I lived in a city in Holland called Bossum in the west of the country, with my parents and two older sisters. I was 15 when Operation Manna started near the end of the Second World War. The day the planes came I was on my way to a German garrison to steal food. If they had caught me they would have shot me but I didn’t care. I was starving and my family was starving. My parents were quite religious and we always prayed every morning.
The morning Operation Manna started, April 29, 1945, my oldest sister had said, “Why pray! There’s nothing on the table!”
All we had to eat were raw tulip bulbs or sugar beets. We had been without water or heat for nine months – from September 1944 to April 1945. It had been an extremely cold winter.
As I was walking across a field near town on my way to the garrison I heard the sound of heavy bombers. I thought I was about to be bombed. I jumped into a ditch and looked up to see two Lancaster bombers flying very low overhead. These aircraft were so low that the lead aircraft bombardier, the man in the nose of the aircraft, actually waved at me.
I thought the planes were going to crash because they were so close to the ground and going so fast. I saw them for just a few seconds and then they were gone. I ran home because I was so scared.
My parents told me that the planes had dropped sacks of food in the racetrack. The food was collected by a committee and then distributed. We had to wait one or two more days before we got our share: chocolate, sugar, egg powder, chocolate milk powder, and so on.
At the same time a boat had come in from Sweden with flour. I hadn’t seen white bread in years.
I will never forget those days and how Operation Manna saved my life, my family’s life, and so many Dutch people.
Meeting the Bad Penny Crew
After the war ended, I finished school and then ended up in the Dutch army for two years. Holland had gone bankrupt because of the war and the government was trying to get Indonesia back from Japan. After my service I decided to go to Canada in 1950, not only because jobs were scarce in Holland but more importantly, because Canada was the nation that had liberated us. I met my wife Dolly, who is also Dutch, in Canada.
I ended up in Ontario and became involved in construction and land development. In the mid-1990s, I was living in Southampton in Southwestern Ontario and I was doing a housing development. Someone from the local paper came in to my office to do a story about it and saw that I had a picture on my wall of a Lancaster Bomber. I told him that it hadn’t dropped bombs – it had dropped food. In honour of “Operation Manna” I had named the main street into the development “Lancaster” and seven other streets after all the men in the Bad Penny crew.
Apparently, a couple from Windsor named Jack and Duffy Davidson were driving along the shoreline of Lake Huron near Port Elgin and had stopped at a convenience store for a cup of coffee. They picked up a real estate paper about lakefront property and cottages for sale and in it was the story about my development and the Lancaster on my wall.
They took it back to Windsor and called Mike Beale from the local historical aircraft group whom they had recently met who knew a lot about Operation Manna. I recieved a call from Mike explaining that he knew someone who flew in the very first mission on April 29th, 1945 and that he had dropped food near the town of Bossun.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I told Mike my story and then he checked with Bob Upcott, the pilot of that first Lancaster, about the timing of their flight. Mike called me back to tell me that Bob was definitely the pilot on that first plane I had seen and that Bill Gray was the bombardier who had waved at me.
I shouted, “I want to meet these guys!”
Mike Beale arranged a meeting in 1996 under the Lancaster Bomber in Jackson Park in Windsor, Ontario. To meet these two men and their wives after 50 years was incredible and overwhelming. We were all laughing and crying. I was so happy to be able to say, “Thank you.”
Today Peter Buttenaar lives with his wife Dolly in Thedbord near Grand Bend, Ontario. They have four children and 15 grandchildren. Peter did not discuss the war with his children for, as he put it, “After the war we didn’t talk about those things until we get older and then the memories came back. My grandchildren know more than my children about what happened.”
Peter retired from his construction business and now sells special fans for construction sites. Ironically, the company is German and the majority of the employees are Dutch.
BUTTENAAR, Pieter Cornelis
It is with great sadness that we announce the peaceful passing of Pieter Cornelis Buttenaar, in his 91st year at Henley House in St. Catharines, Ontario on January 7, 2020. Predeceased by his beloved wife Theodora (Dolly) Buttenaar. Loving father of Frank (Verena), Vera (Geoff) Warren, Peter (Denise) and Liz (Henry) Cloudt. Loving Opa of Krista (Donovan), Katie (Jorden), Pieter, Zeri, Patrick; Samantha (Craig), Jason, Jenna (Dan); Dane (Samantha),Paige (Josh); Jacqueline (Colin), Miranda (Dan), Courtney (Alexander) and Steven. Great Opa of Elizabeth (Krista/Donovan). Predeceased by his grandsons, Tyler (survived by his wife Amanda) Warren (2019) and Zach (2015); sisters Betty (John) Veerman and Christina (Andre) Markus.
Pieter was born in Amsterdam and immigrated to Canada in 1950 with $5 in his pocket. He went from picking potatoes at age 21 in New Brunswick to running a successful construction company, Twinbee, that built much of the sewer and water main systems in Oakville and the footings of the Gardiner Expressway. In 1953, Pieter married Dolly in Bronte, Ontario where they raised their four children in a loving home.
He was a proud Dutch-Canadian who flew the Canadian flag at all of his homes and was an avid Leafs and Team Canada supporter. Pieter and Dolly even flew to Russia to cheer on Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.
Pieter is known for his encounter with a Lancaster aircraft in Holland during WWII. While searching for food for his starving family, Pieter dropped to the ground fearing a bombing at the sound of the low flying aircraft. As the aircraft flew by, the gunner waved a white handkerchief at him and Pieter waved back. He later found out that the aircraft was part of Operation Manna’s food drop over Holland in response to the Dutch famine. Decades later, Pieter tracked down and met the crew of the Lancaster and his story has been documented in a published children’s book “A Bad Penny Always Comes Back”.