Dundee Wren’s life story was like the plot of a movie

The life story of Ruby Nicoll-Heijmans resembles the plot of an epic love story on screen.

For the former Dundee arms factory worker found the love of a lifetime when her fleet of submarines was stationed in Dundee.

As she walked behind him, she instinctively knew the Dutch sailor was right for her – and it turned out she was right.

Today, after his death at 98, his nephew Stephen Boland pays tribute to his aunt who cherished her visits to Scotland after moving to the Netherlands.

Dundee born

“Ruby Nicoll was born in Dundee on March 16, 1923 and died on November 22, 2021 at the age of 98.

“She passed away peacefully in her adopted home in Leiden, the Netherlands,” Stephen said.

Ruby is pictured in the center with her siblings Jimmy and Irene on the left, her mother Georgina and her sisters Dorothy and Winifred, on the right.

Known as a woman of extraordinary spirit and courage, she was devoted to her immediate and extended family.

“Ruby attracted people to her like a magnet, always full of fun and laughter. She was also an avid singer and pianist.

The second oldest of five siblings, she had three sisters named Winifred, Irene and Dorothy, and a younger brother Jimmy.

Sadly, Ruby outlived them all.

Join the Navy

At the start of World War II, Ruby is sent to work in an arms factory.

“The feeling seems to be that she quickly found the job too mundane,” Stephen explained. “It prompted her to enlist in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, which marked a turning point in her life.”

Ruby Nicoll-Heijmans shown lower right holding her hat, during her time in the Royal Women’s Naval Service.

Stationed on the Orkney Islands, she often recalled this experience with fondness.

“If the photos are anything to see, it certainly looks like Ruby and her fellow Wrens proudly embraced freedoms that were previously denied to them.

Become Ruby Nicoll-Heijmans

Ruby married Jacobus Heijmans – better known as Jack.

The story of their first meeting begins while she was walking around Lochee, Dundee.

“The Dutch submarine fleet was stationed in Dundee. One of the crew was a petty officer called Jacobus Heijmans.

“One day she was walking down Lochee High Street when she saw a man in uniform walking in front of her.

“Without even seeing his face, she sensed that he was the man she would marry, and so she did.”

They were married on April 13, 1944 at Dundee Parish Church (St Mary’s) like so many members of Ruby’s family.

The newlyweds moved to Leiden, but Jack’s naval service continued.

New life in Holland

Ruby raised their four children, often for long periods of time, with Jack away until well after the war was over.

Unable to speak Dutch at first, she felt homesick for the company of her sisters.

Her brother, Jimmy, died at age 19 from a burst appendix.

It was a tragedy that marked the family forever, but made them desire their remaining siblings even more.

However, over time Ruby learned the language and formed friendships with other military wives, immersing herself in a network of former post-war comrades from around the world.

Jack Heijmans became the most decorated sailor in the Dutch Navy during the war.

Jacob Heijmans, husband of Ruby Nicoll-Heijmans, born in Dundee.

Although, with great humility, he would jokingly dismiss this incredible achievement as “always being in the wrong place at the right time.”

Back home

Ruby was able to return home to Scotland many times after the war.

She was treated as a guest of honor in large part because of her wonderful company.

“She was the spark behind every reunion and every family song,” Stephen said.

Ruby is survived by her four children, Jack, Gina, Winifred and David, and her family in Scotland and Holland.

Stephen poignantly added: “We are comforted to know that our loss means that there is undoubtedly a party in Heaven.”

Andrea G. Henderson