"Tobs' Project” is the working title of a true story about my uncle Tobs (pronounced "Tops" in English) who was a Dutch agent for Special Operations Executive during World War II.
Special Operations Executive, often dubbed “SOE”, was a secret British World War II organisation. Formed in July 1940 and disbanded in January 1946, their agents came from the various war-torn countries throughout the world. They were trained by the British to conduct reconnaissance, espionage, sabotage, and to aid locally formed resistance movements throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
SOE is not a commonly known organisation to most people. Few knew of its existence during the war or many years thereafter. With the exception of a handful of notable historians, SOE’s archives remained firmly closed to the public until 2003. Furthermore, everyone who worked for SOE had to sign the Official Secrets Act (OSA). Those who signed the document were from then on forbidden from discussing their activities during WW II.
Consequently, we knew about Tobs the war hero, but little else. Yet, the honours bestowed upon him spoke volumes of his high-level achievements and accomplishments. The British awarded him with the MBE (Member of the British Empire), the Dutch with the highest honour in the Netherlands -- the Militaire Willems Orde (Military Order of William) -- as well as the Dutch Bronzen Kruis (Bronze Cross).
Family Lore stubbornly persisted with the narrative about Tobs’ activities in the resistance movement. As an expert competitive oarsman, he was said to have singlehandedly rowed the English Channel, to and from Holland, with messages from Queen Wilhelmina for the Dutch people. Like so many other European governments and heads of state, the Queen, along with her government, fled to London in 1940 to continue governing in exile.
Whilst in London, Tobs met Eva Skotting, a Danish woman also involved with the resistance. They fell in love and were married in July 1944. Then came the dark day when Eva learnt that Tobs had been shot by the Nazis. A few weeks before the liberation of Holland he died of his wounds.
For Christmas 1999, my future husband presented me with a new Apple Powerbook computer and said, “Start writing your story about Tobs and Eva.” I always felt it was a story worth telling and, since childhood, I had made it my crusade to bring it to life.
World War II has captivated me throughout my life. My parents met in England during the war, my father -- the dashing, daring, Dutch Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot -- was based near my mother’s family home and swept her off her feet. It sounded so incredibly romantic, as did Tobs and Eva’s story.
However, with the new millennium dawning, the Internet was still in its infancy. Google was in Beta, Wikipedia did not exist and pages took an exasperatingly slow time to load. In spite of that, chat rooms and forums populated this brave new world. They became the go-to place for information.
One evening, I found myself on a Dutch World War II forum and I posted a query about my uncle, Tobs.
Three people answered me: “Tobias Biallosterski is the full name of your uncle,” said one; “There’s a book about his missions called Londen Roept Amsterdam (London Calling Amsterdam) published in 1992,” said another while the last offered, “I live in Santpoort and there is a street called Biallosterskilaan (Biallosterski lane) near where I live and I never knew where the name came from.” I sat there for a while utterly surprised by their replies this was far more information than I ever anticipated receiving. It was indeed a brilliant start to the New Year.
The next morning, I searched the web for the book about Tobs, I felt it held the answers to many of the family's secrets. At an antiquarian bookstore in Amsterdam, I found the book and placed my order---two weeks later it arrived.
I stared in disbelief at the cover photo of Tobs. It was the first time I had ever seen a photo of him and he bore the most uncanny resemblance to my father. Photos of Eva and Tobs' team appeared throughout the book but it was written in Dutch, I knew nobody who could help me translate the pages and, without that, I could not move forward.