Second World War pilot celebrates 100 not out
Centenarian Jan Linzel recalls day 75 years ago when aircraft was shot down by Luftwaffe
Jan Linzel: “You have no idea how quiet it is when you are hanging in the air.” Photograph: Michael MacSweeney/Provision
Dutch fighter pilot Jan linzel before a sortie
It’s not every day that a war hero celebrates his 100th birthday, so it was perhaps appropriate that the Royal Netherlands Air Force sent their 30-strong brass band to west Cork to help Jan Linzel and his family celebrate his centenary.
The last surviving member of the Royal Netherlands Air Force who fought the Luftwaffe over the Netherlands on May 10th, 1940, Linzel and his German-born wife Marianne are in reflective mood at their home in Glengarriff as Linzel looks back over his 100 years.
Linzel was always interested in flying, and recalls how he was attached to a fighter squadron at Ypenburg when he took off in his single-seater Fokker D.XXI to defend The Hague as wave after wave of German bombers darkened the Dutch skies.
“I saw the silhouette of an aircraft that I had never seen before. I then saw the German markings and gave a short burst. A very bright, violent flame came out of its right engine and then black smoke. It went down straight away,” he says.
“I climbed up again and saw a large formation of Heinkels in the direction of The Hague. I dived down to the hindmost right aircraft and fired everything I had at close range. I am sure I hit it but I did not have time to see the result.
“When I pulled away, a bullet came through the floor and exploded in my thigh. There was a lot of blood and I started to feel faint. I threw off the hood and bailed out – you have no idea how quiet it is when you are hanging in the air.”
Linzel survived and after spending six weeks in hospital, he joined the Dutch underground, before making his way via Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal to Britain, where he joined the RAF and helped turn the tide in the battle against Hitler and Nazism.
After the war, Linzel returned to the Netherlands and it was while he was serving with the air force that he met Marianne Nowak while visiting Essen in June 1958. Three months later they married.
Marianne had grown up hearing stories about Ireland from her grandfather who had worked on the Ardnacrusha Dam in the 1920s. The couple and their teenage son Otto started coming on holidays to Glengarriff in 1973 and five years later they moved there.
On Monday, they were joined in Glengarriff by Otto and his wife Josephine and their children, Emma and Mary Ellen, Dutch ambassador Paul Schellekens and the Royal Netherlands Air Force Band to celebrate Linzel’s 100th.
So to what does Linzel attribute his longevity? He pauses for a moment but, before he answering, Marianne interjects: “Fresh air and my good care – every body knows that,” she says.
Linzel flashes a smile and nods. “She’s right, you know.”