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Holland Liberated

By Melanie Cashin


    Before World War II, Canada and Holland had few ties to each other, with the exception that they were allied countries. They were not on the friendly terms that they are now. Canada and Holland are presently on such good terms due to two incidents: the liberation of Holland by the Canadian troops, and the shelter given to the Dutch Royal family during the War.

    During World War II, two Dutch villages were practically destroyed during a long, hard-fought battle. The Allies defeated the Germans after two weeks of firing guns. The Battle of Overloon is still referred to as 'the Forgotten Battle' since most Dutch people knew little about it until the liberation was complete. The Battle of Overloon was the first and only tank battle to take place in the Netherlands. The price for freedom was high in lives and property as the Allies gradually pushed the Germans back to their side of the border. (Brabant's liberation only after heavy fighting)

    The Liberation of Holland was completed on May 5, 1945 by the First Canadian Army. It had been a long and difficult campaign. Following the initial Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and the breakout from the bridgehead which saw the Canadians engaged in bitter fighting at Caen and Falaise, the First Canadian Army was assigned the task of clearing the coastal areas and opening the channel ports for vital supplies. This First Canadian Army was international in character. In addition to three Canadian divisions it had a Polish division, a British Corps, and at various times American, Belgian and Dutch troops. Under the command of General H.D.G. Crerar, the Canadians, on the left flank of the Allied forces, pushed rapidly eastwards through France towards Belgium. In September, an attempt was made to cut through Holland to establish a connection between Holland and Germany. As the operation fell just short of success, it became apparent that the war would continue through the winter and into the spring of 1945. (Canada's Role in the Liberation of Holland)

    Gerda Wittenberg was a Dutch civilian in Hardenberg, Holland during the War and witnessed much of the Germans' actions. She was living with her parents five minutes away from were the German barracks were situated. The Germans would go door to door, and very politely would help themselves to anything they felt they needed, including homemade foods and goods from the livestock and fill up a hose drawn wagon, both which were stolen from the Dutch. There was nothing left in the stores to buy because the Germans stole everything; the Dutch were forced to buy from the Black Market if they had enough money to buy. The food was rationed by the Germans so the Dutch had very little to distribute among their families.

    There were curfews for the Dutch, therefore they were not allowed outside of their homes after 8pm. One particular Sunday, Gerda walked to the home of the family that employed her and noticed that the town was unusually quiet, as she walked she became more curious as to why this was so. When she reached the home they told her that they were surprised to see her that day because no one was allowed to be on the streets at all that day and that she was lucky she was not spotted by the Germans.

    One day the SS came knocking door to door accusing the occupants of each house of firing their guns, somebody was doing it because they heard it. The Germans came to Gerda's door and accused the family of firing their gun, they didn't have any guns but they insisted that it was they. They came into their home and searched for a gun and found nothing. All the men that were in the house were made to stand facing the wall while the Germans searched. When they left they took Gerda's brother and father with them with no explanation. They went to the neighbor's house and followed through with the same procedure, when they left they took the man from next door also. The men were forced to do farmwork for the Germans. The neighbor was so terrified that he broke out in hives, he was going to make a run for it, but Gerda's brother convinced him not to do so because he would have been killed for sure.

    The SS came back to Gerda's home and wanted butter. When they were satisfied with the amount they received Gerda's mother asked when they would be returning her son. The German said he would be returned the next day and he was. The Germans left on that Thursday but returned that Sunday in full-fledged war. During most of the war the Canadians were rarely spotted because they had to remain in Germany to keep track of the Germans.

    Gerda and her husband to be, Garnet Wittenberg, walked one day between two roads when they witnessed a Canadian Army truck drive by, then they saw a German Army truck on the other road, both carrying soldiers. They were very happy to see the Canadians. The Germans exited the back of the truck in an orderly fashion and ducked and ran into the bush. Gird and Garnet ducked in the ditch an heard shots fired and when they looked again they saw that the Germans had surrendered and a number of them were either dead or injured. No Canadians were hurt during this battle. (Gerda Wittenberg, April 3, 2000)

    During the War, Queen Whilemina and her family sought safety in England when General Winkelman informed her that he could no longer guarantee their personal safety. She left Holland reluctantly, but she couldn't bear the thought of falling into the hands of the Germans and being forced to play as their puppet. Once in London she was joined by the chief ministers of what had been Holland's ruling government. Among some of these ministers, including the then Prime Minister, there was a belief that Holland should have cut a deal with the Germans. To Whilemina these thoughts were the very worst kind of negativism, and she would not accept it. In the following weeks she brought the chief ministers around to her way of thinking.

    At the time of the invasion, Queen Whilemina was nearly 60. She had sat on the Dutch throne for nearly 40 years. By 1938 she considered the idea of yielding her throne to her daughter Juliana, but decided to postpone her decision until there might be a better time during the international situation. Queen Whilemina's daughter, Princess Juliana and her two daughters would end up in Ottawa, Canada for the duration of the war. But the Queen herself chose to stay in London even though it wasn't entirely safe there either. From London Queen Whilemina would speak weekly to the Dutch people, inspiring them to take heart and to take fight against those who enslaved their country. Whilemina's speeches brought life to the Dutch people and by the time peace finally did come, and she could return to Holland, she came back not only as an admired woman but as an honored woman. (Queen Whilemina in Exile)

    During Princess Juliana's stay in Ottawa she gave birth to a Princess. Princess Marguerite was born January 19, 1943. As Princess Juliana sat in her hospital room with her infant daughter, a Dutch flag was raised and the Dutch anthem played loud in the streets of Ottawa. Queen Whilemina announced this exciting news over the radio she had been broadcasting from in London, England to the people in Holland.

    After five years in Canada, the Royal Family moved back to Holland, which had just recently been liberated by the Canadians. Because of the Canadians' hospitality towards the Dutch Royal Family in their time of need, the people of Holland are grateful to the Canadians. (Refuge in Canada)

    Every year Ottawa celebrates its strong relationship with Holland. Early in June 1941, Princess Juliana and her family boarded the Sumatra and sailed to Halifax, and from there went to Ottawa. In the autumn of 1945 Princess Juliana presented Canada with 100,000 tulip bulbs which were promptly planted in and around Ottawa. After all these years Tulips from Holland still arrive every autumn to be planted. (Canadian Tulip Festival History)

    Diever, Holland was one of the towns liberated by the Canadians and to show their gratefulness, in 1946 they incorporated the Canadian Maple Leaf into their Coat of Arms. During the days following the war there was heavy fighting in and around Diever between the Germans and the French and Canadians. The Germans threatened to restore order by executing 11 citizens at random. To prevent further bloodshed the Canadians took action and liberated Diever. (Liberation: Diever Coat of Arms has Maple Leaf)

    Many Canadian soldiers married Dutch women and then brought them home to live in Canada. The trip home for them was quite eventful, some of the ships met storms while crossing the ocean, and people were vomiting everywhere and most of the women were lying in there beds all day because of upset stomachs. Upon arrival in Halifax they would board a train to take them to their destination. Christian Reformed churches were built for the Dutch-Canadians to help them to be comfortable in their new country. (We became Canadians)

    Some wonder how the story of the heroic Canadians lives on in Holland after over 50 years. The story of what the Canadians did during the War is passed down through each generation and is taught to children in public schools in Holland. There are a variety of war cemeteries devoted to the 7600 Canadian soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of Holland. The Dutch lovingly tend to each cemetery. When the Canadians visit Holland they are treated with much respect and admiration. The people of Holland are not quick to forget that it was the Canadians who freed them from the Germans so many years ago.



"Brabant’s liberation only after heavy fighting."

"Canada’s Role in the Liberation of the Netherlands."

"Canadian Tulip Festival History."

"Interview with Gerda Wittenberg." April 3, 2000.

"Liberation: Diever Coat of Arms has Maple Leaf." www.magma,ca/louisb/liberation-war/diever.html

"Queen Whilemina in exile."

"Refuge in Canada."

"We Became Canadians."


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