There's nothing that can prepare you emotionally for one of the very last days ahead of us. Nothing.
What makes this event even more emotionally charged is what everyone is saying: That this would be the final year of celebration with our liberators. The final commemoration for the Apeldoorn parade.
I wake up especially early and with my laptop in hand, start preparing for the busy day of organization ahead of me. As I hastily reply to emails and review schedules I eat a big breakfast on the far side of the room. Our boys are starting to come down, complete in their greys and blues, with the rest of our excited friends and family.
Among them, is a special guest, Jan Bos, an instructor at the Police Academy of Apeldoorn, who had made aquaintances with my father and the Battlefield Tours several years ago. Along the way he had helped me come up with resources, ideas and opportunities that had helped mould the tour that we were on today. It was a delight to have him join us, and as he clambered onto the bus to join us we made sure to give him a hearty round of applause. He would take the journey with us from the parade in Apeldoorn, all the way through until our farewell dinner that evening.
Keep Them Rolling
Our first stop was to drop off our boys, as they would play a huge role in the parade. As Frank, Bud, Ray & George got prepared for the ceremonies, our group was offered the chance to explore the vehicles as they were prepared as well. What a chance for us to have!
We quickly dispersed and started to explore the well kept military vehicles in line waiting for the parade. The vehicles were organized and maintained by the Keep Them Rolling organization.
The club was established in 1972, now with over 1,500 members their ultimate goal has never wavered: to preserve and restore military vehicles from the Second World War. The effort
"KEEP THEM ROLLING" is a cry often heard from allied troops in the Second World War, in an effort to ensure supplies kept moving to the front lines. This included fuel & food, that constantly needed to get to the troops on time. The association continues to hold several objectives to this manner including:
-Assisting in the organization of tours and processions in order to show to the general public the preserved material
-Give support to events organised by foreign associations, and guide with renovations and work on objects to be restored.
To see more pictures of the vehicles we were lucky enough to explore, click here and be redirected to our full gallery. >>>
The City of Apeldoorn
Before saying goodbye to our boys, Emmy Matte, who had seen what Holland was like at the hand of the German occupation in 1945 when she was only 14 years of age, asks to be apart of the picture. "My Liberators!" She proudly exclaimed before the camera went 'click'.
After saying goodbye to our vets we make our way back to the main street, we take our time to explore Apeldoorn's serene sights and sounds.
Many explore the Het Loo Palace & gardens, a stunning building built between 1684 & 1686, it was the house of Orange-Nassau, until the death of Queen Wilhelmina in 1962. It is now open for the public and holds a beautifully maintained museum of the state. Conveniently, this is where we had parked our coach, a mere few meters to where the parade was to start.
On the way back, a few of our Battlefield travellers bumped in to a familiar face: Kathy Duke! Kathy played a huge part as a traveller on our D-Day 70 tour of 2014, and had special family ties to the events taking place in the Second World War that again, reverberate into the events today in Apeldoorn. She had this to say later that day:
When coming to the main street, the excitement in the air was hard to ignore! Canadian flags, thank you flags, and people lined the streets. The street was marked with a banners every 6 meters, "Hello Again" it said, thanking the veterans for coming back after all these years. We got to get a few photos in before the parade actually started:
The man with two hats: To commemorate the special bond between Canada and the Netherlands,
this statue, sculpted by Dutch artist Henk Visch, was erected, and made of bronze measuring up to 4.6 metres. Its twin statue can be found in Ottawa, Ontario.
The two hats in and of themselves represent a time when to come through the war with one hat was something of a feat. It represents the end of the horrors of war but in the same vein the peace and freedom that continue to elude many countries today.
(Veteran Affairs, 2015).
The picture on the right marks the tragedy which occured in 2009, as a man attempted to attack the Dutch Royal family in his car on the day of the parade. Failing to do so, he crashed into innocent bystanders instead - kililng 8 people, before crashing into a monument near by, and killing himself. His motive remains unclear, but it was indeed an unforseen tragedy that Apeldoorn will forever remember in their time of peace. This small memorial, located just beside the man with two hats contains a glass case full of white and blue balloons. Flowers and candles are regularly laid at this spot.
The parade begins with pipes and drums, and the vehicles make their way slowly down the street. Despite the crowds, we all get a good view, and as the cheering commences, so does the celebration. Women bring their children to meet the vets rolling down the road "Thank you Thank you," they exclaim, many of them either too young or not even born before the end of the war, but still they come to celebrate their history.
^^^ Here is a 1 minute video I shot of the beginning of the 70th Apeldoorn Parade.
^^^ The military vehicles start rolling down, in all different shapes and sizes. Children and adults alike shower the vehicles with flowers, flags, and stuffed animals, as they cheer for their heroes on board each boat.
^^^ And the drums & pipes commence!!
^^^ Cheers and applause starts every time we get a wave or a thumbs up.
^^^ One of the boys takes a shot of brandy, and the crowd goes wild.
^^^ Children & adults alike swarm to the vehicles for a handshake as the cars roll by.
^^^ Women bring their babies, "Thank you, because of you, we have our children born into a country of peace" this woman says as she shakes this vets hand and lets him greet her child.
^^^ Ah, there's the culprit!! An Apeldoorn local cheers the vets on with healthy samples of wine & brandy, careful not to miss a single car. I love this picture, I love how proud this man is taking his brandy, to the cheering crowds. What an overwhelming feeling that must have been.
And then, we saw our boys...
Like I said, no one can prepare you for the emotions you feel when you learn someone's story, about their families & history, the unimaginable hardships they encountered...you travel with them, you learn from them...and then to see them, honoured in this way, crowds around cheering their name, shouting 'Thank You's' and 'I love yous'...Nothing can prepare you for that moment. When we saw our boys approaching we immediatley started shouting their names, cheering them on. As they got closer, I think we all stopped and stood there proud, and humbled. It was a moment that's hard to describe.
^^^ I run up to their vehicle and spot Ray, "Hi Ray!" He smiled. Just sat and smiled. He then took my hand and squeezed tightly, before rolling on again.
^^^ Meanwhile Frank was busy being the life of the party, accepting tulips and giving Canadian pins to the children.
^^^ It was almost too much for Frank, an overwhelming experience to say the least. I think his emotions really took to the crowd, many found it so impactful to have him here with the other vets, and to see those emotions reflected made the crowds cheer more and more in appreciation.
^^^ Bud!!!!! I found Bud Weeks having a grand ol' time on the other side of the vehicle. Waving and smiling larger than I've ever seen, I gave Bud's hand a squeeze. His reputation precedes him - as many other voices called out "BUD!" as they drove past. ..."Isn't that the guy who climbed the tank the other day?"
^^^ Frank, always the life of the party, starts to feel a lot better with a shot of brandy.
^^^ Glenn gets a handshake from Bud as they drive past. It was pretty moving to see.
^^^ As our boys keep on rolling on through the parade, I get a thumbs up from Frank, and snap a picture. That was one of the best thumbs up I've ever recieved in my opinion. We'll see Bud, Frank & Ray on the other side.
^^^ This gentleman had come all this way with his Canadian family to see our vets roll by. His entire family had made the journey, and speaking with them learned of their long links to the Dutch liberation and their families connection with its history. He made the effort to shake as many hands and give as many thank you's as he could.
^^^ Earl, Ruth, and some others spot Harold "Rowdy", who was apart of the Veteran Affairs delegation. He had been on several tours with us before and was upset he couldn't escape and have a beer with us - that might have to happen when we're all back in Canada! Having said that, we were all so happy that we got to spot and cheer him on during the parade.
^^^ This young mother brings her shy baby girl out with her to greet the veterans. Although young, when she recieved a Canadian flag from one of the vets, she gave it to her daughter and said , "Do you know what this is?" The girl nodded. "Do you know what it means?" The girl nodded again. It's moving to bear witness to something like that. It moves you as a Canadian - to see that no matter what the age, the Dutch honour their history and remind their young of the history that has impacted them, as if it was yesterday. I was glad to hear that many others on our tour were hearing the same remarks.
^^^ All of the Dutch children seemed dressed from head to toe in their Canadian gear. With maple leafs painted on their cheeks, many came out to hold hands with the vets. Some understood, which was pretty emotional to see. They were meeting their real life heroes.
The Burlington Teen Band
^^^ Officially twinned with the city of Apeldoorn since 2005, the Teen Tour Band from Burlington has been a proud part of the celebrations that took place during the liberation celebrations. Watch the 1 min video as the Burlington Teen Tour Band finishes up the parade with a prominent and impactful performance. Click if you want to learn more about the Burlington Teen Band - or - to learn more about the special relationship between Burlington Ontario, and the city of Apeldoorn in Holland, click here.
The Closing Ceremonies
Now, this was spectacularly different from what Holland has been able to prepare for our Canadian family, friends and vets in years previous.
This year, after the festivities and excitement had wrapped up at the parade, and the street sweepers were well on their way, we would be apart of a concert. We loaded ourselves back on the bus, and made our way to the Omnisport arena for this special concert to commence by the city of Apeldoorn and the 005 Legion of Canada. On the coach, many are asking me what will happen next, but I don't have a clue. At the time, I thought nothing could have topped our experience at the 70th Apeldoorn parade.
<<< The Omnisport complex is a pretty impressive stadium.
The event begins with a series of pipe and drum troupes, singing harmoniously through the passage ways of the giant Pipes & Drums. The audience cheers, and our group looked up in awe.
...And then, our Canadian veterans were marched down the passage ways, following the pipes and drums through the crowd, all escorted by the children & scouts of Apeldoorn.
^^^ This 2 minute video shows some of the opening highlights, including the singing of our Canadian Anthem. Experiencing a whole other country singing your national anthem was a pretty mind boggling spectacle to witness. The gratitude was expressed extraordinarily well.
<<< Ray Lewis (left) & Frank Fordham (right) walk through our passage way, among the thousands in the stands cheering them on. With the pipe bands and the delegation, it was truly an overwhelming experience for all of us.
^^^ Just look at that audience. Unbelievable.
A variety of special guests were in attendance today, such as Holland's royal family, including Princess Margarite, & her family, as well as the mayor of Apeldoorn, who offered a very warm welcome for the audience.
"During my years in office, it has been clear to me that the Second World War means much more to this city than a few pages in a history book. The events of those years are rooted very deeply in our community, and have become part of our - as you call it - DNA. It is engrained in our monuments, totally, and they teach us, never again."
He goes on to say, "Ladies, and gentlemen, our freedom can never be taken for granted... how special it is to be able to say these words in the presence of our liberators. We thank you, our Canadian veterans, even after 70 years, with more years to come. We thank you"
- The Mayor of Apeldoorn, John Berends
And so began the performance of the 48 piece orchestra, the Royal Air Force Orchestra led by chief conductor Jos Pomer, starting with the Canadian National Anthem.
^^^ And what a performance it was...
Among war ballads, duets, and liberation songs, the Royal Air Force Band performed some particularly awe inspiring pieces, including a song called "Doingla" whose roots came from Eastern Euope, especially Poland, to make way for a beautiful piece of Jewish music led by a ghoslty clarinet. Personally, it was one of my favorite parts of the performance.
^^^ Jan Bos managed to get not only the entire performance on tape, he managed to get our farwell dinner surprises as well. However, if you'd like to watch the clarinet performance specifically, start at 3:41.
^^^ Our veterans, of course, had front row seats to the events, and once the events were over, were escorted into a private room, to meet individually with the Princess and her family.
Finally, when we were able to collect the boys to join the rest of our group for our drive back to the hotel. As we walked them out of the auditorium, everyone was excited with many stories to tell - but that all came to a stop when the back exit was opened for us.
A cheer roared out of the daylight that hit us upon our exit. Our Canadian vets were hit with another standing ovation - as the Dutch crowd ran to them to give them flowers, chocolates, hand shakes, and more thanks of their gratitude as we hurriedly escorted them to the coach for our farewell dinner.
Here's a 20 second clip of what it looked like coming out of the stadium hall, arm in arm with our veterans.
What a crazy day!!! We are so blessed to have experienced it, and to have another country treat us in this way goes beyond all emotions. A turly wonderful day - which can only be topped by one last memorable evening.
See the next post to learn of just one last memorable surprise we had in store at our farewell dinner, for both our Canadian veterans and the rest of our travelling community >>>