Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Liberation Day in The Netherlands

On May 5, 1945 the First Canadian Army was largely responsible for the liberation of the Netherlands. British troops, American airborne divisions, and Polish troops were also a part of this, causing the German forces to capitulate. Each year, The Netherlands celebrates Bevrijdingsdag or Liberation Day. It really begins, however, the day before with Dodenherdenking, or The Remembrance of the Dead, on May 4th.

This is my second year taking part in these memorial occasions. I still find it overwhelming to think that the Dutch people had to endure five years of occupation and all the horror that comes with it. My knowledge of world history around this period of time is fairly good, but I have always seen it through British eyes. Seeing it through an occupied people's eyes, however, changes the perspective greatly. I think about how there was no food. Anywhere. At least in Britain, the food that was grown could be kept and used at home, or sent to the armed forces. In occupied Europe, all the food went to the occupiers. This was the case in Germany too: all the food went the Wehrmacht.

I make a point about the food because it occurred to me that while one would feel utter outrage and indignation at being occupied, it is in fact when you become hungry that you feel the real grasp of war.

Flight Sgt Barham, 22, Wireless Operator RAF
I like to spend this time with family, one reason being so I can ask questions and hear the stories from that time. I think my generation has a sort of morbid fascination with the Second World War. Everything changed after it, and I think we are still, even now, attempting to understand it all. On the island of Terschelling there is a beautiful military cemetery. After the war people were assigned graves to look after. Sixty-nine years later, this still continues. We lay flowers on the grave and make sure they are looking smart.

It is heartbreaking to read how young they all were. Nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two. Boys, really. The German, French, and American soldiers have all been repatriated, but much like the fields in France and Belgium, the other Allied forces decided to let them lay in peace. There are boys from the RAF, shot down near the island. Royal Navy boys too, drowned in the icy waters of the North Sea. Australian, Polish, and New Zealand Air Forces. They all are there together.

Commemoration Wreaths - Terschelling
We marched along the cobbled streets, through the village to the cemetery, the flags all at half mast. The band played patriotic tunes, and at 8pm there was a two minute silence to remember those who died in the war and since then...all those mother's sons. They played the Last Post, which always puts my heart in my throat. The burgemeester and his wife lay a wreath, and members of the police, coastguard, and army also lay wreaths. The flag of The Netherlands and of Terschelling were raised to full mast. We sang the National Anthem. This is a service that is echoed across the country. The largest service is, of course, in Amsterdam. There, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima lay a wreath at National Monument at the Dam Plein. It is a solemn time, but as ever, I cannot help but feel overwhelming gratitude towards those men. Our family has a story; our neighbours have their stories - every single man, woman and child in Europe was affected by this war. The sheer scope of it all is unbelievable.

Memorial - Terschelling
May 5th, is more of a celebration, with music festivals and parades up and down the country. In Amsterdam there is a huge concert that takes places right on the river Amstel. The King and Queen attend this too, with visiting dignitaries. The concert has all the favourite tunes, poems are read, and the night always ends with a rousing rendition of, "We'll Meet Again", which the whole crowd sings at the top of their lungs. Quite lovely, and a great end to a weekend of remembering and commemoration. It is, I think, important to remember, and I am always humbled by the respect that is shown.