The legacy of the actions of the Canadian army in the fall of 1944 and the spring of 1945 have created a bond between Canada and the Netherlands that has lasted for 70 years and still continues to be strong today. The effects of this relationship have personally impacted my family history – as I am the granddaughter of four Dutch immigrants who came to post-war Canada in the early 1950s. It’s difficult to think what would have happened if the Netherlands had not been liberated – or what if they had not been liberated by Canadians. Would my great-grandparents have still decided to come to Canada? If not, would I be the person I am today?
Over the last two days we have learned about the first operations of the liberation of the Netherlands, beginning in October 1944. We began our tour yesterday in the town of Westkapelle on Walcheren Island. In October 1944, Bomber Command had blasted a hole in the dyke and the city of Westkapelle was under water. Canadian historiography doesn’t talk about the destruction – official WWII Canadian historian C.P. Stacy claims it was a necessary evil on the path to liberation. Here, liberation is remembered differently than it tends to be remembered in other parts of the country and it is so interesting to see how reactions to the liberations depend on locality, and on how each of these areas responded to the occupation.
We then moved on to discuss the role of the Calgary Highlanders at the Walcheren Causeway. They, like the Black Watch at Woensdrecht and the Lincoln and Wellend Regiment at Kapelshe Veer, suffered immense casualties in their attempt to achieve their very difficult objectives. These soldiers fell in order to liberate people they didn’t know and have never met. They made the ultimate sacrifice and the gratitude of the Dutch for the Canadians is apparent throughout the different monuments and battlefields that we have encountered in the last two days.
It’s incredibly moving to learn about these different battles and the regiments that fought in them, and then to go and visit their graves in the Canadian War Cemeteries. To see familiar regiments who fell on the dates of the battles you’ve learned just learned about is an experience like no other. It is completely humbling to see the rows on rows of gravestones and to know that every single one has its own unique story. And we have the privilege to present on twelve of them through this two week tour.
We’ve just started our journey into the liberation of the Netherlands, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the stories of the Dutch and the Canadians who liberated them. I’m presenting on Thursday about the struggles of the Dutch during the occupation and the liberation of northern Holland, where my family is from. I’m looking forward to sharing these stories with my fellow tour members and to see the places where this story began.
And so tonight, it is to the men of the Canadian Army and the Dutch citizens that I raise my glass.
18 May 2015