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  • Hans Faber

Refuge on a terp 2.0. Waiting to be liberated

August 21, 1930, Wieringermeer. The reclamation was completed. Of land that used to be called the Creil Woods, in province Noord Holland of the Netherlands. Land that had been lost to the sea eight centuries ago during the most destructive All Saints' Flood in 1170. The reclaimed land -or polder- now being named Wieringermeer instead of Creil Woods. The first villages being built were Sluis I ('sluice 1'), Middenmeer ('middle lake') and Wieringerwerf. Later, village Sluis 1 elegantly was rebranded as Slootdorp, meaning 'ditch village'. Settlers came from all over the country. It was not for long that these pioneers would keep their feet dry.

Wieringerwerf means ‘werf of Wieringen’ and ‘werf’ means 'terp’ (artificial settlement mound) as is used mostly in northern Germany. A terp for just-in-case had been created too within the new polder in 1930. Therefore, the village next to it was named accordingly. It is a fancy four hectares big, square-shaped terp including a top-notch sweet water well. This terp was the latest addition to the terp-building tradition that started in this wider region around 600 BC. And the constructors of the just-in-case terp 2.0 had foresight indeed.

wieringerwerf terp
construction of the terp, 1927

On April 17, 1945 at 12:00 o’clock sharp a desperate and frustrated Nazi army out of anger blew up the dike protecting the young Wieringermeer Polder. Most of the 7,000 inhabitants of Wieringermeer Polder fled with their bikes, horses, carriages, carts, cattle etc away from Wieringermeer Polder whilst the water was rising steadily to a level between 0,5 and 5 meters above the 30-year-old new land. When inhabitants of the polder reached the surrounding higher grounds and dikes, part of them were awaited by German soldiers. Some were taken prisoner. One leader of the resistance was shot on the spot.


Beemster Polder - On February 21, 1945 the German army had ordered the inundation of the Beemster Polder, south of the Wieringermeer Polder. At the end of May 1945 the polder had been drained again.


But not all fled. Three families from the village Wieringerwerf, in total twenty-three people, went to the terp that day, including some children from the city of Amsterdam, who had fled the Dutch capital a few months before during the so-called Hunger Winter, also called the Famine of 1944-1945. Walking up the terp and hoping the water would not rise above the level of the terp. It did not. The engineers had done a proper job fifteen years back. On the terp everyone was protected from the rising water, and from the Nazi army and the chaotic final chords of the war as well.

modern terp dwellers (April 17- May 7, 1945)

Not only people, also animals reached the terp for safety. There were six cows, a few pigs, a goat, a sheep and some rabbits. But also a cat and a dog. The owners of the sheep and the goat were unknown. Several clever or lucky hares stayed at the terp as well, though without permission. The cows provided the people with milk. Some people lived in a tent. Others on boats docked at the terp's slope. No moles have been sighted so these might have had a hard time surviving the inundation of the polder.

some of the animals at the terp (April 17-May 7, 1945)

Only three days after they had occupied the terp the first of three storms hit the area. In a way these were welcome since it provided the green terp dwellers with wood to build a shelter. Who knows, driftwood washed ashore that was collected by terp dwellers, is as it was over two-thousands years back when wood was scarce too at the salt marshes of the terp regions along the coasts of the Wadden Sea, province Zeeland and of West Flanders. After two more storms it was enough. The group left this safe haven on May 7, 1945 heading for the dry ground, of a country that had been liberated from its occupier in the meantime. On December 11, 1945 the Wieringermeer Polder was made dry again and life could resume its pace. Today the polder has around 13,000 inhabitants.

For the folks living on the Halligs (or Halligen in German language) of region Nordfriesland in northern Germany the unique sight of people living on a terp surrounded by water (Landunter) is still the normal. For the Dutch it was not anymore. But it proved, once again, that after 2,600 years of terp culture, terps are still a current and very solid solution in water management.

Where the dike of the Wieringermeer Polder was blown up by the Nazis, on the east side of the Polder, is a scar. A beautiful one, though. At this spot the dike makes a bend towards the sea and turns back. Behind it are two so-called wielen 'wheels'. These are little lakes created by the incoming, swirling water when the dyke broke in 1945. The area around is forested in contrast to much of the rest of the Polder, and within this small forest you have nature-camping Het Bos Roept. So, worth making a detour and stay the night there while hiking the Frisia Coast Trail.


Note 1 - If you became just as excited about terps as we are, and cannot wait to construct your own, find here the first and only Manual Making a Terp in 12 Steps. Take care and read the warning carefully!

Note 2 - During stage 3 of the Frisia Coast Trail you will pass the young terp of Wieringerwerf. The well has been replaced by a swimming pool, though. The swimming pool is in decay.

Note 3 - If you understand Dutch language, there is also a very informative documentary of the Wieringermeer catastrophe of 1945, click here.

Further reading:

Guðmundsdóttir, L., Wood procurement in Norse Greenland (11th to 15th c. AD) (2021)

Oneindig Noord-Holland (website), De meidagen van 1940 (2012)

Regionaal Archief Alkmaar (website)

Rooijendijk, C., Waterwolven. Een geschiedenis van stormvloeden, dijkenbouwers en droogmakers (2009)

Zijper Museum (website)

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