Formidable Sara will be greatly missed

A lady who served in the Dutch resistance during the Second World War and went on to become Bexhill’s own Call the Midwife during the 1950s has died aged 96.

Sara ‘Suze’ Muytjens-Rijs, was born in Amsterdam in 1917. At the start of WWII she became a member of the Dutch Resistance. Brenda Picknell, Sara’s close friend for 25 years, said the German occupation of The Netherlands in 1940 and the hardships endured marked her life forever. However, Brenda said because of her fortitude and positive frame of mind it never dominated her life, adding: “She had friends who were Jewish in the Youth Orchestra, where she played the recorder.

“One by one they had to go into hiding and she helped the Resistance by being a messenger. She spoke little of those terrible war experiences and was reluctant to go into detail.”

Brenda said on one occasion Sara recounted with tears in her eyes, the brutal execution of one of her friends. “He was one of a group of 12 young students, who actively resisted the Nazi’s efforts to track down Jewish citizens, by an attack on the Public Records Offices in Amsterdam in March 1943.”

Sara also recounted a story of when Nazis were starving people (hopefully into submission). Brenda said: “One day Sara rode her bicycle to a relatives farm out in the country. They gave her what food they could and the next day setting off for home, she came to a village where two soldiers approached her. They asked what she was doing and she replied that she had gone to find food for her parents and said ‘What would you do if your family were starving?’

“The soldiers took out their guns and Sara feared for her life, but to her astonishment they shot down some pigeons, put them in her bicycle basket and told her to go home.”

Sara’s father and mother died soon after. In 1952 she came to England and was accepted as a trainee at Hellingly Hospital but Brenda said she was unable to settle. “So she got on her bicycle and went to the Buchanan Hospital in Hastings and asked them for a job. They saw a midwife in the making and grabbed her straight away! She absolutely loved this work.”

Later in life Sara married fellow Dutchman Len and Brenda said they shared a long, happy marriage, adding: “When Len died he was totally blind and deaf, this led Sara to campaign for Loop systems in the library, banks and building societies etc and for other improvements to be made to help people with disabilities in Bexhill. Sara could not have remained in her home without all the care and support she received from dedicated agencies and individuals. She had great admiration for the Salvation Army, and supported many charities. Sara was a very positive lady and was often quoted in the Bexhill Observer letters pages.”

Sara became very deaf and partially sighted, but Brenda said this was not an obstacle to Sara. “That indomitable spirit and her great sense of fun kept her going to the end.

“Sara is remembered as a formidable woman with an enormous zest for life, great perseverance, demanding high standards of those around her, but also of herself. She would speak out against injustices and for what was not right.

“She will be greatly missed.”