To my surprise and delight, I’ve found the reports of the regular journeys that a Dutch-Paris courier made from Switzerland to France and Belgium every two weeks between October 1943 and June 1944. Our man was combining Dutch-Paris business with official Dutch government-in-exile business, which is why he typed reports. Of course, they were kept in Switzerland or they would never have been written in the first place. Even so, he used code names because there were spies everywhere, especially in Switzerland.

The reports concern meetings with various people, the delivery or non-delivery of microfilms, arrests of agents and attempts to get them out of prison, numbers of Allied airmen and Dutch fugitives passing through Paris and the like. They also consistently describe our man’s train journeys. I can tell you if the train between Lyon and Paris on a particular day in December 1943 was heated (it wasn’t) or why the train between Toulouse and Paris was delayed on a particular day in January 1944 (two sabotage attacks on the rails, one of which derailed the first carriages of the train, causing several injuries). I can also tell you how many times our man’s papers were checked, where, and by whom (Germans, Frenchmen or Belgians).

I had at first thought that the comments about conditions on the trains were the reflexes of a tired traveler explaining why it took him so long to get anywhere. But I’ve since come to think that they were in the reports at the request of the Dutch military attaché in Bern. After all, the General had regular contacts with his British and American counterparts about getting downed Allied airmen out of Occupied Europe.

So it stands to reason that he was also gathering information for them about the effects of the Allied bombing campaign. Our man doesn’t just mention delays and damage, he also records the attitude of the local population about being bombed. If the people of Annecy are angry at the Americans for bombing their town without any obvious military reason, he mentions it. If the Belgians take being bombed as a matter of course, he mentions that.

And if he just happens to talk to a German officer on a train bound to Paris on 30 March 1944, he mentions both the officer’s regiment and that the German thought that if one continued to bomb Germany as it was being bombed, it wouldn’t be able to hold on past May [1944].

You have to admire the sang-froid of a businessman who is carrying three illegal microfilms through occupied territory and spends the extra nine hours that his train is delayed by sabotage attacks to mingle with enemy officers.

In fact, you have to admire the stamina, if not the courage, of anybody who got on a train in Belgium or France between October 1943 and June 1944 because the trains were usually late. More often than not, they were late because the rails or the trains themselves were attacked from the air by the Allies or the ground by the Resistance. But that was such a little thing amongst the hunger, forced deportations and raging battles of the war that it gets overlooked.