Dutch woman's plea to help track down Doreen

By Antony Clay | 06/07/2017

Dutch woman's plea to help track down Doreen
Anne Marie Hoekstra-van Westen

A DUTCH writer is trying to trace a Rotherham woman who may have letters which will help her find out more about her uncle.

She hopes to find penpal correspondence sent to a Dinnington woman which will also enable her uncle’s surviving siblings to find out more about the man who died in action in the Dutch East Indies in 1947.

Anne Marie Hoekstra-van Westen, of Hardinxveld-Giessendam in the Netherlands, wants to track down Doreen Bloomfield of Dinnington, who was the penfriend of her uncle Pieter van Westen.

Anne Marie hopes that the correspondence sent to Doreen may have been kept, perhaps by her family, and is desperate to see what the letters say.

She believes that her uncle, who was killed in an operation against rubber thieves in Sumatra aged 23, may have revealed secrets to Doreen that he kept from his family.

Anne Marie said Doreen was born in 1927 and lived at 8 Meadow Street in Dinnington. She married policeman John Gibson in 1950 and had a son called Ian. 

Anne Marie said: “Doreen was a penfriend of my uncle Pieter van Westen. In his diary he wrote that he could write to Doreen about things he hid from his family and from his Dutch friends: about all his ‘difficulties and illusions’. He wanted to spare the people at home. 

“Another reason he mentions in his diary, is that ‘there are always things they do not understand at home, or they have a different opinion on’.

“So Doreen was very special to him. He could share his personal feelings with her. And her letters gave him consolation.

“It would be very special if Doreen or one of her relatives kept Pieter’s letters, or could tell me about her contact with Pieter. That would help me, and my family, to find out more about Pieter.”

Anne Marie said that a few months ago her father Wim, now aged 83, gave her Pieter’s diary and after she read it she decided to write a book about his life as a child on a Rhine barge, how he became a bargeman’s mate when he was 14 and how he, at the end of the Second World War, decided to become a sailor.

Anne Marie said: “After his death, Pieter’s family was left with questions. Why did he want to leave his home country, almost liberated by the end of 1944, with a considerable chance that he would be sent to another war zone? Did he regret his choice when, by and by, he understood what was really going on in the Dutch East Indies?

“What did he feel when friends wrote to him about their relationships with girls and their plans to get married, while he could only write to girls he liked, but never could kiss them? Another aspect is Pieter’s orthodox upbringing, which he gradually left behind. Did he struggle with questions concerning religion?

“Pieter’s letters to Doreen probably answer these questions.”

Anne Marie said that one sister and three of Pieter’s brothers are still alive, the oldest being her uncle Martien aged 92.

She said: “My father was 13 when a police officer came to his parents’ Rhine barge, to tell them that Pieter had been killed in action.

“To see the panic in his mother’s eyes and witness his father crying is something he remembers vividly up to the present day.

“The same applies to the despair he saw in the eyes of his parents when Pieter’s suitcase arrived. It broke my grandfather’s heart to see his son’s belongings spread out on the table. It must have hit him like a sledgehammer that Pieter’s signet ring had arrived back home, but that Pieter would never wear it again; that the letters he received came back, but that Pieter would never read them again; that his address book was at home now, but that Pieter would never again mention the names in it.”

If anyone can help Anne Marie contact Doreen Bloomfield, they can email antony.clay@rotherhamadvertiser.co.uk or telephone 01709 768145 and the information will be passed to Anne Marie.

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