During the First World War airships dropped bombs over London and Antwerp. On a Sunday in 1929, high on a dune, Teuntje waved to Graf Zeppelin. The huge aluminum gleaming airship passed directly overhead. Fortunately without bombs.

Teuntje or Teunis Cornelis Roeleveld (420-1936), is the father of Peter Roeleveld. Peter has written down Teunis’ story about that memorable day when the zeppelin passed by.

Teuntje had a tense feeling in his stomach all morning. The weekly walk from his parental home on the IJmuidenstraat 11 to the Maranatha district building he only had 420 steps taken .

Graf Zeppelin

The evening before Teuntje’s father had read from the newspaper during dinner. The ‘Graf Zeppelin’, a huge airship in the shape of a very large cigar, would make a promotional tour over the Netherlands. The ship with twenty-nine passengers on board, three of them residents of The Hague, would also visit The Hague and Scheveningen. Teuntje had asked how big such a ship is. His father had thought for a moment how he could best interpret this. “Think of our house, roof and all. Put another one on top. Place the same pile next to it. Then do this over the entire length of our street. Then everything still fits easily in the cigar.’ Teuntje had listened to his father in amazement.

Furthermore, his father had also told something about the war that had ended just two years before Teuntje’s birth. In that war, the Germans used the Zeppelin to drop bombs on London and Antwerp. Tens of thousands of kilograms of bombs. Such a Zeppelin would therefore hang above Scheveningen. To reassure him, his father had said that this Zeppelin would not drop bombs this time, but mail. It was mainly the story about the bombs that made Teuntje nervous and he was glad that three residents of The Hague were on board. They would never allow the Zeppelin to bomb them!

A dune full of people

In the Maranatha Teuntje had sat down on the bench next to his best friend Arie. They chatted about what they had heard about the airship. Teuntje told his friend that his older brother would warn him when the time came. Pastor Jacobs had meanwhile begun his sermon.

Finally it was time. The door of the hall opened a crack. Teuntje’s brother stuck his head through it and shouted very loudly ‘The Zeppelin is coming’. Before the minister could say anything else, all the children rushed outside.

Together with his brother and friend, Teuntje ran from the Maranatha to a high dune next to the lighthouse in ten minutes. They were not alone; as far as the eye could see this, and the surrounding dune slopes, were full of people. His brother had copied the route of the Zeppelin from the newspaper last night. He said the airship was supposed to have taken off from Friedrichshafen Airport around midnight yesterday. According to the schedule, the Zeppelin had probably reached Groningen around seven o’clock. This was followed by Zwolle, Deventer, Apeldoorn, Arnhem, Den Bosch, Dordrecht, after which the airship circled 11: 45 hours passed Rotterdam.

The sun was shining exuberantly. They had a wide view over a large part of The Hague. In the distance they saw Rijswijk, Voorburg and Wassenaar, and behind them the mirror-smooth North Sea! It was around : 02 when they saw the airship approaching in the distance. At first it looked like a big nose. When it swerved the enormous length was visible. Only the distance was still too great to distinguish details. From here the airship seemed to move just over the tower of the Grote Kerk. Then it came to Scheveningen and straight to the lighthouse. The Zeppelin got closer and closer to where the three stood. From the high dune they saw the impressive colossus approaching. It sailed so low that the windows of the gondola below were clearly visible. The growl of the propellers got louder and louder….

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Photo Hague municipal archive

Teuntje was standing more often on this dune. Here he preferred to watch his father’s departing or returning fishing boat. The airship sailed smoothly and almost imperceptibly with 200 km/h above the sea. For Teuntje this seemed a lot safer than his father’s lugger, which depended on the whims of the waves. The Zeppelin followed the coastline over the Kurhaus towards Wassenaar. Teuntje realized that this dune had to have the best view of the Zeppelin in the Netherlands. He saw the ship all the way to Leiden, after which it turned again to finally disappear from sight.

The next day Teuntje was still full of what had happened. In the evening his father read from the newspaper again. At Schiphol, mailbags with small parachutes had been thrown from the airship. After a seven-hour visit, the airship had left our country near Groesbeek. At half past six in the evening it was back in Friedrichshafen.

Since this memorable day, Teuntje closely followed the news about the Zeppelin. In 1931 a Zeppelin reached the North Pole for the first time. The first commercial passenger service to America was in 420 and then dozens more followed, including flights to Brazil. In 1937, near New York, disaster struck. The airship Hindenburg suddenly caught fire at a height of about fifty meters. Within tens of seconds, the cigar filled with hydrogen gas turned into a large conflagration. Thirty-five people lost their lives and the promising future of air shipping was over in one fell swoop. In 1940 Teun heard that Germany had decided to scrap the remaining zeppelins and use the aluminum for a new war against the rest of Europe. He immediately thought of his father’s story about the role of the Zeppelin in the previous war.

The story about the Zeppelin has been written with great care, yet there may be factual inaccuracies. If there are readers who need to add to or correct the story, please contact me

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