The Winged Watchman is a beautiful historical fiction by Hilda van Stockum. It is set during the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II, in a small Dutch village called Saterwoude. The protagonists are two brothers, Dirk Jan (14) and Joris (10). The supporting characters are their parents, Uncle Cor (their uncle and a leader of the Resistance*), and Dirk Jan and Joris’ friends. The antagonists are the Nazis and the landwatchers. (Landwatchers were people who had turned traitor to their country and worked for the Nazis.) The theme of this story is how people struggled to survive World War II.
The book starts one day when Joris goes out to deliver a message for his mother. On the way, he finds two boys bullying a small puppy. Joris gets mad and drives them away. He then runs home with the small, frightened puppy in his hands. At home, Dirk Jan tells him that he knows the owners of the puppy—Hans and Habel de Wit. Joris convinces his father to try to buy the puppy from Hans and Habel’s parents. Mr. Verhagen manages to do just that, and the puppy, Freya, becomes Joris’ best friend and closest companion other than Dirk Jan.
A couple of days later, Joris and Dirk Jan go to buy some milk. On their way back, they see a young girl, about the same age as Dirk Jan, lying unconsious on the ground. Joris quickly goes and calls the local doctor, Dr. de Vries. It just so happens that the young girl, Reina, is the doctor’s niece. She has a satchel full of newspapers forbidden by the Nazis. She, in fact, works for the Underground (the Resistance).
One day Joris and his friend Hendrick Schenderhans see four aviators parachuting down from an English bomber that had been shot. Three of them seek cover in Mr. Poot’s barn. Mr. Poot is a close friend of the Verhagens’, and his son Ernst is one of Dirk Jan’s classmates. When the Germans find out that three aviators are hiding with the Poots, they arrest the aviators and send Mr. Poot and Ernst to the Vught concentration camp. But Joris is the only one who remembers seeing four aviators, not just three, or so he thinks.
That evening, Joris goes to gather mushrooms for his mother. He strays off to the old, dead mill that belongs to the Schenderhans. Wanting to explore it, he climbs up to the top. There is a large pressbed there. Joris looks under it to see if anything is in there. Joris expects a pile of dust, or perhaps some old items of no use now. But what he certainly doesn’t expect is a boy staring at him from underneath the bed!
The boy tells him, using sign language, that his name is Charles. He is the fourth English aviator, the one who escaped from the Germans. Joris tells Charles, still using sign language, that he will go and bring Charles some food. Joris then leaves the mill. That night, he comes back with the food. But surprisingly, Dirk Jan follows him, and learns of Joris’ secret! Dirk Jan and Joris later bring new clothes for Charles. Uncle Cor happens to be visiting the Verhagens, so he and Charles take up disguises and convince Leendert Schenderhans, a landwatcher, to give them a ride to Leyden. Charles manages to escape with their help.
After this, the Verhagens start housing even more escaped people, this time permanently. When Uncle Cor returns, he tells the Verhagens to house two little girls, Koba and Betsy. Koba and Betsy become almost like part of the family. Then, after Christmas, Dirk Jan is sent on a mission by Uncle Cor. Dirk Jan must first go to Gerardus van Manen, one of Uncle Cor’s friends. He must deliver a message there. Mr. Manen will either say “yes” or “no.” Dirk Jan does just that. Mr. Manen says, “yes.” Uncle Cor had told Dirk Jan that if Mr. Manen said yes, he was to go to the Falcon, another windmill. There, he would meet Mr. van Loo. He must give the password, “Old Rhine and green cabbage” and tell him that his uncle of the garage had a happy event of the family and wants to have the mill put into joy. That is what Dirk Jan does. He gets a ride home the next day in Mr. Garret’s truck. On the way, he sees a German tank exploding. Prisoners run out. One gets into Mr. Garret’s truck. He and Dirk Jan start a conversation during the rest of the truck ride. They decide that the young man, who calls himself Hildebrand, can stay with the Verhagens. And so Hildebrand comes to stay in the Verhagens’ house.
Because Dirk Jan succesfully completes his mission, the weapon-dropping can take place. Hope of peace is spreading over the country. Everyone is sure that Holland is going to be liberated soon. And on May 5, 1945, peace and joy returns to Holland! Hildebrand, Koba, and Betsy safely return to their homes. Mr. Poot and Ernst return to Saterwoude. Everything is wondeful in Holland, once again.
The lesson I learnt from this book is to never give up. No matter what hardships they faced, all the characters of this book did all they could for their country, and for the Allies to win.
* The Resistance was a group of brave people who did all they could to fight the Nazis.