Tortured for assisting the British to victory against the Germans, a West Chiltington resident is finally to be recognised for risking her life for our freedom during World War II.
At 95 years old, Dutch-born Machteld Fromberd has resided in West Chiltington for more than 20 years, and her days as a member of the underground Dutch Resistance are 70 years behind her, but the memories, as she said, are still very vivid.
“I wanted to be liberated from the Germans and I wanted our country to be free again,” said Machteld who joined the resistance in 1943.
Based in Nazi-occupied Arnhem (eastern part of the Netherlands), the undercover 24-year-old was to be caught up in the largest airborne operation of World War II.
Under the code name ‘Gonnie’, one of Machteld’s duties was to deliver messages to British intelligence.
“All communication had to be done by hand - we had telephones, but we couldn’t use them at the time.
“I used to go on my bike to a certain place to meet somebody from another branch and hand him the letter. That was the risk I took.”
In 1944 Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had developed a plan known as Operation Market Garden, where British troops attempted to seize bridges across the Maas via parachute, so they could cross the Lower Rhine from the Netherlands and into Germany’s industrial heartland in Ruhr.
The film ‘A Bridge Too Far’, directed by the late Richard Attenborough, depicted the events of this historic mission.
At the time, Arnhem had been evacuated by the Germans and Machteld spent her nights sleeping in a barn with some colleagues in Lunterem.
“The people of Arnhem had been helping the British paratroops. The Germans said the whole place had to be evacuated within 24 hours and they didn’t care where they went, otherwise they were going to be shot.”
Even after the evacuation of her home city and the constant risk of being captured by the Germans, Machteld said she was not scared.
“I didn’t really have time to be frightened, but all the time you’re still aware of the possibility of being caught,” she said.
“There’s no point in being frightened, otherwise you can’t react normally.”
It was at Lunterem farm that she was discovered by the Germans and captured after 15 members of her underground movement were shot.
“Somebody had given them away,” she said.
Only a short while afterwards, the Gestapo (Nazi German police) found Machteld at the farm and captured her.
“Bang bang bang! And they shouted: ‘Up, up, up!’ And I was taken to the Gestapo headquarters in a place called Wormshoef in Lunterem.
“We were tortured and knocked about before being locked up. They asked us all kinds of questions and I didn’t answer. Then they put me in a cellar without food or water or anything.”
Trapped in the cellar of the seized house, Machteld was constantly told that she would be executed, but in an unusual turn of events, the war prisoner claimed she had a divine experience.
“The weird thing was at one stage the whole of this room was filled with light and I heard a voice say in Dutch: “You’re not going to be killed.” That made me feel much better,” she said.
“Fortunately all this was just before the Canadians arrived into the eastern part of Holland and immediately the Germans and the traitors removed themselves from the house and we were free.”
Although Machteld narrowly escaped execution to help the cause, she has not been recognised for her heroic actions in 70 years.
Machteld said: “The Dutch did nothing to recognise the Dutch Resistance, even though so many of them died.”
Her son, Guy Wilson, said: “She’s never been honoured. This will be the very first time for her.”
However, this only came to be after Machteld met with another war veteran, Albert Figg, at Shoreham Air Show this year.
Guy continued: “Albert was so upset to hear that she’d never been honoured.”
With the help of her son and Albert, Machled will return to Arnhem on Monday (September 15) to be finally honoured at an event.
However, Guy claimed that this invitation was only offered once he wrote numerous times to the Lest We Forget Foundation, and although he claimed he was met with opposition, arrangements have now been made to give Machteld the recognition she deserves.