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COLUMN: Remembering Canadian soldiers through stories

When my family eventually decided to move to Canada, I liked to believe my grandparents were proud that we chose Canada.

I didn’t grow up in Canada and I don’t have any war veterans in my family, but I grew up listening to the stories my grandparents told of how Canadian soldiers liberated the country I was born in at the end of World War 2.

Remembrance Day will always feel significant as I think about those stories, and I hope people continue to share their stories so the next generation can hear them and learn from them.

In our province in the Netherlands, we honoured the Canadian soldiers that liberated our area on the weekend before Nov. 11.

Each year, Canadian soldiers walk the 32 kilometre route taken by the soldiers back in 1944, while locals watch or join in.

I remember, as a little girl, watching the soldiers and army vehicles streaming past our farm along the route –at that time not understanding the gravity of what it all meant.

A long time ago, my grandpa planted a maple tree along that route as a symbol of recognition for what the Canadians did there.

My maternal grandparents were barely 20 when Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands, while my paternal grandparents were only children.

My grandpa told stories of attempting to evade labour forced on him by the Nazis and hiding horse equipment on his farm so they couldn’t confiscate it. 

Later, German soldiers forced him to drive their food wagon from the Netherlands to France.

My grandma, at the age of 21, joined the local resistance and helped distribute food rations to homes where Jewish families and British soldiers were hiding. 

She also helped smuggle them out of the country, into to Belgium on their way to the United Kingdom.

All of this, without taking the safety of their families for granted.

There are so many stories I could share about them, but instead I want to share a story from my paternal grandpa (Opa Scheele).

At the start of the war, he was 11 years-old and lived on a farm along the side of a dike, in the most south-western province of the Netherlands called Zeeland.

Towards the end of the war, Canadian soldiers landed on the beach across the dike from his family’s farm.

My then 15-year-old Opa and his family saw the heads of Canadian soldiers as they appeared on top of the dike.

Other Canadian soldiers had already landed in the area, north of them, and were attempting to push the Germans back. 

Based on this knowledge, the German soldiers awaited the arrival of the Canadians that day on the other side of my Opa’s farm.

In an attempt to fight back, Nazi Germans began throwing grenades at the Canadians, with the Canadian soldiers firing them right back. All over top of the farmhouse.

My Opa’s family fled into their cellar, and hid there until the Germans were eventually pushed back. 

I remember the last time my Opa told me this story, sitting in his big armchair by his living room window –he said that after the sounds of grenades outside had stopped, the cellar door opened and one shot was fired into the darkness.

The bullet hit a pot that sat inches away from Opa’s sister. Nobody got hurt, but not all farms in the neighbourhood were that lucky, he had said.

As the Canadian soldier came into the cellar he quickly realized there was only one German hiding there, while the rest were members of the local farming family.

They pulled the German soldier out of the cellar and quickly offered my Opa and his siblings chocolate and cigarettes.

Opa joked, until that last time I heard him tell the story, that he had never quit smoking since that day.

Zeeland was officially liberated in November 1944, while the rest of the Netherlands wasn’t liberated until May 5, 1945. 

As a young girl, I remember going to a ceremony held every year on May 5 at the grave of an unknown Canadian soldier buried in our small town.

The story of the short battle that happened above my Opa’s farmhouse was one of many war stories I heard that included Canadians. 

When my family eventually decided to move to Canada, I liked to believe my grandparents were proud that we chose Canada.

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