When World War Two erupted, the Netherlands declared itself as a neutral state and intended to avoid any conflict. However, on May 10, 1940, Germany struck an unanticipated attack on the Netherlands. After several days of resistance, the Netherlands were officially occupied a week later by German troops (Belgium). It would be another 5 years until the Canadians, under the leadership of General H.D.G. Crerar, liberated the Dutch (Liberation of Holland). Until then, over 200,000 Dutchmen and women will perish during the occupation in which over half of them are Jewish (Goddard 140-145). The Liberation of Netherlands was a defining moment in Canadas efforts in World War II because the operation built a strong relationship between the Netherlands and Canada, freed the Dutch under the ruthless German rule, and demonstrated Canadas persistent commitment to liberty even when faced with difficult opposition.
Since the liberation, the ties between Canada and the Netherlands have never been stronger. Canadas sacrifice will never be forgotten by the Dutch because their liberty was fought for at the expense of the lives of Canadian soldiers. In fact, the people of Netherlands created many cemeteries to thank the heroes that came to liberate them. For instance, the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery is a famous cemetery in Groesbeek, Netherlands, where over 2300 Canadians were buried (Goddard 235-236). Furthermore, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, the safety of the Dutch royal family was no longer guaranteed. In their greatest time of need, Canada opened her doors and gave refuge to the royal family in Canadas capital, Ottawa (Goddard 226).
The heir to the throne, Princess Juliana, also gave birth to Princess Margriet during her stay at Canada (Netherlands’ Princess Margriet born in Ottawa). Following the occupation, Princess Juliana showed her appreciation for Canadas hostility and their efforts for liberating the Netherlands by sending 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada (Goddard 232). In addition, Diever, which was a town liberated by the Canadians has a maple leaf incorporated in their coat of arms to remember the Canadians that liberated them (Goddard 229). As a result, even today, the people of Netherlands will never forget the heroes that came to liberate them.
While the liberation of the Netherlands created a new friendship between Canada and the Netherlands, it also showed Canadas efforts in freeing the Dutch under German occupation. In order to liberate the Netherlands, Canadian troops fought fiercely through France, then to Belgium, afterward, to the Rhineland in Germany and lastly to liberate Netherlands (Hilmer and Cooke). Canada contributed immensely to the liberation of the Netherlands. Before liberating Northwestern Europe, the Allies would need to secure the territory and push back German resistance (Liberation of Holland). During this phase, Canadian Corporal Frederick Topham, received the highest military award in Commonwealth forces, the Victoria Cross, for attending to casualties on the battlefield (Canada-Netherlands, 14-15).
When the Canadians finally broke through, they crossed Northeastern Netherlands and liberated many towns (Canada-Netherlands, 16). During this time, Canadians also put their efforts into negotiating a ceasefire on April 30, 1945. Since the beginning of the occupation, Dutch civilians have suffered from starvation and malnutrition. During this ceasefire or food truce, food was supplied to 4 drop zones across western Netherlands by the Royal Canadian Air Force. For 7 days, instead of dropping bombs, bomber planes dropped 535 tons of food. Trucks then transported the food from the drop zones to various Dutch towns (April 30: Conference brings hope to starving Dutch). Hence, the efforts of Canadian soldiers in the liberation of Netherlands are evident by their significant contributions.
Despite the fierce German oppression, Canadians were committed to freeing the Dutch and in the end, contributed greatly to liberating the Netherlands. The Germans used effective tactics against the Canadian Forces. They would destroy the dykes of towns that were to be liberated which would cause the town to be flooded with seawater. This would ultimately lead to many civilian casualties from drowning. Even though their original course was flooded, Canadians still bravely went through narrow and dangerous routes while others daringly traveled through the flooded towns with amphibious vehicles (Hilmer and Cooke). The Canadians were determined to liberate the Netherlands even when the Germans used immoral tactics against them. Furthermore, as the operation to liberate Netherlands was progressing, Canadians gladly liberated city after city and each time they were welcomed enthusiastically by starving, but appreciative crowds of Dutchmen and women.
However, liberty came at a high cost. Over 7600 Canadian soldiers gave their lives for freedom (Canada-Netherlands, 25). After a grueling nine months of battle, the Germans depleted their supplies and men (Hillmer and Cooke). Nonetheless, Canadian General, Charles Foulkes, was determined to restore the Dutch of their freedom and negotiated capitulation of German troops in the Netherlands. At last, on May 5, 1945 German Colonel-General, Blaskowitz, signed the surrender document (Canada-Netherlands, 20). May 5 also marks the Dutch national holiday, Liberation Day, which is celebrated annually to commemorate the end of the Nazi occupation in WWII (Canada-Netherlands, 20). In the end, Canada stood firm to defend the freedom of the Netherlands until the bitter end of the capitulation of Germany.
The Liberation of the Netherlands has become one of the most significant Canadian moments in World War II. From the operation, Canadian liberators gained the gratitude and friendship of the Dutch by freeing them in their darkest hour. Many Canadians also gave their lives to liberate the Dutch and even though the Germans were difficult to defeat, the Canadians were determined to restore the liberty of the Netherlands. For 5 years, the Dutch waited for the allies to liberate them. The Germans deprived them of their food, their dignity, and their freedom, but the Germans were never able to take away their hope. In the darkest times of the Netherlands, their faint cries were heard by Canada and she was there to provide a helping hand for the Dutch. Thus, the friendship between the Netherlands and Canada will last forever because no one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night (Elie Wiesel).
“April 30: Conference brings hope to starving Dutch”. The CBC Digital Archives Website. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Last updated: 30 April 2005. . [Accessed 7 Nov. 2007.]”Belgium.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 18 Nov. 2007 .
Canada. Veterans Affairs Canada.Canada-Netherlands/ Pays-Bas/ Nederland. CAN: Minister Veterans Affairs, 2005.
Greenhous, “Liberation of Holland.” The Canadian Encyclopedia . 2007.
Historica Foundation of Canada. 18 Nov 2007 .
Hillmer, Norman, and Owen Cooke, “Democracy at War – The Liberation of Netherlands, 1944-1945.” War Museum. 20 Aug 2004. Canadian War Museum. 19 Nov 2007 .
“Netherlands’ Princess Margriet born in Ottawa”. The CBC Digital Archives Website. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Last updated: 2 April 2007. . [Accessed 8 Nov. 2007.]
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