A High School Student recalls her experience on the 60th Liberation of Holland Tour
The following is a word-for-word synopsis taken from my experience 10 years
A couple of years before I was born, my father started taking his passion, love, and inexhaustible energy for the Battlefield History of Europe and poured it into the design and implementation of tours for Canadians to remember.
From a very early age, my sister and I were dragged along, summer after summer, across the Battlefields of Europe to assist with our father's tours in any way we could. Although our fellow travellers were much older (much much older!) we loved the tours, and came back to Canada with new perspectives every year. With all of the Battlefield experiences under my belt however, none struck me more than the the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland.
Even at the young age of sixteen, it was the Liberation of Holland Tour that had changed my life, and undoubtedly, every Canadian who joined us that year.
So, to commemorate this year, the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland, ten years since my last tour, I decided to rummage around my attic. Amongst pictures and old brochures, pamphlets and invitations...I had kept a scrapbook of my favorite tour: The Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland.
Excuse my lack of professionalism and overuse of exclamation marks in the following notes, I tried as best I could to copy this scrapbook word for word.
My Invitation to Holland’s 60th Anniversary Tour for our Canadian Veterans, Friends, Family, and fellow Proud Canadians:
“The tide had turned in Europe in the Spring of 1945, but Canadians were still here fighting and dying in Hitler’s war. Tasked with Liberating Holland and its people from Nazi occupation, our young soldiers forged ahead until freedom was finally won. The Dutch have never forgotten the sacrifice. 60 years later, their unwavering gratitude is captured as thousands gather for VE Day Celebrations in the Netherlands and at home. You’ll join ceremonies held at two Canadian cemeteries in the Netherlands, and witness a sincere tribute by young Dutch children to those who died. Experience Liberation Day Celebrations in Wageningen, the City where Canadians accepted German Surrender. And in Apledoorn, the Parade of Canadian Veterans that always moves the crowds to tears”
–The Connection Tours Team
Day 1, May 2nd 2005
I am, right now, on a Boeing 747 to Amsterdam, getting ready for the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland Tour. We are getting ready to land. [Already looking out the window] I’ve seen a beautiful coastline, and lots of lush farm land. There are a lot of rivers! And I just saw my first windmill...yes... Just now.
We arrive at our hotel, the Mercure in Rosmalen, after visiting a lovely fishing port. Finally getting my first taste at the Dutch cuisine: Smoked Salmon! Remarkably tasty.
Tomorrow, we are going to a Liberation Museum. I’ve already met the veterans on tour, and I can’t wait to tell of their stories!! Anyways, tomorrow will be way cooler!!!
Day 2, May 3rd 2005
Today we woke up early to catch the coach, which would take us into Groesbeek! On the way, we went to the Liberation Museum where we saw models of soldiers, old pictures, a letter from a soldier to his Dutch wife-to-be, and much more. I learned that Canadian soldiers took many Dutch women home to be their brides. Unfortunately, the brides were extremely poor, so they used parachute material for their gowns.
At the Museum, I met Charlie. Charlie is a
After meeting Charlie, Jeff and I walked through the rest of the museum with a different eye. It is truly mind blowing what our history is.
It was here that I met Dad’s other tour managers: Peter, Doug, and Jim. I also met our coach drivers!!…The Best Dutchmen you
After the museum, we attended a ceremony in Groesbeek Cemetery. It was a large event honoring the Canadians who fought for the Netherlands. Adrienne Clarkson, Queen Beatrice, and Canada’s Foreign Minister of Affairs were some of the guests who arrived for the ceremony. There were speeches and we sang both national anthems. This was followed by an air show performed by the Canadian Forces Parachute team, The “SkyHawks”…this…absolutely blew me away…the coolest thing by far I have ever witnessed in real life…ever…in my life…so cool!!!!!!!!!!!
Day 4, May 4th 2005
"I was in shock to see the whole street decorated with the Canadian Flags and red & white streamers…. The pride I felt for being here to represent my country is indescribable today."
Today, we went to Holten - a town in Holland with a large cemetery commemorated to many of our
Canadian Soldiers who died in the fight for Holland’s liberation. I remember waking up incredibly early and driving into town. When driving through, I was in shock to see the whole street decorated with the Canadian Flags and red & white streamers. Every house had at least one Canadian Flag on their flagpole or window. The pride I felt for being here to represent my country was indescribable. But I’m sure the pride I felt that day was incomparable to how the 33 veterans sitting behind me must have felt in that moment. The goosebumps I feel to be with these men still haven't gone away!!
When we reached Holten, we saw our Canadian Mounties lining the streets amongst many people (so cool!) greeting the crowds before the ceremony. Dutch children greeted thier real superheroes in the flesh and standing in front of them, excitedly sung the Canadian National Anthem, proudly showing their gratitude for a past that seems so far away from this vibrant beautiful town. When the Canadian Anthem came to an end, a great roaring sound, and wind picked up, revealing a huge helicopter hovering over the crowd, letting out millions of poppies to float down to the crowds!!! We all threw our hands up and through the tears of the honored veterans, tour organizers, families, and relatives; embraced the magical moment together.
After the ceremony, we had time to walk around the tombstones of our fallen soldiers with the other vets. I
managed to find a grave marked “James Cowan” Age 28. I wondered if we were related? Maybe...
Touching the tombstones, it's fascinating to think that each one represents a life that had sacrificed so much more than I could ever imagine. The effort to make it through this far, the struggle, the loved ones they left behind. I touch as many as I can, and repeat each name as many times as I can. I will continue to do so as long as I can.
Words I’ve learned in Dutch so far:
Naturalijk : Of course, certainly
Vit – Exit, or out of
De Dood – of death or darkness.
Washroom - washok
Ladies - dames
Gentlemen - heren
See? Im learning!
Fun fact I learned during dinner tonight: Today is also considered Remembrance Day for the victory in Europe. Our waiter raised his hand to hush our group for the two-minute silence. I learned that during a two-minute silence in Holland, all the Bells throughout the country ring at the same time. They could be heard far and wide throughout the country, even within the confines of our small, sleepy town and our quiet hotel. It was beautiful, it was actually the most memorable, & joyous moment…the most meaningful two-minute silence I’ve ever been apart of.
Day Five, May 5th, 2005
“This was once the place where Germany finally surrendered. Very very Cool."
Okay, Okay, today we went to a town in whose name I cannot pronounce. It starts with a “W”, but sounds like a “V”. Who names a town that? The name is like Wargineegin (Var-Geen-In). I swear there’s a P Q R S T in there somewhere.
Unfortunately I had to learn to pronounce the name of this University town fast, as it was once played a huge role for the end of the War. It is the town of Wageningen
where the surrender of German General Johannes Blaskowitz to Canadian General Charles Foulkes on May 5, 1945, officially ended the turbulent war for Holland.
Today, a large parade was to be held. A quarter of a million people would come to this small town today to see this parade.
It would be three hours before the parade would start, so Jeff and I went to explore the town. People were really happy to see our Canadians and many took pictures of them and told them how much they loved and respected them for the sacrificed they had made for their relief.
To watch complete strangers take these old decorated men into their arms, look straight into their eyes, and with such compassion and emotion, tell them that they love them. To show them their gratitude in this way…For these young people who have never known war, to be able to look at their liberators from years ago in the face and tell them how thankful they are for their freedom… Needless to say…. it was yet another unexpected magic moment for me to experience on tour.
Day 6, May 6th, 2005
Today we are moving to the Mercure hotel in Putten. The hotel was right beside the open sea, on a bay. There is a cool park near by with the funnest swings I’ve ever been on.
We also traveled into Amsterdam!! I had no idea how beautiful Amsterdam is!!!!
The Canals remind me of Venice! The narrow cobble stone roads, the flea market, the bridges, the tall narrow houses…It’s so cool here. We got to see so much! The Mouse Tower, Dam Square, and the Dam Wrack (which is a busy street…think Queen street but busier). I also got to check out the Diamond Factory, as well as Royal Delft (You know, the white and blue China). The Diamond factory, “Gassan” was breathtaking also. The Cullinan (the largest Diamond ever found, and the Koh-l-Noor Diamond, found in the British Crown Jewels were both made in Amsterdam! I wonder if anyone has ever tried to steal it?
Day 7, May 7th, 2005
Today we went to a hotel in Oosterbeek. ...At least it once was a hotel. Today, it stands as the Airborne
Museum and is where British and Polish Troops kept headquarters as they tried to take the Rhine Bridge, connecting Oosterbeek to Arnhem. At that point in time, it was known as the Hartenstien hotel. It was here that many air landings, the march to the bridge, and fierce fighting to the crossing of the river was situated. This was where the battle for Arnhem was fought.
In the end, only 2,293 Canadians made it back to England. This place, this fight, related to the movie “A Bridge Too Far” [I’ve got to see this movie!] was surreal to take in. You would have never known what suffering had ensued, if it wasn’t for some shocking yet subtle clues surrounded by the civilization we witnessed today. The memorials and Battlefield for Arnhem seem
This evening I came down with a head cold, but by God, that won’t stop me from going to the ceremony tonight, because it was the night that the veterans would be receiving their medals. I got all dressed up, and made my way to the coach for the event, to meet with our decorated party. Instantly my cold went away. Either that or I was distracted by the overwhelming moments that I felt as I took witness to the ceremony.
At the concert, the mayor of Leersum thanked the veterans. There was a pipe and drum band procession band as well as a brass band performance. It was very emotional moment for us Canadians, as our families and friends receivied their awards, many crying and holding hands. Each of our Veterans received a certificate that read:
"In grateful memory for the sacrifices made by the army, navy and air forces of Canada during the years 1940-1945 to liberate the Netherlands from the yoke of German occupation. It is a great honor for the mayor of the Municipality of Leersum: Mes. C.F. FEITH HOOIJER to present the Remembrance medal of the 60th Anniversary.”
Day 8, May 8th 2005
Aww, today is the last day before I have to go home. I was supposed to go to Apledoorn today for the major
parade where the Queen and President Bush would be visiting. On the way, I spoke with many of the new friends I’ve made while on tour, and reflected on the stories they told me during my trip. As you know, I was on a trip with a lot of veterans. I’ve heard many challenging, remarkable, and sometimes funny stories
Victor, one of our vets on my coach, was telling me how they had a radio connection from two stations during the war. He explained how they would say things in a special code so that if any of the enemies overheard, they wouldn’t understand what they were talking about. One day, a soldier is radioing in to a Major to deliver a new code to him. Just then, Victor came in, as he was hungry, and the soldier turned round and yelled “Don’t give that boy another bloody biscuit!!” The Major replied over the radio, after a long pause, “That’s the code then?” I also had some insight about the struggle after the war, and how mind boggling destiny can be for some.
Victor explained to me that after he got out of the war, he was so lost. The war destroyed everything for him. He didn’t know why he decided on Toronto, but he remembered hearing of job offerings somewhere on Hillcrest road. New to the city, Victor walked around aimlessly. He finally asked someone where Hillcrest was, to find out that he was standing not just on Hillcrest, but in front of the very building he was looking for. He went in asking for a job. They asked if he had any experience, or a resume. He didn’t. They asked if he was in the war. He nodded. He was hired the same day. After showing Victor around his new workplace, some of the workers invited him to a game of poker. He didn’t have any money, not even to get back home…so he declined. They said they wouldn’t mind him paying later…but Victor ended up winning the game, making the exact amount of money he needed for the bus fare home, and then back again for work the next day. He finished the story by looking at me with a smile "Life is a funny one that way, isn't it?". I'll never forget that.
[Picture on right: Meeting Ellwood McLaughlin]
Johnny was another remarkable man I had the pleasure of meeting. He was involved with the army fighting for the Liberation of Holland in 1945. He had been captured with 24 other soldiers by the Germans. The Germans lined them up by a river and cocked their guns. Johnny was in the middle. “Wait!” Called a German soldier before fire. The soldier came before Johnny, and said he had noticed his bracelet. Johnny said it was his mothers. The German took it from him, and made Johnny march to the end of the line. “Now Go”, he said to the Germans. All 24 men were shot, but Johnny survived. As the bullets sprayed, hitting everyone else in the chest, they merely caught Johnny’s legs as he fell. Again, I remember Victor reminding me of life's funny way.
I had such a remarkable experience on the Battlefield Tours… I had very much thought I would have taken these experiences for granted when I was young. Looking back, as I can see now that I undoubtedly took every moment to learn from this tour and felt the emotion and magic that came with these experiences for me. Even though I was young, I met and connected so well with everyone on the tour, and gained so much more than I ever could have imagined.
If you have read this all the way through, I thank you. And if there is anything from my experience at sixteen that has resonated with you, I urge you now to join us. If you felt goosebumps in any of the ways that I've felt goosebumps as I type this, I urge you to join us.
If you want to meet with our Canadian liberators for what is quite likely the last time, with a great effort together reflect on their unimaginable past, and see what they did with their own hands to save such a beautiful and fascintating country, ...I urge you to join us.
If you've ever defined an experience as life-changing, perhaps even as a once in a lifetime opportunity, this is it, and if you agree, then I will see you there May 1st!
Blog Post by: Samantha Cowan
Original Date Posted: Sept. 2014
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