The Juno Beach Centre team is proud to have Norm Kirby, one of the 17 Canadian veterans the JBC interviewed during the year of the 75th anniversary of D-Day featured on the Veterans Affairs Canada official poster honouring the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands and Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day). Norm was with us at the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy this past June 2019 to partake in D-Day commemorations.
In the final months of the Second World War, Canadian forces were given the dangerous but critical mission of liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation (see online expo here).
From early April 1945 until May 5 1945, they advanced rapidly into the Netherlands after months of relentless fighting throughout the late summer, fall and winter of 1944-45. Canadians steadily pushed the Germans back, recapturing villages, towns and cities, often fighting one house at a time and assisted by information from Dutch resistance fighters.
Sergeant (retired) Norm Kirby was one of those Canadians. In 1945 he was 19-years-old, attached to the North Shore (New Brunswick) Infantry Regiment, 2nd Platoon, A Company. He had landed on Juno Beach as a Bren gunner on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, and fought through France and Belgium before entering the Netherlands.
The V-E Day poster was unveiled by the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, at a celebration in Vancouver on March 5, 2020. Mr. Kirby was acknowledged for his courageous contributions in the closing weeks of the Second World War by guests including fellow veterans, Henk Snoeken, Consul General for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Deputy Minister General (retired) Walt Natynczyk.
The Canadians faced bitter opposition from Nazi forces in many towns while navigating floodplains, dykes and intricate networks of canals. Yet the troops pressed on, determined to liberate millions of civilians from desperate circumstances.
After almost five years of occupation and a devastating famine that had caused the deaths of over 20,000 people the previous winter, the Dutch were in dire need of food, medicine, fuel and other supplies that had been severely depleted.
In April 1945, Mr. Kirby and his platoon liberated the city of Groningen. In one of his most uplifting memories of the war, jubilant Dutch children wearing paper hats with their national colours surrounded the Canadians. “After the horrors of Normandy and Belgium, this was a real treat,” he said.
In another town, a Dutch civilian who was a teenager during the liberation later recalled, “As the (Canadian) tank came nearer…there was a big hush over all the people, and it was suddenly broken by a big scream, as if it was out of the earth. And the people climbed on the tank…and they were crying. And we were running with the tanks and the jeeps all the way into the city.”
The Nazi forces surrendered in the Netherlands on May 5, 1945, finally liberating the whole of the nation. Two days later, Germany surrendered across the continent of Europe and the next day, May 8, 1945, was declared V-E Day.
Mr. Kirby has had the opportunity several times over the last seven decades to return to Europe and visit some of the places he liberated.
“It is so gratifying to see how appreciative people are at these commemorative ceremonies. It makes it all worthwhile. I am proud of what I did.”
The Juno Beach Centre (JBC) is privileged to count Mr. Kirby amongst a group of veterans dedicated to actively promoting the Centre to ensure its ongoing success. It is because of men and women like him that so many people around the world enjoy the freedoms they do today, and it is the mission of the JBC to keep telling their stories.
The liberation of the Netherlands came with a steep cost. 7,600 Canadians lost their lives in the months of fighting it took to free the country from occupation. They are buried in cemeteries in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, with many liberated families adopting and devotedly caring for the graves of their liberators whose families were so far away.
The bonds between Canada and the Netherlands remain strong 75 years later. Tulips bloom in Ottawa every spring as a gift from the Dutch. Children across the Netherlands have grown up hearing the stories. They maintain profound gratitude for the sacrifice of Canadians, fostering the deep friendships forged by their grandparents and great-grandparents.
Listen to Mr. Kirby tell his story in his own words: Legacy of Honour
Learn more about Canada’s role during the Liberation of the Netherlands and the enduring friendship between our two countries since the end of the Second World War: Maple Leaves and Tulips
You can share your gratitude with Mr. Kirby and Canadian veterans as the anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands and V-E Day approaches by sending a note through the Juno Beach Centre Association. Email us at JBCA@junobeach.org and we will share your message online, or you can post directly to our social media.
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.