Saturday, November 11, 2006
Liberation of the Netherlands, March-May 1945; Remembrance Day Reflections
Those of you who have known me for a while know I have a peculiar fondness for the Dutch. Technically it's mostly because of one particular one, but as it turns out it was also in my blood and heritage all along . . . my articles for this year's Remembrance Day conclude with the bond formed between Canada and the Netherlands in the Second World War.
The Netherlands declared itself to be neutral at the start of the Second World War, much as it had in the previous World War. Politics played less of a role in the German Blitzkrieg this time around, and all the neutrality in the world would not let them ignore a country that both flanked the Maginot Line of the French forces and served as a massive coastal point of entry for potential British landings . . . in May of 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands and rolled up the unprepared Dutch forces after one week of fighting and heavy losses both military and civilian. Any chance for quick liberation was also dashed with the Allied evacuation from the mainland at Dunkirk and the surrender of France.
During this time, Dutch men were sent to German factories to work, Jewish Dutch were rounded up and taken away to whichever fate was in store for them at their ultimate destinations, and starvation slowly became a greater problem as the war dragged on and food embargoes were set (partially in retaliation for the failed Operation Market Garden) . . .
Prior to all of this, the Dutch Royal Family was under some scrutiny. Princess Juliana's marriage to the German-born Prince Bernhard was criticised and many people were mistrustful of the new member of the royal family - it also didn't help that Hitler himself had commented that the marriage was "an alliance" between the two countries. Nevertheless, during the war the Prince proved his loyalties, serving as both a pilot and a liason officer for the Allies. Queen Wilhelmina, meanwhile, took her family to Britain and formed a government in exile there. Her daughter, Princess Juliana, went further with her children, fleeing to Canada and living in the capital of Ottawa for the rest of the war . . . . .
Fast forward into the final two years of the war. The Allies opened up the western front with the invasion of Normandy in June of 1944. As they pressed inwards, they still needed a huge amount of supplies coming in from Britain and North America; it was the First Canadian Army's job to clear the coastal ports and allow access to those supplies.
Fighting along the northwestern coast of Europe, the First Canadian Army pushed through France and into Belgium. Luckily for the Allies, the British had already captured Antwerp before winter came, which meant that one of the world's largest ports were now under Allied control . . . nevertheless, Germany still controlled the northern waters, so that port could not be used until the Allies cleared out all the surrounding land of the Scheldt River. And, though it took until the end of November to completely gain control of the river, the Canadians persevered and the path to Antwerp was clear.
In the final year of the war, the Allies crossed the Rhine into Holland in late March. Finally free of the natural defense of the river, the Canadians continued their task of clearing naval ports and supply routes. In this case, it was to open northern supplies to Arnhem . . . and in doing so, clear the Germans out of The Netherlands.
The war was in the Allies' favour, the Germans were falling back . . . and perhaps most promising of all for the Canadian Army, the Canadians were fighting together for the first time in a long time. By this point in the war, the First Canadian Corps in Italy were transferred to Northwestern Europe; both corps were fighting side by side. As a single entity, they pressed in for weeks; Germans in the west of the country were pushed back into Germany, and those in the northeast were pushed into the sea.
They paused the advance in April briefly due to concern for the civilians in the west. The waters in that area of the country were held back by dykes, and if the Germans felt the need to give themselves more defensive measures, they could release the dykes and flood the countryside . . . by the end of the month the Canadians were able to negotiate a truce to allow relief supplies into the country. This ended the "Hunger Winter" that had savaged the Dutch people since September of the previous year. The Canadians continued their press through The Netherlands . . .
On May 5th, the German Colonel General surrendered his remaining 117,000 troops to the Canadian Lieutenant General in charge of the First Canadian Corps; after 8 months of fighting and 7,600 Canadian losses, the Second Battle of The Netherlands was over.
On one hand, it should be quite easy to say how grateful the Dutch people were for their liberation by the Canadians. Hands waved, voices cheered, lips kissed . . . people gave thanks. On the other, the gratitude felt goes far beyond just the thanks and the cheers. The Canadian military freed their country. The Canadian capital sheltered members of the royal family; Princess Juliana, who endeared herself to her host city, even gave birth to her 3rd child in Ottawa! Canadian Parliament even passed legislation to temporarily turn Juliana's hospital rooms into Dutch ground - this was done so the newly-born Princess Margriet would have full Dutch citizenship and be in the royal line of succession (a dual nationality from being born on Canadian soil would negate her chance for that).
For all the things Canada had done for them, but most specifically for giving Princess Juliana and her family safe haven during the war, the Dutch Royal Family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in thanks. The next year Princess (and later Queen) Juliana sent a further 20,000 bulbs requesting that they be used to decorate the hospital at which her daughter was born; she also promised an annual gift of 10,000 tulip bulbs as a sign of that ongoing thanks and friendship now shared between the two nations.
Sixty years later, the tulips still come to my country every year as part of the annual Tulip Festival of Ottawa. From what I understand, it is also now the largest tulip festival in the world. In 1967, Queen Juliana returned to Ottawa and visited the festival; in 1995 Princess Margriet returned to her birthtown and officially opened that year's Tulip Festival (subtitled "The Friendship That Flowered), the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands. Man . . . . . it's times like this I wish I knew more about these things earlier in life . . . in any case, there you have it: proof that there are some people who will DEFINITELY never forget the sacrifices made.
(Cheers for both the Liberation of Holland and VE Day)
(Tulips on Parliament Hill in Ottawa)
It's currently 11:45pm on the 10th as I type this, just thinking back to all this stuff like I always do at this time of year. Heh . . . and what am I thinking about this time around? I'm actually thinking a bit about work. You see, I usually work on Saturdays, from 1pm until 10pm. I've worked this shift for a long time. It's just funny that this time around, Remembrance Day falls on a Saturday. Remembrance Day is usually a stat. holiday meaning no work, no school . . . I mean, I'm part-time so it doesn't matter anyway, but still. So when we're all thinking silently about the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom many of us have today - and we will ALL, be thinking about them today - I'm also going to be getting ready for work, for the bright blue promotional shirt they'll have us all wearing, and for the nine hours that I could probably spend better elsewhere.
I don't think I'm gonna catch any Remembrance Day ceremonies this year. Maybe I'll catch bits of the televised one from the monument in Ottawa, but that's probably it. But y'know, I'm sure it'll be enough.
When I first posted the news that I was gearing up for this week of posts, one member commented that she felt Remembrance Day was getting too commercial. While I don't quite agree with her point (commercial = spending but mostly making money, and I don't think poppy donations exactly count), her basic concern comes through. We do have a fair bit of parade and showmanship going on. We have children's choirs, pipe bands . . . there's definitely a lot of pageantry.
Y'know what, though? While a lot of it is symbolic for our past, it's also a show for a handful of people who are still around back from when it happened. I'm sure the veterans all think it's a bit of a show too, but hey, why hold that away from them? They know it's all a show too . . . but they also know that deep down it all still means the same thing: we remember what they had to do for us, and we will continue to remember.
I suppose in that sense, I'm pulling out my own sort of colourful pageantry with my week's worth of Remembrance Day posts. I won't lie, I'm always really happy when I see a good chunk of comments sitting under one of these entries because even though I'm more or less just trying to entertain everyone with an interesting story about one thing or another, I'm still getting a message through with 'em. It's kind of the same reason people have such a fascination with war films - they're about serious times, about real events, but they still amaze us with the drama and the action. I'm kinda like that, I guess . . . I can still see the drama and action before they make the movie, and until that movie comes out (or as the case may be with a few of these, until we go out and rent the old versions of these movies) I wanna get people prepped a little bit.
One guy has told me that he got his sister reading my posts, and that she's been enjoying them a lot. With that in mind, I'm sure that means that there are more readers than there are commentors . . . and I really do hope that's the case. Frankly, I don't much like the idea of the other alternative.
Look, I know a lot of people around here hate reading long posts (though apparently anything that takes more than two minutes to go through is considered long these days). Some people won't be able to see the beginning and end on the same amount of screen and call it off right then and there. It doesn't matter how relevant or captivating the words may or may not be; if the block of text goes down too far, they'll never find out in the first place.
And that's the real shame of Remembrance Day. People who can't be bothered to read for five minutes straight; people who can't wake up before 11am because it's going to be a Saturday; people who don't see beyond the day off from work.
You know what they say, history repeats itself . . . . . right now we all have soldiers fighting overseas in one fight or another, be it Afghanistan, Iraq, or where have you. At least for the cases of Canada and the US, we both have populations who want the troops back home . . . going by what I know of other returning soldiers from unpopular wars, I really hope we give those guys some respect when they land, whenever that may be. 'cause no one's gonna dedicate a day to them when it's over, believe me . . . . . I also know that some myOers are already in the military, have been in the military, or have family who are or have been in the military. Who knows, with half a million members, there's bound to be a fair amount who will go on to join the military at one point in their lives or another. Worse yet, there could be a major conflict, a home crisis and a draft, and then a whole lot of us would be joining up . . .
Yeah, one day it could be us boarding the plane to fight overseas. If it was you yourself, no matter how unpopular the war was, no matter how far away from home you had to be, no matter how little the war itself affected the daily lives of you or your loved ones . . . if you went over there and had to fight, would you want your sacrifices to be forgotten?