• Si Biggs

Evacuation of Queen Wilhelmina

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines


Location: Hook of Holland


Period/ Conflict: World War II


Year: 1939


Date/s: 13 May 1939


Before evening on the 10th May, the same day that the Germans launched their offensive in the West, a force of Royal Marines was required for the protection of the Admiralty itself, and by 18.30 hrs. on the 11th had reported for duty.

HMS HEREWARD (H 93) - H-class Destroyer

On the 11th, 200 Royal Marines were dispatched from Chatham to land at Hook of Holland, there to establish a bridgehead for a the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards (Commanded by Major Joseph C. Haydon), landing on the 13th May they escorted H.M. the Queen of the Netherlands and members of her Government to Great Britain.


Queen Wilhelmina says farewell to a grandchild in the arms of her escort, being evacuated by armoured car.

The invasion had taken everyone by surprise, so about a quarter of his men were on leave and couldn’t be reached through phone or telegram. Despite a greatly reduced force, his orders were to dock at Walcheren in order to:


(1) secure it for the rest of the Royal Navy,

(2) rescue the Dutch Royal family,

(3) evacuate embassy staff and other British citizens, and

(4) cover the escape route from The Hague to Walcheren.


The few land forces already on Dutch soil had three more orders:

(1) secure the Dutch gold reserves,

(2) get as many diamonds out as possible, and (

3) destroy the docks so the Germans couldn’t use them.


The arrival of Queen Wilhelmina in Harwich 13th May 1940, greeted by King George VI

Haydon’s mission, called Harpoon Force, reached the Hook of Holland at dawn on May 13th to find the place in flames. They had barely docked when German Stukas began bombing their ship and strafing them with bullets. The almost sixty-year-old Queen Wilhelmina and her family fled The Hague and boarded HMS Hereward on the 13th May, a British destroyer sent by King George VI to take them across the North Sea, eventually departing the docks at 6PM.


The Marines covered the evacuation of the Queen and her escort and then withdrew themselves on the 14th of May without casualties despite very heavy air attacks.

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in Britain, reading a speech to her people back home over Radio Oranje in 1940

The Netherlands had been neutral during the First World War, but the German invasion on 10 May 1940 changed everything. Juliana and her two daughters had been sleeping in a shelter by Huis ten Bosch, and Wilhelmina ordered her heir to leave the country. The initial plan was for her and her daughters to go to Paris, but that was soon no longer an option. England was plan B.


In the early morning of 10 May, Wilhelmina issued a proclamation protesting the attack on the Netherlands and the violation of the neutrality. Huis ten Bosch, with its rural setting, was considered to be too vulnerable to an attack and so Wilhelmina moved to Noordeinde Palace, which is located in the centre of The Hague. They would spend the nights in a shelter in the gardens of Noordeinde Palace. On 12 May, Juliana and her family finally managed to board a British ship. The goodbye between mother and daughter was difficult. Bernhard accompanied his wife and daughters to England, but he was also an officer in the army and felt that he should be staying.


Queen Wilhelmina had been told by her cabinet that she should be leaving the country too. In the early hours of 13 May, Wilhelmina received a visit from General Winkelman, who told her that the situation was dire. Wilhelmina spoke on the phone with King George VI of the United Kingdom before bursting into tears in the shelter. There was no other option left – she would need to go as soon as possible. Wilhelmina boarded the HMS Hereward at Hook of Holland and initially wanted to travel to the province of Zeeland. This turned out to be impossible, and the HMS Hereward set sail for England.


Wilhelmina later wrote in her memoirs, “Of course I was fully aware of the shattering impression that my departure would make at home, but I considered myself obliged, for the sake of the country, to accept the risk of appearing to have resorted to ignominious flight. If the guerilla against the parachute troops had not cut off all connections with the army fighting on the Grebbe, I could have joined it to share the fate of the soldier and, as William III put it, to be the last man to fall in the last ditch. I knew that this was not granted to me either.”1

Later that day, Queen Wilhelmina arrived at Harwich, where the British authorities had already arranged for a train to London. Wilhelmina wrote, “At the station, I was met by King George and by my children, who were very upset and did not understand that I should have had to follow them so soon. The King asked me to be the guest of himself and the Queen, and escorted me to Buckingham Palace.”


The following day, she issued another proclamation telling the people that the government had to be moved abroad. “Do not despair. Do everything that is possible for you to do in the country’s best interest. We shall do our best. Long live the fatherland!”


On 24 May, Wilhelmina spoke on the radio for the first time. From July, the BBC broadcasted Radio Oranje (Orange) where Wilhelmina spoke 34 times over the course of the war to encourage the Dutch people.



Various references including (Vol. XXXIII. No. 3. THE NAVAL REVIEW)

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