Commemoration at Groesbeek

July 30, 2012 by Sharon Adams

Last week a contingent of 225 members of the Canadian Forces pause during a 40-kilometre march to pay their respects to the fallen at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery near Nijmegen, Netherlands. With them were VIPs, including the U.S. ambassador to Canada, MP Randy Hoback, the senior U.S. military attaché to Canada, and representatives of Veterans Affairs Canada, The Royal Canadian Legion and Logistik Unicorp.

Buried there are 2,338 Canadian soldiers and airmen who died liberating the Netherlands in 1944 and 1945. Allied  Forces entered the Netherlands in September 1944, and cleared and secured the ports and coastline.  Many of those in this cemetery were casualties of the Battle of the Rhineland, where the 2nd and 3rd Canadian infantry divisions and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division cleared the territory between the Maas and the Rhine in February and March 1945.

The cemetery also contains a memorial commemorating  more than 1,000 Commonwealth forces who died  from August 1944 to the end of the war, and whose resting places are not known.

The Dutch carefully tend the Canadian graves, a task handed down from father to son and mother to daughter through the decades.  They have been forever grateful for their liberation, after the Hunger Winter, when the Germans had stripped the country of food and fuel and thousands of men, women and children died of hunger and cold.

During a trip to the Netherlands commemorating the 65th anniversary of the liberation, I heard many stories of the hardships and of the relief brought by Canadian troops.  Some described the experience as surreal—one minute thinking they were going to starve to death, the next watching Canadian troops donning skates for impromptu hockey games, with the distant sound of battle still to be heard. There were also stories of Canadians breaking the rules to share their rations. One grandfather told me how as a young man he was so weak from starvation, knowing he was at most days from death, that he could not rise from his bed to go to the window to watch the Canadian troops coming into town.

I interviewed Canadians who were part of the liberation force, young men forever scarred by their battle experiences against an enemy told to hold positions at any cost.  In Zutphen, a sniper, a teenaged member of the Hitler Youth, took this order so seriously, he refused to come down from a tower, even when told it would be set afire. One Canadian soldier, then 18 years old, was detailed to search through the basements of the town for enemy soldiers; he found no soldiers, but did find bodies of mothers, their arms wrapped around their children, victims of the retreat, and a memory that has plagued his dreams for more than 65 years.

 

 

 

 

 

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