May 2020 – 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands

To mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands on May 4th & 5th, lots of events and commemorations were planned and the last surviving veterans were due to come over, organized and paid for by the Canadian government. At the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery , we had been given permission to place the photographs of the soldiers that we had, in front of their graves for the festivities. They were to be printed and mounted on a metal frame so that they wouldn’t blow over and would be resistant to rain. We had been raising money and searching for good quality pictures and had over a 1000 of the 2618 buried there.

Charles Joseph Searle
Placing tulips at the grave of Charles Joseph Searle

Then Covid-19 happened and all the trips, travel plans, ceremonies, marches and wreath laying events had to be cancelled. It was such a huge disappointment to so many. In British Columbia the Dutch Liberation 2020 Canadian Society had also been planning many events and because of the restrictions, they gave out 5000 bunches of tulips to front line workers, WW II veterans and residents in senior care. They also arranged for 2700 bunches of tulips to be delivered to Groesbeek on the Friday afternoon before Remembrance Day. It took the volunteers two days, in blazing sun and torrential downpours, to place a beaker with a bunch of tulips at every grave and in front of the Wall of Remembrance. And of course, a week later, it all had to be cleared away to make sure that the Cemetery kept its pristine appearance.

Remembrance Day, Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, May 2020
Remembrance Day, Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, May 2020

As I was placing the bouquets at each grave, I talked to the soldiers buried there. I told them about the Corona virus and the restrictions it imposed on all of us, of how we couldn’t honor them in the way that we wanted and I thanked them for their sacrifice. During those two days, I walked up and down every row, talking as I went. I knew that some of the volunteers also planned to go back on Remembrance Day and pay their respects but I couldn’t stop thinking about all the soldiers who are buried in small cemeteries throughout the country. Who would thank them? Would they all be paid the respect they deserved? It really upset me to think that they had fought so hard and given so much and due to a stupid virus, they couldn’t be visited by family members, comrades and veterans. So I decided that I would visit all of them on behalf of their families. I would thank them for what they did and let them know that they will NEVER be forgotten.

I don’t know why it upset me so much. I don’t have a military family or anyone who died during WWII. I think it was because I was so touched by the stories from the two families in Guelph and how Covid-19 forced all of us to think about our frailty and our own humanity.

Remembering Canadian Fallen, May 2020
Remembering Canadian Fallen, May 2020

I had no idea what a huge task I had set myself. There are three large, dedicated Canadian Cemeteries that are managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and 186 other locations throughout the country where Canadian soldiers are buried. With the help of google maps, my first task was to download the data, locate the actual street addresses of the cemeteries (strangely, the CWGC website doesn’t give that information) and start to plot where they all were. It was a lot of work and took many days. Sometimes, the names of the villages or burial places didn’t match with current names or it wasn’t clear which graveyard within a town was the correct one. Quite some detective work was needed!
Since we were encouraged to stay local because of Covid, I began with the cemeteries close by.

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