Day 2: 70th Liberation of the Netherlands Tour
Top picture: Our group all together, in front of Aubrey Cosens grave ________________________________________________________________________
The Canadians have finally arrived! May 2nd officially marked our entire groups arrival - including our Canadian veterans Raymond Lewis, George Skerkowski, Bud Weeks, & Frank Fordham along with friends, family, and proud Canadians who have travelled from Halifax, to the far ends of Vancouver Island to be with us today. To the delight of our community, it is an honour to have Manitoba native Glenn Edmonds leading our tour along with one of our favorite drivers, the forever loveable and more importantly, our knowledgeable driver Luc - who can really get that coach to go wherever we want it to!
Together, our 35 proud members, after finally arriving in Amsterdam have finally met and are relaxing together in Arnhem, famously known for the devastating mission, Operation Market Garden, and was the focus of the famous film "A Bridge Too Far".
Some of our travellers on tour have travelled with us for over 6 years and a row - and the reunion was a celebratory one for many as we enjoyed the patio in the sunshine, and relaxing walks around the beautiful and lush green grounds of the peaceful Arnhem that is enjoyed today. Our new travellers on tour also come to us with some extraordinary stories - they all had either with fathers, uncles, cousins, and even husbands who were all involved with the liberation of the Netherlands. Some of our travellers are proud legion members (George for one has been with the Renfrew Legion for over 70 years) and one of our travellers herself, had been in Holland up until the end of the war - moving to Canada as soon as she had turned 18. I aim to find out more of each of our traveller's stories as the tour goes on - as I believe their backgrounds and history is just as important, if not more important as the places and exursions we aim to explore during our 10 days here.
We are aware that for most, this journey will be an emotional one - full of moments of laughter, and at times, great sadness. We will remember the sacrifices made, and the ones we had lost. However - we are here and we are here to share this story for the Canadians we leave at home - in an effort to honour our commitment to never forget the extraordinary sacrifice made.
I look forward to what tomorrow has in store.
Our honoured veterans from left to right: Frank Fordham A fan of Churchill quotes, and singing songs for us on our drives along the canals, Frank's comedic timing has been a truly pleasant surprise for our newcomers on our first day Ray Lewis Although in his 90's, Ray has a sharp mind and an incredibly kind heart. Although a poor picture - I assure you I have more, and oh the extraordinary stories and mementous he has kept all these years to share with us on tour - we count our stars to have met him let alone travel with him for the next ten days
George Skerkowski A proud father of seven sons and one daughter - George has led an extraordinary life. He snuck in to the army at the mere age of 16 and was sent overseas. By the time he had returned to Canada after the war, he still wasn't old enough to have a beer. He has been a proud member of the legion in Renfrew Ontario for a near 70 years
Bud Weeks If you haven't learned of Bud yet, all you have to do is search our website for more information. Already on his sixth tour with us, Bud believes it was his wife and his three daughters who have kept him from suffering the harshest moments his wartime story. Bud - as you will learn also has a story like no other - and his experience during the war has provided all of us over the years with a newfound respect for all of these Canadians - a true reminder as to why we call them heroes.
The four men in this picture are my real life real super heroes - I can't believe they're real and I get to travel with them this one last time, tracing thier footsteps from 70 years ago.
Another happy reunion - such is the bond between Canada & the Netherlands
I was sixteen years old the first time I travelled to Amsterdam - and believe me, I thought I was going on a very different trip... (Insert laughter here) I ended up travelling with the Battlefield Tours on the 60th Anniversary since the Liberation of the Netherlands - and even at such a young age - the experience was life changing.
That was ten years ago.
Today (May 2nd) , I took the train from Amsterdam to Arnhem, with two of our late arrival travellers. After exiting the train and getting our luggage sorted as well as our bearings and Dutch pronounciation, I found our head driver from ten years ago, Gerrit Jansen, smiling contently and waiting for us on the sunny side of the train station. Dressed in his freshly pressed suit, and proudly sporting his Canadian tie, Gerrit, the Dutch driver from ten years ago hadn't forgotten me, and drove from his home 30 miles away to Arnhem, not only to greet us, but to personally escort us to our hotel himself.
Driving us around Arnhem, he reminded me of the sights and sounds the city had to offer. He had printed off some pictures of what certain places around the city had looked like 70 years ago. Gerrit also had some pictures of the old days as well as the 70th Liberation logo which he proudly printed for me to give to our travellers during our tour.
Even though I am miles away from home - I feel as if I am with family again - a family that I hadn't seen in many years. I guess that is the natural feeling Canadians have when they get here - a textbook example of the special bond Canada truly shares with the people of Holland.
Top Picture - Gerrit and myself today, a happy reunion!
Bottom Picture - Gerrit & our other driver Peter, on the 60th Anniversary tour, 10 years ago. Looking back about his work with Peter, Gerrit laughs and says "The two of us sure had a lot of fun".