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13 February 2015

Christopher Rigg writes:

WITH the death in January of Elna Provoost, aged 97, the Church in the Netherlands has lost perhaps its longest-serving member, perhaps also the last English war bride.

She was born in Bristol to a Norwegian sailor and his English wife, but spent most of her early years in Staffordshire, in recent years still happily switching to a Staffordshire twang on appropriate occasions.

In the war years, she met her husband, who was what the Dutch now call an Engelandvaarder, "England sailor", a member of the Netherlands military who escaped to Britain in 1940 to continue the fight against the Nazi occupation. In 1945, she joined her husband in war-torn Zeeland, where she learned the local dialect. She had to relearn her Dutch when her husband was on a posting to The Hague.

Finally, they moved to Harderwyk in Guelderland, once a thriving seaport on the Zuyder Zee, the "South Sea", and home of the one-time university where Carl Linnaeus founded systematic botany. From the 1960s, she was the contact person for the Anglican Church in Harderwyk, and organised regular coffee mornings for the English-speaking women. Until she turned 80, she organised an annual carol service, children from the town's secondary school reading the lessons. Sadly, she could not find a successor to take over the organisation.

Once a month, she would take the train to Zwolle for the Anglican services in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. More recently, successive chaplains of Utrecht diverted there to collect and take home the then three "Harderwyk ladies". Mrs Provoost made it worth while for the chaplains with her delicious home-baked cakes - of which she never herself partook, because of diabetes. On other Sundays, she attended her husband's Protestant church.

Her funeral was at St Catherine's Harderwyk. She was buried with her husband, who died about 1980.

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