Ryan Taylor Canada's links with the Netherlands
VE Day


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By Ryan Taylor

Since 1945, Canadians and the Dutch have had a special relationship. The 60th anniversary of VE day reminded us why.

Canadian troops were instrumental in liberating Holland at the end of World War II. The Dutch Royal Family had taken refuge in Ottawa during the fighting. Queen Juliana even gave birth to one of her daughters there, although the hospital room where it took place was declared Dutch soil for the occasion.

After the war, Juliana sent annual gifts of tulip bulbs in thanks. Canadian military cemeteries in Holland were lovingly tended by the local people, who had such warm memories of the soldiers who passed their way.

The strength of their feelings was evident when veterans went to the Netherlands for the anniversary celebrations. There were parades, moments of reflection and joyful reunions. In the main square in Appeldoorn, the appearance of an elderly man wearing the blue blazer and beret that identified him as a Canadian veteran caused an immediate reaction. Dutch citizens, old and young, lined up to shake his hand, give him hugs and thank him one more time.

Both the Dutch and the veterans had stories from 1945. One undernourished boy, from a family of 17 brothers and sisters, begged for work from the soldiers. He would shine shoes, do laundry. Once the Canadians discovered the family's situation, they sent him home with food and their discarded clothes.

A few days later, one of the Canadians was killed. His grave has been visited at least once a week by the undernourished boy in the decades since. This story is part of family histories both in the Netherlands and in Canada. Another soldier dressed a boy in girls' clothes, then smuggled him to Nijmegen so he could visit his family.

Many soldiers had even more personal relationships with the Dutch. The Bishop of Haarlem condemned what he called "the new paganism" but it was inevitable that love prevailed.

Many of the Dutch women married their soldiers and came to Canada as war brides, their newlywed experiences complicated by barriers of language and culture. Their stories can be found in books such as If kisses were roses: a 50th anniversary tribute to war brides, Canada remembers, by Helen Shewchuck (1996).

Some of the relationships resulted in children, whether the fathers knew of them or not. Project Roots is an organization dedicated to bringing Canadian veterans and their Dutch children together.

As with adoption and other situations where children and parents are separated, officialdom has been unhelpful when these people have asked for assistance in finding one another. In the 1950s, the prevailing ethos was one of shame.

Changes in society since then have shown that these family members have a much happier approach to the possibilities of knowing one another. Vets who discover an unknown child have joyful reactions, and their families welcome the new relation.

Voices of the Left Behind, by Olga Rains, Lloyd Rains and Melynda Jarratt ($28, including postage) contains the personal narratives of fifty war children who have worked with Project Roots since 1980, and includes archival documents and letters between the mothers and their Canadian boyfriends. These stories are convincing examples of how important the links between the fathers and children can be. For more information, see the Project Roots website or write to them at 510 Gibson Street, Fredericton NB E3A 4E9.

In her eloquent speeches during the VE anniversary celebrations, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson wove the Dutch and Canadian peoples together, demonstrating how their shared experiences had made them one. This story is part of Canadian family history in every home in the country.

Posted May 17, 2005
Column copyright © 2005 Ryan Taylor

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