The Amsterdam Branch was established in June 1953 as the result of a split of the old Netherlands Branch which was formed in 1949. Part of the old Netherlands Branch became the Amsterdam Branch and the other The Hague Branch, which closed down in 2014.
The Amsterdam Branch first opened a club on the Amstelveenseweg in Amsterdam in 1971, but 5 years later moved to premises at Schiphol Airport. Unfortunately, we were forced to close the Schiphol club in 1995 when the airport authority decided to demolish the building in which we were housed. A new location was found in an old fort to the north of Amsterdam, and subsequently renovated. That club closed in 2008 when the rent was increased by 400%. Since then we no longer have our own club premises.
The Branch Club at Amsterdam
The official opening of our first club at Amsterdam took place on 3 November 1971, by our Patron for the Netherlands, His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. The RAF Band Germany provided music whilst a contingent of the Escort Squadron to the Queen’s Colour for RAF Germany formed an honour party. In attendance were three Commonwealth Ambassadors, three deputations from other embassies, senior RAF officers, senior RAFA functionaries and local dignitaries.
The Spring Charity Ball and Dutch Day
The club soon gained in popularity and 1971 and that year became one of the busiest in the history of the branch when, in addition to the establishment of a club, the first Spring Charity Ball was staged at the RAI Congress Centre, which venue was offered free of charge – the top prize in a draw was a car donated by Opel. The proceeds of the charity ball and other monies were in that same year sent to the RAFA Nursing Home “Sussexdown” near Storrington in West Sussex – the first Dutch Day at the home. All residents were presented with gifts. In 1974 a formation of Dutch private aircraft flew over the home on Dutch Day and dropped Edam cheeses on small parachutes into the gardens. A local newspaper dubbed the team with the name “The Edambusters”, a name that remains in use by our own formation squadron.
The Spring Charity Ball, Dutch Days and Christmas Dinners were major events, but so too were the remembrance ceremonies at the Commonwealth War Graves section of the Dutch cemetery ‘The new Eastern’ in Amsterdam and at the Blenheim Field Grave in Zuidoostbeemster. Another notable grave with which we were also involved with was that of Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC at Steenbergen.
In 1973 the branch was honoured with the presence at the Spring Charity Ball, of HRH Princess Margriet and her husband Mr. Pieter van Vollenhoven. It was at that ball that Dame Vera Lynn sang for us for the first time – she continued attending for the following eighteen years. Another memorable event in 1973 was the visit to the club by the legendary WWII pilot Sir Douglas Bader, who had earlier lost both his legs in a flying accident.
Unfortunately, we were compelled to leave the Amsterdam premises in 1976 when a new owner informed us he had other ideas for the building.
The Schiphol Club
Schiphol Airport offered the branch the use of the old first-class restaurant. With the support of Heineken, Bols and the help of some enthusiastic members, this was converted from an empty space into a fantastic club, with a large kitchen, a long bar, a dance floor, tables, chairs, a snooker table and a Dutch billiard table. Cabinets were placed and were filled with memorabilia; photos and shields adorned the walls; whilst very large items were placed around the club, including a practice “Bouncing Bomb. Six “one armed bandits” provided welcome income.
The Schiphol Club was officially opened by HRH Prince Bernhard in 1977.
The fame of the club soon spread and a dinner dance which was hosted for the 617 Squadron Association who were visiting the Netherlands, resulted in all their members joining the Amsterdam Branch. In one evening the branch gained 2 members with VCs, several with DSOs, many DFCs, DFMs and other gallantry awards. That was in 1976 and a year later, at the Spring Charity Ball, Dame Vera Lynn was invested with the insignia of Commander in the Order of Orange-Nassau – a decoration that is rarely bestowed on foreign nationals.
The move to Schiphol was a golden one and many related organisations joined the club (though not always RAFA). At this peak there were 4,000 members drawn from the following organisations; RAFA, RBL, NVOOZ, NFR, Stoottroepen, Hart Foundation, Schiphol and Transavia Flying Clubs and various divisions of the KLM.
RAFA membership grew steadily because of the Club and in 1987 there were 1400 members and Friends (now Associates). Various trophies were awarded to the branch by CHQ, several for recruitment and five times for efficiency. Groups visiting the club included: Bradford, Christchurch, Newport and Swindon Branches, Newport Police, the Parachute Regiment Association, AGA branches, Dutch and British Korea Veterans, US 8th Air Force, US 355th Fighter Group, 106, 600, and 617 Sqdn. Associations, MANNA reunion, Amsterdam Police (socially!!), Marechaussee, International Air Cadet Exchange and many more.
The club was used for the inaugural meeting of the Dutch Dakota Association, and it was the location for films and TV documentaries, and also Press Centre for “Operation Reforger”. Dinners, dances, parties and receptions took place for up to 200 guests, and some magnificent dinners were prepared by a team of volunteers. The most memorable dinners were for the guests who attended the Spring Charity Ball, which took place on the evening prior to the ball; without a doubt the most fun were the Christmas dinners.
The tenth anniversary of the club was celebrated at a Special Dinner in Amsterdam and in that same year the branch donated Dfl 52,331 to RAFA charities and the following year, another Dfl 39,120. In 1985 a decision was made to form two extra clubs – one in Limburg, which still exists and the other in Brabant. The latter broke away from Amsterdam to form its own branch but did not survive long and closed down.
Dutch Days became quite a happening and the original concept grew from the simple cheese drop into a proper air display. One person who attended practically all Dutch Days was Dame Vera Lynn who always found time to chat with many of the residents. At a certain point the branch was no longer able to cover the costs of Dutch Day and the event ended in 2011, on its 40th anniversary.
Dame Vera attended the spring Charity Ball 19 times and she sang at 18; it was without a doubt that her presence ensured all 450 tickets were sold out each year. 1,000 tombola tickets were sold for the 1,000 prizes offered at Dfl 25 – the proceeds going to Dutch Day. The 20th and final Spring Charity Ball took place on the 23rd March 1991, and in that same year the branch donated Dfl 48,000 to RAFA charities.
A Grand Gala Evening to mark the 40th anniversary of the Branch and the 50th anniversary of the RAF Association took place at the Schiphol van der Valk Hotel and was attended by DCINC AFCENT Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael and Lady Elizabeth Stear as well many military and civil dignitaries.
In 1994 Chairman Peter Sainsbury was appointed Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau.
In the same year the airport authorities informed us we would have to vacate the premises by the 31st December 1995. Negotiations with sister organisations took place in the hope of establishing a new club/meeting place but were unsuccessful. Alternative accommodation offered by the airport was unsuitable and hugely expensive and was therefore declined. Ironically, after the closure the branch membership dropped to under 500 for the first time since 1984.
The branch played a major role in organising an air show at Harderwijk to celebrate the 50th anniversary since the liberation of the Netherlands. The event raised Dfl 20,000 for RAFA.
The final event at the Schiphol Club took place on the 25th November 1995, when 300 members attended a Cheese and Wine evening at which the members of the helpers’ team were presented with an engraved carafe. The unenviable task of disposing of the complete inventory and memorabilia fell on the shoulders of a couple of members. Much of the memorabilia was returned to named individuals or donated to museums etc. some went into storage, as did a limited amount of furniture.
On 12 January 1996 the branch’s first social evening after the closure of the Schiphol Club took place at the HEM hotel, Amsterdam. The following month accommodation was offered in a disused fortification at Uitgeest,30 kilometres to the north of Amsterdam. The facility was desolate, there was no electricity, no water, doors were missing and the walls were cracked. The branch committee agreed to allow renovations to take place by volunteers and reserved Dfl 5,000 to complete the task, Associate member Ab Udo spent several weeks installing panelling, repairing damage and laying 500 metres of cabling, whilst others dug a deep 100 metre trench for a water pipe. Another Dfl 2,500 was allocated to enable the job to be completed and by the summer of 1996, the club was ready for use.
In October 1996 the branch hosted the European Area Conference. It was not the first area conference to be organised by the branch, as this honour was previously bestowed on Amsterdam in 1972 and 1984.
On 14 November 1996, the Brabant club became the (1341) Brabant Branch. Twenty-five members and an equal number of Friends transferred from RAFA Amsterdam to the new branch. Sadly the Brabant Branch lasted less than five years, with the loss of all their members
After 26 years in office, Peter Sainsbury stood down as Chairman at the 1997 AGM Malcolm Mason was elected as his successor. In the same year, on the 23rd September, the branch sponsored “The Amsterdam Stakes” at the Hall Green Greyhound Stadium, Birmingham. The 1997 Christmas Dinner at the Hilton Hotel was honoured by the presence of DCINC AFCENT Air Marshal Sir Anthony and Lady Bagnall, and DINC RNLAF Maj. Gen. and Mrs. de Jong.
On the 8th April 1998 the “Fort” club was officially opened by HRH Prince Bernhard. Music at the opening was provided by the Dutch Army National Reserve Band. Our flying team, the Edambusters, flew over in formation and several pilots provided a magnificent air display.
Monthly Sunday lunches at the Fort were prepared by Pat Beattie or Ricky Mason and were a good source of revenue. Other events at the Fort club were barbecues and fishing competitions at the moat.
The year ended sadly for the branch when in October, Peter Sainsbury passed away. More than 200 persons attended the funeral, the guests coming from all branches of aviation, ex-service organisations and from the veterans of the WWII Dutch Resistance.
Malcolm Mason was appointed MBE in HM The Queen New Year’s Honours List, for his services to RAFA. He was the third committee member to receive such an honour – Peter Sainsbury OBE and Simon Brekelmans MBE, having preceded him. Dutch royal honours for committee members were: Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau for Peter Sainsbury and Member in the Order of Orange-Nassau for Cees Hettinga.
An event in 2000 that was a resounding success was a visit by the Fraserburgh Branch, despite the fact that we made the fatal mistake of offering the visitors two free drinks each, thinking they would drink beer, but they all drank spirits (doubles!). The canny Scots managed to clean the bar of the limited stock of spirits and pils – the extra crates of Guinness that had been purchased remained untouched.
Our annual Remembrance Ceremony at the Blenheim Field Grave at Zuidoostbeemster has always been very special. Some 150 local citizens attend and our own “Edambusters” formation team fly over in salute. The pilot of the Blenheim, that was shot down on the 19th August 1940, was Sgt Kenneth Dobb. In the month of June 2001 his surviving sister Marian, (resident in Holland) with brother Vic (from Canada) and Michael (from Australia) visited the branch and the Blenheim Grave. They also visited the Runneymede Memorial and were touched to see a single Poppy Wreath placed there by Amsterdam Branch members who were in England for Dutch Day.
The final event of 2001 was the Christmas Dinner at the Amsterdam Novotel. This was the very last Christmas Dinner, the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ marked the end of a tradition that had started in 1971. Time had caught up with many of our guests who were no longer able to withstand an evening’s entertainment.
Sponsors have always played an immensely important role in the success of the branch. Over the years their contributions have helped us raise large sums of money. The last major sponsored event was organised for the branch by Dutch businessman Gerard Ruiter, on the 15th September 2001. It was the intention that the branch would stage several British themed events in the town of Huizen, whilst Gerard would be responsible for the Charity Ball. Unfortunately, because of the Twin Towers disaster in the USA, the public events were cancelled as a mark of respect, but the ball, which was a closed event, went ahead. A massive Dfl 100,000 (£ 30,000) was raised and this eventually paid for the provision of 20 special beds at the new Sussexdown EMI unit.
At the end of 2001 the branch membership was 781 but this dropped to 645 by the end of the following year.
Activities at the Fort continued but due to a drop in the number of visitors, the club opened on only two weekends each month from March to October – the winter months were too cold and it was impossible to keep the place warm.
At the 2002 Remembrance Ceremony, organised by the branch at the 322 Commonwealth War Graves at the New Eastern Cemetery in Amsterdam, pupils of the British School of Amsterdam attended for the first time. On the 22nd June 2003, eighty members celebrated the branch’s Golden Jubilee at the Fort and a few days later HM Consul General in Amsterdam Mr. Bernhard Garside and his wife hosted a reception in their residence. In attendance were HM Ambassador Sir Colin Budd and the Dep. CinC Dutch Army, many sponsors, VIPs and military representatives. The last bingo evening at the Hem Hotel took place on 8th August 2003 and this monthly event moved to De Driehoven nursing home in Amsterdam.
On the first day of December 2004, the sad news reached us that our Patron for the Netherlands, HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, had died at the age of 93. It was in the war years, when the Dutch Royal Family fled to England, that he gained his RAF Wings and was eventually appointed Honorary Air Marshal. During his 53-year flying career he flew over 200 different types of aircraft. He was a keen supporter of the RAFA. Malcolm Mason represented RAFA at the funeral.
Branch activities settled into a regular routine -monthly bingos, Fort openings and monthly themed meals, BBQs, remembrance ceremonies and Christmas Brunch. But all was to change when we were informed, in December 2003, that our monthly rental for the Fort was to increase by 400%!! This left the branch committee with no other option than to close the club at the Fort. The final event at the Fort was a lunch on the 11th May 2008.
The Limburg Club
Seeking continuity of comradeship and social contact, a large number of Dutch Nationals who resided in south Limburg and had served during and after WWII with the Royal Air Force (and especially those who served at Cardington and Bridgnorth) sought to band together under the auspices of the Royal Air Forces Association. Their efforts concluded in an inaugural gathering on 25 February 1985 which resulted in a mix of membership of Dutch ex-Royal Air Force and Royal Air Force British nationals from the NATO base in Brunssum; the initial intent to become a sub-branch of RAFA Amsterdam. The owners of the local flying club generously afforded use of the Aero Club Limburg at Maastricht Airport to the group. Within 12 months the Sub-branch had morphed into RAFA Limburg Club/RAFA Club Limburg, formally representing the Amsterdam Branch in the Limburg area. Since 1985, Club Limburg has moved three times and now holds its gatherings in Brunssum. Membership has waxed and waned but still has a core gathering. Currently, Royal Air Forces Association Branch Club Limburg (RAFA Club Limburg), represents Amsterdam Branch at nine Memorial Services/Wreath Layings annually in the Limburg area and meets six times per year to provide comradeship and social events, plus raising small sums for the wider charitable cause of the association.
The Present situation
For the first time since 1971 the branch was without a club. The new situation took some getting used to and sadly, by the end of 2008 quite a few members resigned their membership. Our programme of events took on a set pattern of bingo sessions each month, remembrance ceremonies in May and November a joint RAFA/Edambusters BBQ at Lelystad Airport in June and the Christmas Brunch at an Amsterdam hotel in December.
In early 2009 several members visited the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force E-3A Component at the NATO Airbase at the former RAF Station Geilenkirken, Germany. Dutch Day on the second of June 2009 was honoured by the presence of the Netherlands Ambassador to the United Kingdom His Excellency Pim Waldeck. ATC Cadets from Worthing and Shoreham helped with various tasks and a Squirrel Helicopter from RAF Shawbury landed on the lawn with, on board, RAFALO John Tisbury, who over many years had organised a helicopter’s presence on the day. The flying display included an X-300 flown by Justin Gorman, a Spitfire flown by Rod Dean, a Provost by courtesy of Andrew Edie and flown by John Beattie, as well as a display and Cheese Drop by our own Edambusters Team. After the flying there was an extensive buffet lunch for residents, aircrew, and guests. All residents were traditionally presented with a “goodie bag”.
Up until 2009, the branch presidents were either the British Air Attaché or in later years, the British Defence Attaché, but that ended after the departure of Colonel J P Heal RM, when, in 2010 (Air) Commodore Chris Lorraine RNLAF was elected President. Chis was a former RAF Jaguar pilot who transferred to the RNLAF and climbed through the officer ranks to reach Air Commodore.
In 2011, in addition to the monies presented at Dutch Day the branch presented a cheque to “Het van Weerden Poelmanfonds”, a benevolent fund for RNLAF (ex) Personnel and their dependants. In that same year we published the 200th Bulletin which, during the eighties, was sent to 1200 addresses in Holland and abroad. In June the 40th, and final, Dutch Day took place at Sussexdown. In attendance was our Honorary Life Member Dame Vera Lynn, who over the years attended more Dutch Days than anyone else. Also attending were members Mrs Rie Willemse who, as a committee member at the time, attended the first Dutch Day, and Pim Sierks who was a pilot in the first Edambusters team that dropped cheeses at the home.
In 2012 the branch organised the well- attended European Area Conference which took place at the Holiday Inn Amsterdam. The branch Bulletin which had originally been produced on a stencil machine then later drawn up on a PC in a new format underwent a complete metamorphosis when member Jos de Groot took over the responsibility for the layout. Our President Chris Lorraine retired from active service on becoming a reserve officer, in which capacity he continued as display pilot of the RNLAF’s Spitfire.
In 2013 the Reverend John Cowie, our Honorary Chaplain for the previous 23 years, moved back to Scotland with his family. The Amsterdam Branch celebrated its 60 anniversary at the annual BBQ.
In 2014, two members of the committee stood down, leaving the day to day running of the branch in the hands of two people, at which point the Chairman also fulfilled the tasks of Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer – this situation continued until the AGM in 2015 when a newly elected Vice-Chairman also took over the task of Honorary Secretary. Also in 2014 the newly appointed Minister at the English Reformed Church Amsterdam, the Reverend Dr. Lance Stone, accepted our invitation to become the Branch Honorary Chaplain.
In 2015 the branch Bulletin reduced to three issues a year and the numbers being sent by the postal services was 150, with more than 100 sent electronically.