Born: August 3, 1917, in Winterswijk-Dorpbuurt, Netherlands
Died: April 27, 1983, in Winterswijk, Netherlands
Married: July 4, 1942, to Janna Gesiena Toebes
Gerrit was born as a second son in the family of Derk Willem te Selle and Grada Johanna Demkes in Winterswijk in the building on Bocholtsestraat where later the supermarket and bakery of baker Deunk was established. Although the house was on the outskirts of the village at the time, it was officially located in the hamlet of Dorpbuurt. His mother also had a grocery store there at the time and his father a carpenter’s workshop. He was about 5 years old when the family moved to ‘the village’ as they called it then.
Father Derk Willem (who was called “Uncle Willem” in the family), wanted to work with woodworking machines and the municipality of Winterswijk had assured him that the Bocholtsestraat could not be supplied with electricity for years. His company and shop on the Bocholtsestraat were in the rural area and the rural area was not supplied with electricity in the early 1920s. Father Derk Willem built a large house for his family with two workshops on Misterweg (no. 65) next to the mill of Gerrit Heusinkveld. The company is doing very well in the twenties. Modern woodworking machines are available and the Te Selle company also has its own truck, the Opel Blitz. Contractor Derk Willem is also heavily involved in the construction of the Scholtenenk district.
In 1931, however, the world economic crisis was also clearly felt in Winterswijk. In the beginning mainly in local agriculture. However, in 1932 unemployment will take over. Father Derk Willem is a social employer who builds farms in the crisis years for amounts of 4000 to 5000 guilders. Thus there was hardly any profit, but the carpenters could continue to work.
Gerrit says he had a good childhood in the family of 6 children, despite the recurring concerns of his parents about sufficient work and income. Child benefit was still an unknown concept in those years and “having a right to something” was a little-used term at the time. Unfortunately, the miracle drug penicillin was also unknown, so that younger brother Evert, only one year old, dies from pneumonia.
In his time at primary school, two circumstances made a lasting impression on Gerrit. The substantial poverty in the families of some of his school friends and the true inspiration that emanated from his old Sunday schoolmaster, the Baptist and bicycle maker Kappers van de Markt, who ran his own Sunday school with his sons and daughters at Hoge Hazel, the later “Trefpunt “of the Reformed Congregation.
Gerrit and brother Theo also excelled at primary school. The headteacher invited himself to father Derk Willem and mother Grada and told them that their sons definitely had to continue studying at the HBS. Gerrit himself would never have asked for this. Certainly in those years, the HBS was more of a School for Higher Citizens than a Higher Citizen School. The pupils were mainly from the more affluent bourgeoisie. There were also children of wealthy gentlemen farmers and wealthy textile manufacturers at the school. The RHBS was limited in student numbers. Gerrit did the final exam HBS-B. There were only twelve students in this class. Many students also came from surrounding villages such as Aalten, Dinxperlo, Varsseveld, Groenlo, Eibergen, and Neede. They practically all came to school by bicycle.
Mathematics was taught by the young Tjibbe Hoogeveen. A great teacher, but also strict. He was not afraid to give a nasty pain in the neck in the classroom a box around his ears. Later Hoogeveen would become rector of the ‘Winterswijks Lyceum’ and in this capacity, Gerrit’s son Dick also had to deal with him. The Winterswijk school was an uncommon combination of a Municipal Gymnasium with a Rijks HBS.
In the years 1932 – 1935, the financial need in many families became a major problem due to high unemployment. Gerrit Jan later writes in his ‘life message’:
“.. problems that certainly did not pass by the family of my dear parents. Like several other classmates, I understood very well that studying at a University was an impossible thing for me. Finding work was almost as impossible, however, we applied on every job. For example myself from a student at the Royal Military Academy to shop assistant, but during the first half-year, nothing and nothing worked. You must have personally experienced unemployment in order to know its powerless sorrow. You feel too much in the world. .. ”
Together with a teacher who also had nothing to do, Gerrit sometimes played chess all day. On Sunday evenings they tried in the Irene building in the Ratumsestraat to take on Alex Gans and also Theo de Jong from the Misterstraat who was champion of East Gelderland. They never managed to beat both of them and even in a simultaneous game, they were unsuccessful. Gerrit later says that he has largely forgotten chess.
In 1936 he finally managed to conquer a job. He became a PTT reserve officer and entered the post office in Winterswijk. In those years he also became chairman of “Advendo” a fairly large Winterswijk association of older youth grouped around the Youth Church of the Reformed Church. This association had many different activities. The association received sympathy from the Winterswijk population and received financial support in the form of donation money. The municipality of Winterswijk also contributed to various projects, but the subsidy was virtually unknown. “Advendo” had a drama club (Wävedamp), a walking club, its own club magazine, a singing club, and a Sunday gathering for all members.
The Years 1939 – 1945
General mobilization was proclaimed in the Netherlands on August 28, 1939. Gerrit is also mobilized. He writes:
“As a sergeant of the 8th infantry regiment, the war started for me with nine months of mobilization. In the first days of this mobilization, I was able to view an unimaginable disorder on the Wageningse Berg. Our 8th regiment marched from Arnhem to Rhenen and I think the 44th regiment marched from Ede to the Betuwe. These regiments, which were already in total disarray, crossed each other on Wageningse Berg. Kitchen wagons, ammunition wagons, and many other vehicles, sometimes with runaway farm horses, ran out of control in all directions. With the marching and stumbling, men did not fare any better. What a situation there. In the long severe winter of mobilization, we in the front Grebbelinie, as good and evil as possible, built defensive positions against an expected invasion of the German army.
The war itself was bloody and mean for a few days. We had to compete against troops of an SS regiment in their then-unknown camouflage suits. In my bunker, many young miners were too afraid to fill machine-gun drums. After we had to surrender against their enormous force majeure (some soldiers took their shirts off and put them on the bayonet), the Germans came storming in with bayonets on their guns, foam on the lips, and just name-calling. “Wo sind die Engländer, Schweinhunde, etc.” My friend sergeant Wenno Jackl at one point scolded “wir sind keine Schweinhunde”, at which point a very drunk, unrepentant soldier shot him a meter away. You are standing there shaking and powerless. They were all bastards, by the way. Three sympathetic Winterswijk boys were killed in the position next to us.”
After these dramatic events in May 1940, Gerrit was a prisoner of war and, together with his companions, he was taken to Germany in freight wagons after a march to Westervoort camp near Arnhem. They should have given their suspenders – a scarce article in Germany – to German soldiers. Gerrit also lost his Voigtländer camera, a loss that he can still get upset about a few decades later.
As many as 60 men are transported per wagon, on the way nothing of the surroundings can be seen from the cars. It then became a trip of 3 days and nights for them to a camp on the former Polish border. It took almost two months for these prisoners of war to stay there, a very difficult time. They wondered why they – actually only a small group – had to drink this cup, while the vast majority in our country could continue to live at home, eat, and not be caught.
After the capitulation of the Dutch army, most of the soldiers taken prisoner of war were sent home, but all Dutch people who were taken prisoner of war on the Grebbeberg, or in the immediate vicinity, such as Fort Vreeswijk, Fort Honswijk, etc., were transported to Germany, to various camps there. Gerrit and his buddies had to work on an immeasurably large agricultural company of a German squire. Picked up from the train station with a car, the prisoners were assigned to a forest crew or an agricultural crew.
Because the Fuehrer saw the Dutch as a “tribal relative Germanic people,” he issued on June 1, 1940, the “generous” order that the Dutch prisoners of war, starving, dirty, and disheveled, could return home. Saturday, June 8, they were finally allowed to leave. Apparently it took a lot of effort to follow Hitler’s orders. Logistical problems in war are always difficult, and the transportation of prisoners of war is simply not a high priority. On the way, walking to the awaiting freight wagons, we had to stop first. The German propaganda wanted to film singing and cheerful Dutch prisoners of war, who shouted that they had had a very good time. Everyone was willing to shout what was asked for as long as they could go home. Cinema watchers could see and hear in the following days, how well the Dutch were treated in the camps, and how well they had eaten. What they couldn’t see was that each one had lost 15 pounds on average.
On Sunday, June 9, around 10 o’clock, the trains arrived at the Dutch border — some trains at Zevenaar with destination Arnhem, others at Oldenzaal, with destination Enschede, Hengelo or Almelo. The doors were allowed to open a little, and the Dutch people stood everywhere along the rails cheering their returning men. The soldiers had to get off and stand between the rails, where they first had to be counted. Here the German “gründlichkeit” (thoroughness) asserted itself. As many soldiers had to arrive as they had started with, so counting was endless. Only when everything was correct, was one allowed to walk in front of the locomotive, and one could finally enter the platform, free from under the knot of the guard.
In Almelo, the first care was arranged at the Almelo Castle. First, there was a medical check-up, and there was also real food. All hairdressers were open that Sunday, free for all ex-prisoners of war, continuing even to Monday, it was so busy. Housing and washing facilities were offered by private individuals, and often also clean clothes. After a month of fighting and walking around in the same clothes, clean clothes were by no means an unnecessary luxury. During the same week, all ex-prisoners of war returned to their hearths and homes. Music Sacrum became a reception place in Arnhem, where about 20 hairdressers from Arnhem cut and shaved all day, the bathhouse was open until late at night, and clean underwear was provided there. Fortunately, the old 6-week-old dirty laundry could be thrown into a pile and it was not necessary to take it with you. And here, too, they were housed with private individuals, until after a few days, they really went back home.
In 1941 Gerrit is transferred by the PTT from Winterswijk to the post office in Nijmegen. A year later in July 1942, he married Janna Gesiena Toebes, who was also going to live in Nijmegen. Their first child is born on June 3, 1943.
However, conditions for the still young family are changing dramatically. At the end of April 1943, all Dutch conscripts received a call to report to Amersfoort or Assen. Radio Oranje in London, however, sent a message and called for the call to be ignored. Many tried to go into hiding, but that was not possible for every one of the approximately 300,000 men involved.
“In 1943 my director suddenly forced me to choose either to work in Germany or to be fired. I was certainly not the only one who was given the same decision. In fact, I had no choice because we could not live without a salary. Eighteen months I then worked in the post office in Münster (Westphalia) with about 200 other PTT people and had to experience many (33) large bombings there, terrible and terrible, what fear and suffering, what mutilations and what enormous fires. Even the asphalt of the streets burned after an attack with phosphorus bombs. Unfortunately, a number of Dutch people were killed as well. Russian prisoners of war (men and women) were also abundantly present in Münster and the surrounding areas. Every now and then one of these Russians lay in an empty shop window, shot to death, with a sign saying ‘who steals gets the bullet.’ A horrifying sight.“
Later at home, Gerrit remains silent about his experiences. Only a few times he says something. For example, he once says that during one of the many bombing attacks on Münster, he is hiding in a corner where the arcades of the main street come together. The arcades collapse, only his corner remains upright. What he also does not mention in his life story is the fact that after the war he walks the 80 kilometers to the Dutch border near Winterswijk and experiences blood-curdling moments again in the middle of the night, when he is in a forest plot and encounters a group of armed, German soldiers coming back to the “Heimat.” And when he finally reaches the Netherlands, he is told by an older postman at the Winterswijk border that not only his father but also his oldest brother died in an English bombing …..
The third part of Gerrit’s ‘life report’ concerns the years 1945 to 1962:
“After the war, everything started to look more friendly to us. We then lived in Winterswijk again. In my spare time, I intensively studied for the PTT subject exams, which study could be successfully completed after three years. We felt happy with our family of four children. In 1956 I was unexpectedly offered a managerial position at the large forwarding agency of the postal services at Amsterdam Central Station. I had never been to Amsterdam and had no idea about that large company there. Without having a chance to look first and in consultation with my wife (she had also attended primary school in her youth in Amsterdam), after a few days, I said “yes” to accept the intended position of Supervisory Officer.
I was completely unfamiliar with my new job and for the first few months, I literally felt like a cat in a strange warehouse. After six weeks of training and getting used to it, I had to be the first official present to keep an eye on and take responsibility for the work of more than a hundred employees in the evenings. I often thought: “what on earth did you get yourself into, te Selle.” I was almost 40 years old at the time. Luckily, I was able to maintain myself and over time also found pleasure in my daily task. I have been able to learn a lot in detail in Amsterdam — the entire domestic and foreign mail process and routing, the method of exchanging mail with foreign countries by train, by plane and by boat, as well as the shipment of all kinds of parcel post to literally all countries of the world. Very interesting.
After a period of almost 6 years, I was very reluctant to be appointed chief of the parcel order department — a grueling job at the time due to a daily lack of sufficient personnel. Our human resources department did its best and traveled halfway across the country to try to recruit skilled and unskilled personnel for Amsterdam. However, when I was eventually able to become the director of the post office in Vianen (ZH), I was happy to say ‘yes’. We lived comfortably in Amsterdam South, directly on the Amstel river. As it was in those days, we got the house apart through a complicated triangle exchange …
Due to certain coincidental circumstances, I also became involved in the world of Scouts, which was completely unknown to me. With various enjoyable experiences, I fulfilled the task of Scoutmaster of an Amsterdam Boy Scout group for over three years. A separate leisure experience also took up almost all of my available time, but it was valuable. Unfortunately, when I left for Vianen, our Boy Scout group had to be dissolved due to a lack of leadership. For society, I think it is a real pity and an impoverishment that the Boy Scout movement has largely disappeared.
The last “chapter” of this life story concerns my Post Director function until my farewell at PTT in 1980:
I was able to function as Post Director for over 18 years, a period that has the least to tell about here. The policy of the central management in these years has consistently been aimed at centralizing, mechanizing, and automating as many activities at the post offices as possible. And these processes have usually been carried out with good success. However, groups of employees with carefully accumulated professional knowledge have become superfluous and, if possible, sent with early retirements, such as postal conductors and postal forwarders. Nothing is processed anymore at the post offices. Nowadays all letter mail to be sent is processed in a few centers, such as Arnhem and Zwolle. No post office has any involvement with it yet. The reception of the mail to be sorted also takes place at a number of centers. To stay close to home, the mail for Aalten is received and pre-sorted here in Winterswijk, and the mail for Groenlo, Eibergen, and Neede is sorted in Lichtenvoorde. This process has led to annoying misconceptions for the public, at least as far as I have experienced myself. The “teething” troubles may now be largely over. It became difficult for us postal directors to pursue a specific policy.
Many head offices will also be closed as such in the coming years. Winterswijk and Lichtenvoorde will be maintained as the head offices because they are located rather eccentrically in the larger whole.
This apparently has little to do with a life message. However, I thought I had indicated briefly that, all in all, the pleasure in the work came on the back burner for many and also for myself. Finally, however, for 44 years I have not regretted being employed by PTT.