‘May 10, 1940, was a day I’ll never forget,’ recalled Tiny Mulder. ‘When I awoke, I wondered what that noise was up in the air. The radio confirmed that the Germans were invading. There was no declaration of war. They just came. Just like that. We were a small country then, of eight million, overrun by a large army.’
Overrun, but not defeated. Like many Dutch citizens, Mulder, 19 years old and living in Drachten, decided to work in the underground. Organized resistance, however, came slowly. ‘The Germans treated the Dutch very well at first, to gain our trust,’ she remembered, ‘then we began to see what was coming.’ She worked in a local government office, regulating the distribution of clothing, food and oil. ‘We never had a military government in the Netherlands. Dutch collaborators were appointed to higher offices in The Hague by Reichscommissar Artur von Seyss-Inquart, an Austrian Nazi who had been appointed by Adolf Hitler to govern Holland. My boss, Pieter Wybenga, never had any Nazi sympathizers working for him.’
Wybenga was one of the earliest members of the underground, and he recruited Mulder. Her first job was to work as a courier, traveling by train to Rotterdam or Amsterdam to deliver maps with information for the Allies. During her missions Mulder wore a green hat to identify herself. ‘You never gave your name to anyone. What you don’t know, you can’t reveal,’ she said.
In 1943, Mulder gained additional duties with the Resistance, taking on the job of rescuing Allied airmen shot down in the northern Netherlands. The planes, on their way to bombing missions over Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin, were downed either by German fighters or anti-aircraft fire.
Mulder was particularly happy to be helping the airmen. Not only were they destroying German war industries, but they also lifted the morale of the Dutch. ‘The British and Canadians flew at night and Americans during the day,’ she said. ‘When we saw these airplanes in the beautiful formations, B-17s, B-24s with vapor trails, we felt that we were not alone, that someone was helping us.’
Hurrying downed airmen to safety was a big job for a young girl. Mulder thinks she was chosen for the difficult assignment because of her command of English, but surely her candor, caution, quick wit and courage must have played a role. ‘It was dangerous work,’ she admitted. Two of her girlfriends had been captured doing the same job and were moved from one prison camp to another until they were finally liberated by the Russians at the end of the war.
When a plane was shot down, as many as 10 airmen could be captured by the German police or army. If they came down in a field, there was a better chance for rescue. Some farmers or villagers would hide them inside their homes and give them civilian clothes, but not everyone would take such a chance. Mulder understood their hesitation. ‘Here is the farmer living in an occupied country, and a couple Americans show up at your door,’ she said. ‘What is he to do?’ In every village there was someone who was part of the underground, sometimes the minister or schoolteacher.
In the best of scenarios, the farmers would contact the Resistance. ‘He would say: ‘Come over here, we have something. Do you know what to do?’ Or someone might send a message: ‘We have four young rabbits. Would you like to have some?’ Then the chain got working. In the end they came to me, as I was in charge of helping them on their way out of enemy territory.’
There was danger at every step of the way. During the initial contact with the fliers, Mulder was at her most cautious. ‘I had to find out if they were real Americans or fake Americans,’ she recalled. ‘The Germans had enough American uniforms by that time, and they had Germans who had been educated in Albuquerque before the war to create impostors.
‘When we saw them coming out of an American plane, that was all right, but if they just turned up early one morning, then I became suspicious. So we asked the farmer, ‘Did they come from the sky, yes or no?’ We had some questions, which the soldiers had to be able to answer properly. Then we could be sure they were not Germans.’
Once their nationality had been determined, the next step was to find clothing for the men and a place to stay. Her own parents took in some of the airmen. Ed Pollock, a Boeing B-17 pilot, later remembered the Mulder family very well. ‘Our plane, hit by German flak near the German border on December 11, 1943, was on fire, and two of my men were killed,’ he recalled. ‘Of the remaining eight, five were wounded. Tiny came along and took me to her house, where I stayed for three months. I played chess with Mr. Mulder every night. They were wonderful people, and they risked their lives for us.’
After placing the airmen in a safe house, the next thing to do was to advise the national resistance organization of the new arrivals and send a message to London over the wireless, giving their name, rank and serial number. When it was time for the soldiers to make their escape, Mulder and her fellow workers provided them with false Dutch identity cards, kept under lock and key in the town hall. Members of the underground had various ways of getting the papers from helpful officials. A photographer who could be trusted took the airmen’s photos for the cards. The whole process had to be repeated for Belgium and France, the countries through which the men would pass on their route to Spain and on to London by plane.
‘Many did not make it,’ Mulder admitted. ‘The chain of guides between the Netherlands and Spain broke all the time.’ The weak link was in Antwerp, where a Canadian of German origin offered to help the Nazis by infiltrating the underground. ‘He didn’t disturb the underground movement, but picked off the Allied soldiers and sent them to prison,’ Mulder recalled. ‘He was executed in Belgium after the war as a traitor, but that was too late.’
Communication with London did not always work well, either. ‘The London office was sloppy about letting us know if the men made it,’ Mulder said, ‘but they always sent us messages, urging us to return the men. They said they could build airplanes faster than they could replace crews.’ Tiny shrugged. ‘This was war. They didn’t count lives.’
Frank McGlinchey, the bombardier of a plane shot down on October 8, 1943, explained what happened after he bailed out: ‘I fell about a 1,000 feet before yanking the handle. The parachute opened immediately, and I had one of the softest landings on record.’ The area where McGlinchey came down was near the village of Beetsterzwaag. A group of Dutch farmers, who spoke no English, found him. They understood immediately what had happened and took away McGlichey’s parachute and hid it. The farmers pointed out a route for the young bombardier to follow, and he soon came upon his navigator, Carl Spicer, walking in a field. The two men walked throughout the night and found a barn, where they hid when daylight came.
‘Just as we had hoped, an old farmer came out to begin his day’s work,’ McGlinchey said. ‘We told him our story through sign language. He understood and took us into his house, fed us and took us upstairs to sleep.’
The men were passed from home to home and then hidden in a loft in the Dutch Reformed Church in Wolvega, where Mulder came to get them. ‘The janitor of the church took me upstairs where the two men greeted me with friendly smiles,’ said Mulder. ‘They had no doubt about my good intentions, maybe because they had met only people who were kind and willing to help.’ She told them that their pilot, Bill McDonald, had come down near Lippenhuizen, and had been taken in by the local postmaster.
Mulder took the soldiers back with her to Drachten, using a taxi with a driver friendly to the underground. Spicer stayed with a farm family, the Van Veldens, and Mulder took McGlinchey to her own home. She then bicycled to Lippenhuizen and brought McDonald on a borrowed bicycle to a safe house in Drachten. ‘I remember that he could not ride a bicycle well, and the wheels went every which way,’ she said. ‘I had to grasp hold of his handlebar.’
Spicer said later: ‘I owe Tiny Mulder a lot. I was staying at another farm, but in the evenings, she would take me to her house and we would pop corn or have apples. I remember that her father would catch fish in the canal every Friday for a Catholic flier.’
When the arrangements were in place, the men set out for Spain. ‘I took McGlinchey and McDonald by train to Ermelo,’ Mulder said, ‘and delivered them to a safe house called ‘Red Riding Hood.’ That is the last I ever saw of them. I learned after the war that they had gone as far as the Pyrenees and ran into a German border patrol. They were sent all the way back north to a German POW camp.’
The young agent also accompanied Spicer and a Canadian flier, Fred Boulter, to Ermelo. ‘After the war, I heard that Carl arrived in London on Christmas Eve 1943,’ Mulder said. ‘He and Fred had parted company, and Fred was arrested in Paris and sent to a German POW camp.’
For another downed airman, Merlin Verburg, the crash landing turned into an unplanned homecoming. Verburg’s grandmother was from the northern Dutch province of Friesland, and he recognized the language when he met up with the farmer who rescued him.
Mulder had a sparkle in her eye as she recounted Verburg’s adventure: ‘A policeman told us there was an American shot down, but there were already Germans looking for the downed plane, and there were more airmen on the loose. When I arrived, the farmer had given Merlin some clothing, and there just happened to be a visitor there who gave him his bicycle.’
Mulder decided that it was a time for ingenuity and improvisation: ‘I said, ‘Well, Merlin, we are very much in love!’ So we went off on the bicycles arm in arm! No airman who had come down two hours ago would have a girlfriend already! We rode right past the Germans.’
The most dangerous rescue came with a crew of 10 whose plane was hit and collapsed against a windmill. ‘Everyone was involved in this case,’ said Mulder. The co-pilot was killed, and the rest of the crew roamed the fields during the night. In the early morning, local farmers hid them. The Germans knew about the crash because the pilot had lost a leg and needed professional care. Someone contacted police officials, and the pilot was taken to a German hospital, where he was well cared for.
‘At a farm across the road was a farmer with four sons, who put all of those men in rowboats and rowed them across the river to safety,’ Mulder remembered. From there, she and her helpers rowed the men across a lake to a houseboat where they could hide.
The underground knew the farmers would be questioned and tried to prepare them. They told them what the Germans would ask and how they must reply. ‘We told them to say that they know nothing about it, and that a car came here with Germans in it and took them away,’ Mulder recalled. ‘We told them to say nothing else, only repeat what we told them.’ The lessons worked. Germans searching for the airmen could not get at the truth and released the farmers.
Nevertheless, the situation was tenuous after the 10 Americans had been helped. Villagers expected the Germans to retaliate by conducting a ‘razzia,’ a house-to-house search to find Jews, to take people to work in Germany or to ferret out those who worked in the underground. Mulder was running out of hiding places in the village and asked the monks at the local monastery to take some Americans. There was no time for diplomacy. When the monks hedged a bit, Mulder told them it was ‘only for one night.’ The monks then found room to hide some soldiers. It was almost a week before safe houses were found.
Along with rescuing the airmen, hiding Jews remained a high priority. ‘People in other areas would send word, asking if there was room for a girl of 7 or a couple in their 60s,’ said Mulder. ‘When we asked people to take someone in, they would ask, ‘What if we are found out?’ I told them, ‘Well then, you go to a concentration camp, and the Germans take everything you have.’ Sometimes they would say no, and that was absolutely all right. People who are afraid do the most dangerous things when they panic!’
Looking back on the war, Mulder wishes they had saved more Dutch Jews. ‘No country lost more Jews than the Netherlands, according to their population,’ she recalled. ‘There were about 126,000 Jews and more than 100,000 did not return.’ Her parents took one 7-year-old as a member of their own family. ‘She stayed two years with us until the war was over,’ Mulder recalled. ‘She looked very much like me and like my mother. She could even go to school. My parents took their documents to city hall, and someone I knew entered her as a daughter of my parents. She is still my sister.’
The Jewish girl’s parents, who were also in hiding, were frantic because they feared their dark-haired daughter would stand out among the blond and blue-eyed Frieslanders. Mulder, who is dark-haired herself, knew what to do. ‘I went to visit them. I told them, ‘I’m Tiny, and your daughter is living with me.’ That’s all I said. I didn’t tell them where I lived.’
Mulder next served as a translator for Allied forces when they arrived in 1945. After V-E Day she went to work as a journalist for a Frisian newspaper. She also began traveling to England, Canada and the United States, where she renewed her friendship with many of the 70 American, Canadian and British soldiers she had helped rescue.
In recognition for her service, Mulder received the Medal of Freedom with the Silver Palm from the United States. Despite her courageous work with the wartime Resistance, she apparently approached that ceremony with some trepidation. ‘That was more nerve-wracking than helping the fliers during the war,’ said Mulder. A short time later, the British government awarded her the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom.
This article was written by Bette McDevitt and originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of World War II magazine. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!