The German Army Coat

The German Army Coat

A VW Kombi camper drove up Ferrers Street. The driver saw me in the front yard, noted the number on the letterbox and turned the vehicle around short of Lake Terrace to return and pull up.

“Yo! Is Sake here, ya mon?”

“Wait!” I yelled and ran to the studio at the back of the house.

Dad came out cautiously to see who it was.

“Good God! It’s Tjitze,” he greeted. They shook hands and clapped each other on the back as if lost friends after a very long absence.

“How are you?” Dad asked.

“OK. My son and I are going to pick fruit. I heard you were here. Long time, eh?”

“Ya, a long time. We migrated last year.”

“You married that girl from Gauw, eh?”

“Ya, but best not go inside. She’s dark about those times.”

“Can’t disagree there. I have no good thoughts about those times.”

“Why are you here?” Dad wondered aloud.

“I got something to show you,” said Tjitze. “It’s for you, from those days.”

“Ya?”

“Remember that bunch of Nazi losers that roughed up the boys from Leeuwarden?”

“Ya. Lined them up to be shot, right at the end of the war.” Dad replied bitterly with a dark frown that threatened to change the mood in the front yard.

“The men waylaid a few on their retreat before the Canadians came through,” Tjitze said. “I was there.”

“Bliksem!” Dad swore beneath his breath.

“I collected a souvenir,” Tjitze said.

“For you, Sake.” He rolled his eyes in a wild way, madly tapping his nose with a warning finger.

“Top secret. Ya, Sake. Hush, eh!” he whispered in a conspiracy. We followed him to the kombi van.

“What is it?” Dad asked in curiosity.

Tjitze pulled out a trunk. “All the way from Friesland, Sake,” he boasted, and added: “For you.”

He held up a full-length leather coat with the back split. It looked like new and freshly oiled.

“German motorbike rider,” dad said softly in a matter of fact tone opening up the flaps to show the fly straps and the hidden sheath for the bayonets.

“The real thing, Sake. The German who wore it didn’t need it any more.”

“Where was that?”

“Groningen somewhere, east of Drachten.”

“Ya?”

“Right legit.”

“No official latched onto it?” Dad enquired.

“Well packed you see, Sake. Personal stuff.”

“I got ten dollars.”

“No money. It’s yours.”

“I insist.”

“OK.”

Both withdrew for a whispered conversation. Tjitze went away to travel to Mildura with his son to pick fruit, but we never heard from him again. He noticed mum behind the curtain when leaving. Dad whispered that Tjitze once had a crush on her.

A few years later in the studio dad suddenly said that he first knew Tjitze from the bad days of the hunger winter.

“He was my other contact,” dad said. “Never really knew the others. You can’t spill what you didn’t know. But I knew Tjitze.”

“Oh?” I wondered.

“Mad kid.”

Dad wanted to say something and eventually he formed the thought: “Tjitze was considered to be mad, but he was sane. The Germans figured that he was harmless, a crazy kid, not right in the top.” Dad tapped his head.

“Oh!”

“You know, Pieter, Tjitze’s black coat was his pride, but he needed funds so I gave him $10 dollars for it.”

“Oh,” I really didn’t know what to say.

“It was worth a lot more, but that’s all I had left. Things were very tight for us back then.”

I nodded, remembering the lack of money in 1967.

“In the war he had found a pilot’s boot in the fields with the skeleton foot inside. English. He carried it to show the Germans, rolling his eyes and tapping his nose in a conspiratorial way. Everything was madly top secret with Tjitze. The Germans never figured out how information got through, but Tjitze was considered to be totally stupid you see.”

Dad puffed on his pipe, a distant light in his eyes.

“I carried sheep cheese in a calico bag,” he reminisced.

A long silence followed.

Suddenly he spoke: “Tjitze was weird, you know.”

 

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