Doris, Vessingen, 31 December 1915
A British officer of some prominence boarded the SS Golconda, our moarnful bucket of humanity. For 40 days and nights we, like a lost tribe, had been carried across the watery wilderness. Now we are back in Europe. Back to civilization, at war with itself.
Our prison ship was left vulnerable on the open sea at the mouth of the Thames. Sitting ducks. Once again we were used as pawns in this dastardly game. Strategically placed to draw out the enemy, our Fatherland.
Our men were rounded up in the ballroom, and we had no way of learning what was to become of our dear missionaries. My sons-in-law, Paul and Martin, were suspected spies for the Kaiser. Paul, who only a year ago was given the highest civilian honor of the British Raj. How possibly could anyone imagine that leprosy work could be an act of sabatoge. But the British officer barked his orders and hustled our men off without a farewell.
We women and children were left in the dining room and given a rushed dinner. We were told that after breakfast we would all be transferred onto another ship. Then we were herded to our rooms.
After packing our meager belongings my three daughters and granddaughter lay down, huddled together in the cold dark. We each prayed for our men, and this final leg of our long journey home.
But at 9 o'clock a bang on our door and shouts from British soldiers drove us from our beds out into the icey storm. Missionary Ziech was the only man among us. He could not be detained. He was a Russian citizen, who had chosen to return with his German wife. He helped each one of us older ladies onto the ferry that took us to Tilpury docks.
As uncomfortable as one could imagine, out among un-imaginable dangers, through mines and U-boats. The ice cold air cut through my overcoat. It was impossible for me to manage another step. My feet froze in place. In the midst of a canyon of tall ships the smoke from the stacks plumed above our heads. And then it all began to spin and the ground came up to meet me.
The strong arms of a seaman caught my fall and I opened my eyes to the flag of Holland sewed on the sailor's coatsleeve. I turned to look at his face and asked the only question i knew in Dutch, "What is your name?"
"Johannes, ma'am," he replied as he and another sailor placed me in a carrying chair.
Yes, if I remember, it seemed those are the same eyes as my dear son. "Oh Johannes, my son!" I moaned.
The sailors carried me onto the steamer in a comfortable carrying chair. I continued to hold on to sailor Johannes' sleeve as I drifted off. I suppose I was carried across the port and up on board the Holland steamer, the Mecklenburg.
I had fallen into a familiar old dream. It was a different time, a different war in 1865. A Prussian infantrty regiment marched into our town. My oldest brother, Johannes, and I were walking along the dyke road that leads into Uetersen. Prussian soldiers were marching and fighting all over Holstien, but we were still a peaceful town. The sudden unnatural pounding of horses hoofs broke the serenity. As I turned to escape the stampede I tripped and tumbled off the dyke into the icey water. My brother jumped in and rescued me; wrapped me in his overcoat, he ran carrying me shivering back to our warm home. I stirred myself from this dream, a vivid memory that had not returned to me for many years. Had I been the cause of his untimely death just a few months later?
By now I was being placed down near my new cabin. I was awake again. As the sailor Johannes gently released himself from my grasp, I prayed repeatedly outloud "may God protect you."
Eventually we were reunited with our men, except for four new missionaries who were detained. It seemed that only part of our luggage came on board the Mecklenburg, but we were assured that everything regarding our belongings and our return to Germany would be figured out in Vessingen. Holland remained neutral in this war, and were mediators between the British and Germans for our safe return to our homeland. Our status was no longer "enemies of the state" that we bore patiently for the past year. Our rights as citizens had been returned to us, whatever good that will do us in a nation at war with the rest of the world.
Thankfully we lay ourselves to rest in the clean beds that night. The last stretch of our journey, that relatively short trip of six hours across the Channel, would become extremely hard, who would have thought of that!
I was already surprised when the Dutch stewardess came early in the morning to our cabin to straighten up. She suggested that I should get up soon and lie down on the sofa in the parlor, where I would be better able to ride out the expected tempest during the day.
Up to that point, one could see nothing of the ‘tempest’. Though the night had been stormy and the waves may have come up high, but not at the departure of the ship at 9 am. The sun was shining brightly and friendly and nothing seemed to point to a mighty storm. But we followed the suggestion of the kind stewardess who spoke English well, and a sofa in the parlor was kindly readied for me, on which I could lie until we would arrive in Veissingen.
The storm began to swell and toss about the ship in the midst of the Channel. By and by the entire parlor was filled with pale looking passengers, children and adults. One could see the fear of death on each one of them. For our little ship was in great distress caused by the awful surf which pushed alternately from one side to the other. It seemed we would fall over and go into the depths of the sea! The ship's screw often was turning way up in the air, only to go deep down on the other side. Suitcases and crates rolled from one side of the deck to the other, an unearthly rumble!
Then the children cried in fear and fearful voices called: “Great God, we are lost, the ship will break apart!”
“Lord, my God, should this now be our end? Did you bring us through so many dangers and preserved our lives, only to let us sink into the sea so close to our destination? Can that be your will? Has your arm been shortened to save us from this danger?”
Oh, I think I was not the only one who called and entreated. And though the waves splashed against the high window of the parlor, once on one side, then on the other. I had to hold on tightly to the sofa arm in order not to roll down. Inside my self I felt secure: “Strong is my Savior’s hand and it will grasp me eternally”.
Yes, and it will even now lead us safely across the sea waves and billows into the harbor. I had been reminded that there was still one more thing for me to do in this forsaken world. I had to, once again, see my son Johannes and let him know I loved him--to assure him he was not forsaken.
Soon after 4 pm when we actually should have arrived, a voice called across the hall: “Lighthouse in sight,” and shortly thereafter, everyone joined in singing from the bottom of their hearts: “Now thank we all our God,” and: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, King of Glory”.
Unspeakable feelings of gratitude filled us:
"When the Lord rescued the prisoners of Zion,
We shall be as those who dream.
Then our mouth will be full of laughter and our tongue of praise.
Then shall we declare:
The Lord has done great things for us, therefore we are glad."