Friday, 21 December 2007

It happened in the summer of 1954....

This afternoon I got a telephone call from Denmark. The last of my Danish friends is seriously ill. His mother died a few years ago and his father has been dead for a much longer time. He is about my age. I got to know this family in 1954. Two Danish brothers came to Holland on their motorbikes. The eldest was then 21 and the younger brother was 18. They came here to take part in an international workcamp in an area which had been flooded the year before when the dykes broke, because of the heavy storm, ravaging the Dutch coast.
In this workcamp there were American, English, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, South African, Indian( from India),Spanish, Swiss and of course Dutch people all in the ages between 18 and 35.
Our job was to clean a piece of land by taking out all the debris, left by the flood. In the afternoon we had discussions, excursions or just time off.The younger Dane Bent was a cheerful guy, who was always happy. He loved to play tricks and make jokes. His older brother was a very quiet young man, who could hardly speak English and who kept himself to himself.One night Bent asked a friend of mine and me if we wanted to learn a Danish song. We protested :"Oh no Bent it's far too difficult". Bent:"No it is not, and you must learn this song". Then he sang the following song
:"Laer mig Nattens Stjerne,
at lyde fast og gerne!
Ej at vige fra den vej,
HimlensGud tilmaalte mig!
Laer mig Nattens Stjerne".

Evening star up yonder,
Teach me like you to wander
Willing and obediently
The path that God ordained for me!
Evening star up yonder.

We learnt the song just to make him happy. He let us go, when he was satisfied, that we could sing it reasonably well. That was August 3rd, 1954.
The next day was a beautiful day, so that half of the campers decided to go swimming in the sea and Bent, enthusiastically, joined them, though he couldn't swim. Never mind: the water was for the main part shallow.Unfortunately there was one spot which was deeper than they had expected and Bent walked in it and couldn't get out. The Swiss boy tried to pull him out but Bent panicked and almost strangled him. A Spanish woman tried it but Bent hit her and she was unconscious. Bent drowned and could not be found until it was low tide at midnight. We were all in shock. We promised to write to the Danish family. I wrote : "The evening before Bent died, he insisted upon teaching us that song in which he showed his belief in God"The parents found this such a comfort that they wrote it in a newspaper.
In the years to follow, I often met the family, stayed with them, they stayed with us and we always kept in touch


Anonymous said...

A profound story, Wil. And appropriate for this season.

reader Wil said...

Yes , now his brother is dying ,it all comes back.It was such a sad event. I remember exactly what we had for dinner, for I was staring at my plate all the time, we didn't speak we were so in shock.