They may be fewer and a little less inclined to march, but the Canadian veterans who choose to return to the Netherlands this spring will be made as welcome as when they liberated the country 65 years ago.
“The enthusiasm is in no way diminished and 2010 is a milestone year,” The Netherlands Ambassador to Canada, Wim Geerts, said in a visit to Legion House in Kanata, Ont., in January. Geerts said activities are planned on both sides of the Atlantic to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation in May (Journal, January/February).
While at Legion House, the ambassador presented a liberation pin to Honorary Grand President Charles Belzile. The gold lapel pin features the Dutch and Canadian flags flanking a red tulip with the worlds “65 years” printed over it.
Among the activities in the Netherlands is the Victory of Europe tour. More than 2,000 Canadian students are expected to travel to the Netherlands in May to take part in parades and other ceremonies. “Each student will be asked to study one of the Canadians who died in the liberation. More than 7,600 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Geerts.
The students will be paired with Dutch students of the same age and together they will tour Canadian war cemeteries at Groesbeek, Holten and Bergen-op-Zoom. Each student will have a chance to visit where the soldier he or she studied is buried or commemorated.
“It is especially important that we pass on the message to the younger generation which has no knowledge of what it would have been like to live through those terrible times,” said Geerts.
The Thank You Canada and Allied Forces organization is again inviting Canadian veterans to return. Although the veterans are older and would probably prefer to stay in hotels, the group will help match those who wish to stay with Dutch families as they did in major anniversaries to mark the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the liberation.
There are 13 liberation festivals held in different regions of the country. These are scattered over several days so there will be plenty of activities to choose from.
May 4 is a more solemn day which honours the victims of war. At exactly 8 p.m. people will gather at local cenotaphs and cemeteries to observe two minutes’ silence. A large ceremony will be held at Dam Square in Amsterdam.
May 5 is the start of Liberation Day and commemorates Germany’s capitulation on May 5, 1945. The day is a national holiday and a parade is held in Wageningen where the surrender documents were signed.
On May 9, there will be a large parade in Apeldoorn which will be watched by Princess Margriet and her family.
“Of course there won’t be as many veterans as there were for the 60th anniversary and they won’t be marching,” said Geerts. It is raining as it was in 2005, the majority of the events will take place indoors at a large sports complex.
In Canada, the annual Canadian Tulip Festival May 7-24 in Ottawa will be a major celebration of the friendship between nations. The city will be in full bloom. Each year since the Second World War ended Princess Juliana has sent 20,000 tulip bulbs to the nation’s capital.
In addition, the Netherlands is creating a specially designed garden at Dow’s Lake, one the centres of the festival.
Other activities are planned with the Canadian War Museum.
“My parents were teenagers when Germany invaded the Netherlands in the 1940s. They lived through those terrible times. If the country had not been liberated, their lives would have been very different,” said Geerts.
“Even today, Canada and the Netherlands are standing shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan. We live in two of the freest counties in the world and that should never be forgotten.”
Branches interested in purchasing the liberation pins can contact the embassy at Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 2020-350 Albert St., Ottawa, ON K1R 1A4 or call 1-877-388-2443.