The Juno Beach Centre is pleased to share these messages from some of the Canadian veterans who were interviewed last year for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Almost one year later, we are very grateful to celebrate this 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe with them. Each of these men participated in the Liberation of the Netherlands and despite being unable to attend any commemorations in person this year, they have written messages in honour of the anniversary to the Dutch people they formed lifelong bonds with.
Long live the Canadian-Dutch friendship forged in fire!
A Message from LCol (retired) Robert Spencer, Royal Canadian Artillery
Dear Dutch friends,
Since leaving the Netherlands in January 1946, I have been back many times in official and professional capacities, and as a traveller.
As a young Canadian artillery officer, I served in the Netherlands beginning in autumn 1944, first supporting the 3rd Canadian Division in clearing the Scheldt waterway. Later, after moving north from Antwerp, I took part in the liberation of Bergen Op Zoom.
We then moved along the banks of the Maas River, which we cleared of retreating Germans. Our winter was spent on the Maas and included the costly battle to clear the small island of Kapelsche veer. We then moved to Nijmegen, from where we helped clear the west bank of the Rhine.
After crossing the river into Germany, we fought in and out of the Netherlands, then along the Dutch/German border, meeting stiff opposition, into Germany until hostilities ceased.
As we passed through towns, villages and the countryside of the Netherlands the welcome we received from the local Dutch population was warm and a memorable celebration.
For many months I stayed in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kleerebezem, who looked after me so well during my stay. On my departure, they presented me with a handsome handkerchief decorated with a picture of a windmill and the message “In Remembrance of Neede” and accompanied by a card inscribed “in Remembrance of your Staying at our House, with Kind regards.” I treasure these mementos to this day.
I can say unreservedly that the part I played in the Liberation of the Netherlands is the aspect of my service that still gives me the most satisfaction. It resonates with me that the Netherlands, even after 75 years, considers the Liberation to be a massively significant part of its modern history.
LCol (retired) Robert Spencer
A Message from George Chow, 16th Light Anti-Aircraft battery, Royal Canadian Artillery.
Dear Dutch friends,
The fast approaching of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands on May 5th this year brings back memories of my time as a member of the Canadian troops; of the excitement of victory and jubilation shared with the citizens of the Netherlands in early May of 1945.
The blossoms of the tulips at this time of the year in Vancouver, British Columbia where I reside also remind me of the strong friendship and continued relationship between Canada and the Netherlands.
During the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands in 2015, I was deeply touched by the warm welcome and greetings from the tens of thousands of spectators who attended the celebration events. There were children, adults, and people in their 70s, 80s and 90s at the Liberation Parade in Wageningen and in the Apeldoorn Parade. I could not help but think that those in their 70s, 80s, and 90s at the parade were just children when we entered the Netherlands to carry out our mission for peace and freedom in September of 1944.
Despite my not being able to visit the Netherlands this May due to the current COVID-19 situation, I join you all from this side of the ocean to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of your beautiful country.
Keep well and stay safe!
A Message from Roly Armitage, 3rd Medium Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery.
Dear Dutch friends,
When I sit down to think about why I volunteered to serve, it wasn’t until I had made it into Holland and witnessed the mess of things; how the people were treated, the children with little food nor comfort and too young to understand, and right then I KNEW that I had done the right thing. I had enlisted to help these less fortunate and beautiful people, whom I got to admire, and in some cases I became friends of many.
During my service in the Netherlands, we attacked the Scheldt estuary from the Dutch – or North – side of the Scheldt after liberating the Bergen op Zoom area in Holland, and along with many losses, particularly The South Saskatchewan Regiment, while attacking Walcheren Island. We took thousands of German prisoners. This took about two months in the fall of 1944. We liberated the Eindhoven airport and then went further North to Nijmegen and Arnhem.
During a cold night near Eindhoven, I picked up two young Dutch children in a ditch. There were no houses to be seen within kilometers of where we were. I took them to our mobile kitchen and Chef and I cleaned and fed them. We had them for a couple of weeks before finding a society near Nijmegen to take them. One of them was only 6 years old.
I remember the demobilization period. One of my officers, Lt. Goldsmith, had hotel experience before the war and was asked to open the large hotel in Holland for troops to be entertained and have dances. All of it was very well chaperoned. It was there that one night, a young Dutch man drove up on a bicycle and asked to buy some petrol for his car. We informed him that we kept petrol for our own use only and he informed me that his dad made beer and told us we could trade. I said I wasn’t the boss but that I would ask my officer. I asked him for his name and he said: Freddy Heineken!
A Message from Jim Parks, Royal Winnipeg Rifles
Dear Dutch Friends,
During our initial period in the army after enlisting in September 1940 we followed the European War in the media. 1940 was a particularly hard time for the Dutch with the horrific raids on their major cities followed by the Blitzkrieg invasion; the start of four years of being dominated by an oppressive Nazi philosophy.
During our training the goal was to LIBERATE Europe. We trained for three years, the last year 1943-44 we spent time in Scotland and Southern England, where we water-proofed our vehicles in preparation for the assault landing. We practiced from the Platoon level to Brigade exercises using live ammo. Our preparation was massive. The whole division was involved, plus the Navy and Airforce.
About six weeks prior to the invasion we were issued with new vehicles, 3″ mortars, and small arms. It seemed physically and mentally we were well prepared for the job ahead.
D-Day was an eventful time for me personally as our landing craft was hit and we had to swim to shore at Juno Beach. We encountered small arms fire, artillery and mortars. Sadly, our unit had 159 causalities. Once past the first 400 yards we were okay, except for sniper fire. Our first major battle was (in the village of) Putot-en-Bessin, June 8 1944, where we were over-run and lost another 179.
After the Normandy Campaign, which lasted about 10 weeks, we pushed north and arrived at the Scheldt Estuary and Holland. The Leopold Canal was a major battle. This was canal and polder country. Our advances were along the dikes. We had to dig our trenches alongside the dikes as the area in between (polders) had water levels 6-10 inches below surface. These conditions made it difficult to set up our equipment, especially the mortars. The mortar base plate would sink as you fired. We had to fix this problem and used empty ammo cartons and sand bags to support the base plate.
The Dutch houses and equipment sheds were usually positioned at a junction and were well entrenched. Once we liberated an area, the Dutch very quickly returned and were very grateful. At one farm, the farmer revealed a cache of valuable food and refreshments which they kept hidden from the Germans, as the Dutch were required to supply the Germans. Even though they had little, the Dutch were generous and wanted to share what they had with us Canadians. As we progressed into the Netherlands we noticed that the towns had endured more hardships that the countryside. It made our job worthwhile knowing that the Dutch were finally being freed. The Canadian army liberated most of Holland.
In the ensuing years on my personal trips and pilgrimages to celebrate the anniversaries, the Dutch hosted special parades in Apeldoorn and in many towns in the province of Friesland to demonstrate their gratitude to the Canadians.
Last November 11th, I was invited along with a dozen others to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony at a high school in Toronto called Crestwood Preparatory College. The Dutch Consul was there as a speaker. They presented the school with tulips from the Dutch government as part of the 75th Anniversary.
After the ceremony we went outside for the planting of the tulip bulbs. It started to snow, but myself and some of the other guests still managed to plant the tulips in the garden. It was an honour to do so. We were to return to the school garden this May for a ceremony and see the tulip blossoms. However, due to the current circumstances of the pandemic it will be arranged for another time.
On several occasions I have kept in touch with the Dutch people. They cannot do enough for you if they know you are a Canadian. Unfortunately, (due to the Global pandemic) this year’s events were cancelled. The good news is that they are already talking about a 75th-plus-1 anniversary for next year in 2021. I am looking forward to this event and seeing my Dutch friends once again.
A Message from Alphonse Vautour, North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment
Dear Dutch Friends, Groetjes aan iedereen
My name is Alphonse Vautour, veteran of the Second World War with the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment. I’m truly grateful to be well and healthy at 100 years & 7 months old today.
But mostly, I am honored to be able to share a message with you, the people of the Netherlands, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation.
On June 6, 1944, as part of the D-Day invasion, as a Bren gunner, my regiment landed in Normandy at Juno Beach, Bernières-sur-Mer. Once our intense mission was executed in France, we continued on to Holland. I have been through Nijmegen, Bergen-op-Zoom, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Gant, Antwerp and Apeldoorn. We liberated many towns & cities during these intense times.
During the occupation, the Dutch citizens suffered greatly and endured terrible hardship. You made huge sacrifices, were totally committed and persevered alongside our troops during these difficult times.
I remember the Dutch to be very good people and very brave people.
On this important anniversary, I would like to wish you all continued freedom & democracy for future generations, good health and prosperity always.
Sincerely/ Vriendelijke groet,
Canadian Veteran Norm Kirby served during the Liberation of The Netherlands and is Veterans Affairs Canada’s poster boy on their official poster commemorating the 75th anniversaries of the Liberation of The Netherlands and V-E Day
COMMEMORATE V-E DAY 75 AND THE LIBERATION OF THE NETHERLANDS WITH THE JUNO BEACH CENTRE AT VICTORY75.CA
Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at email@example.com.