We are celebrating our 75th anniversary as British Council in the Netherlands in 2020-21 by sharing 75 personal stories from people who have a special connection to both the UK and the Netherlands. Read the 75 NL-UK stories and join us in celebrating our 75th anniversary. Expand the boxes below to read the full stories by Paul Dimond, Sir Colin Budd, Jannet Duijndam, Janey Niemeijer, and Jan de Wit. New stories will be added in the months to come.
75 UK-NL Stories - Civil service
Huge congratulations to the British Council on the 75th anniversary of your work in the Netherlands. You opened your operations just after the pre-War British Envoy and Minister at The Hague Sir Nevile Bland had returned to The Hague as Ambassador in May 1945, since then giving your tremendous support to the bilateral arts and cultural relationship and in education and the English language.
It was a privilege in my diplomatic career to be appointed Deputy Head of Mission at The Hague from 1994 to 1997, working with the Council and with so many highly professional officials across the Netherlands Government and local authorities, quickly learning of the exceptional like-mindedness of the two countries across so many fields. During our assignment, my wife Carolyn and I attended the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem at Oosterbeek and nearby, also events at St Michielsgestel marking the loss of her father in an RAF Stirling that crashed outside the town in the Market Garden operation. In 2019, we again attended the 75th anniversaries of both, the spirit of Arnhem continuing unabated in this extraordinary relationship with the British.
After my retirement from the Diplomatic Service, we happily joined the Anglo-Netherlands Society in London, the thriving non-governmental membership organisation promoting our bilateral fellowship and interests in common. In 2020, the Society’s centenary year, we published North Sea Neighbours, an anthology of stories of the many ways the Dutch and the British have worked and played together over the century. The British Council continues to help us as we explore our own relationships in the tertiary education sector.
With our warmest wishes for the Council in the years ahead.
Paul Dimond CMG
Honorary Secretary, Anglo-Netherlands Society
Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy at The Hague 1994-97
Sir Colin Budd
One of the most prominent and colourful of the innumerable threads in the tapestry of this shared history is formed by the links between the two Royal families.
As it happens, that dimension of the story entered my life as a teenager when I read Veronica Wedgwood’s life of “William the Silent” – written during the high emotion of the Second World War. Then in 1958 the same author, in an address to the Anglo-Netherlands Society in London to mark Queen Elizabeth’s 1958 visit to Nederland, under the title “The Rose and the Orange Tree”, explored the many rich connections between the two Royal families – including the christening in 1577 of Willem van Oranje’s second daughter Elizabeth, named after the then Queen of England. On which occasion the latter’s representative, bringing the Queen’s christening present of a golden lizard, was the young Sir Philip Sidney, the flower of English chivalry, who was later to die, fighting against Spanish troops, outside the gates of Zutphen.
That story, and many, many others, flashed through my mind when, as British Ambassador to Nederland from 2001-5, I found myself taking part in numerous Royal occasions: three sombre but hugely impressive funerals, two delightful weddings, and the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem.
Whatever the other ups and downs of the bilateral relationship, the British and the Dutch have for many centuries, as we all know, stood shoulder to shoulder in time of trouble, as we still do. What was the significance of the golden lizard? That the lizard, according to Pliny [Plinius], mounts guard over the lion when he is asleep, and warns of approaching danger.
Sir Colin Budd
As a former Cultural Attaché at the Dutch embassy in London from 2013-2017 I have numerous good memories to cherish. One of my favourites is the spring in which we supported a Dutch garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. This quintessentially British event is an extremely hard fortress to conquer. We made it in a collaboration of the cultural, economic and agriculture teams at the Embassy with Dutch artist and nature activist Claudy Jongstra and her team. Her gorgeous, colourful, and ecological garden of dye plants even won a Silver Guilt Medal; a first for an outsider. The garden even had a few nettles as an example of very useful colouring plants, which not every British visitor could appreciate. It was an overwhelming experience to take part in and even better to come this far in the stiff competition.
My NL-UK connection
My NL-UK connection is a special one because I was born to a British mother and Dutch father, so I have both nationalities and was raised speaking both languages. I think one could describe my three older brothers and I as ‘’bi-cultural’’, being able to enjoy certain things or elements from both cultures. Being brought up singing both ‘’Bah bah black sheep’’ and ‘’Slaap kindje before bedtime slaap’’, something that I raise my own daughter with to this very day. It is such a privilege to be raised with both cultures.
But what I enjoyed the most about being both British and Dutch was the opportunity to work for both Governments in my life, as an intern at the Dutch Embassy in London, but more importantly as the Executive Assistant for the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir Geoffrey Adams for a period of nearly 4 years, from 2013 to 2017. Working for Sir Geoffrey and the British Embassy was such a unique experience, you really do get thrown into ‘’the thick of it’’! If I had had to pick, the best memory was driving to Oosterbeek in a motorcade with the Ambassador and the then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, to meet with the Dutch Foreign Secretary Bert Koenders to celebrate the anniversary of Operation Market Garden. Or being sent to pick up former Prime Minister Theresa May from the airport. Or managing some great events to celebrate UK-NL connections at the Ambassador’s Residence, such as the Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to the Netherlands. All of the work that I did then symbolises how important the Netherlands is to the UK, and vice versa, and I’m very grateful to have been given that opportunity to promote the UK-NL connections!
Jan de Wit
Where profession (chief executive of protocol of ‘s-Hertogenbosch) and person are connected! Wales has been my second home for decades. A home that 146 young British soldiers – who died in 1944 in my city – have indirectly given me. Why? Life has many goals for me, but one main goal: those who made free life possible for 's-Hertogenbosch and for me, will continue to be mentioned and honoured here.
Let me take you back to 1944. After Market Garden, it was decided to liberate the south of the Netherlands to clear the supply route from Antwerp to the Ruhr Area. ’s Hertogenbosch was recognised as a strategically situated communication and traffic hub. For that reason, the British Second Army decided to deploy the entire 53rd Welsh Division to gain control of the city. It was the first time – and, as it later appeared also the only time – that the division as a whole carried out operations. That made ’s Hertogenbosch the only city on the continent to be liberated by the entire Welsh Division.
After the war, close ties were developed between Wales and ’s Hertogenbosch. General Ross returned to the city with hundreds of liberators and honoured ’s Hertogenbosch with a special Welsh Shield. In 1952, an impressive Welsh Division Memorial was erected in 's Hertogenbosch; the only one on the continent for the Welsh victims of WWII. Wales en ‘s-Hertogenbosch started with grand reunions and many friendships were started between host families and liberators. It also made our bond between The Royal Welsh (Cardiff), the 160th Brigade (Brecon) and ’s Hertogenbosch even stronger.
’s Hertogenbosch gave a name to 146 soldiers who gave their lives. A Roll of Honour was created and the names were visualised in the windows of our City Hall, to show symbolically that - looking through the names in the windows - the post-war development would not have been possible without the sacrifices, made by these young men from Wales and Great Britain. A new impressive road bridge was dedicated to The Royal Welsh, memorial plaques were erected in the city and Wales and 's Hertogenbosch would band together with special commemorations, parades, meetings with young people, and cultural and sports exchanges. And in between for me: battlefield tours, school lessons, lectures and studies, all with one goal: gratitude to Wales. The city is also proud of a warm relationship with the Pontypridd ‘s-Hertogenbosch (veterans) Branch and that resulted in a dedicated monument for the civilian victims of ’s Hertogenbosch in the beautiful area of Rhondda Caynon Taf.
77 years of freedom now. 1944 will keep Wales and ’s Hertogenbosch connected forever. It has been a great honour for us over the past decades to express our gratitude to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince of Wales, several First Ministers of Wales and Ambassadors. To be honest, I would trade it all for just one moment with 146 unknown but unforgettable friends. Yes, my beautiful Dutch city owes its freedom and indirectly its development to Wales. It makes me humble.
Jan de Wit