Beloved Corry thrived after the horrors of World War II
IT’S one of the highlights of the annual summer festival, but the Bray Air Display held no joy for local resident Corry van Embden. Every July, as spectators gazed skywards, the Dutch native would close all her windows and doors, pull the blinds and switch on the TV to drown out the sights and sounds of the two-day extravaganza that served only to remind her of the terrors she’d witnessed as a teenager during World War II.
‘I saw terrible things,’ she’d say. Born in the eastern Netherlands town of Nijmegen in 1924, Corry Janssen’s earliest memory was of a slow thundering noise that brought her outside to catch her first glimpse of a massive cigar-shaped vessel creeping low in the sky above.
‘It was the same zeppelin that exploded in New Jersey in 1937 – the Hindenburg,’ she said.
By the time she reached her teens, the deep, foreboding sound of the zeppelin gave way to the piercing call of the air raid siren that regularly sent people rushing for cover before a terrifying round of bombing began.
She remembered in particular the bleak ‘Hunger Winter’ 0f 1944-’45, when she worked as a child-minder with a family in the town of Epe, near Arnhem, not long after the infamous battle that took place there.
‘My employers ran a food-processing f factory,’ she said. ‘Before Christmas 1944 they slaughtered a pig and we w set up a soup kitchen. We made pork with peas, leeks and celery, cooked it in huge pots in the factory, and handed it out from the porch of the house. The German army had eaten all the food and people were starving.
‘ The owners hid 30 people in i their attic. Among them was a boy who had walked ten days from his boarding school in the Hague, and his shoes were worn out. One night a German made a run for the air raid shelter where I was, but he was shot. He lay on the street with his boots on. It was dark. I ran across the road and took his boots off and gave them to the boy.’
After the Netherlands was liberated li in 1945, Corry became a social worker with the Dutch railway company, and started dating her neighbour Bert van Embden, one of the first of his generation to be drafted into the Dutch army. In December 1946 he was sent to Indonesia where he spent four years serving as an engineer.
The pair married in 1951 and lived in a small apartment in Scheveningen with their first two sons, Bert Jnr and René while Bert Snr worked as a graphic designer with the Dutch national airline KLM. When a headhunter scouting for talent for Aer Lingus offered him a job in Ireland, the one question the couple had was, ‘Can we get a house there?’
They moved to Dublin in 1955 and a third son, Jan, was born in 1959. Despite not hav- ing a word of English when she first arrived on these shores, Corry rose to the challenge with her own inimitable style. She recounted tales of going to the butcher’s where she’d moo and point to her back to order a piece of steak, or darn an invisible sock to demonstrate the thread she wanted at the fabric shop.
Bert worked as a graphic designer in Sun Advertising and later Arks Advertising, where he and his contemporaries including Piet Sluis, Gerrit van Gelderen, Jan de Fouw, Guus Melai, Ries Hoek, Wim van Velsen, Cor Klaasen, Louis Pieterse, Piet Stroethof, Chris Vis and Nick van Vliet, brought their influence to bear on the Irish design and advertising industries. For a time, he spent evenings drawing weather maps for The Irish Times.
Having lived in Enniskerry for 10 years, Corry and Bert settled in Bray where they cherished their friends and neighbours. Following his death in 2013, Corry reflected fondly on having moved to Ireland all those years ago.
‘It was a dream come true to be able to raise our children in a house with a garden,’ she said. ‘I thought I was in heaven. It was a long way from wartime Holland, where I still remember the RAF dropping food and the women stepping over dead bodies on the streets to get it.
‘Dutch women had to be fiercely independent, and after the war, they would routinely arrange job-sharing with friends. Once they worked out the details, they’d bring the plan to their employers and say, “I’ll work mornings and she’ll do the afternoons,” or, “I’ll do three days and she’ll do two.”
‘When I came to Ireland I felt women were treated like second-class citizens. With the marriage bar in place until 1973. Well-educated, professional women had to give up work when they married, they had enormous families and didn’t know how much their husbands earned. I never understood that. Today, Irish women seem to work all the hours god sends and unless they make a commotion, they’d be left to do most of the housework too. Women need to make arrangements with other women to make things happen. Don’t leave it up to the men or the politicians. Do it for yourselves.’
Corry died at the age of 93 in the care of Blackrock Hospice on January 30. She is survived by sons Bert, René and Jan, grandchildren Josie, Rowan, Mieke and Corinne, great-grandson Oscar, and daughters-in-law Tessa and Celine. One of the last things she said to her family was, ‘I know it’s the end, but I’ve had a great life. I’ve been very lucky.’ We hope she knew that we all felt the same about her. In memory of the late Corry (Cornelia Mathilde Janssen) van Embden, October 17 1924 – January 30 2018.
The late Corry van Embden, above, and on her wedding day and as a young woman, left.