August 21, 1930, Wieringermeer. The reclamation of another piece of the Zuyderzee (Southern Sea) was completed. An area, when it was still land, that was called Creilerwoud (Creil Woods). Land lost to the sea eight centuries ago, during the most destructive All Saints’ Flood in 1170. The reclaimed land -or polder– now being named Wieringermeer Polder, instead of Creilerwoud. A few years after the completion, settlers from everywhere in the Netherlands came. But, it was not for long that these pioneers would keep their feet dry.
The first villages being founded in the Wieringermeer Polder, were Sluis I (Sluice 1), Middenmeer (Mid-Lake) and Wieringerwerf. Village Sluis 1 was later elegantly rebranded as Slootdorp, meaning ‘ditch village’. Wieringerwerf means ‘werf of Wieringen’, and werf means terp which is an artificial settlement mound. Read our Manual Making a Terp in 12 Steps to get a better picture of what terps are. The word werf is similar as Warf(t) used in northern Germany.
Indeed, when in 1930 Wieringerwerf was founded, a brand new terp was built too. A terp for just-in-case, so to speak. It is a fancy, four hectares big, square-shaped terp, including a top-notch sweet water well. This terp was the latest addition to the terp-building tradition, that started in the wider region around 600 BC at the salt marshes along the Wadden Sea. And, the constructors of the just-in-case terp 2.0 had foresight indeed, as we wil see further below.
On April 17, 1945 at 12:00 o’clock sharp, a desperate and frustrated Nazi army out of anger blew up the dike protecting the young Wieringermeer Polder. Most of the 7,000 inhabitants of Wieringermeer Polder fled with their bikes, horses, carriages, carts, cattle, etc away from Wieringermeer Polder whilst the water was rising steadily to a level between 0,5 and 5 meters above the 15-years-old new land. When the inhabitants of the polder reached the surrounding higher grounds and dikes, part of them were awaited by Nazi soldiers. Some were taken prisoner, and one leader of the resistance was shot on the spot.
On February 21, 1945 the Nazi army had ordered also the inundation of the Beemster Polder already, south of the Wieringermeer Polder. At the end of May 1945, the polder had been drained again.
But not all fled. Three families from the village Wieringerwerf, in total twenty-three people, went to the just-in-case terp that day. Including some children from the city of Amsterdam, who had fled the Dutch capital a few months before during the so-called Hunger Winter, also called the Famine of 1944-1945. Walking up the terp and hoping the water would not rise above the level of the terp. Because, if it would… It did not. The engineers had done a proper job fifteen years earlier. On the terp everyone was protected from the rising water, from the Nazi army, and from the chaotic final chords of the war as well.
Not only people, also animals reached the terp for safety. There were six cows, a few pigs, a goat, a sheep and some rabbits. Also a cat and a dog. The owners of the sheep and the goat were unknown. And several clever or lucky hares stayed at the terp as well, though without permission. The cows provided the people with some milk. Some people lived in a tent. Others on boats docked at the terp‘s slope. No moles have been sighted, so these might have had a hard time surviving the inundation of the polder.
Only three days after they had occupied the terp, the first of three storms hit the area. In a way these were welcome, since it provided the fresh terp dwellers with driftwood to build a shelter. Who knows, wood washed ashore that was collected by terp dwellers, is as it was over many centuries ago, when wood was scarce too at the salt marshes of the terp regions along the coasts of the Wadden Sea, of province Zeeland and of West Flanders. After two more storms it was enough. The group left this safe haven on May 7, 1945 heading for the dry ground of a country that had been liberated from its occupier in the meantime.
On December 11, 1945 the Wieringermeer Polder was made dry again, and life could resume its pace. Today the polder has around 13,000 inhabitants.
For the folks living on the hallig-islands (Halligen in German language) of region Nordfriesland in northern Germany, the unique sight of people living on a terp surrounded by water, called Landunter, is still the daily normal. For the Dutch, it was not anymore. But it proved, once again, that after 2,600 years of terp culture, terps are still a current and very solid solution in water management.
At the spot where the dike of the Wieringermeer Polder was blown up by the Nazi’s, on the east side of the Polder, is a scar. A beautiful one, though. At this spot the dike makes a little bend towards the sea and turns back. Behind it are two kolks, so-called wielen ‘wheels’ in Dutch. These are little lakes created by the incoming, swirling water when the dike broke in 1945. The area around it is forested, in contrast to much of the rest of the Polder. Within this small forest, you have nature-camping Het Bos Roept ‘the woods call’. So, worth making a detour and stay the night there while hiking the Frisia Coast Trail.
Note 1: If you became just as excited about terps as we are, and cannot wait to construct your own settlement mound, find here the first and only Manual Making a Terp in 12 Steps. Take care, and read the warnings carefully!
Note 2: Hiking the Frisia Coast Trail you will pass the young terp of Wieringerwerf. The well has been replaced by a swimming pool, though. The swimming pool is slightly in decay.
Note 3: If you understand Dutch language, there is also a very informative documentary of the Wieringermeer catastrophe of 1945, click here.
- Guðmundsdóttir, L., Wood procurement in Norse Greenland (11th to 15th c. AD) (2021)
- Oneindig Noord-Holland (website), De meidagen van 1940 (2012)
- Regionaal Archief Alkmaar (website)
- Rooijendijk, C., Waterwolven. Een geschiedenis van stormvloeden, dijkenbouwers en droogmakers (2009)
- Zijper Museum (website)
credit featured image: pumping station Lely by Joh. H. van Mastenbroek