The Sweetest Spring; the Canadian Liberation of The Netherlands, May 1945

by Douglas Phillips

Recently I was given an old tin cigarette box containing photos of a Canadian Army nurse who served in Holland in 1945 as part of the Canadian Forces.  Canada  played a vital roll in freeing the Dutch from German occupation in the spring of 1945, which resulted in the German surrender on May 5, 1945.

This is part of our enduring relationship with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.   It is a story of a bond that has existed since the end of World War Two, and 2020 will mark the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands.  I will be writing a special feature in the Spring 2020  Wayback Times, but as a preamble Sandy (editor)  has asked me to look back at Canada’s past and present history with the Dutch people.

Crowd of Dutch civilians celebrating the liberation Courtesy of Wikipedia Medium

Today, living in Canada, there are over one million  citizens who can trace their ancestry back to Holland.  From war brides and immigrates who brought their skills and knowledge to our shores, they have entered every aspect of Canadian society and have become very prominent in agriculture, growing flowers and vegetables.  A Dutch family operates my local garden centre, and during my business career I met many successful Dutch entrepreneurs.  

Old cigarette tin of photos of Holland 1945 – Douglas Phillips

Another link we have is with the Dutch Royal Family who spent the war years living in Ottawa.  The war began in Holland on the morning of May 10, 1940 when German forces crossed the eastern Dutch borders, where they met resistance by the Dutch Army.  Arrangements were made by the Government for the Dutch Royal Family, Queen Wilhelmina, Princess Juliana, her husband Prince Bernhard, and daughters Beatrix and Irene,  to escape to England.  From there, they were then brought to Canada.  Their daughter Princess Margriet was born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital on January 19, 1943.  She is the only Royal person to be born in Canada and in honour of her birth  it was the only time a foreign flag was flown atop the Peace Tower.

Dutch Royal Family in Ottawa – Courtesy of Wikipedia Medium

Since 1948, in appreciation of the sacrifice of Canadian Forces who gave their lives for the Liberation of the Netherlands and for sheltering the Royal Family, the Dutch people and their Government have gifted Canadians with bulbs each year.  In September of 2019, Her Royal Highness, Princess Margriet, presented Canadian veteran Mr. Don White a gift of “Liberation 75” tulip bulbs, symbolizing the 100,000 bulbs the Netherlands will present to Canada in 2020.  

The bulbs will be planted as part of the “Canadian Tulip Festival” in May 2020 on Parliament Hill and Commissioners Park in Ottawa.  

These special bulbs are to commemorate and celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands 75 years ago, and they will be planted at 1,100 schools across Canada.  The plantings will be accompanied with a guide to explain the history of the two countries, Canada’s role in the liberation and to honour the 1.1 million Canadians who took part in the Second World War effort.  The tulip has become the symbol of friendship between Canada and the Netherlands, and an expression of the Dutch Royal Family’s gratitude for providing a haven for their family during the Second World War.

Old cigarette tin of photos of Holland 1945 – Douglas Phillips

Today Dutch school children are taught the history of Canada’s role in bringing freedom and the sacrifice made by the Canadian troops.  5,700 Canadians gave their lives in the liberation of the Netherlands, and they rest in three main cemeteries cared for by the War Graves Commission – the children of the Netherlands carefully tend their graves.  The war dead and the many unknown soldiers are commemorated in the Memorial at the Canadian War Cemetery at Groesbeek with the following inscription: “Pro amicis mortui amicis vivimus”  meaning, “We live in the hearts of friends for whom we died.”

We look forward to bringing the story of Canada’s role in the liberation of the Netherlands  to you  in the spring issue of the  Wayback Times. There will be many planned celebrations in Dutch communities that will take place in May 2020 across Canada, all in remembrance and honour of “the sweetest spring.”

One Reply to “The Sweetest Spring; the Canadian Liberation of The Netherlands, May 1945”

  1. The children and grandchildren of those Canadian soldiers who fought are now making pilgrimages back to Holland, to visit the places they heard about and to discover that amazing bond that exists between our two countries – it is a strong as ever. We are honoured to help many Canadians make that pilgrimage – in some cases to visit the final resting places of family for the first time. There can be no better place to be a proud Canadian than Holland in the springtime.

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