelling in het jaar 1953. Alle drie stonden ze in lichte broeken met een jasje en zonnebril bovenop hun ontdekking te poseren. Mijn vader droeg toen al een pet, wat hij zijn leven lang heeft gedaan. His last one is on the dashboard of my bus and comes with me every day.
Hille van Dieren owns the ‘museum of wrecks’ on Terschelling. He is also a member of the group of people who work at the bunker museum. At young age Hille, together with his friends, walked back and forth on the beach between old wrecks of cars, airplanes and other stuff they could find. They were searching for old metal scrap. Small pieces of metal or aluminum which they then removed from those wrecks to make a few pennies. So, in those days they were happily demolishing all those old wrecks. How extraordinary then, that years later they started doing the exact opposite after establishing the Bunker Museum.
Terschelling played an important role in the Second World War. Divided over the island you can find numerous bunkers and most of them can be found just behind West-Terschelling, under the name ‘Tigerstellung’; a bunker complex of some eighty-five bunkers. The ‘Tigerstelling’ radar post was used during World War II by the German occupying forces to monitor the airspace with their radar installation. In fact, a fierce battle was being waged in the airspace between the Allied and German air forces. To observe the bombers arriving from England as quickly as possible, they built dozens of observation posts and two important radar stations along the coast; one on the Wadden island Terschelling and the second on the Wadden island Schiermonnikoog.
Almost sixty years after the three young men visited Terschelling, the people of the museum together with two contractors on Terschelling had made several attempts to excavate the Udet Buoy. That was a very heavy job, and you can see that on the drawing of the Udet Buoy. The bottom was filled with concrete. It was a huge job, but they succeeded. The wreck of the Udet Buoy can still be found on the grounds of the Bunker museum.
Here you can see a few photos of the start of their rescue attempt on the beach of Terschelling. These photos were made by Albert Wester, a local photographer on the island of Terschelling. Albert is a passioned photographer who likes to make pictures of everything up and around his island.
Since the arrival of the Udet buoy on the museum grounds, they have also begun to rebuild it. The top on which the men stood in 1953 was for the most part rusted and was completely rebuilt at a shipyard and then put on the original hull. The hull now has a coat of black paint to better protect it from the rust. From what I understand they are going to do their best to restore the Udet boje in its entirety. Last weekend I spoke to Albert and he told me that the restoration is well underway.
Several buoys are still rusting away at the bottom of ports or in the North Sea. The buoys also served as “target practice” for English pilots. In the middle of the North Sea, a tower with a large cross on it is quite striking. So several may have been sunk or broken loose from their anchors and washed up along the coast. One on the neighboring island of Vlieland and the other on Terschelling near beach pole 23.
I was able to complete the story of the vacation of my father and his friends with a visit to the Bunkermuseum on Terschelling in where I was able to take pictures of the partially restored buoy. The photos of the three men were scanned by me and sent to the members of the museum, they may be included in the exhibition around the Udet Boje. So all three are back to their adventure at Terschelling.
On Aug. 31, 2021, a video was published on Youtube by Calum Gilles about the history of the Udet Boje. A beautiful short documentary telling the history of the Udet buoy.
During our visit to the bunker museum the old and new images together with a text were delivered to the editor of Terschelling Magazine via my iPad and mobile connection. Actually, the deadline for the new issue had already passed, but after sending my story and the two pictures of the three men, a few pages were reserved. The following week we received the new issue.
A visit to the bunker museum is well worthwhile. Throughout the year, the volunteers spend a lot of their free time excavating and restoring the German Radar Set Tiger and there is something new to see every year.
Bunkers Terschelling website: https://bunkersterschelling.nl
Albert Wester photography website: https://www.terschellingfotografie.net
Wrakken Museum website: https://wrakkenmuseum.nl
Calum Gillies website: https://calumgillies.com
Wikipedia: Rescue Buoy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rescue_buoy_(Luftwaffe)