Canadian liberators forged a lasting friendship in the Netherlands

Article / August 31, 2017 / Project number: 16-0151

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Canada’s military history is filled with courage and sacrifice. Since Confederation, two million Canadian sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen of many backgrounds have served Canada with distinction overseas. More than 100,000 of them have made the ultimate sacrifice. To help commemorate that heritage and mark Canada’s 150th year as a nation, we are presenting a series of stories to salute the bravery of our military predecessors who fought to defend Canadian values at home and abroad. In this installment, we look back at the Liberation of The Netherlands.

Ottawa, Ontario — The liberation of The Netherlands, one of Canada’s proudest Second World War moments, actually began in Belgium.

In September 1944, British and American soldiers were foiled in an attempt to take the Dutch town of Arnhem, which sits on the Rhine River and would have offered a fast route into Germany. Knowing a port would be needed to sustain the Allied advance, all eyes turned to Antwerp, Belgium.

The city itself was in Allied hands but not the 70-kilometre-long estuary of the Scheldt River, which connected it to the Atlantic. The First Canadian Army, a multi-national force led by Canadian Lieutenant-General Guy Simonds, was charged with clearing the way.

Movement was made difficult by the flat, damp, and sometimes flooded terrain but the area was clear by early November. Approximately 13,000 Allied troops were killed, wounded or captured in the battle, more than 6,000 of them Canadian.

For The First Canadian Army, the remainder of 1944 was spent patrolling the newly-captured Dutch front line and in occasional skirmishes with the Germans. They were back on offence in February 1945, assisting in efforts to push the enemy back and across the Rhine. History was made in March when the 1st Canadian Corps was moved to the region from Italy. This was not only the first time two Canadian Army corps had fought together but, with a combined troop strength of over 400,000, it was also the largest force ever to be led by a Canadian officer.

While other Allied forces pushed their way across the Rhine into Germany late in March, the First Canadian Army remained in the Netherlands to extinguish the last embers of German resistance. Though the effort was hampered by the destruction of roads, bridges and other key infrastructure by the Germans, the victorious Allies not only liberated the country but also made way for much-needed food deliveries to a starving population. More than 7,000 Canadians died in the effort.

What became known as “the hunger winter” gave way to “Canadian summer” and the friendship that formed between the Dutch and Canadians is still very present today in the form of the Nijmegen Marches, an international marching event held each year in The Netherlands, and during the annual Tulip Festival in Ottawa.

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