One aging veteran wept Friday as grateful Dutch officials honoured Canadian sacrifices in liberating the Netherlands from German rule 70 years ago.
In an emotional tribute, Dutch military attaché Lt.-Col. Christa Oppers presented pins of thanks to 25 veterans at the Colonel Belcher care centre, ex-warriors who’d delivered their country from the Nazis during the Second World War’s harsh, last winter.
Oppers said her own family still hold close memories of the arrival of Canadian and other Allied troops in 1944-45.
“My grandfather told my father ‘those guys jumping are going to liberate us,’ ” said Oppers of Allied paratroopers, before gesturing to the veterans in front of her. “That was you.”
One of those paratroopers, Wilfred Laroche of the Canadian First Airborne Battalion, recalled comrades who never made it home, but also of the victory. “We went right through the Netherlands into Germany,” said Laroche, 90. Enjoying the thanks of the Dutch isn’t something new to him, said the ex-paratrooper, tears streaming down his face. “I spent nine years in Germany after the war — I liked going over to Holland,” said Laroche.
Ev Offet, 90, recalled not only liberating the Dutch but helping to free Allied airmen made PoWs. “I had to go across a river, we needed to know how many prisoners there were,” Offet said.
The chance to honour the Canadian veterans is winding down, with nearly all now in their 90s, said Honorary Dutch Consul Irene Bakker. “We want to do it now, to express this gratitude,” she said.
About 7,600 Canadians died fighting in the Netherlands.
- Irene Bakker, Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (R), shakes hands with Wilfred Laroche (L) in Calgary, Alta on Friday December 12, 2014. Twenty Five veterans were decorated at the Carewest Colonel Belcher veteran's hospital and decorated by the military attache of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Nethelands and Bakker, the Honorary Consulof the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2014-15 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, where Canadian troops played a pivotal role in 1944-45.