19 juni 2024

Postal Services during the Hunger Winter

Operation Market Garden started on September 17, 1944 by the Allied Forces and was aimed at capturing a series of bridges across the Maas, Waal and Rhine. Unfortunately, the operation failed at taking the last set of bridges at Arnhem across the Rhine. Consequently, the southern half of the Netherlands was liberated by the end of September, but the northern half remained occupied and mail delivery ceased between the North and South.

Furthermore, on September 17, 1944, the Dutch Government in London called for a railway strike. This made it very difficult to transport food from the agricultural areas to the urban areas, resulting in the “Hunger Winter.” The rail strike also made mail transport between the eastern, northern and western parts of occupied Holland impossible [1]. Much has been written about these mail delivery problems [1-4], but certain aspects remain unknown. However, a trove of letters exchanged between my wife’s parents provides some additional information.

Figure 1: Drawing showing how a letter mailed through a courier service had to be addressed.

The parents of my wife married in October 1945, after a six-year courtship. During the second half of 1944 and the first half of 1945, each lived with his/her parents; Berry (my future father-in-law) in Deventer and Rina (future mother-in-law) in Haarlem. While they visited each other when they could, much of the contact took place through the mail and weekly telephone calls (at Fl. 9.00 each!). Rina saved all the letters (but not the envelopes) she received from Berry, and only three letters from Rina to Berry were saved (two still in their cover).

Towards the end of her life, Rina gave the correspondence to my wife to preserve the history behind these letters. Apart from the personal content, the letters and notes are rich in historical content, relating how ordinary people managed their lives while experiencing the horrors of war. Of interest to philatelists are the remarks made regarding how the letters were processed through the mail especially when parts of the Netherlands were liberated while other parts were still occupied.

In a letter written on September 17, 1944 in response to a letter from Rina that arrived the day before. Berry remarks that the “mail is running reasonably well despite everything. It probably came with the D-train. Last night, the D-train was shot at near Bathmen.” Further in the letter, he writes: “Strange news is being told here this afternoon. American soldiers would have landed about 20 km from Deventer on the Veluwe. I do not believe it in this scope, but by the time you receive this letter, you will probably know if it was true or not.” In a post script, he writes: “People behave like mad. Gliders and paratroopers between Rhine and Waal and on the Veluwe [National Park]. I go immediately to town and the rail station to mail the letter.

In fact, this was the start of Operation Market Garden, and, also because of the railway strike, mail transport over longer distances became impossible [1]. Alternative methods to mail letters had to be found and it was not until October 15, 1944 that Berry was able to write to Rina again. He responds to a letter written by Rina, saying that he is “pleased that she has discovered a good mail connection.” A note later in the letter indicates that it was delivered through the Red Cross, and cancelled by the post office in Joppe (near Gorssel).

Figure 2: Pamphlet showing how the Treasury courier service worked.

This means of mail transport became forbidden sometime during October [2]. He continues writing that “hopefully, he has succeeded finding a good courier too.” He then mentions that Rina can use the courier too “If you put the following on the envelope, then the letter will be personally delivered by Mr. Wisman to me. You just affix a stamp to it and throw it in the mailbox.” Berry adds the drawing shown in Figure 1 to make clear how the envelope needs to addressed. Below the drawing he writes that the backside of the envelope must have Rina’s address.

The drawing shows that the letter had to be mailed to the Inspection for Price Control, on the Emmastreet in Amsterdam. The text diagonally across the enveloped reads “Via first car to Mr. Wisman, Central Service, Deventer,” and the text above the left pointing arrow says “for inspection price control.

On October 22, Berry writes in the margin of a letter that another letter from acquaintances is enclosed and he asks Rina to put this letter in the mail. Also, in case a letter from this Amsterdam address comes back to her, would she please enclose it a future letter to him? This suggests that not everyone could use the courier services Berry was using.

The next letter is dated October 31, 1944, and contains new instructions on how to use the courier services. Berry writes that letters to him must be in two envelopes, the outer one to be addressed to Mr. A. van Rossen, Department of Social Affairs, Scheepvaarthuis, Prins Hendrikkade 108, Amsterdam. The inner envelope to: Mr Wisman Jr., Service for the Authorized for the Prices, Deventer, with on the back name and address of Berry.

Letters cannot be heavier than 20 grams and must have a 7.5 cent stamp. Berry encloses a stencilled pamphlet with detailed instructions (see Figure 2). These new procedures may have been designed to conform to the post law, which gave the Dutch postal services the sole right to deliver mail. Hence postage had to be affixed even if the mail was transported in part or wholy by private delivery companies [3].

In Chapter 20 of their upcoming book [4], Adema and Groeneveld write that during the war a section of the Department of Finance (Treasury Department) was transferred from The Hague to Deventer, and that during the latter stages of the war the Treasury approved the creation of a courier service which transported important government mail between its offices in The Hague and Deventer, and vice versa. In fact, the Haarlemsche Courant of January 22, 1943 announces that the address of the “Dienst van den Gemachtigden voor de Prijzen” has changed to Deventer (Figure 3).

Various websites, including Wikipedia, confirm that the “Bureau Afvoer Regerings Apparaat” (Office for the Transport of the Government Apparatus), headed by Rost van Tonningen, evacuated parts of the Department of Finance from The Hague to Deventer, where it was housed in a school building on the Twickelostraat from the middle of 1944 through early June 1945. Also, according to [4] the Treasury Department permitted its employees to use the courier service to carry personal mail provided it was franked just as if it were handled by the PTT in the customary manner. Given that several of the addresses listed on the pamphlet shown in Figure 3 are associated with the Department of Finance, it might well be that more people than just family members could use this service.

On November 5, Berry thanks Rina for the six-page, densely-written letter he received, and writes that he was told “that a courier of the Department will leave for Amsterdam tonight. This conversation must be wrapped up and at the neighbor before six.” The neighbor is most likely Wisman, as the Kromme Kerkstraat is parallel to the Borgelerstraat Berry was living on. In a letter written one day later, Berry remarks that the previous one unexpectedly had to be mailed sooner.

In a November 26, 1944 letter and mailed per “Prijsbeheersing,” Berry writes that he wrote a letter to Rina last week and had it mailed by regular mail. That letter, dated November 22, did indeed reach Rina. He also mentions that he has not received any letters from her since she visited him (Rina had been in Deventer two weeks ago to collect food), but when he continues the letter two days later he writes that a letter from Rina has arrived earlier.

Figure 3: Haarlem newspaper announces Service of the Authorized for Prices move.

Rina visits Deventer again during Christmas and New Year, and on January 7, 1945 Berry writes that since she has left, three letters from her arrived in rapid succession. The last one was canceled in Enschede (city in the East of the Netherlands). This may indicate that a courier service was used for part of the route taken by the letter.

A letter dated January 22, 1945 reaches Rina through the niece of a man Berry meets when he rides back on his bike through driving snow from Wesepe to Deventer. The gentleman had been collecting food for his niece from Haarlem, who was staying with him for a few days, and Berry asks him if his niece can take a letter to Rina. Other acquaintances provide a similar service for a letter written later that month (exact date not clear).

Rina visits Berry again during the end of February, and Berry writes in a March 18, 1945, letter that he is pleased that she has safely arrived home with the “loot.” Also, that he will bring the letter soon to the Hoge Hondstraat to be taken to Amsterdam. There is no indication of what was to be found on the Hoge Hondstraat.

Also, it is not clear if this letter was mailed as intended, as Berry writes on March 25 that “Last week Sunday afternoon, when I wanted to bring your letter away, an attack on Gorssel took place. Everything hit. A general (Blaskowitz) with his staff, a radio sender, etc.” However, Blaskowitz was not killed in this attack as he was present at the signing of the German surrender documents in May 1945. In the same March 25 letter, Berry remarks that a long letter written by Rina on Sunday arrived on Thursday, a record time.

Berry and family are liberated on April 10, 1945. Rina and her family have still several rough weeks to go with many people suffering from a severe shortage of food. Berry sends a Red Cross note to Rina on May 7, 1945, informing her that all is well, and urging her to stay. This note arrives in Haarlem on May 30, 1945 according to the arrival cancel. On May 18, 1945 he writes that he received Rina’s letter last night, and congratulates her on the liberation. Rina’s letter was written on May 11, as becomes clear from a letter she wrote on May 18 and which was delivered by “two boys from my school” (Rina was a secretary at the Kennemer Lyceum). The front of the cover is shown in Figure 4. It has a Deventer arrival cancel dated May 22, 1945, notes in Dutch and English asking to please deliver, but is stampless. Later that month or early June Berry visits Haarlem and writes on June 8 that the return trip went beautifully.

Figure 4: Cover with arrival cancel Deventer, dated May 22, 1945, delivered by private courier.

Mail service remains troublesome for a while. On June 10, Berry writes that “The post address via Eddy Young cannot be used anymore, because all Englishmen of Thomassen and Drijver [manufacturer of cans in Deventer] have disappeared. … I can still reach him by mail, but it does not gain any time. It seems that Canadians will come, and I will try to become acquainted with one.” This probably refers to English (and Canadian) troops guarding factories etc. On July 2, he writes “Quickly a short note as Henk will go to Haarlem tomorrow” (that may be Mr. H. Wisman), and in his last letter on July 15 “It is Sunday afternoon 3 pm and I have to go quickly to Wisman [?].

So what have these letters told us? First, we now have a series of addresses and names providing the courier service established by the Treasury Department. The use of these services was not limited to family members of Treasury workers as neither Berry nor Rina had any association with Treasury. The courier service continued to work for at least the first few months after all of the Netherlands was liberated. Informal courier services through (casual) acquaintances were also used. We also know that (longer distance) mail still worked after September 17, 1944, but probably not always reliably.


Thanks to Kees Adema for pointing out that the Dutch Treasury had a courier service to and from Deventer.


  • [1] Doorn, W.J., Het postvervoer in Nederland gedurende de hongerwinter. Filatelie, 648-650, 1976.
  • [2] de Baar, K. and Adema, K., Verbroken postverbindingen als gevolg van militaire operaties in Europa (Part 4), Filatelie, 452-455, 2015
  • [3] van der Linden, A., Alternatief postvervoer in de hongerwinter 1944-1945. Filatelie, 94-95, 2015.
  • [4] Adema, K. and Groeneveld, J., The Paper Trail. The Royal Philatelic Society London.
Netherlands Philately magazine and the ASNP
This article was originally published in Netherlands Philately, 40/6, pages 140-143, 2016; published here with kind permission of the editor of NP magazine.
Ben Jansen

Ben Jansen

My current collection focus is on (correctly addressed but) undeliverable Netherland's mail. I am also the Editor of Netherlands Philately, the Magazine of the American Society of Netherlands Philately.

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