Not all memories of the second world war are of tragedy, loss and disaster. Following the Normandy beach landings, the closing of the Falaise Gap and the headlong race to the city of Brussels, with autumn approaching, the pace of war relaxed and a period of relative calm ensued.
The British forces began to feel their way as far as the southmost provinces of Holland and I found myself billeted for a week or two with a Dutch family in the leafy town of Helmond. As I spread my bedroll on the floorboards of the studio of the owner, a commercial artist named Sikko van der Woude, I was welcomed by the owner, his wife and two daughters Femmy and Antje. Army duties still continued, but evenings were spent with the family, and hot baths were offered – indeed required.
Sikko, who spoke good English, proved to be very friendly and I learned that he was a designer of curtains, furnishing fabrics and floor coverings in the style of the famed Amsterdam School. To compensate for the loss of business because of the war Sikko was working on stained glass windows and for relaxation he was planning a series of humorous postcards, some celebrating the liberation of that part of Holland. I learned that he had visited the major English cities and that in Scotland he claimed to be familiar with the towns of Callander and Kirkcaldy, then known for its linoleum factories. During our discussions he quickly sketched in pencil and gave me a less than flattering caricature of my profile.
As the fighting began to resume I was obliged to move from Helmond and before I left Sikko presented me with a set of his newly printed postcards. These featured in almost every case a hairy, knobbly-kneed Scotsman wearing a skimpy kilt and playing a doedelzak, which the Dutch find irresistibly funny. I still have these cards among my souvenirs.
All of this was brought to mind recently when I was mindlessly searching eBay. There were Sikko's 'briefkaarten' offered for auction at a starting price of three euros per card. My immediate concern was the sudden realisation that perhaps I had unknowingly been the prototype 73 years ago for the scraggy knobbly-kneed Scottish piper who featured on so many of these cards celebrating the liberation. Sadly Sikko is no longer alive to refute or confirm, but at least my Helmond researches have taught me that deltiology is the fancy term for the study of postcards.