Pandemic delays Dutch Liberation celebration

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Massive celebrations in the Netherlands commemorating the 75th anniversary of the country’s liberation from Nazi Germany have become another victim of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

But that’s OK. There will still be plenty to celebrate next year, and the Dutch still love Canada.

“Everything is being held off,” says James Christison, curator of the Waterford Heritage and Agriculture Museum and a member of the Norfolk Remembers committee.

“They’re now calling it `75 plus 1.’”

Canada has a special place in the hearts of the Dutch because the First Canadian Army chased the Nazis out of their country over an eight-month period ending in April 1945.

The Dutch endured nearly five hard years under the jackboot of Adolf Hitler, a torment that ended with a famine that took the lives of thousands of civilians. The country was delirious with joy once the Canadian forces – aided by troops from Great Britain, the United States, Belgium and Poland – marched through their towns and villages in triumph.

Dave Stelpstra of Simcoe, a member of the Norfolk Remembers committee, has felt the love on fact-finding missions to the Netherlands in recent years. Stelpstra was planning to attend the celebration but had to beg off like everyone else.


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He’s saddened by that. Some aged Canadian vets were planning to travel to the Netherlands this spring. They’ll have to try again next year. But with most in their 90s, Stelpstra wonders how many vets will be in a position to attend.

This aspect of remembrance holds a special place for Stelpstra. His parents Bill and Johanna Stelpstra – married now for 67 years – were children in Friesland during the Nazi occupation. The more Stelpstra learns of what they endured, the more he realizes how lucky he is to be here.

“They had it horribly,” Stelpstra said this week. “Especially the last year — `The Hunger Winter.’ The Dutch are so grateful. They’d do anything for Canada.”

Canadians paid a high price in the many battles they participated in during the First and Second World Wars. The campaign to liberate the Netherlands was no different.

The First Canadian Army was handed a key assignment once the beachhead at Normandy was secured. Its job was to sweep north along the Dutch coast and capture the ports for the convoys that would fuel the offensive into Germany. Failure meant a much longer war.

Canadian Gen. Harry Crerar was given the manpower to get it done. At its peak, the First Canadian Army numbered nearly half a million men. A total of 7,600 Canadians made the supreme sacrifice on Dutch soil, most of whom are buried at three carefully-maintained cemeteries.

The cemetery at Bergen-op-Zoom in southwest Holland – as one of the first parts of the country liberated – held its 75th anniversary celebration last fall. Those cancelled were slated for the major Canadian cemeteries in Groesbeek and Holton.

At least 11 soldiers from Norfolk County died during the Dutch offensive. They are: Rifleman George A. Bell, Round Plains; George J. Darbon, Vanessa; Roger Devos, Clear Creek; Gunner Earl Hoover, Vanessa; Harold F. Jones, Charlotteville Township; L/Cpl John R. Lee, Round Plains; Marcel Lesage, Delhi; Charles R. Rawcliffe, Port Dover; William A. Stackhouse, St. Williams; James A. Steward, Simcoe; Frank Tedley, Woodhouse Township.

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