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Civil matters


The civilians of Zeeland would be hit hard by the eight-day war ahead of them. Few understood the huge risks that came along with war and many thought that war was simply a matter between two armies, who would do everything within their power to save civilians from suffering. That was the perception of modern warfare under the umbrella of Conventions. But how wrong was that perception!

Civilians in the danger zones

On the first day of the war the events were experienced as a sensational show of airplanes and guns playing in front of their eyes. Soldiers stood on the quays or elsewhere watching the stinging Luftwaffe strike planes and the angry ack-ack fire rising up. Much of it played at the open sea or on the other side of Flushing where the AFB was being punished. People ran out of their houses when the Luftwaffe planes flew over their roofs and heads. The sometimes very intensive clashes between friends and foes over the waves of the Westerscheld were witnessed like it was a first class Hollywood movie. Soon however the first civil casualties showed the seriousness of warfare and not seldom panic struck the population of targeted areas. Over Flushing in particular the Luftwaffe produced quite some badly aimed bombs that went much astray, devastating some harbour areas and killing and wounding quite a number of civilians. It would soon drive many of them out of their houses into the relative safety of the surrounding country.

The civil authorities meanwhile warned the population for the risks of war and instructed them to prepare themselves for evacuation. Plans for relocating inhabitants of villages and cities which would at some point likely come into the line of fire had been prepared during the mobilisation. The first 14,000 inhabitants of the areas that would be flooded [inundations in front of the two defence lines] or that would definitely come in the line of enemy artillery were already instructed to leave their premises on the 10th. Many of these evacuees were instructed to come to the west side of Walcheren.

Also in Zeeland plenty of occurrences of the so called "Fifth Column" hysteria were reported. The French were amazed by the panic they experienced in some instances. The Dutch seemed extremely sensitive for the whole Fifth Column hysteria, they thought. Any funny light beam, flickering lamp bulb or stinging torch-light seemed reason to suspect the source of it of subversive doing.

These phenomenons were not restricted to civilians; also numerous soldiers suffered from over-exited reporting of presumed subversive enemy activity. It would lead to straight riots at some places, and devastate some units' moral beyond repair. Also a number of people would pay with their lives for presumed assistance of the enemy. None of these cases would later be substantiated with any glimpse of proof ...