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The Boy Who Saved The Netherlands

sculpture of Hans Brinker

A large part of the Netherlands used to be under the sea but now the sea is held back by dikes and a large part of the country lies below sea level.

Here is the story of the boy who saved the Netherlandsasterisk

A long time a go there lived in Haarlem, an important town in the Netherlands, a blond-haired boy. His father was the lockkeeper and had to make sure that the locks were opened and closed to keep the water in the canals at the right level.

On a beautiful day in Autumn this boy, he was 8 years old, went to visit an old blind man and bring him some home made biscuits.After about an hour he went home, but the weather had changed; it was raining and the water in the canal was rising.

All of a sudden he heard the sound of trickling water and he wondered were it came from. Then he saw a very small hole in the dike! Now every child in Holland knows what that means; with the pressure of the water the hole won't stay small for long and that means flood! He knew what to do. He climbed onto the dike and put his finger in the hole. Now he hoped for someone to come past soon, because he started to feel quite cold, but no one came.

He called out, "Mother, Mother,Father! Can you hear me?" But his mother thought that he, without asking for permission, had decided to stay overnight with the old blind man. The boy knew that he had to stay and keep his finger in the hole, the water in the canal was rising and if he would pull his finger out the water would make the hole bigger and bigger and the town would flood. When dawn broke, the priest, who had been spending the night at the bedside of a very sick parishioner,was walking home and saw the boy.

"What are you doing there"? he asked when he saw the boy lying on his tummy, halfway up the dike. "I am holding the water back," was the simple answer. "Please get help!" And of course help came soon after that. Everyone in Holland was very proud of the boy.


Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates' is undoubtedly the best-known book on Holland by far and it was written by an American! (see below) It describes life five metres below sea level and the everlasting struggle against the water. But it is also the story of Hans Brinker's skating trip in 1865 along the frozen waterways of the provinces of North and South Holland.

Hans Brinker is known as the boy who stuck his finger in the dike when a flood threatened, and thus kept the water back. This is a basic misunderstanding: this is the legend described in the book, but in reality it is about Peter, the lockkeeper's son.

While walking along an isolated part of the dike one night, he discovers a small hole through which water is seeping. He doesn't hesitate for a moment and sticks his finger in the dike. This does stop the water, but at the same time he cannot contact anybody to come and help him. Throughout the long night he keeps the dike in check with his finger, but he is not found until the next morning by someone who quickly goes for help.

Statues of Peter, the Hero of Haarlem, can be found in two places in Holland: in Spaarndam and in Harlingen.

Read the legend of Hans Brinker in "Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates," by Mary Elizabeth Mapes Dodge  (1831-1905)

illustration of book cover

Created on ... April 04, 2003

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