Liberation of the Netherlands, 1945

I was in Otterlo on Queen's Day.  As I walked down to the village center to join in the celebration (music, soccer, kids playing and tooting horns...) I passed by something that touched me very much:  a memorial to those who died in Otterlo in 1945 during the liberation of the country.  The memorial focused on Canadians, but also called out British and local losses.

What surprised me was that, more 60 years later, the people of a this small town had made the effort to decorate the memorial with wreathes and flowers on their national holiday.

My friend Paul from Toronto filled me in a bit on Canada's history in WWII, particularly with regard to the Netherlands.  That history explains a lot.  In Paul's words:

Canadian involvement in WWII is relatively unknown around the world although we had a very large contingent serving. During the war, Canada’s population was only 11 million, but over 1 million men and women were serving over seas.
  • Long before Pearl Harbor, the Canadian Navy and the Canadian Merchant Marine took the brunt of the war for the Atlantic sending much needed supplies to England.
  • Canada was home for much of the Allied air training, including Americans.
  • Under British Field Marshall Montgomery, Canada was involved in the invasion of Sicily and Italy.
  • Again under Montgomery, Canadians hit the Normandy beaches. Despite facing resistance almost as heavy as the Americans did on Omaha beach, Canadians made it further inland on June 6th than the Americans or British.
  • Late in 1944, the Germans were retreating faster than the Allies could advance and the supply lines were stretched thin: the problem was the lack of deep water ports. After Operation Market Garden failed, the Canadians were charged with clearing the Scheldt Delta near Antwerp so that the Allies could use the port of Antwerp.

However, the greatest thing Canadians did during the war was the liberation of the Netherlands. The Russians, Americans, and British were followed closely in the press as they closed in on Germany, but Canada turned north. The Germans had all but destroyed the Netherlands and much of the population was starving to death. Over 7,000 Canadians died in the fighting, and the people of the Netherlands have never forgotten the sacrifice. Along with this sacrifice, Canada had sheltered the Dutch Royal family while the Nazi’s occupied the Netherlands. Princess Margaret was born in Ottawa and the Canadian government temporarily declared that the maternity ward of the Ottawa Civic Hospital was international territory. As a result, Princess Margaret was able to inherit her Dutch citizenship only from her mother.

In thanks for all of this, the Dutch Royal Family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada in 1945 and they continue to send bulbs each year. Also, every year, they maintain the Canadian war cemeteries and honor the Canadians who fought and liberated them.

The cemetery above is in a slightly different area of the Netherlands.  It holds the remains of soldiers from several countries.

The cemetery below is a memorial to a group of Russian POWs held on Texel.  In the closing weeks of the war, they were faced with a dilemma.  The outcome of the war -- an Allied victory -- was certain, but their future was not.  They believed there was a high probability that they might be executed by their German captors before they evacuated.  They perceived a similar probability of execution as "deserters", should they eventually be "liberated" by the Russian army.  Reasoning that their best hope was to fight their way free and try to reach the advancing (primarily Canadian) western Allies, they revolted against their German captors -- armed essentially only with sticks and stones.  They fought a guerrilla war for a period of weeks, but ultimately every one was hunted down and killed.  Sad story, in a beautiful location.