The Cowichan Valley’s Atty Terpstra will never forget when Canadian soldiers marched through her small town in the Friesland region of Holland 75 years ago.
Atty was just four years old when Holland was liberated from the Nazis at the end of the Second World War, but she vividly remembers the fear her family lived in for years while under German occupation.
She said her father was hiding from the Germans because he was afraid he would be sent to a Nazi work camp, and the family hid Jews from the Germans during the war and risked imprisonment, and even death, if they were discovered in the house.
“I remember how excited we were when the Canadian soldiers arrived in our town,” she said at the Duncan cenotaph on May 5 during a remembrance ceremony for the soldiers who died liberating her home country.
“I cry every time I think about. We were just so overwhelmed with joy. We wore little orange dresses [the national colour of Holland] and waved little flags. We were just so happy to see the Canadian soldiers.”
Atty and her husband Hans, who also lived in Holland when the country was liberated, wanted to place tulips at Duncan’s cenotaph on May 5 in a ceremony to thank Canada and mark the liberation to coincide with ceremonies in Holland, and gatherings of no more of five people are currently allowed during the COVID-19 crisis.
Greg Sumner, who is a volunteer chaplain for the Cowichan Valley’s Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 53, and George Brewster, a Canadian war veteran who fought to liberate the Netherlands, had been invited by Veterans Affairs Canada to attend the Dutch ceremonies this year before the trip was canceled due to the pandemic.
They joined forces with the Terpstras to mark the occasion in Duncan at the cenotaph on May 5, with the few participants ensuring they were two metres apart.
Hans was six years old at the time of the liberation, and he clearly remembers the thousands of captured German soldiers who were marched back to internment camps in Germany.
“The Canadian soldiers were handing out chocolates and cookies to the children and they made a big impression on me,” Hans said.
“The whole town where I lived was just absolutely thrilled and relieved and the excitement was contagious. I’ll never forget it.”
Brewster, 97, was a Spitfire pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force who fought in the skies above Holland during the liberation.
“I was right in the thick of it, and you could almost sense the despair of the German pilots when they realized they were losing the battle,” Brewster said.
“We knew we were fighting for a just cause because we were saving people from oppression and fear. We wouldn’t have fought otherwise. It was also a privilege to fight for the Dutch because they have a history of befriending and helping other peoples in the past. I’m here today to remember those who are not here.”