By Jenn Watt
One cannot help but feel great pride and simultaneously great sorrow when thinking of the Canadian liberation of Holland and the horrific conditions the Dutch lived under leading up to May 5, 1945.
This spring will mark the 75th anniversary of that endeavour and a nationwide campaign to remember the sacrifice of members of the Canadian service, their families and the 7,600 who lost their lives.
In Haliburton, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 129 is participating in the campaign by planting a special commemorative flowerbed at the cenotaph, which will bloom in the spring. Special tulip bulbs called Liberation75 bulbs will be part of the garden with yellow and orange blooms – orange is the colour that represents Holland. The campaign intends to have 1.1 million Liberation75 tulips bloom across the nation this spring, representing the 1.1 million Canadians who served in the Second World War.
The Dutch have been sending tulips to Canada every year since 1945, showing their gratitude for the liberation of their country and also for Canada providing refuge to members of the Dutch royal family. This year, they sent 100,000 bulbs, marking the 75th anniversary.
The First Canadian Army, including Canadian, Polish, Dutch and British troops, was responsible for clearing German forces from along the Scheldt River, which led to Antwerp, a key port for Allied forces. Nearly 13,000 men were killed in the effort, more than 6,000 of them Canadians. They fought in dangerous, depressing conditions, moving through the muddy polders and over dikes, as the western part of Holland is land reclaimed from the sea.
Living under Nazi occupation was brutal for people in The Netherlands, who had little food and feared being taken from their homes to be sent to work in German factories, or concentration camps for Jewish members of the population.
Food was so scarce that those who had pets kept them locked indoors so they didn’t end up on their neighbours’ dinner tables. Hunger drove some to eat what would normally be inedible – grass, tulip bulbs – because rations would hardly feed a family for a day, let alone a week.
Accounts of the Canadian liberation of The Netherlands are incredibly moving – many can be easily found online – telling of intense celebrations throughout the country.
Marking this important moment in history is one way we can honour the lives of a generation of young Canadians who sacrificed so much. We remember them on Nov. 11 and will have the chance to further reflect this spring as the cenotaph comes alive with bright tulip blooms.