This Coming Spring

January 1, 2005 by Tom MacGregor

PhotoS: Tom MacGregor

PhotoS: Tom MacGregor

Clockwise from top: Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, near Nijmegen in the Netherlands, has 2,338 Canadian graves; Hundreds of Dutch military personnel drop from the sky in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Operation Market Garden; The Keep Them Rolling Association displays vintage military vehicles.

Hundreds of people lined the narrow streets of the Dutch village of Ede-Veenendaal near Arnhem last fall as a parade of World War II-era military vehicles made its way to the village market for an afternoon exhibit. “Isn’t it great to know people will line up just to see a bunch of old jeeps,” said jeep owner Kuuk Criep.

Criep is the former chairman of the Keep Them Rolling Association, a group of military vehicle enthusiasts who repair, restore and display their prized treasures. Earlier in the day the owners and drivers had shown off their vehicles during commemorations for the 60th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. More than 100,000 people attended those events and witnessed a spectacular paratroop drop that featured hundreds of Dutch military personnel.

Once in the Ede-Veenendaal market place, the vintage vehicles were surrounded by locals wanting to talk to the owners, look under hoods and hear stories about the vehicles that were used during Canada’s liberation of the Netherlands in 1945. “If you think this is something,” Criep said. “It’ll be nothing compared to the events scheduled for this spring.”

This May marks the 60th anniversary of both the liberation of the Netherlands and VE-Day or Victory in Europe Day. Last September, at the invitation of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, Legion Magazine visited the Netherlands. The board also helped arrange several meetings with people involved in planning the anniversary celebrations, and we are pleased to preview the main events.

The spring celebrations, which will include a massive parade through Apeldoorn, are going to be enormous and will involve thousands of returning Canadian war veterans, many of whom have been invited to stay in Dutch homes. Criep and other members of the association are looking forward to participating in the parade which could easily attract 500,000 spectators.

The celebrations will also feature the Dutch royal family as well as many serving members of the Dutch and Canadian Forces. And as with past liberation celebrations here, the enthusiasm for this year’s anniversary will be heightened by the participation of schoolchildren who have studied wartime history and have an abiding respect for their country’s wartime liberators.

While the Dutch government and various communities are planning the major events, most of the co-ordination for the returning veterans is being organized by the Thank you Canada & Allied Forces group and by the Welcome Again Veterans foundation. Both organizations say they are pleased to make it possible for Canadian war veterans to stay with selected Dutch families, a program that has been offered every five years.

But while this year’s celebration is expected to be the biggest ever, it could be the last. “It is good to start a program like this, but it is also good to stop,” explained Albert Hartkamp, the national secretary of the Thank you Canada group. The reasons are simple. The veterans are getting older and few would be expected to return for the 65th anniversary in 2010. “These days we mostly get the children and grandchildren. I think it is good that they come and they will always be welcome. But we started this program for the veterans and when they are no longer there we feel that our purpose is no more.”

Canadian veterans planning to return to the Netherlands should read the news story that gives details of a Veterans Affairs Canada travel subsity. The story is found in the Frontline section of the Web site under the heading Apply Now. They are best to work through the two Dutch groups. They can expect a busy schedule of commemorative events. On Tuesday, May 3, there will be a huge ceremony at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery. This event, which will begin with a silent walk through the cemetery, is being organized by Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian embassy and the Dutch government. It will be attended by Princess Margriet who was born in Canada during WW II when her mother Princess Juliana took refuge in Ottawa with her family. Prime Minister Paul Martin is also expected to attend. Groesbeek, situated near Nijmegen, is the largest of the Canadian war cemeteries in the Netherlands. It has 2,338 Canadian graves.

On May 4, remembrance ceremonies will be held in different cities throughout the country. The biggest one is scheduled for Holten Canadian War Cemetery where there are 1,352 Canadian graves. That evening there will be a remembrance ceremony in Dam Square in Amsterdam. Queen Beatrix is expected to attend.

Festivities will continue the following day at locations throughout the Netherlands. The biggest one will be the parade in the town of Wageningen where the Germans surrendered.

The city of Nijverdal, located 30 kilometres north of Arnhem, will host national liberation festivities on May 7. Amsterdam will also hold a major ceremony that day. Meanwhile, a national veterans parade is scheduled for Apeldoorn on May 8. More than 400,000 people paraded through Apeldoorn in 1995 to mark the liberation’s 50th anniversary. Although the number of parading veterans might be fewer this year, the crowds lining the streets are expected to be much larger. Members of the Dutch royal family are expected to take the salute during the march past. “We have a progression through the remembrance period,” explained Hartkamp. “We start May 3 with a focus on remembrance and then on May 5 we celebrate the liberation. After that we have our parades.”

The Thank you Canada group is also planning to issue a new medal for WW II veterans who return to the Netherlands this year. The medal comes with a red, white and blue ribbon, reflecting the colours of the Dutch flag. And rather than identify any particular anniversary, the medal will simply give the year of the liberation. In order to qualify for this medal, veterans must have taken part in the liberation actions in the Netherlands. Interested veterans need to contact the organization and provide specific details on their service, including the name of the regiment they served with and their regimental or service number.

Wherever possible, the medal will be presented to groups of regimental comrades. The committee will need three months’ notice before organizing any presentation ceremony. “This time we will only give the medal to those veterans who return to the Netherlands for the celebrations,” said Hartkamp. “The last time we had a medal we gave them out in Canada. The biggest event we had was in Montreal.” That was four years ago.

In Canada, the official travel agent for the national Thank you Canada group and Welcome Again Veterans serving southeastern Holland is Baldwin Verstraete, president of Verstraete Travel and Cruises. The address is 300–14845 Yonge St., Aurora, ON L4G 6H8 or 36 Secord Dr., St. Catharines, ON L2N 1K8. Call toll-free 1-800-565-9267, or visit www.verstraetetravel.com.

Another valuable contact is the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions at www.holland.com/ca or www.warhistoryholland.com.

Travellers should also know that most tours from Canada arrive in the Netherlands on May 1 or May 2 with departures set for May 9 or May 10.

The Thank you Canada group can also be reached at Secr. De Croese 18, 7441 KG Nijverdal, the Netherlands. The address for the Welcome Again Veterans foundation is Molenbelterweg 8, 7451 JB Holten, the Netherlands.

Another tour, slated for May 2-10, is hosted by Jack and Theresa van der Laan, and organized in association with the Canada Netherlands Friendship Association. The van der Laans can be reached in Burlington, Ont., at 905-332-7000.

Canadians travelling to the Netherlands are usually impressed by the very warm welcome they receive. The memories of that hard wartime period are still very fresh in the minds of many older Dutch citizens. Ben Zonnenberg was a child in Apeldoorn when the Germans took over the country. “It was a terrible time. There was even an incident in Apeldoorn where they rounded up a dozen resistence fighters—and two Canadian airmen who had been captured—and shot them. Their bodies were left on the streets with signs referring to them as terrorists.”

Zonnenberg’s affection for the Canadian effort to liberate his country drove him and a number of others to form the Liberation of the Netherlands Branch of The Royal Canadian Legion, which was the first Legion branch in Europe Zone outside of Germany (The Netherlands Opens Its Doors To The Legion, May/June).

The branch, which has more than 50 members from all over the Netherlands, has no building as yet but members meet regularly at the Royal Dutch Air Force base in Nieuw Milligen. Apeldoorn Mayor Fred de Graaf is a charter member of the branch.“Everything about the liberation is sort of centred on Apeldoorn. I have a good relationship with the mayor and city hall. They allow me to come in and use the fax and photocopier,” he explained.

His own big project was the creation of a national memorial for the liberation in Apeldoorn. The large abstract statue is known as The Man With Two Hats, and it features a jubilant Dutchman with a hat in each hand, raised in celebration. The idea for the statue came from a photograph showing a man who had taken off his hat and then snatched a hat from a man standing next to him. “It’s an abstract design, but it captures the joy. We thought the two hats in some way symbolized the relationship between the two countries, the Netherlands and Canada.”

A replica made from the same mould was unveiled in Ottawa during the 2002 Canadian Tulip Festival. The festival itself was inspired by Princess Juliana’s gift of tulips to the city in gratitude for her wartime stay in Canada.

As well as hosting several events during the anniversary, Amsterdam is home to the Netherlands Resistance Museum and the Anne Frank House. The story of the German occupation and the Dutch resistance is told in the interactive museum. The museum itself is dedicated to the Dutch resistance in Amsterdam. Chronicling the period from 1930 to 1950, the museum uses photos and short films to show how the Netherlands maintained its neutrality even as the Nazis were dominating Germany, and the Dutch National Socialist Movement, which was affiliated with them, rose in prominence.

Everything changed on May 10, 1940, when Germany invaded the Netherlands. The country, which was left in shock, surrendered five days later. Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch government fled to England around the same time. While at first the German occupiers tried to woo the country with goodwill gestures, such as releasing all the Dutch prisoners of war, the environment started to change as younger people began objecting to the German presence.

The Germans first demanded that everyone have an identity card. They then systematically restricted the activities of Jews. As civil disobedience grew, the Nazis became harsher in retaliation and then started rounding up the Jews for forced labour or concentration camps. It is believed more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were killed in this period.

Resistance went underground and co-operated with the Allies. The Germans stripped the countryside and a railway strike paralysed transportation. Museum photos show city dwellers walking out into the country for miles in search of food in what has become known as the Starvation Winter of 1944-45. Eventually, the Allies began dropping food supplies from the air.

The exhibit at the museum ends with a quotation from Dutch poet Remco Campert: “Asking yourself a question, that’s how resistance begins. And then ask that very question to someone else.”

That sense of resistance is what kept the Dutch spirits up until the Canadians arrived in 1945.

The Anne Frank House offers a personal vision of this period of horror. The house is world famous as being the hideaway for Otto Frank, his wife, and daughters Anne and Margot in1942 as Germany occupied the Netherlands. The family shared that space with four other Jews and lived secretly almost until the war’s end.

The living space was above the office where Otto Frank worked. Their days were spent in silence so as to not betray their presence. Space being at a premium in Amsterdam, the architecture leaned towards high buildings with a minimal amount of ground space. The family lived in seclusion in a labyrinth with steep stairways and small rooms.

Anne Frank, who was born in 1929, began keeping a journal. The book has been translated into 60 languages and is inspirational in its mix of the day-to-day living of a young woman and the horror of having to live in secret.

The museum itself is poignant as each room is decorated with the furniture the family had. Posted on the walls are excerpts from the diary. There are ones of optimism, such as “I want to be useful and bring enjoyment to all people. And therefore I am so grateful to God for giving me this gift of writing, of expressing all that is in me!”

Others tell the real horror of their life. On Aug. 6, 1943, Anne wrote, “Margot and Mother were nervous. ‘Shh…. Father be quiet. Otto, shh…. Come here you can’t run the water anymore. Walk softly!’ A sample of what’s said to Father in the bathroom. At the stroke of half past eight he has to be in the living room. No running water, no flushing toilet, no walking around, no noise whatsoever.”

On Aug. 4, 1944, the family was betrayed. No one knows by whom. The dreaded German SS arrested the eight people as well as two others who were keeping their secret. They were taken to the transit camp at Westerbork in the northeastern part of the country. On Sept. 3, 1944, 1,019 prisoners were put on a train for Auschwitz. Of them, 549 were gassed immediately on arrival.

Margot and Anne died of typhus and deprivation in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, less than two months before the war ended. Only Otto Frank survived Auschwitz. Neighbours cleaned the house and found 300 loose papers that became the diary that tells the world the family’s tragic story. The diary was turned into a successful Broadway play and made into a Hollywood movie.

On the practical side, those planning a trip to the Netherlands for the ceremonies should get some Euros before they leave. Airports and train stations generally have exchange counters but now that continental Europe has a single currency they are not as common as they used to be. Bank cards and credit cards seem to be the norm, with travellers’ cheques a thing of the past.

As always when travelling to Europe, booking early is recommended. If the enthusiasm of the little town where Keep Them Rolling displayed their vehicles is any indication, Canadians will indeed be well received.

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