Members of the colour party and executives from The Royal Canadian Legion Branch in the Netherlands are a well-travelled lot, appearing at some 40 events in 2015, ranging from official national commemorations attended by royalty and throngs of people, to funerals of Canadian soldiers, to small ceremonies alongside quiet country roads and remembrance programs in the smallest of small towns.
“We are a Canadian branch with a Dutch flavor,” said Sergeant-at-Arms Martin Reelick of Liberation of the Netherlands Branch. “We do not have a branch hall. We don’t have meat draws, darts or pool tables. But we do have colour parties.”
And that has been responsible for building membership from a score at the first meeting in 2003 to more than 100 today, said President Gerard Hendriks. “Remembrance is our first goal. We are focused on that in another way than they are in Canada.”
Membership provides opportunities for the Dutch to fulfill their unique duty of commemoration, to express gratitude for their freedom and for the Dutch and Canadians in the branch and the communities they visit to celebrate an enduring friendship between their countries, separated by an ocean, but joined at the heart by history.
“It’s impossible to explain what a Dutchman feels about liberation,” said poppy chair Danny Murphy, who lives in Nijmegen. He is commenting on the enthusiastic celebration in Posterenk, which has about 250 houses, and on this day is sporting 300 Canadian flags. The whole village has come out to watch the Legion colour party and RCMP Pipes and Drums parade, to honour the six Canadians who died liberating the town, and to party into the evening (“Bittersweet Celebration,” September/October). “I go to small villages and am overwhelmed by the feeling. The remembrance of Canada will be here in Posterenk for centuries to come. I have lived in the Netherlands since 1964, but have never been so proud to be Canadian as now.”
Second Vice Ruud Janssen went on a commemorative trip with his father, a Second World War veteran. Silent at home, his father opened up in Indonesia, where he fought and comrades died. Janssen recognized Canadian veterans would have the same experience when they returned to the Netherlands. “I wanted to do something for the veterans who liberated our country.” He joined the branch in 2013, attracted by its activities of encouraging and supporting commemoration and remembrance, providing education at schools and conducting an annual poppy campaign.
Electronic communication is a saviour for this branch, which may be asked to provide a speaker at a Dutch school, or a colour party at a commemorative service, funeral or parade involving Canadian soldiers or veterans. Colour parties travel everywhere in the Netherlands and to other countries, particularly to Canadian memorials in France and Belgium.
Some members drive hours to meetings and occasional social events, including a Canada Day celebration, at the unofficial clubhouse—Restaurant Mondani—in Lochem, owned by branch members Yvonne and Barry Swarthoff.
There are unique challenges. “We have an international membership, therefore you’ve got the international languages—German, Canadian, French, Dutch,” and different points of view, said Europe Zone Commander Valerie Laucke, who also represents Royal Canadian Legion branches in Germany. But they all embrace remembrance and commemoration. Janssen reports the poppy campaign is challenging because the Dutch often spend their own money tending Canadian graves, and funds raised in the campaign go to helping Canadian veterans. However, volunteers have spread the campaign from Apeldoorn in 2004 to half a dozen more communities, and raised more than 3,500 euros last year.
She and Janssen both have their eyes on the next generation of members, she on young veterans, he on youth introduced to the branch through the education program, through contact with colour parties and by involving them in branch activities.
“I see a future,” said Laucke, “because people are committed to what the Legion means.”