Book Review: Mannen Van Sliedrecht

This year is coming to an end. Two weeks of holiday for me. My favourite pastime is reading. So, I thought to recommend you something to read on your holiday, also. Mmh, what kind of book should I suggest? It should be entertaining, maybe educating and for all: about dredging. And the first book that springs to my mind is ‘Mannen van Sliedrecht’ by the author K. Norel.

Opening page of ‘Mannen van Sliedrecht’

Jan Baan is the hero of the book. As a young, intelligent  and energetic boy, he is withdrawn from school, to earn some money digging peat in the Biesbosch. There he uses his intellect to organise his work and improve the equipment. From there, he works his way up through a brilliant career, ending as one of the most influential captains of dredging industry. Although Jan Baan is the protagonist, the story unfolds through the life of Dirk Punt. He is the average really hard working crewmember on the dredges. No frills, no aspiration, only loyal, honest maybe even devout and modest. Sliedrecht had thousands of those men in their workforce and in combination with the innovations by people like Jan Baan, Sliedrecht became the biggest village in the world.
Whereas Dirk Punt is modelled after a non-descript Anybody, Jan Baan is mainly based on the historical person Adriaan Volker1. He really was an innovative engineer, threading new paths in the dredging business and managing his people effectively. He became the founder of one of those big dredging companies from Sliedrecht, eventually incorporated in Koninklijke Volker Wessels Stevin2.

Adriaan Volker (Credit: Nationaal Baggermuseum)

K. Norel was not the first to write about this subject. Herman de Man started out to collect data by interviewing people that were part of that era. Alas, the second World War came along and all the collected documents were lost and Herman de Man had other priorities after losing his family. K. Norel took over and had to start from scratch again3. So, even the story behind the book is interesting. It is out of print, but over the course of time, had several reprints. You will find it in most second hand book stores and markets. You will even find copies online4.
I do have my own copy, but am reluctant to lend it out, as I am very attached to it. It was handed to me personally by my grandmother. As a twelve year old girl, she was the nanny at the Volker family to take care of Adriaan’s descendants in the mansion that is now the National Dredging Museum. She received this picture for her services. So, there you have it: my personal connection to one of my hero’s in the dredging industry.

Happy reading! Enjoy your holiday. Best wishes for the new year.

Volker children (Credit: Henk Swijnenburg)

References

  1. Adriaan Volker
  2. Koninklijke Volker Wessels Stevin
  3. Geschiedenis van Mannen van Sliedrecht
  4. Mannen van Sliedrecht online for sale

See also

Nationaal Baggermuseum