WESTERN EUROPE: Helping Hearts

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As if Western Europe had not already had more than enough of weather, howling blizzards swirled down on Britain last week, while high spring tides threatened The Netherlands and rivers overflowed in Belgium. But man's battle with nature was slowly being won. Everywhere, catastrophe and the willingness to share it were welding old allies, grown apart, into a special kind of comradeship.

"I never understood why you liked Americans so much," wrote one Dutch woman to a friend in the U.S. "To me, their insistence on the story of the boy with his finger in the dike always seemed indicative of their lack of understanding. I admit now I was totally wrong. Here they were with their trucks and helicopters, picking up people, bringing them in, and going right out on another mission. What struck me was that their hearts were in it, just as our Dutch hearts were." Offers of aid to The Netherlands had poured in from far away. A factory in Italy offered homes to 300 Dutch children; 20,000 French families offered haven to the flood victims.

In Britain, the first letter new U.S. Ambassador Winthrop Aldrich found on his desk was an urgent request for 10 million sandbags to bolster Britain's fast-disappearing supply. Aldrich promptly telephoned Washington to have the bags flown over. Before the operation could get under way, however, promises of 17 million sandbags had been given Britain's embassies in Europe alone. By the following morning, R.A.F. transports were winging their way to pick up 5,500,000 bags already stacked on airfields in Italy, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Germany and Portugal. Even The Netherlands, stripped of sandbags by her own needs, offered all surplus space on Dutch airliners to carry the bags Britain needed.

Airliners from other countries soon joined the R.A.F. in flying the heavy bales of bags to the British flood areas, where trucks and volunteers stood ready in the cold and snow to fill and pile them up. More than 11 million bags were on hand by the time the spring tides rose again at week's end. Said Wing Commander Masterman, who organized Operation King Canute, as the sandbag-lift was called: "It's been a delight. It shows the thing works in peacetime as well as in war."