It was 76 years ago today that the Canadian Army accepted the surrender of German forces in Holland. When they were handing out assignments for the various allied forces after D-Day, Canada arguably got the short straw. The Canadian Army was assigned the task of freeing up the port of Antwerp and then liberating Holland. It meant fighting across flooded fields, canals and rivers in the miserable weather of the winter and spring of 1944-45.
Between October 1944 and May 1945, with fierce fighting and heavy loss of life, the Canadian military opened the Scheldt estuary and the port of Antwerp to Allied supplies, cleared much of the country of the enemy, and fed a Dutch people left starving by the Nazi occupier. In the western Netherlands, the 1st Canadian Corps, comprising the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division under the command of Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes, was responsible for the liberation of the area north of the Maas River. This region includes the major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, where the people were at the end of their endurance from the misery and starvation that had accompanied the “Hunger Winter.” Food supplies in the cities were exhausted, fuel had run out almost entirely, and transportation was virtually non-existent. Thousands of men, women, and children had perished.
An assault on Arnhem began on April 12, and, after two days of intense house-to-house fighting, the town was liberated. The 5th Canadian Armoured Division then dashed northward to the Ljsselmeer River, some 50 kilometres away, to cut off the enemy forces in Apeldoorn facing the 1st Canadian Division. The Canadians liberated Apeldoorn on April 17.
By April 28, the Germans in western Holland had been driven back to a line running roughly between Wageningen through Amersfoort to the North Sea, known as the Grebbe Line. On May 5, 1945 in Wageningen, the Germans surrendered to Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes and H.R.H. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, commander of the Dutch armed forces. Fighting ceased in western Holland, and several days later food supplies began to move through for the starving people. No part of Western Europe was liberated at a more vital moment than the west of the Netherlands, and the Canadian soldiers who contributed so immensely to that liberation were cheered and greeted with great joy. The bonds of friendship forged between Canada and the Netherlands stand strong to this day.
Such is the continuing gratitude towards Canadian veterans that school children in Wageningen write letters of appreciation every year to the dwindling ranks of Canadian vets. In the past the community would welcome the heroes with in-person visits but COVID had made that impossible this year.
The letters will go out this week. Each surviving vet will receive A personal letter written by a student of the SG Pantarijn school in Wageningen, a special Wageningen45 pin and a packet of flower seeds. Hamilton’s Argylls have sent the names of 4 veterans who were involved in the liberation of Holland.