She experienced the horrors of Nazi occupation and the joy of meeting her future husband among the liberating Army.
Seventy-five years after she married the Royal Artillery despatch rider and left her native Holland for a new life in England, 93-year-old Jantje Huggins is content to reflect on her eventful life journey at Spring Lodge care home.
On Monday, to mark International Women’s Day, staff and residents at the home in Woolverstone, near Ipswich, will be hosting a Dutch-themed tea to celebrate her life.
Head chef Andy Gray, Kingsley Healthcare’s reigning chef of the year, will be baking Dutch cakes for the occasion.
Jantje, known as Jean to fellow residents, is the daughter of a farmer and grew up with four siblings on a mixed farm in a small village in the province of Groningen.
She recalls: “We had a happy childhood and, as we grew older, we helped too. In winter-time when the canals froze over I very much enjoyed ice skating with my friends.”
Their village was near the German border and when war arrived, her older brother was rounded up with other teenage boys and sent to labour camps in Germany.
She said: “My older sister and I were called by the Germans to a town where we were ordered to make German uniforms; we both refused and were held overnight.
“We were allowed home in the morning to mother’s great joy. She was afraid we had also been sent to Germany.”
Jantje remembers her sadness at seeing Jewish shop owners rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
“The one good thing from this awful time was meeting my husband Stan. We dated whenever we could and my family loved him.,” she said.
“After coming back from leave in England, he asked to marry me and produced an engagement ring he had bought while on leave.”
Her husband Stan’s family lived in Hackney and their first temporary home was with a relative in London.
“Life was hard for us and so different from the family life on the farm I left behind,” she said.
Stan began a lifelong trade as a butcher while Jantje was content being a housewife.
After the birth of their daughter Jean they moved into a council flat in Stepney.
When their daughter married and moved to Ipswich, they moved there also and bought a bungalow in Stoke Park.
“My daughter had two children and it was lovely watching them grow up and marry,” said Jantje.
Her husband died in 1989 while they were on holiday in Holland.
Jantje said she was blessed to have five great grandchildren and in 2017 became a great great grandmother.
Author: Stephen Pullinger