70th Liberation Trip by Keith Davidson

70th Anniversary Of The Liberation Of The Netherlands -1945-2015!

Welcome Again Veterans!

Every three years the Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band takes a trip some place. Something we all look forward to where we enjoy each others company in new surroundings. The trip we took to The Netherlands May 1st – 10th. was very, very special. The trip was not a sight seeing tour it was all about paying homage to our Canadian Veterans who liberated The Netherlands during W.W. II. It was an emotional trip in so many ways. A trip of a lifetime! Made you proud to be a Canadian for what our Vets did and to witness first hand how much love and respect Netherlands people have for them and for Canada. This was the last time that our Veterans – The Canadian Liberators will travel to the Netherlands to celebrate liberation and commemorate their fallen comrades with the Dutch people.  They have been doing it in the month of May every 5 years since 1985 but now they are all on average in their early to mid 90’s.

As a band we tried hard to do our part to enhance things at the celebrations in The Netherlands. We were in good shape. Our Pipe Major Jennifer Farrell had us practising twice a week for the last two months. We learned several new tunes with a military theme. We were good ambassadors for Kincardine and Legion Branch 183. We were lookin’ good and playin’ good! John McManus worked his butt off the past year as the organizer for our trip and was ably assisted by Dave Wilson Sr. A total of 42 people made the trip – 15 pipers, 10 drummers, 1 Drum Major, 10 colour party members and 6 spouses/friends.

Here are the things I learned and witnessed on our trip to The Netherlands and would like to share them with you Dear readers if you are interested. . . .

On Friday May 1st we arrived at Pearson Airport via bus at 8:00pm and flew out at 10:30pmarriving in Amsterdam at 5:30am our time but Dutch time 12 noon. It was a perfect flight on KLM Airlines. The attendants in their Royal Blue uniforms were awesome – the food and service was superb. There were many Vets on the flight and they were treated royally (as were we) . After take off the captain recognized the Veterans and warmly thanked them for liberating the Netherlands. The applause from all the rest of the 450 passengers on the 747 double decker 747 was very loud for the Vets. Just before we made our descent in to Amsterdam airport, flight staff asked Jennifer and Pipe Sergeant David Hamilton if they would pipe the Vets down from the blue skies in to the airport. They struck up their pipes and marched up the aisles playing When The Battle Is Over & Scotland the Brave to great applause. When the plane landed and taxied in to the terminal there were all kinds of firetrucks who sprayed the airplane with great arches of water as a salute to the Vets. As the passengers entered the lounge area of the airport the Veterans were met by the Mayor of Amsterdam, the Chief of The Netherlands Armed Forces and other dignitaries.

We then traveled by bus for two hours to our Host Town Almelo a city of 72,000 where we were dropped of at the Theatrehotel our home for the next nine days. We were met by The Town Crier and our Tour Co. Guides and treated to coffee and Almelo’s famous raisin bread. Later in the evening our hosts provided us with a magnificent hot buffet supper. We lucked out by being housed at the old European Theatrehotel – it had every amenity you could wish for, the food was superb and the place had oodles of ambience and charm. And . . .as a bonus it was located in the heart of the city where we could walk out of the hotel down narrow multi century old cobble stone streets to hundreds of old shops and stores that were only assessable to walkers, bicycles and scooters.

On Day 3 Sunday May 3rd. at 10 a.m. the Vets in our contingent received special commemoration medals from The Deputy Mayor in The Canada Room at a special reception. We then bussed for two hours to Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery where 2,361 Canadian soldiers are buried there row on row. We had the option of playing prior to the service as guests arrived for the ceremony but it was pouring rain so we didn’t play. The Ceremony Remembrance was very mov ing. All the many veterans were seated in the front rows. Laureen Harper wife of our Prime Minister gave a very nice speech. Ditto for 93 old Major Richard Rohmer a W.W.11 fighter pilot who reminisced about what The Veterans went through in the war. He also ripped Hitler and the atrocities his Nazis henchmen performed in the war. The Padre of the Canadian Forces gave a spirited speech – we were all in a bit of awe when he criticized The Minister of Veterans Affairs with The Minister The Hon. Erin O’Toole present, he also blasted The Supreme Court over some of their decisions of late (i.e prayers etc.). At the conclusion of the ceremony our band members placed 20 special Kincardine commemorative markers on the graves of Kincardine boys. Jennifer and piper Larry Whittle in their rain capes played a couple of tunes in front of one of the graves. That evening we had the night off and one of our elderly members thought he would make like everybody in Almelo and go biking around town. He rented a bike from the hotel and went exploring. One bike path led him to the gated entrance of a big estate. The gates were open so he biked in to take some pictures. When he returned the gates were locked shut before him. He was in a quandary because there was a moat all around the property filled with water – he was one lonely Canadian locked in with no cell phone!  He had to rap on doors to find the caretaker to let him out. Turned out the PRIVATE property belongs to Count Van Rechteren-Limpurg whose family has owned the property since the 16th. Century. He was told the gates lock automatically every night at 8:30p.m.

Day 4 Monday May 4th. we were off with 79 other buses for The Dutch Remembrance Day Commemorative Ceremony at The Holten Canadian War Cemetery where 1,430 Canadian soldiers are buried. The cemetery is all by itself away out in the country. We all needed clearance cards because Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet and our Prime Minister were attending. The Kincardine Scottish and The Mariposa Band from Orillia formed two honour guards opposite each other on the entrance walk leading in to and up to the very high memorial statue in the cemetery with the huge Netherlands and Canadian flags flying on each side. Each band would take turns playing tunes as the people walked in to the cemetery. We started playing at 10:30a.m. and didn’t finish until 11:45 a.m. 2,000 people passed by us on their way in. At 11:50a.m. a colour party led Princess Margriet and her husband, Prime Minister Steven Harper and Mrs. Harper, The Canadian Ministers of Defence and Veterans Affairs Hon. Jason Kenny and Erin O’Toole, Mayor of Holten and many other dignitaries up the long walkway to the memorial statue. All the veterans were seated in the front rows. 100 Canadian soldiers were standing at attention in the background. Many speeches were given by the dignitaries and every one of the speakers honoured the Veterans in their opening remarks. Our Prime Minister gave an excellent speech re the fight for freedom. A Dutch M.P. was the guest speaker – he addressed his remarks in Dutch to all the school children present about the importance of living in freedom and to always be vigilant. Three school children took turns reading the poem “The Train Whistle” and blowing a big whistle at appropriate times. Canadian and Dutch youth read off a “Commitment to Remember”. Dignitaries laid huge, beautiful, magnificent wreaths constructed of flowers. It was particularly moving when a hundred school children quickly and efficiently placed a bouquet of 10 yellow baby roses at each and every burial plot in the cemetery. The Victoria Children’s Choir sang “The Brave Sons of Canada” and “In Flanders Fields”. School children presented Her Highness Princess Married with the Canadian flag. The music provided during the ceremony was absolutely wonderful. During the ceremony a helicopter made several passes over the crowd below and dropped thousands of red poppies. After the ceremony the pick up point for all the pipe bands is 500 yards along a narrow road in a bush. As we wait for our #6 bus of the other 79 buses we line up on either side of the road and play a tune. Next thing we know several of the other pipe band have joined as and play along with us. We have an impromptu concert in the bush. The Vets love it – they line up behind us – some standing, some leaning on their walkers and some in their wheel chairs but all of them clapping. One Vet dances in the street as we played. Many wanted their pictures taken with a piper or a drummer. A great memory for all of us.

That evening we play at a beautiful century old hospital chapel venue called Hof 88. The Mayor of Almelo gives a nice speech thanking all the Vets in the front rows. Two high school students give speeches. Place was full of people. Band plays several tunes. The band then went outside and formed up behind 3 Dutch military drummers. who lead us in a “Silent Walk” six blocks through the city center to Almelo’s Remembrance Monument for a Remembrance Ceremony. There are hundreds of people present. The City Brass Band plays several hauntingly beautiful old hymns from time to time during the ceremony and several times the crowd hums along with them – very moving. The M.C. says Dankje! Dankje! Dankje! (Thank You) to the many Veterans sitting in the front rows. A Men’s choir sings “Here’s To The Heroes” all the time looking at The Vets – beautiful!  the KIncardine Scottish plays several tunes. At exactly 8pm sharp the first part only of the Last Post is played – there is then dead silence for a very long time with only the song birds singing in the background – sort of symbolic re peace! Both National Anthems are played and sung proudly. Wreath laying takes place – wreaths are huge and made from beautiful flowers. At the conclusion children come out of the crowd to lay single flowers at the cenotaph – touching! It was a much longer march this night than we had expected. Jennifer is still recovering from her broken leg but thought she would take her walking cast off so she would not have to swing it as she marched. A car is arranged to take Jennifer back to our hotel to spare her having to walk another six blocks. All of us are in awe how our P.M. has been able to march in every parade so far.  She is tough!

Day 5 Tuesday May 5th. At 10am we march from our hotel a block to the market square. We are then led by The Town Crier, bikers decked out in blue and yellow and several motor cyclists a few blocks to Almelo’s City Hall to The Liberation Memorial for The Celebration Of Liberation. Mayor Willem Urlings gives a stirring speech first warmly welcoming the Netherlands liberators – the Canadian Veterans and thanking them. The theme in his speech – ‘Those Who Close Their Eyes To The Past, Are Blinded To The Future”. He mentioned that during the war 250 Jews from Almelo never returned. Their names are engraved on Memorial plates on this square so that their names will never be forgotten. To-day Jewish life has virtually disappeared from the city according to the Mayor. He said we must never get used to freedom and that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. He then lit the Freedom Torch passed it to two children who passed it to other dignitaries and then back to the Mayor who climbed a ladder and lit the liberation fire caldron shaped like a giant torch. Impressive! We then marched a block over to the new town hall (not opened officially yet) for a reception hosted by  the mayor. More raisn bread. Yum!

At noon we depart for the city of Wageningen where the declaration of surrender was signed at the conclusion of W.W.11. There is a torrential rain which delays the parade for an and a half. When things clear there is a Lancaster bomber making passes over the city followed by 4 spitfire planes . When I see the Lancaster I think of my old friend Nute Cuyler who was a tail gunner in one of them on many missions. Nute made it back home to KIncardine but carried shrapnel in his leg from enemy fire for the rest of his life.. There are all kinds of brass bands and pipe bands present warming up – 25 in total. The Burlington Teen Band lets out one loud ear popping drum beat never heard before. Just prior to the parade starting a Sesna plane drops thousands and thousands of tulip petals down on the crowd – the petals symbolize the bread drops in the War. The parade starts and there are thousands and thousands of people of all ages lining the narrow streets 6 deep. It’s very moving – the people clapping and cheering remind me of the news reels at the movie theatres when our soldiers paraded and rode in army vehicles on these same streets at the end of the war. At the center of the parade at the dignitary platform as we pass by Major General Richard Rohmer in his distinguished W.W. 11 Air Forse uniform climbs down and walks out on the street and shakes hands with piper Leslie Ray. The General’s daughter Ann Rohmer and Leslie were summer time pals growing up at Bruce Beach. The parade is an hour long. John McManus’ pedometer on his smart phone says that we have marched just over 5 miles so far this day. Jennifer put her walking cast back on to-day and does not miss a single step along the march. Gutsy lady!

In the evening we travelled to the city of Zutphen for another parade. Prior to the parade we were treated to a great hot meal (steak, veal cutlets) at a beautiful old restaurant. Hundreds of people came out to line the streets of this old city for the parade. The city was hit hard in the war by the Germans. The city water tower still stands on the parade route – it is gigantic – six or seven stories high and made of cement. German snipers used the small windows away up high in the tower to pick people off during the war. After the long parade in Wageningen my bad knee was killing me so the P.M. let me sit out this the 3rd parade of the day. I lucked out – I rode in the parade in the passenger side of a restored small 1924 bus (wood panelling on sides and interior) while six Canadian ladies sat in the back singing O Canada and waving their flags.

Day 6 Wednesday May 6th. This was our one and only “day off” so most of us went on a bus to Amsterdam to take in the sights at the old historic city. Our water canal tour  in the center of the city via a scenic tour boat was fantastic. Amsterdam has 100’s of miles of waterway “streets” (canals) that it’s 800,000 inhabitants use from time to time. Our boat must have gone under 100 arched bridges that pedestrians and bikers use. Each waterway is lined with beautiful 17th. -century townhouses three and four stories high. Most of the homes still have a hook mounted near the eaves, part of a pulley system to haul furniture and wares to upper levels. People love the historical atmosphere and the fact you are near Amsterdam’s opera and museums. The captain pointed out Ann Frank’s house as we padded by it. All along the waterways are old boats and ships of every size, shape and vintage which people use as year round house boats. Most are legal – they get hydro and water from the city and in turn pay taxes. The waterways are a photographer/artist’s delight – I must have snapped 50 pictures on my camera.

After the boat tour everyone went their merry way exploring things around the city center. We sampled Amsterdam’s famous French fries with mayonnaise . . Young Nathan Smith bought wooden shoes – Keith and Jennifer bought a few big bungs of gouda cheese in a cheese house that had bungs of cheese piled up 12′ to the ceiling.  The wee group I was with sampled some great European beer in a quaint old pub along one of the waterway streets and then we went window shopping along several of the old cobblestone streets. I left our group to visit the world famous 18th. century Riiki Museum where Rembrandt’s and several other Dutch Master artists paintings are displayed. The museum has just opened again after being restored for ten years. Viewed Rembrandts “Night Watch” painting and several of his other paintings. Bought some souvenirs there for my artist daughter Cathy D. Visited Van Goths museum too but as soon as I entered it the place was closing up for the day. What a day! I love Amsterdam!

Some trivia for you . . . In the Netherlands there are no screens on doors or windows because they have no bugs! . . . .the Netherlands (at least the area we were in) is very, very flat out in the country side with green, green fields and nice looking dark brown arable earth. . . . people over there don’t like to hear that they live in Holland – Holland is a province so they like to say they live in the Netherlands . . . the buses we travelled on were luxury buses with nothing but windows, comfortable seats with all kinds of leg room and the bathroom was in the middle of the bus down two steps next to a side door . . . .lots of times on the bus it was lunch time so our hosts gave us each a yummy bag lunch consisting of a ham on a bun, a cheese on a bun and a raisin bread bun, an apple, a chocolate bar and a fruit box drink. I always ate every bit of mine because I was so hungry after being on march in the morning . . . In Holten cemetery Terry Reid found Frank Hall’s gravesite and placed a special band commemorative marker on it. Frank grew up in The Hall “Green” House across the road from him on Huron Terrace . . . . Leslie Ray’s hobby is the study of Royalty so instead of going to Amsterdam with us she visited the town where Wilhem Kaiser King of Germany is buried in his estate mansion grounds. He was Queen Victoria’s grandson and was exiled to the Netherlands after WWI . . . . .one of the tunes we play is The 10th. Highland Light Infantry Crossing The Rhine. While traveling on our bus one day it was pointed out that we were just 50 miles from where the crossing g took place. Neat eh? . . . . . .7700 Canadians have been laid to rest in the Netherlands most of them at at one of the three major cemeteries Berfgen op Zoom, Groesbeek and Holten.

Day 7 Thursday May 7th. This morning we paraded from our hotel down to Almelo’s Market Square where all kinds of booths were set up on the street for their weekly market. We played in two locations and broke off at 11:30am where we were invited in to a pub for free beer (again). A beautiful young lady in a period dress gave all the ladies in the band a single rose. She also toured up and down the street giving roses to other ladies and she offered everybody a shiny wrapped chocolate from her basket. . . . . .Zahns Fish Mongers had all kinds of fresh fish for sale. They gave everybody in the band free fried fish in a box. Yum! The Town Crier was right beside me and he tried some raw herring lathered in diced up onions. The herring had the back bone, innards, fins and skin removed and the two fillets were still attached at the tail He held the fish up by the tail, tilted his head away back and dropped the herring in to his mouth and started eating it.  When in Rome do as The Romans do so I tried the raw herring too. It was delicious. I kid you not!  Renee The Town Crier says that eating fresh raw herring is the way the Dutch get their vitamins and their blood thinned.

In the afternoon we travel to the town of Nijverdal and the Oorlog en Vrede Museum. We are given a very wonderful reception. In his welcome to TheVets the mayor says “we live in peace because of the Canadian boys”. The food they serve us is decadent – pudding bread – Danish bread with fruit on top – lemon cake – buns with ham/cheese, coffee and tea. And lots of free beer (again!). Our museum visit is an unforgettable experience. The museum is set-up as a theme park where visitors can walk through and feel history of the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the liberation of Europe in 1945. You can experience what it is was like to be a soldier in a German bunker during the Allied invasion of Normandy. We could feel the earth shudder as bombs and shells fall around you. We entered the chilling barracks of a concentration camp. There was all kinds of pictures and information about Ann Frank and what she and her family went through.  The museum wanted to keep memories alive about the war but also to say “this, never again!”

In the evening all the shops in Almelo were open till 9pm so we had fun visiting them to do a little shopping and to visit some of the pubs and eateries.

Day 8 Friday May 8th. Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band made history to-day. We played at no less than 5 gigs! In the morning and the afternoon we played at 4 different Senior Centres in Almeno and some surrounding villages.   We were well received and after each performance we received raisin bread and a beer (again). At one of the complexes we received a wonderful hot meal. In the evening we marched and played through the town of Wierden’s down town. 100’s of citizens came out to cheer the Vets present. And of course after the parade another beer (again) for us. The people in The Netherlands are so generous. Just before leaving Wierden’s some of Nathan’s Smith’s fans are waving like mad to him on the bus. Nathan grabs his pipes from the overhead rack, leaves the bus and plays a tune for the young ladies. As the bus pulls away his fans are still waving to Nathan.

Some More Trivia. Netherlands people are really friendly, very hospitable, polite, generous, respectful of others , fun loving and they really, really like Canadians. It’s reciprocal -really we like them too. . . . My dad was a Vet and a strong, long time Legion man. Every time I got a chance to shake the hand of a Veteran I did and thanked them for their service to our country.  I think I must have shook the hand of at least 50 Vets. What an honour to do so… . . …. . I think it would be nice once Kincardine gets natural gas to have a  12′ high liberation torch caldron monument like Almelo does and place it at the Municipality’s cenotaph at the Legion and light it for the day on special occasions . . . . When you buy a cup of tea in the Netherlands you get a small bisquet or cookie to go with it. . . . . . In the Netherlands everybody rides a bicycle. Their bikes are heavy duty, the handlebars are up a little higher than our bikes so you sit upright to peddle. They have 7 or 8 gears and a simple turn of your right hand on the handlebar gears activates them quickly and quietly. When you leave your bike unattended you have a key you insert and turn under the seat which locks up the back wheel so it won’t turn. Some bikes have a heavy frame plate on the front or back (or both) and you can transport a passenger – hence the name “double Dutch”. . . . . It rains quite a bit in The Netherlands but it never seems to last long . . . .the raisin bread over there is to die for – they use both raisins and currants combined in the moist bread and you get 4X’s as much as you do inCanada. Dave Hamilton seldom eats bread but over in the Netherlands he could not get enough raisin bread. Me too – I don’t know what is better the raisin bread or the beer – think they are both tied for first. . . .

Day 9 Saturday May 9th. Our final parade. It’s at Apeldoorn a city of 122,000 people. Only 6 bands have been invited to participate in this parade and we are one of them. Many vintage old army vehicles. The parade takes a little over an hour. Sun is out, my tunic is soaked wet at the finish. Jennifer swings her black walking cast in time to the lilt of her kilt. Huge banners along the parade route that say “HELLO AGAIN”. many signs on buildings say “Thank You Boys”. Thousands of people line the streets, many waving Canadian flags.The Veterans travel in open,no roof old jeeps. Thunderous applause as they pass by. People of all ages reach out to touch a Vets hand. At the Olympic size Veledrome (racing bikes) the finish of the Canadian Liberation Festival takes place. 6 Pipe Bands including The KSPB march in behind each other as a massed band (150 pipes and drums). As we play and enter the building I get a lump in my throat as we see about 5,000 people standing and cheering for The Vets up along the whole one side of the Veledrome. We played ‘When The Battle’s O’r’ and “The Green Hills of Tyrol’ non stop for at least fifteen minutes as the 150 Veterans accompanied by school children are brought in and seated in the front rows around the big stage. Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet was in attendance along with many other dignitaries. The program was fantastic – it was  “Liberation By Music” with The Royal Netherlands Air Force Band and it’s 48 musicians performing. What beautiful music! I have never heard/seen anything quite like what we did this day.

In the evening A Farewell Party Evening was held in the Canada Room at The Theaterhotel. An absolutely wonderful buffet meal was served with every kind of food you could imagine. It was awesome! Non stop beer and wine was served. Two lady hairdressers provided great entertainment as they sang old W.W. II vintage songs to the Vets and they did ladies hair at the same time. They were good! Several ladies in the band took the opportunity to have their hair done and serenaded to at the same time. The Legion Colour Party performed a neat singing skit as did the Millarton Group from The KSPB. John McManus and Dave Wilson presented gifts from the band to our wonderful guides/hosts for our stay – Jos, Ron and Joke. Joan Macintosh played our signature tune on the pipes – Will Ye No Come Back Again and Leslie sang it so beautifully. The evening wound up with everybody singing “We’ll Meet Again”. A fun night!

More Trivia. . . . .You don’t see any chubby kids or adults in the Netherlands. No wonder! They walk and bicycle all over the place all the time – they leave their cars at home. It’s hard to find a can of coke/pepsi to buy over there. . . . many Netherlands people are tall and statuesque – well over 6 ft. both women and men. The women are gorgeous and the men are handsome. . . . . when you flush a toilet in the Netherlands you just lean back with your back on to a recessed plate . . . you pay an attendant to use public toilets over there (not for us though they gave us a freebie sticker) . . . Lisa Moore’s pedometer calculated that she had walked 17,000 steps one day . . . .Lisa’s pedometer informed her that she had walked the equivalent of 80 kilometres (110,000 steps) for the week. That’s like marching up to Port Elgin and back . . . .The complimentary buffet breakfasts we received each morning were to die for. You would not believe what a selection of delicious and nutritious food we had. . . . .The Almelo Town Crier Renne Coupee is a great guy. There are 500 Town Criers in Europe all the way from Finland to England and he is the current European Champion. He was at most of our events ringing his bell and introducing us to audiences. I think that Kincardine should consider obtaining a Town Crier to perform at special events. A good choice would be Scott Telford our KSPB Drum Major.  He has a loud voice he can project, a mace, a Kincardine tartan kilt and all kinds of Scottish regalia. All he needs is a big Town Crier hat, a long handled bell and a big tartan shawl to go over his shoulders. “Tip” watched Renee perform for ten days and he has had all kinds of practise shouting out to the crowds on Saturday nights in the summers. He would be a natural. . . . If my calculations are correct The Kincardine Scottish Pipe Band marched 17 times (some short, some long) during our stay in The Netherlands May 2-10th. A good way to walk off all the raisin bread we ate.. . . .to watch the parade in Apeldoorn May 9 go to the web https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cU7eDzbo7I4. The K.S.P.B. march past starts at the 19 minute mark.

Day 10 Saturday May 10th. Farewell Almelo and The Netherlands! We flew out of The Amsterdam airport on The KLM airlines at 6pm Dutch time and arrive back at Pearson Airport at 9:00pm our time. It was another perfect flight. I lucked out again and had another exit seat on the wing – no body sitting ahead of me. There was a young 15 yr. old girl sitting behind me, I asked her what her favourite moment was on her trip – she said sitting beside her Great Grandfather, a Vet in the jeep during the parade in Apeldoorn.The Captain thanked the Veterans on board again – once again there was a huge cheer for them from all the passengers. All the attendants were 6′ or over and looked striking in their royal blue uniforms – a final reminder about the tallest people on earth. We arrived back in good ol’ Kincardine at 1:00a.m.

What a lifetime trip! We will have memories forever of The 70th. Anniversary of The Liberation Of The Netherlands.  O Veterans! O Canada!  O Netherlands! O Kincardine!

Slainte Mhath!

R.Keith Davidson


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.