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Victory in Europe Revisited: 60 Years Later
When I learned that I had been selected to go to Holland I was very excited. At the most basic level, it was a paid trip to Holland. However, I soon realized it was so much more. My father was born in Holland and I was raised in a Dutch immigrant community. My grandparents frequently spoke of the Canadians liberating their village and so the news of my selection greatly pleased three generations.
I arrived in Holland on April 22 and quickly began drill practise. Fortunately, we were given our evenings and nights off and were free to explore the environs of our camp. I visited Haarskamp, less than a kilometre from base, some relatives in Amersfoort, and Arnhem, the location of Operation Market Garden (portrayed in A Bridge Too Far ). Arnhem was fascinating as it is home to several memorials and historical sites.
As our drill improved, we were taken to some smaller towns to perform and visit. I had the privilege of taking a battlefield tour of Woensdrecht with the Canadian Forces Chief Historian, Dr. Steve Harris. This was one of the most exciting moments for me. When being trained as a Riley, I remember being told by my course staff about this battle where the RHLI company commander called artillery onto his own position because they were dug in and being overrun. This gutsy move paid off and the RHLI were able to hold the town (the RHLI took Woensdrecht October 16, 1944, allowing Allied forces to advance to the island of Walcheren and open the port of Antwerp – Dr. Steve Harris, DHH) . The town now contains an impressive monument, praising the heroism of the RHLI. This story was recounted to me on the very hills where my regimental forebears fought some 60 years ago. For further details, visit our story RHLI Returns to Antwerp Belgium.
On May 2, the veterans arrived. We, the honour guard, and the combined military band waited at the airport to give them a hero's welcome. I met with the RHLI veteran representative, Lt. Frank Volterman, and his son Paul. Later that night, we had a social at the base mess to mingle with the veterans and hear their stories. Lt. Volterman told me of his experiences, including Dieppe and several tense moments in Holland and Germany later in the war. It was exciting to hear these battles recounted by an eyewitness.
In the subsequent 10 days, we had a tight schedule of cemetery ceremonies, parades, and tattoos. The drill was more challenging than I have ever encountered in my time in the army, but I have never found drill to be so rewarding. The culmination of our training consisted of parades through packed cities on May 5 (the date of Holland's liberation) and May 8 (Victory in Europe Day). Thousands and thousands of spectators lined the streets, cheering and covering us in confetti. Marching down cobblestone streets, I believe I caught a glimpse of what the Allied soldiers witnessed as they liberated Europe during the closing months of World War II.