Geoffrey Cotterell, Letters II, 30 October 1945

All Geoffrey’s letters are addressed to his mother unless otherwise stated. He usually calls her ‘Darling’ which reads a little oddly to modern eyes. 

The previous letter from Geoffrey concluded that as he had not received the notification for his new posting yet, he was going to take the chance to go to Holland where all the major incidents which surrounded Anthony’s disappearance took place. 

The very long diary letter dated 30 October, the first part of which follows below, was written from his new posting at Hamburg where he was with No 10 German News Service, BAOR (British Army of the Rhine). 

Major Geoffrey Cotterell with Sergeant Kamp from 33 Netherlands War Crimes Commission, who greatly assisted in the search for Anthony, and Aps Tjeenk Willink of Brummen

People & Places in the Text

The Tjeenk-Willinks, which Geoffrey usually abbreviates to Willink, were a prominent local family at Brummen who were of great assistance during the search for Anthony. They had hidden Tony Hibbert, one of the British parachutists who had escaped from the truck full of prisoners just before Anthony was shot.

Korteweg was the local doctor who had treated the British prisoners immediately after the shooting.

General Dempsey was the commander of the British forces in Holland which Hibbert was hoping would break through to the Brummen/Arnhem area.

Major Gough was the senior British officer on the truck at the time of the shooting. An enormously charismatic figure, he took care of the wounded until forced to leave them by the Germans at the dressing station at Zutphen. He was the first person to report the war crime at Brummen, which he did to the protecting authorities as soon as he reached his permanent prisoner of war camp.

30th October


A long delay since you heard from me, but I didn’t write until I left Holland – for according to Willink he had sent several letters that you couldn’t have received, including his theories as to where the dressing station was. [The dressing station was where Anthony’s wounds were dressed after he had been shot by the SS. Other prisoners wounded in the same shooting were also treated there.]

Anyway I have a little progress to report, and I’ll give it as I wrote it in diary form each night.

26th Oct.

I hitchhiked my way quite successfully, arriving at Brummen about tea time. Mrs Willink was having tea with a woman who looked like Queen Wilhelmina. I had been driven through Arnhem, over the bridge and then along the road of the fatal journey.

I visited Dr Korteweg next door, an enormous man with wife and small daughter. Both houses, comfortable, the Willinks’ built rather like the Townleys’. Brummen a large and attractive village.

Korteweg took the photograph [of Anthony] round all the people who saw the incident but they did not recognise him. Korteweg recognised the face, but couldn’t place whose it was. He went over the wounds again and gave his opinion that Anthony did not go to Enschede because he was not bad enough. (I am now pretty sure that this is the case.) He had a theory about the dressing station, but the house he had in mind had been bombed since. He rang up a doctor in Zutphen who was inclined to agree with him. Not encouraging.

During the evening Mrs Willink gave me some reminiscences of the occupation. Fascinating. Once they were looking after ten Englishmen. When Hibbert was there, neighbours scared them stiff by sidling up with parcels of butter etc for “the friend”. They had also kidnapped a professor from a labour gang and nursed him back to health. Bombs had been close enough to break their windows. The Germans had shot eight people in Brummen, and torn out the fingernails of others. There was a secret trap door under the sitting room carpet and a secret cupboard in my room. It’s amazing.

Also a false roof to the house which Hibbert used.

27th October.

During breakfast Dick Willink, the son, arrived. He had at once hitchhiked his way from Utrecht, as soon as he heard I was there.

After breakfast I produced the very generous rations which the ration clerk at Lierre had given me when he heard I was going to Holland. Mrs Willink was overwhelmed. Their food situation in this district is not at all catastrophic, a not quite so good version of English civilian rations. Plenty of apples, plenty of bread, small amounts of butter and cheese, very thin slices of smoked bacon. Certainly not luxurious, and they certainly like eating. I have just watched Mrs Willink, who is not a fat woman, eat five apples straight off before going to bed.

Willink took me to the scene of the incident and I saw exactly where the wounded were laid. Then we hitchhiked to Zutphen, which had had plenty of damage, especially round the bridge. I didn’t believe Korteweg’s theory because it didn’t quite fit Major Gough’s story. We set off after Willink’s, and finally located a small street and a house with three steps, or four including the pavement. This did fit in. It was now the office of the Dutch Political Police, and, yes, they said, it had been a Luftwaffe dressing station. Just inside there was a room and an inner-room exactly as Major Gough described it. So we had found it.

We searched the house for signs of Germans, but there was nothing. There was a paved courtyard at the back, so Anthony couldn’t possibly have been buried there. The house was quite large and in the middle of a busy little street. (The discovery of this house turned out to be most important.)

We went to Zutphen hospital and found the name of a German surgeon who was there in Sept 44: Richter. Nothing else. Then some luck, though I hardly knew it. I saw the word Provost on the window of a house next to the Town Major and called in. There were some sergeants there who were very interested and promised to do everything they could. They work through the young ladies of Zutphen. They were also going to find an underground friend of Willink’s. The latter had actually been stopped by the Gestapo when carrying Hibbert’s despatches to General Dempsey, but had managed to bluff them out.

Back to Brummen. Mrs Willink said a woman who had seen the incident had noticed one of the wounded laughing and had been amazed that he could do so in the circumstances. She took the photo round, but she could neither say yes nor no. It doesn’t seem unlikely to me [i.e. Geoffrey could easily believe his brother, Anthony, who was very witty and saw humour in bizarre things, was the one who had been laughing.]

A man came to tea who had also seen the incident. He didn’t recognise the photo, but in his opinion there were only two heavily wounded. Since these must have been the two who did die, it does begin to look more and more as if Anthony’s wound was not so severe as we thought.

Mrs Willink’s brother-in-law arrived. He had been a doctor at Apeldoorn. Through him and some telephoning we found that Sängerling was the chief doctor there and the town major Von Oldershausen. Then that Döderlein was the Zutphen town major, who was under Major Peters, who was at Arnhem and later at Zutphen, and he was under Von Oldershausen.

Clues now coming fast.