A Dutch Mystery

A true story of mystery and suspense.

Follow the search for answers from Scotland across the North Sea and back again. To be published in instalments only on the Torphichen Kirk website. Watch this space as we reveal the secrets of … a Dutch Mystery!

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Chapter 1

In which I come across an old letter

One day, as I was idly flicking through some old church documents, I happened to come across an intriguing, old letter. This letter was to set me off on a long and at times frustrating quest.

To the Rev. Mackay
and the congregation of Torphichen,
W. Lothian.

Dear Brethren!

Just last Sunday Rev H. Bout brought us a complete apparatus for the Lord’s Supper, in your name.

As our cathedral and one of our churches are burnt and demolished, and the apparatus for the Lord’s Supper is stolen from the very safe-deposits, we have only two sets for 6 churches. So your kind offer helped us in a recurrent need. In a morning service, held in the Klarendal Chapel, for a congregation of more than 1000 women and men, the Rev. H. Bout brought over your wishes and charged your commission. The set was put in the front of the church, and will be fotographed (sic). The dignitaries of the church will have a (sic) inscription put in the plates. In due time we will communicate you what is engraved.

Your offer made living to us the communion of the saints, as we worship the same Trinity and have the same lines of John Calvin in our confession.

We suffered much from the war, which raged in our very streets and houses for more than a year; 3600 houses and big buildings are devastated, two of our churches are lost and the four other (sic) are more or less damaged. We have eight ministers and 31000 members. We need some four more ministers, but we cannot pay them. One of the eight is especially for the hospital of the Diaconesses,(sic) so for domiciliary visitation and all the sermons we have only 7 ministers. In Holland, in our Dutch reformed Church, is shortage of ministers. We have now only 1500 of the needed 2100. The Army and Navy, etc. took away some 100. The activity of more than 400 laymen and laywomen in our congregation is a very important help.

We offer you all, our kindest thanks and best wishes for permanent love and friendship among our churches. God, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost be your constant help and support!

The board of elders, diacres (sic) and ministers
of the Dutch Reformed church of Arnhem,
Arnhem, 7 November 1946.

It is signed by the ‘senior minister’ and by the ‘president of the board’.

What was it all about? Was there a link between Torphichen and Arnhem? As Arnhem had been in the centre of intense fighting during the Second World War, I could quite imagine how the town and the church had been devastated, but why had Torphichen become involved? Could we perhaps re-establish the link?

My first thought was to look through the Kirk Session minutes as I was sure that this event would be recorded there. I immediately started wading through page after page of fortunately legible records, but there was nothing about Arnhem or unneeded communion-ware. Surprised, I asked some of the more senior members of the congregation about the matter, but no-one knew anything about it. On-line searching was no help.

What I needed was a Dutchman.

Chapter 2

In which I attempt to find a Dutchman

In the year 198_, a Dutchman by the name of Tim v. ____ spent a year in Edinburgh when I was also living there and we saw quite a lot of each other at that time. I remember taking Tim for a day trip to show him a bit of the scenery of Scotland. We went up past Callendar via Crianlarich, Rannoch Moor and Glencoe to Fort William and then past Loch Laggan and back to Edinburgh on the A9. We enjoyed the day very much, but we probably didn’t need to go so far to show Tim hills. Being from the Netherlands, he was excited by the scenery by the time we reached Newbridge!

Could I track Tim down? Surprise, surprise! On searching the internet, I came across someone with the same name in the Netherlands who looked vaguely familiar. Tentatively, I fired an email with a copy of the old letter to this person, hoping it was the same Tim. It was! He replied straight away, recollecting his happy time in Edinburgh. He agreed to forward my letter to contacts in Arnhem to try to see if anyone there knew anything about what had happened after the war. Would I hear from anyone?

Chapter 3

In which I hear from Arnhem

After being forwarded from person to person, my email reached Esther v. ___  in Arnhem. She told me that the Klarendal Chapel no longer existed, the congregation now being part of the Opstandings church at the Rosendaalseweg in Arnhem. However, her 93 year old grandfather used to attend the Klarendal Chapel in 1946! She was sure that he would know more about that church than she did, and she was also keen to investigate the matter herself. What would come out of this?

Chapter 4

In which Esther investigates

True to her word, Esther went to the Regional Archives in Arnhem to learn what she could about the events described in the letter. Unfortunately she drew a blank, but did discover that the Arnhem Library had newsletters from the Dutch Reformed Church on file. However, sadly, before she could look into that, her grandfather became suddenly unwell and died two weeks later. She had told him about the contact I had made; he had been pleasantly surprised about it, but unfortunately, she did not have the opportunity to find out more about his memories of that time. Were we going to find out anything?

Chapter 5

In which Esther continues her research

After her sad bereavement, Esther very kindly continued to look into things. She managed to attend Arnhem Library to look for the church newsletters from 1946. However, she found that they only had ones from 1958 onwards. Re-contacting the Regional Archives brought the reply that they did in fact have the newsletters from 1946, but on re-attending there, she discovered that they only had the January 1946 issues. This was a set-back, especially as, on reviewing the older issues, she discovered that they were very informative about the restoration of churches and gifts that they had received. She also noted that the synod was recorded as having asked other cities and countries for help after the war, as Arnhem, as mentioned in the old letter, was virtually a shell by then. Had they written to Scotland?

Esther found out too in the older issues that British soldiers attended the Klarendal Kapel until June 1945, perhaps having been involved in the Liberation of Arnhem (The Second Battle of Arnhem) in April 1945. Perhaps someone from Torphichen had been there then?

Where were the missing newsletters?

Chapter 6

In which nothing happens

Ten years passed and I had heard nothing from Esther. Obviously the trail had come to a dead end, as the missing volume of newsletters had never been found. When I was clearing out my old emails during the coronavirus crisis I considered deleting all my emails from Esther, as I assumed she had given up the hunt. And then, one evening, up popped a message from her……

Chapter 7

In which Esther has a breakthrough

Wonder of wonders, on 26th April 2020, I received an email from Esther. She had never forgotten about the mystery and had just heard about a fairly new Dutch website featuring digitalised old newspapers. She decided to give it a try and had almost given up when she came across one article that featured Arnhem and Torphichen! 

Here is Esther's translation.

Our boys in welcoming Scotland

A gift for the Dutch Reformed Church

As a result of an amalgamation with a nearby church, the Scottish Presbyterian Church of Torphichen had a spare apparatus for the Lord’s Supper. When vicar H. Bout, vicar of the Dutch Reformed Church in Delfshaven* was in Scotland, they offered him this apparatus of the Lord’s Supper, as a gift for a Dutch church that had suffered (in the war). Vicar Bout left the decision about which church would be the one to receive this apparatus to the General Synod (in the Netherlands), and their choice was Arnhem, and in Arnhem they were very grateful to receive this gift. The Scottish church had first thought about Gennep**, but there was no need (in Gennep) for such a large apparatus for the Lord’s Supper. The apparatus exists of 2 large jugs, 4 cups and two plates, everything made of heavy pewter.

Vicar Bout was an army chaplain in Scotland for a year. (According to the text, it seems as though that was in the very recent past). Near Glasgow there were Dutch troops being trained. He tells: “We had a very enjoyable time there. Though there was a huge lack of comfort in the barracks, the ‘soldiers’ home’ offered a lot of cosiness; it was a nice place. I worked here most of the time.”

Every evening at 9.30 pm, vicar Bout held an evening service. On Sunday morning, he gave a talk from 8am till 9am. Every week, many attended this talk. In the lovely small church of the barracks, they enjoyed many good hours. The lads were totally free to choose whether or not to attend those services. The English also have voluntary services, but hardly anyone shows up, so they almost never took place. But in the British army there is also a church service that all soldiers must attend. With music, their troops marched to the church, which often annoyed those forced to go to church.

But vicar Bout didn’t beg his boys to come to church. He did however advise them to attend the Scottish services, as soon as they could understand the language well enough. He and the boys often went to the United Free Church in Millgavie. (sic) There has been a lot of personal contact as well. A soldier’s life has its own peculiar atmosphere and when evangelizing, it has to be done in a modern way. Serious conversations about heavy church/religious issues are usually not the outcome/goal. The work of a chaplain is to install contemplation in the soldiers’ minds and to teach them to solve their mental problems by praying. There are perhaps a few who went the wrong way, but the majority remained themselves.

Problems in the military life are often very complicated, says vicar Bout. Mainly the sexual issue. Vicar Bout has always been anti-dancing, but now he says: “Dancing is the beginning of adultery.”

The Scottish people have received our soldiers in a most welcoming and friendly way, every time again. Especially at the beginning, everything was obviously very weird. English food was completely different than Dutch food, but the boys of the Expeditionary Force (nickname for First Infantry Division) were used to quantity instead of quality, and soon the Scottish therefore called them ‘eating-machines.’

Regarding the general social state, vicar Bout doesn’t hesitate to say that it’s much better over here than in England and Scotland. In Glasgow, for example, the housing conditions are worse than in the large cities in our country and life is also more expensive in Scotland & England. We should be much more grateful … and less unsatisfied, says vicar Bout at the end.

*Delfshaven is a town near Rotterdam.

** Gennep is a town in Limburg.

Esther added that Dutch troops were stationed and trained in Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow and assumes that Rev H Bout, a very conservative gentleman by the sound of it, was there. So, at last progress. The story had nothing to do with the Battle of Arnhem or the Liberation of Arnhem, but it was to do with an army chaplain stationed in Scotland. Is there more to come?

Chapter 8

What's next?

But there are still unanswered questions. Did Rev H Bout make contact with Torphichen Kirk directly or was there a general request? Why had the original plan been to send the communion-ware to Gennep, a small Dutch town that was not likely to have been familiar to anyone here? Was the plate ever engraved as mentioned in the original letter and does it still exist?

And Esther has not finished with her surprises. She has just found out from her brother, a historian, that their grandmother’s brother was in the Dutch Army and was stationed in Maryhill barracks in 1945-46! And she has also found out that there is a rather disorganised archive relating to Arnhem churches. She hopes to find time in her very busy schedule to look into it.

Will there be another instalment?