For the Netherlands, the invasion by German troops on 10 May 1940 marked the start of the Second World War. The subsequent bombing of Rotterdam and Middelburg five days after the initial attack by Nazi Germany resulted in military capitulation. The enemy occupation would last for five years. In these difficult circumstances it was essential to maintain adequate food supplies in such a small and densely populated country. The engineering firm of Dwars, Heederik & Verhey (DHV) went on to play a crucial role in this, designing dozens of so-called Centrale Keukens, or community kitchens, commissioned by the Dutch government.
On 13 November 1940 a first prototype kitchen was opened at Grote Visserijplein in Rotterdam. S.L. Louwes, head of the Rijksbureau van de Voedselvoorziening in Oorlogstijd, the national agency for food supplies in wartime, performed the opening. Special praise was given to Professor M.F. Visser of the National Agricultural College in Wageningen. It so happened that Visser was the inventor of a new ‘hyper-efficient’ system for preparing stamppot, a traditional Dutch dish of potato and vegetables, which was the standard meal cooked in the kitchens, alongside soup. Visser’s innovation involved a method of steam-cooking in specially designed pans – ideal, because key nutrients were retained during the cooking process.
The person who designed the kitchen building was Bastiaan Verhey, a civil engineer. In August 1940 his engineering firm, DHV, was requested to design the prototype kitchen in Rotterdam. Construction started in September and by the end of October the very first community kitchen was ready for opening. At the time, the kitchen was still in a trial phase, not only its manner of food preparation, but its building design too. Louwes’ plan was to build many more community kitchens – after optimisation - throughout the Netherlands where hot and nutritious meals could be served to the poor.
From as early as 1937, the Dutch government had been making plans to maintain levels of food supplies in the event of invasion or occupation. The national agency of which Louwes was in charge developed a centralised system of food production and distribution throughout the Netherlands. For the military defence of the country, measures were being initiated to build-up strategic arms and ammunition supplies. Arnold Groothoff, an old friend of Bastiaan Verhey and co-founder of the former Dwars, Groothoff en Verhey, played a significant part in this. He was head of the Regeringscommissariaat voor de Industriële Verdedigingsvoorbereiding, a government commission responsible for military defence preparations, as well as a member of the ‘crisis council’, along with S.L. Louwes and others.
Arnold Groothoff (1883–1971) - Bastiaan Verhey (1883–1947) (source: Royal HaskoningDHV company archives)
Groothoff had been tasked with building up adequate supplies of arms and ammunition so in 1938 he commissioned DHV, on behalf of the Staatsbedrijf der Artillerie Inrichtingen (a state-owned artillery, small arms and munitions company) “to install around 60 buildings, as well as earthworks, roads, ducts, drains, etc. […] for special purposes on 18 hectares of land” in Rijswijk. Between January and September 1939, 30 buildings had been erected for the production of ammunition and arms. The pace of construction work quickened and by 1940, 47 buildings had been finished. However, the German invasion took place before the production of arms could commence and the new installations were shut down. This construction project may have come to standstill, but the engineering firm – as well as enjoying some welcome income – had gained valuable experience with the rapid and serial production of buildings.
DHV was a key business partner, not just for the defence ministry, but also for municipalities, to be precise, ever since Verhey set up an engineering consultancy (Technisch Adviesbureau) as a subsidiary of DHV in 1917. The consultancy acted for and on behalf of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten) to perform specialist engineering work for which municipalities lacked their own in-house expertise. Bastiaan Verhey and Jan Pieter Heederik were formally appointed directors of the consultancy.
Buildings of the Artillerie Inrichtingen during construction, ca. 1939. (source: Heederik family archives)
After the military capitulation, the complete administrative structure in the Netherlands came under the jurisdiction of the German occupying powers. A major problem at the outbreak of the war were the huge numbers of unemployed and the associated threat of the jobless being forced to work in Germany as part of the Nazi war effort. In June 1940, the number of unemployed in the Netherlands was 740,000. Numbers had never been this high, not even in the years of the Great Depression. It was important to get as many people into work as possible and to hold on to them, and that meant within the Netherlands. That was exactly what hydraulic engineer Johan Ringers, as the Dutch government commissioner for reconstruction, had decided less than a week after the surrender. This objective was central to his reconstruction strategy.
In such uneasy and unpredictable circumstances, businesses and entrepreneurs who still had work tried as much as possible to continue with their activities and to retain their staff. No one at the time could have known that the occupation would last a whole five years. The overwhelming belief was that the war would be quickly over and that there was a realistic chance that Germany would be the victors. In fact, the occupation led to an almost immediate upturn in economic production. Increased demand for goods and services from the Germans, meant Dutch employers and employees faced the dilemma to either collaborate or resist.
Kitchens for mass feeding
Shortly after the Dutch surrender – and up until that moment without much interference from the occupying forces - Louwes started planning the community kitchens programme (Centrale Keukens). His ideas were based on the system of soup kitchens, introduced towards the end of the First World War to prevent food shortages and save fuel. However, the buildings that housed these emergency kitchens no longer existed. For this purpose, new kitchens for mass feeding now had to be quickly built, fitted out with Professor Visser’s new state-of-the-art cooking equipment. The ideal engineering firm for this assignment was reliable, had experience with rapid construction and was known to the municipalities.
It came as no surprise that DHV was given the contract to develop plans for a prototype kitchen and later a complete series of community kitchens. After all, the order was an extension of the earlier work for the munitions workshops (Laboreerwerkplaatsen) and had undoubtedly much to do with the close contacts that existed between the firm and Groothoff, who worked intensively with Louwes. DHV performed the work under the name Bouwbureau van het Rijksbureau van de Voedselvoorziening in Oorlogstijd, headed by Bastiaan Verhey.
Forty-two municipalities were considered for the construction of one or more standard kitchens, according to the Rijksbureau Voedselvoorziening in Oorlogstijd. In addition to the major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, these were all towns with a population of more than 20,000. In the first instance, the plan was to build a total of 50 community kitchens, including the prototype in Rotterdam. Their construction would be tendered on a municipality-by-municipality basis and this process - needless to say - was supervised by DHV. The intended pace of construction was high: completion was planned within five weeks of the contract being signed.
In practice, this was not possible: the harsh winter weather of 1940-1941 delayed construction significantly. In spite of this, by the beginning of May 1941, 40 kitchens were practically complete.
Temporary, lightweight construction
During tests with the Rotterdam kitchen, the steam-cooked foods proved excellent, but it was felt that the layout of the building and, above all, the ventilation needed improvement. As a result, Verhey modified his design slightly for subsequent kitchens. As with the earlier soup kitchens, the new cooking and serving stations were explicitly intended as a temporary measure and were therefore lightweight in construction. A new feature was the high level of standardisation and the emphasis on hygiene and logistics.
There were two standard versions of the new community kitchen: for the distribution of food to 4,000 or 6,000 persons respectively. They were designed to be “as utilitarian as possible”. Due to the lack of timber, a brickwork construction was chosen – “just 11 cm thick in view of their temporary nature” – and flat roofs made of pumice concrete.
Detail from the blueprint showing the original standard kitchen (source: Afdeling Bouwbureau Massavoeding Amersfoort, Nationaal Archief)
Everywhere, kitchens of almost identical design started appearing. It was an early example of standardised construction. Top left Amersfoort, top right Magelhaensplein in Amsterdam, bottom left Vlissingen, bottom right Dordrecht. None of these temporary buildings has survived. (source: Gaslaan Archief Eemland, Stadsarchief Amsterdam, Beeldbank Zeeland, Regionaal Archief Dordrecht)
Inside, in the central section of the building was the kitchen itself and an area where the ingredients could be cleaned – in a large sink. For the stamppot menu in particular, which drew heavily on the high nutritional value of potatoes, there was an electric peeling machine, positioned under a “potato bunker”. There was a separate butchery section.
The working kitchen had a futuristic look, with its huge ‘tipping’ cauldrons and double-walled ‘heating vessels’ for keeping warm the food which had already been prepared. On either side of the kitchen was a counter where people could collect their midday meals. A meal cost 25 cents and, for those who received ‘social assistance’, 13 cents. The portions were enormous, starting at 1.2 litres per person. Meals could be taken home and eaten or - more commonly towards the end of the war - to work.
A demonstration of the special tipping cauldrons and the heating vessels by a chef in the Leeuwarden community kitchen, April 1941. (source: Ch. Gimbault, Historisch Centrum Leeuwarden)
While the community kitchens provided an increasing number of meals, opposition from the occupying powers grew: in their view the kitchens were the equivalent of a ‘communist’ organisation. This resulted in a drastic change. From the autumn of 1941 onwards, it was decided that the food hand-outs were intended as dietary supplements for workers, rather than for the needy. This meant that workers received their midday meal not only from workplace kitchens specially designed for this purpose, but also from the community kitchens.
This generated an increase in workload for the engineering firm, since Louwes instructed DHV to create plans for workplace kitchens, to be installed in existing buildings. This involved drawing up plans for the conversion of “garages, warehouses, market halls, churches, cinemas, canning factories, abattoirs, factory units, etc.” Some companies involved also provided the engineering office with specifications and other details.
Roadworkers in Rotterdam were served hot meals from the community kitchen at Grote Visserijplein in Rotterdam. (source: Erich Adolf, Stadsarchief Rotterdam)
25th anniversary of DHV
In 1942 DHV celebrated its 25th anniversary. An anniversary book was published with a limited circulation and, whilst making no mention of the German occupation, it did refer to the wartime situation:
“Thanks to the special endeavours of Mr Verhey and the close cooperation which he received from various clients, work activities attained normal levels before the end of May. After some time, orders followed in quick succession and staffing levels were hardly sufficient to keep up with the required pace.
There were also difficulties. Difficulties with traffic and transport, difficulties as a result of restrictive measures and problems with vouchers, coupons and procurement authorisations. Materials had to be replaced and construction methods revised, but …… the work continued.”
And the work kept coming: nearly all 37 draughtsmen, engineers, work supervisors and administrative staff who worked for the firm in May 1940, were still in employment at the time of the liberation of the Netherlands in May 1945.
At the end of the Second World War there were more than 170 community kitchens in the Netherlands. Although it is not entirely clear how much work and turnover these kitchens provided DHV, their economic importance was without question. That was also the case for the last part of the war, the infamous Hongerwinter, a period of famine during the winter of 1944-'45.
Looking back, DHV owed its economic survival largely to its close contacts with the Rijksbureau Voedselvoorziening, despite the difficulties mentioned previously. In a speech given by Heederik after the first post-war payslips had been handed out, he made reference to this:
“The fact that we have been able to continue working over the last few years is, quite honestly, mainly thanks to the Rijksbureau voor de Voedselvoorziening. If we had not had the Rijksbureau, in the first place, we would have had no work and, in the second place, it would have proved extremely difficult and almost impossible to prevent deportation of any of our workers to Germany, so we should be aware of the gratitude we must show to the Rijksbureau for having the opportunity to carry out this work.”
For the period of reconstruction that followed, a number of new contracts had already been awarded, including the construction of munitions workshops for the Artillerie Inrichtingen, “to be built in roughly the same way as previously in Delft”. The company archives contain letters for orders with the signature of … ir. A. Groothoff. The partnership continued and thankfully, the community kitchens were no longer necessary.
About this project
In October 2021 Royal HaskoningDHV will celebrate its 140thbirthday. To mark this milestone, we have commissioned a series of striking stories highlighting key moments in the firm’s history. We are proud of our heritage and this is a great opportunity to share our stories with a wider audience.From January to October 2021, we will publish a new story each month.