Faith in the Future
In retrospect, one does not have to be a genius to be right. Therefore, it’s safe to say that, my father, Willem Marinus Gutteling (Willem, 1878–1965), in 1936, knew what to do with me, his naughty sixteen-year-old son, Christiaan. My nickname or sobriquet was Tip; the eldest twin. My twin brother, Marinus (Maarten or Martin depending on your native language), was certainly not identical. He was younger by a fraction of half an hour. He was taller, more studious, more sportsmanlike, and generally better behaved. My father and mother, Henriette Christina Gutteling van Stockum (Jet, 1884–1966), must have had long discussions of what to do with their wild boy Tip, who was troublesome in the Primary School (De Bavinck School met den Bijbel) and in the Secondary Educational School (M.U.L.O.).
My ambition was to be a sea captain or airway pilot. As a youngster, I pleaded for it. Then, a newspaper advertisement suggested a future career in navigation with the Navy after a two-year training course in a Naval College at Den Helder Hogere Zeevaartschool, Den Helder.
After we made enquiries we were visited by Mr. Jan Middendorp, the Managing Director of that Navigational College in Den Helder. He was also a commander in the Royal Naval Reserve (KMR) who ran a tight ship and was known as a disciplinarian. He was tall, stood upright, broad shouldered, and always wore a bowler hat. His stern face could change quickly into a kind or amused smile and his mannerisms showed strength of purpose and command.
Mr. Middendorp convinced my parents that his Naval College was the answer to their problems, but for one easily overcome drawback. I needed a one-year Preparatory Training as my academic merits were not good enough to enter for higher navigational learning. There and then I entered into an amphibian future that would start in early January 1937. I was told of this fact and introduced to Mr. Middendorp. He was a big man with a big smiling and friendly face who said all the right things. He promised to pick me up for Den Helder when the time came to attend my Preparatory Course. I was surprised, but pleased, that I was accepted in the Preparatory Course. I took some time to absorb the notion that I was accepted in the Preparatory Course. My time had come.
I was sixteen when the time came for me to go in early January 1937. I was picked up by Mr. Middendorp to go by car from The Hague (Den Haag) to Den Helder.
I said goodbye to my parents, my siblings and my home; in short, goodbye to Beeklaan 450, our address in The Hague which became a permanent identification in my mind. Even now after sixty-seven years, I remember the telephone number but there is no one to answer it; this is so silly!
From that time on, I only returned to my family for my holidays. At the time I had no inkling of how much I would miss them in my lonely hours.
Mr. Middendorp was very kind. He had spent Christmas and New-Years in The Hague and was thus able to give me a lift.
The journey was quick and uneventful through typical flat North Holland landscapes via Leiden and Gouda and then to Den Helder. We arrived in the De Nieuwe Diep harbor area on a street named Ankerpark.
The Navigational College, (Hogere Zeevaartschool Den Helder), was an imposing three-story building at Ankerpark No.27. My students’ residence was directly opposite. I was introduced to my House Master and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. de Klerk, after which Mr. Middendorp quietly disappeared to become The Director for the next three years.
This was my alma mater, my foster mother for the period of my studies. My students’ residence was a one down-one upper. The living quarters for Mr. and Mrs. de Klerk were on the ground floor which was out of bounds for us. Our dining room and kitchen was upstairs along with three bedrooms for twelve boarders and our ablution section.
All our school activities and homework had to be done in the main school building and all the outside practical seamanship work was done at other harbor areas. Our bedrooms were small rooms with two bunk beds and two clothes lockers at each bunk end. Because I was the tallest student in my room, I was allocated a top bunk. Being one of the first to arrive I got to choose the North or South upper bunk; I chose the South one. That was my patch for the next three years. We were allowed to bring the minimum necessities in underwear, strong woolen jerseys, socks, scarf and gloves, warm pajamas and good rainwear. For outside work the school provided garments such as an overall, oilskin coat, and southwester. I was not allowed to wear a uniform and cap until I passed Prep year and the entrance examination to the Navigational College. My peers regarded me as a nonentity as I was not a high school graduate. To enter Navigational College, one had to have graduated from high school. All others were qualified to start Navigational College as they were high school graduates. Therefore, I was off into the great unknown with no idea of what was in store for me.
The next three days saw our two students’ residences filling up with new students. I had some time to have a look around the harbor area and the town, which gave me some idea of the kind of world I had entered. Older students and officers from the Merchant Navy, who had come back for their higher grade exams to become Third, Second, First officer, or to get their Master’s (Captain’s) Certificate, all went to boarding houses in town.
Our daily routine started at 06:00 hours, breakfast at 07:00 hours and the school started at 08:00 hours until 12:00 hours, a cooked lunch at 12:30 hours and then school started again at 13:00 hours until 17:00 hours, and then a simple evening meal at 18:00 hours.
I must cut a long story short, for this is not an account of my years of training, but it serves as a short introductory digest to my war experiences; to wit, I passed my three years with flying colors, mainly because I quickly adapted myself to this kind of life.
I liked the subjects of the school curriculum, it applied to the practical side of seamanship, although rough and hard work in all sorts of weather conditions, loved the mathematical side of navigational problems with its spherical geometry and trig-onometry; liked working with the sextant and the practical side of sailing, was interested in the application of material handling and in the art of safe stowing; but found the international sea laws and protocol, languages, and geography tedious; but then, cartography and cosmology were most interesting. All-in-all, I did very well with high marks; a pleasant surprise to my parents.
I got to know many people in Den Helder and even had a girlfriend, Annie Smit, whom I took to the college parties, which were held twice a year. Annie, who was my age, introduced me to her parents at my first college party. She had auburn hair to her shoulders, was tall and slender with a ready smile. She designed dresses and sewed for her customers at her parents’ house, where she lives. Her father was a busy small building contractor. He was tall and strong with a ruddy lined face. Annie’s mother was a wonderful cook and made lovely pancakes.
Their home became my home away from home in my spare time; as so many kind citizens were doing for away from home youngsters.
What about Den Helder itself? You can become lyrical about a place, but unless you were born and bred in Den Helder, it took some time to get used to. The town had little or no character. It was drab and plain. To quote statistical data, at that time, Den Helder had approximately nine thousand nine hundred and twenty dwellings with some seventy-eight thousand citizens. Sixteen hundred persons worked at the Royal Naval Dockyard and two hundred fishermen operated a fishing fleet of forty vessels and twenty flat-bottom boats. In the harbor area along the Nieuwe Diep was The Royal Naval Establishment with a large and well-equipped naval dockyard.
Here also, was The Royal Institute for the Navy, which trained Royal Naval Officers. In addition, there was a Navigational College, Hogere Zeevaartschool. They prepared students to become officers in the merchant navy or the civil airways. Den Helder was a twin or binary settlement; there were citizenry and there were navy; two very different concepts.
Den Helder citizens had basic universal ideals and wished for a fixed steady income, his own house, (either rented or owned), and a funeral at the local cemetery. These ideals governed the citizen’s lives. The naval man wanted more out of life. He had the urge to leave this plain and drab place, to see the world and to better himself. Both groups understood each other, and in general terms, there were no rich or no poor. This near equality engendered a peaceful coexistence at the end of a single railway track at North Holland’s lands end.
The sea and the storms made and created this lands end and had formed the character of its inhabitants. A great many of them had walked the tide line along the sandy beach or on the dikes or along the extreme end of the harbor where the sea flowed over the blue-black basalt blocks which were the actual lands end. They listened to the voice of the wind and the sea which was part of their universe.