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23: The Smirnoff's are finally back in Holland

In February 1946 Ivan finally took Margot back to Europe on the great Queen Mary. Their spirits rising with every ocean mile that took them nearer Heemstede.

RMS Queen Mary steaming home

Only a short break in England then they were at Croydon, stepping into a KLM airliner, heading across the Channel. Ivan leaned breathlessly over Margot's shoulder, straining for the first glimpse of the well-remembered coastline. It was six years since the Smirnoffs had left their adopted homeland, six years of war and enemy occupation.

Ivan was disappointed to hear they were routed to The Hague and not to Schiphol. A drizzly mist spoilt the first view of the shores of home, and because of poor visibility they landed at the little military airfield of Valkenburg, outside The Hague. As the plane taxied to a stop Margot excitedly patted her new perm, pulled up the collar of the bulky fur coat; the thrill of their return flushed her cheeks and nobody believed, as she posed beside Ivan, smiling once more for the inevitable photographers, that she was a sick woman.

Then she fell into Triny's loving arms, her long lost friend, and they laughed and wept and hugged each other, the years of separation rolled clean away.

Ivan wondered. How was it possible for KLM to have jumped back in circulation so soon? Their first European services had begun in September 1945, only four months after the war in Europe ended. It was a miracle, they said, and he saw for himself how the miracle was being wrought when he got to Schiphol. Mechanics were busy in the open air, their hands almost freezing to their tools, while builders were busy on fitting shops. Office workers huddled in coats and mufflers in unheated huts while more builders raised the office walls again. Gangs of labourers, by day and by night, were repairing runways, rushing up passenger accommodation, laying on communications. What a challenge! To build up again - greater, and grander even than before! How good it was to be back, to be one of the team again!

At the Victoria Hotel in Amsterdam more friends awaited them and a welcome-home banquet was laid on. All the comfort, all the courteous service was there again. They had a wonderful party and after Margot had gone upstairs to the big double bedroom with its own luxurious bathroom, Ivan was detained in the bar by reporters anxious to hear his story, wondering whether Captain Smirnoff would still be flying "now that flying techniques are so much advanced".

Victoria Hotel, Amsterdam
The beautiful lobby at the Victoria Hotel. Built 1890.

Where the hell did they think he had been during the war? He looked around at them, not a face he knew, all youngsters, still at school when he was started. He grinned - to these youngsters he was still Smirnoff of the Pelican, quite ancient history.

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