Updated: Sep 5, 2022
In the cemetery on the hill overlooking the picturesque Cornish harbour of Charlestown stands this headstone to this much-travelled Dutchman. From theological training in Scotland he spent a lifetime of service in South Africa before coming to reside for the last four years of his life in Cornwall. With the help of his widow and family I have been piecing together a little of his wartime exploits, a chapter in his life that he seldom spoke about, but one that is beginning to be recognised in his native homeland, the Netherlands and one that makes the story of this quiet, unassuming gentleman and missionary all the more remarkable.
Albert Sliep was born on Friday 20th May 1921, the fifth of six brothers. Herman, born 1911, and Huite, born 1914, were the children of Willem Sliep and Yfke Tuininga. When Yfke died Willem married Frouwke Reer on 24th January 1918 and they had four sons: Menko, born 1919, Lucas, born 1920, Albert, born 1921 and Harman (Harry), born 1925.
Albert was born into a Christian family which lived in Friesland, the Carolingian city in the north of the Netherlands. When Albert was small the family moved to Hilversum which is where he went to school. The family went to a local evangelical church where the pastor was the Rev Willem ten Boom, the brother of Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place. In 1932 Rev Willem started a Scout group connected with the church. Albert joined the group and really enjoyed and excelled at the activities. He became known as Ab to all his friends.
Two things happened in 1937. First of all, at a Scout meeting Albert made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. Sharing the gospel and Bible study were part of the group’s activities and when Albert came to understand what Jesus had done for him, he sought forgiveness of sins and gave his life to Christ. It was a clear commitment made at the age of 16 he kept for the rest of his life. Secondly, the Netherlands hosted the 5th World Scouting Jamboree at Hilversum and Albert was there along with 17,000 other Scouts and heard a message from Queen Wilhemenia and the founder of the Scouts, Baden-Powell.
After the Jamboree interest in scouting in the Netherlands grew and so the church group split into two to cope with the additional numbers. In 1938 Albert joined the group based at Hilde Park, Hilversum. Both groups were still overseen by the Rev Willem ten Boom. The Heide Park group included Christian ten Boom, known as Kik (sometimes spelt Kick in some Dutch sources), the son of the founder. He was a year older than Albert but they became good friends. Both saw scouting as an opportunity to serve others and to witness to their peers.
In the photo of the Sparrowhawk Patrol taken in Heide Park in 1939 Albert is the person sitting in the front on the left. Others identified in this picture include: H. Harteming, P.J. Sluis and W.A. Keren. By 1940 Albert was running the cub pack of the church Scout group. In peacetime the age of the cubs would be 7-12. Albert was 18. He was assisted by a young woman called Ada van Keulen, who was 17 months older than Albert.
On 10th May 1940 their world was turned upside down as Nazi Germany invaded. Albert didn’t celebrate his 19th birthday 10 days later - the country was in turmoil, he, his family and everyone else forgot. The Queen fled to England and the Netherlands surrendered after the bombing of Rotterdam. At, first the Nazis tried to coerce the Scouts into becoming part of the Hitler youth movement but the leaders resisted and the Nazis received no cooperation at all. Nazi attitudes hardened after the Dutch 3-day strike in February 1941 showing their disapproval of a range of measures the occupiers were seeking to enforce. So on 2nd April 1941 the Nazis banned the Dutch Scouting movement and confiscated their property. For the Heide Park, group this meant their overall leader Wim Repko was arrested, and clubhouse house seized, property confiscated and the building sealed. Kik ten Boom and Albert were outraged and met with a few other leaders that evening. They agreed they should continue. Kik decided to have secret meetings with the Scouts (the 13+ age group) and Albert does the same with the cubs (7-12). Ada agreed to help Albert in organising the meetings.
The cubs met in the tea house, a round hut of wooden stilts with a thatched roof in the garden of the Schadd family who live at the Arubalaan on Soestdĳkerstraatweg. The hut is not visible from the road in the large garden in the wood near the golf course. Footage of the house and garden taken in 2020 by a drone (although the tea house is gone) is available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/bcsjbNBIpf4 and clearly shows how the tea house would not be visible, hidden by the trees and shrubbery. The boys called it the Hordehol.
There were six boys at the first meeting but it soon grew to 15. They were officially called ‘De Woudlopers’, the Boys Department of the Evangelical Society The Fishnet. It was an innocent enough name to sound like a church group to put the Nazis off the scent. De Woudlopers translates to The Woodwalkers. Obviously they couldn't wear their uniforms but they took to wearing one item which the Germans wouldn’t suspect - their belts. (However, in some of the photos from September 1944 they are wearing their neckers quite openly.) They continue their usual scouting activities of walks, nature observations, treasure hunts, the practice of various skills. Albert also kept their Christian teaching and Bible study going. Even when paper was in short supply later in the war the daily Bible readings chart was still produced and distributed.
But Albert soon had other activities for them as well. Because they are just young boys, the Germans would ignore them out in the streets and not stop and search them, so Albert got them acting as messengers for the resistance carrying messages, documents and maps, sometimes on their person, sometimes hidden in the frames of their bicycles. They also carried food, stencils and typewriters, paper, even occasionally weapons and sometimes people who needed to be moved from one hiding place to another. Wim Repko and his son ran a secret printing press in his home and Albert’s group were used to distribute the secret resistance newspaper, a secret scouting magazine and various Christian literature.
All this needed coordination. So Albert and another helper Herman Hassink took over the church garage (sometimes referred to as the bicycle shed) which was in Tesselschadelaan, Hilversum. They camped there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, coordinating the flow of messengers to and fro. The boys were on duty from 9am to 6pm every day. It is thought Albert moved to live here to protect his own family home. Also, the constant coming and going from a church building would have appeared less suspicious than from a private home. Albert referred to this as his “office”. In their testimony several resistance members have spoken of going to see Ab in his office. It seems Albert was here from April 1941 until sometime in 1942. It appears that most of the Scout leadership were involved in resistance activities in one form or another. Likewise many of the church congregation, including its pastor Willem ten Boom, were actively involved as well. While not all of them bore arms, many provided food, shelter, clothing, finance, and other resources to support the activities of those who did.
This is an amazing survival. This is a document produced by Albert in September 1944 addressed to the parents of De Woudlopers asking for their cooperation in spite of the worsening food situation in the country in letting the boys attend their Saturday afternoon/evening meetings.
A rough literal translation of the document:
Evangelical Society The Fishnet, Boys Department, De
Hilversum, September 1944.
To the Parents
It is known to us and we are of course also experiencing it ourselves that they take care of the daily bread. It goes without saying that the boys also take as many weeks as possible to ensure that the food supply runs as smoothly as possible. Of course they also have their duties to fulfil at home. However, we would also like to see that you cooperate so much in your power that the boys regularly attend the troop afternoons on Saturdays. Not primarily for our convenience, but primarily for the benefit of the boys themselves. We have no doubt that you will be happy to arrange so that the Saturday afternoon food remains available to the boys for their troop. Perhaps it will then also be possible, except this afternoon, to make free the afternoon or evening for them, when they can gather with their patrol. The latter would be highly appreciated, but it is not strictly necessary. We count on your cooperation in this matter, for which we thank you very much.
Meanwhile, Kik has most of the Scout group he ran actively involved in the resistance itself. When the Germans confiscated the Scout clubhouse, they didn’t know that the Scouts also had a wooden hut deep in the forest because the Scouts had somehow failed to register it with the Dutch municipal authorities when it was erected before the war. This became a secret hideaway for the Scout leaders and resistance members. Albert was able to use it when the Germans started rounding up the young men for compulsory work service which usually meant deportation to Germany. He was able to live in the wooden hut and still continue his organisation of De Woudlopers and his other resistance activities. Life at the hut appears to have been quite open as photographs show them eating at a table outside and posing for photographs.
Most of the lads in this photo are from Kik’s group ‘Gooische Zwervers Stam' - the Gooische Wanderers as they used the hut in the woods as their base which they called 'Het Behoudt Huys'. It was in the forest near the golf course. Left to right: Gerard Huis in’t Veld, Hans Petersen Nobbe, Paul Morreau, Unknown, Unknown, Eli Millenaar, Unknown, Unknown, Evert Mager, Frans van der Berg, Wim Millenaar, another Morreau, Jan Mol (senior), Ruud Boorst, Ruud Boorst, Herman Jenner. However, the face at the window is Albert Sliep. The photo is dated 1941 and is one of the things that convinces me that Albert’s activities in the resistance went far beyond just organising the cubs! He moved freely between the groups and was known to visit other towns and other leaders. I am convinced there is more of his wartime story to be discovered.
Later in the war a British airman was hidden here in the hut until they could put him on the escape route that took him south through Holland, Belgium, France and across the frontline. By the end of the war a number of downed Allied airmen had been cared for in this way.
On one occasion Albert was emerging from the forest when the Germans, who were searching for someone else, arrested him and the fellow leader he was with. The Germans didn’t realise who they had caught; they just thought they were young men evading work. They were taken to a transit camp by a German on a horse who whipped them as they walked along. Albert managed to lose a clog in the process.
They were taken to a transit camp to be deported to Germany. The two of them decided they had more important work to do and after two days found a hole in the fence which they managed to widen and crawl through, evaded the patrolling guards in the darkness, swam across a canal and managed to get away. They returned to the wooden hut in the forest and continued with their activities.
This photo was taken on Saturday 2nd September 1944 in the Schadd’s garden, the one that had the tea house. It shows an induction ceremony for a young lad joining the troop. Right to left: Herman Jenner, Henk van Teggelen (holding the flag), Hopman Jan Kooger, Egbert Schapp (the one being inducted into the group), Albert has his face hidden by the raised hand. Note the parents also in attendance and the fact they are also wearing their neckers. They obviously were not fearful of being busted by the Germans.
The winter of 1944 to 1945 was one of great hunger in the Nazi-occupied part of the Netherlands, so the group’s activities also embraced a grocery delivery service which helped to supply both the resistance and the increasingly large number of people in hiding from the Germans. On 4th May 1945 General Montgomery took the surrender of all German forces in north-western Europe, the local surrender in the Netherlands was taken by the Canadians on the 5th but it was several days more before Canadian troops arrived in Hilversum. The Scout groups, now openly wearing their uniforms, helped the local police control the streets, supply food and other essentials until the liberators finally arrived on the 7th.
There were costs to the activities of the Scout groups. The Rev Willem ten Boom was arrested at the same time as Casper, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were arrested in Haarlem. Willem spent some time in prison and died in December 1946 from medical complications caused by his incarceration. Today a family photo of Willem ten Boom hangs in the new club house in Hilde Park.
Ada van Keulen was at a meeting of resistance leaders in Amststerdam on 13th June 1944 when they were betrayed and she was one of 28 resistance members arrested that day. Only seven of them survived the war. Ada was imprisoned, then sent to Camp Vught, a concentration camp in the Netherlands, before being transferred to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp where the ten Boom sisters also ended up. Ada was only there a month before she was sent on October 15th 1944 to Dachau where she was put to work in the Agfa Commando. This was a satellite camp where they worked in the Agfa camera factory (part of the IG Farben Group). The women assembled ignition timing devices for bombs, artillery ammunition and V-1 and V-2 rockets; they used every opportunity to sabotage the production. Christian meetings that had been held in Vught continued in secrecy in Dachau. Since the women were not under guard in their rooms, they held regular devotions and produced their own song books. They translated parts of the Old Testament from a German Bible that was lent to them by a civilian factory worker.
Production in the factory ended on 23rd April 1945 due to Allied bombing and the advancing Americans. The Camp Commandant ordered the 500 women to march south. On the 28th, going against SS orders, the Commandant halted the march on a farm asking the farmer to shelter the women in his hayloft and help feed them. He refused to re-start the march and surrendered to the Americans on 1st May. The women were liberated and after a while were repatriated by the Red Cross. After the war Ada became a teacher and died in 2010.
On August 18th 1944 Kik ten Boom was, by chance, arrested in Zeist, a town to the south near Utrecht. During his arrest, he resisted and used his firearm. Via Camp Amersfoort, Camp Vught and concentration camp Sachsenhausen, he ended up in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. On May 31st 1945 (after the war had ended) he died in Bergen Belsen at the age of 25. Today in Hilversum there is a ten Boom street in honour of Kik and his father and a memorial to Kik on the wall of a square.
Albert survived the war but struggled to settle to life in postwar Netherlands, so was invited to South Africa by his older brother Huite who had left Hilversum before the war to go to Scotland to train for the ministry and was now a missionary in South Africa. Albert went in 1948. He joined the Boy Scouts in South Africa and was responsible for the black schools feeding programme in Transkei. Later he would choose between the position of Secretary-General of the Boy Scouts and training as a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. He chose the Lord’s work.
Returning to Hilversum in 1957 as his father died in a bicycle accident, Albert then went on to Edinburgh for his theological training in 1959 finding lodging at the Royal Blind School. At the same time a Scottish lady was also beginning work at the Royal Blind School. Miss MacLaren was a Girl guide, a member of Scripture Union and enjoyed cycling. They met for the first time on Monday 1st June 1959 – the match was perfect. After a proposal on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, they married in Scotland and returned to South Africa to work with the Free Church in Southern Africa, mainly around the Eastern Cape. Wherever they lived they organised the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and Albert was the regional co-ordinator of Scouting in Transkei during Transkei independence. Albert remained in contact with Ada after the war writing regularly and he and his wife visited her on a rare visit back to the Netherlands.
Albert and Martha (Pat) retired from missionary work and, when in 2007 some of their family re-located to the UK, they moved with them to Cornwall. After a short illness and battle with dementia Albert went to be with the Lord in 2011. His widow Pat is still going strong!
Can You Help?
Can you provide any more detail on Albert’s wartime activities, particularly any involvement with resistance missions, as I firmly suspect he did more than just organise the Cubs as a messenger service?
Can you provide any more detail on Allied airmen hidden in the hut in the forest in Hilde Park? Have any of them mentioned this in their autobiographies/biographies?
Can you provide any more details on Albert’s arrest? Presumably there must be somewhere some German documentation concerning the event and his movement to the transit camp?
Are you aware of any Dutch sources (not listed below) that shed light on the activities of the Scout Group at Hilde Park during the war that may provide more detail on Albert’s wartime activities?
Oral testimony from Pat Sliep
Illegale padvindersactiviteiten in de Tweede Wereld oorlog by Hans Van Der Veen