The following article was submitted by Albert Wierenga, who invites the community to a May 5 event at Bradford's Courthouse to celebrate Freedom Day.
On May 5, the Dutch community in Bradford will once again celebrate “Bevrijdingsdag” (Freedom Day) with a short ceremony at 10 a.m. at the Courthouse. This will include raising the Dutch and Canadian flags. Mayor Keffer has kindly consented to officiate that flag raising.
People often ask why, even after 77 years, the Dutch still attach such importance to that day in history and why they continue to treat the Canadian graves with great dignity and respect.
Perhaps if one has experienced the invasion by a murdering, foreign country as well as have the realization that history continues to repeat itself, one will understand the Dutch sentiments. Ask any Ukrainian with an awareness of their past and dealing with today’s murderous invasion if they understand.
I was born after the Second World War. Nonetheless that war has had a lasting impact on our family. My father, due to his resistance activities, had to postpone his marriage in the war years (‘40-‘45) for fear my mother would be used as a tool to find him, especially when he was in hiding (“ondergedoken”) from 1944 to war’s end.
He was one of several people who stole “het Volksregister” (the public rolls) of Grijpskerk to prevent the Germans from targeting people. Two of them were killed in the aftermath of that action.
Ask any older Dutchman about living in continual fear during that war and ask them about the Hungerwinter of 1944-45 and you’ll understand why the Dutch still celebrate their Canadian liberators.
Some facts all Canadians ought to know about the Canada-Holland Second World War connection and why Canadians will always be held in such high esteem in Holland and why the Dutch each year donate, as a token of thanks, 10000 tulip bulbs to be planted in Ottawa:
- Most importantly, 7,600+ Canadians died in the nine-month campaign to liberate the Netherlands.
- On Sept. 17, 1944, the operation called Market Garden aimed to seize a Rhine River bridge at Arnhem by British, American, and Polish troops failed. This resulted in 1,400 out of a total force of 35,000 getting killed and more than 6,000 being taken prisoner.
- During the Scheldt offensive between Oct. 1 and Nov. 8, 1944, the Canadian Army suffered 12,873 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing). 6,367 of them were Canadians.
- During the Rhine offensive which started in February of 1945, the First Canadian Army suffered 15,634 killed, wounded, or missing.
- General Foulkes (a British-Canadian soldier, and an officer of The Royal Canadian Regiment) accepted the surrender of the German troops in the Netherlands on May 5, 1945. The formal German surrender was signed on May 7, 1945, at Reims in France.
- The 7,600 fallen Canadians are buried in cemeteries from Adegem in Belgium to Rheinberg in Germany:
The follow is a synopsis of the cemeteries:
- The Adegem Canadian War Cemetery (in Belgium) is close to the Dutch frontier. It contains the graves of 848 Canadians. Most of them died during the Scheldt offensive.
- The Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery is in southwest Holland. It contains the graves of 968 Canadians; most fell in the fight to open the sea lane to Antwerp to access that port to Allied shipping.
- The Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery is near Nijmegen. At least 2,300 Canadians are buried there. At the entrance to this cemetery is a list of the names of another 103 Canadians, who have no known graves.
- The Holten Canadian War Cemetery is close to the city of Holten. The 1,355 Canadians who are buried there nearly all died during the last stages of the war in the Netherlands and the fighting in Germany.
- The Reichswald Forest War Cemetery and the f. The Rheinberg War Cemetery are both located in Germany just east of the Dutch border. In the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery there are 706 RCAF headstones and one for a Canadian soldier. The Rheinberg War Cemetery has 516 headstones for Canadian airmen.
The above shows that war is hell. Many other unplanned things also happen.
Thankful and food-deprived Dutch women were receptive to the charm and food of Canadian soldiers. As a result, Canadians produced, from mid 1944 to mid 1945, over 6,000 children (4,500 born to single women, 1,500 born to married women whose husbands were still in German concentration camps or other parts of Europe at that time).
Those Dutch women not joining their soldier in Canada had a very difficult time in the conservative, Christian Dutch society after the war. The 1886 official Dutch war brides, who came to Canada with their children, also did not have it easy.
To honour all Canadian military personnel who lost their lives and fought to allow the Dutch to live without occupiers, a short commemoration is something we Dutch immigrants can attend.
If you can, please join me at 10 a.m. on May 5 at the Courthouse in Bradford.