John Hackett's moving memoir I Was a Stranger is a portrait of "the unconquerable strength of the gentle", of grace under pressure and extreme danger, of loving kindness, modesty, and quiet courage. It is an extraordinary story of selflessness, resourcefulness, and understated heroism, and I recommend it very highly.
Severely wounded and taken prisoner during the Battle of Arnhem, John Hackett was able to evade his captors with the help of the Dutch Resistance. He was taken to the home of the de Nooij sisters in the town of Ede, and there the three spinsters, with help from other members of the family, nursed him, nourished him - spiritually and intellectually as well as physically -, and did all they could to prepare him for his ultimate escape to British-occupied territory. That his very presence in their home, had he been discovered, would have been a death warrant, was as nothing to the ladies who instead saw as no more than their Christian duty the succour of a friend in need.
This is a very even book, measured, contemplative. There is nothing sensational about it, no bravura, no all-action showiness; instead it is a clear and simple telling of events in a philosophical, accepting, and temperate manner, but that understatement is in no way to diminish Hackett's own fortitude, or the selflessness and dedication of his hosts. Wholehearted in their mission to care for him and equip him for the road home, the goodwill they showed him in accepting him so fully into their family was both natural and generous, and provided him with "a sort of cocoon of security and kindness" within which he regained his strength and prepared to move on. His debt to them could not have been greater, but there was no suggestion of reckoning or reward; rather, the shared currency of hosts and guest was that of decency, dignity, and faith.
In the words of St. Matthew's gospel, "I was a stranger, and ye took me in"; this book illustrates that humanity and does so with beauty, delicacy, and profound humility.