Thursday, May 13, 2010

VE65 - Liberation day

WAGENINGEN, Netherlands — Thousands of Canadian students witnessed a last hurrah for Canadian and Allied forces in the Dutch city where the Netherlands was freed from years of oppressive German occupation.
The approximately 2,000 students came from almost 90 schools across Canada and participated in the Liberation Parade program that ran throughout the day. They were joined by thousands of war veterans – including delegations of Canadian vets – and Dutch citizens in celebrating the 65th anniversary of the date Canadians, other allies, Dutch Prince Bernard and the Germans signed a treaty ending the war in the Netherlands.
They walked, wearing their red EF Educational Tours / 65th Anniversary Canada jackets and holding quilts stitched up from cloth squares decorated by each student on tour. Each square contained handprints depicting the student and the two soldiers they’re representing while on tour.
Justin Heyda, 16, and Jessica Lindsay, 16, from London’s Sir George Ross Secondary School, walked the parade route together with Woodstock’s Huron Park Secondary School. Both spoke exuberantly at the marshalling grounds after completing the hour-long walk of the experience of having thousands of Dutch residents and Canadian travellers applaud their acts of remembrance.
“It was so overwhelming— the joy of making these little kids happy by handing out Canadian flags and pins, it meant the world to them,” Heyda said. “It’s been a great feeling doing something really big by being in the parade and showing them you remember.”
Lindsay said she felt sorry for some of the Dutch children in the latter sections of the parade route as many of the Canadian students had exhausted their supplies of pins and flags to hand out.
“Seeing the kids that didn’t have pins and flags… I even took off a bandana I had around one leg and all the pins on my jacket to give to them,” she said. “They were all sticking their hands out for stuff, or to grab our hands or give us high-fives.”
Both spoke about the feelings that overwhelmed them as they walked the route, soaking in the appreciation for Canadian and allied veterans who liberated the Netherlands after the winter of 1944-45 where many were starved for food and other essentials. Had the Germans not capitulated at a hotel in Wageningen on May 5, 1945, many more would have starved to death as their occupiers kept these vital supplies from reaching them.
“We liberated their country and we helped them out,” Heyda said. “It’s changed me a lot— I didn’t think this many people would come out and I didn’t think about how young they’d are and that they’d remember and honour what the allies did.”
This year’s parade will be the last national Dutch ‘Thank you Canada and Allied Forces’ week of events as the remaining veterans of the Second World War age and will be unable to participate in future events. There are only several events remaining this week, including a commemoration at Bergen Op Zoom Thursday, a military tattoo in Voorthuizen on Friday and Saturday and a final parade in Apeldoorn Sunday.
Written May 5.