If the poppy commemorates Canada’s fallen soldiers dating back to the First World War, Sidney is among many Canadian communities remembering the nation’s special friendship with the Netherlands forged during war by planting tulips, that country’s national flower.
With Remembrance Day less than three weeks away, children from Sidney Elementary School joined veterans, a First Nations representatives, local dignitaries including Coun. Chad Rintoul, and members of the Mary Winspear Centre to plant several rows of Liberation Tulips in preparation for the 75th anniversary of V-E (Victory in Europe) Day on May 8, 2020.
Kenny Podmore, a member of the executive of Branch 37 of the Royal Canadian Legion (Saanich Peninsula), said the project emerged out of a partnership between the Royal Canadian Legion and the Dutch Society of Canada and commemorates Canada’s contribution towards the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi Germany.
Podmore, who coordinated the event, said it was also a way to help children learn about Remembrance Day specifically and the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers.
“Every year, hand on my heart, I can say that there are more people coming each year [to Remembrance Day], and the most gratifying part for me are the young people who attend,” he said. “It’s the young people who will have to keep these commemorations going when others have moved on to better places.”
He said later that it is important to talk to children about this part of Canada’s past. “It’s important that we talk to the children, and let them know why we have such a beautiful life in Canada,” he said. “If it weren’t for our fallen soldiers, men and women, we wouldn’t have the life that we have here in Canada.”
The Dutch certainly appreciate the Canadian contribution.
Large sections of the Netherlands, along with Norway, Denmark and smaller sections of other European countries, were among the last German-occupied territories when the Second World War reached its conclusion in May 1945.
Historians have noted that the war was especially grim for the Netherlands. Neutral during the First World War, the Dutch were among the first victims of German aggression during the Second World War and among the last to shed their German occupiers. Almost exactly five years passed between the German invasion of May 10, 1940 and the formal surrender of German troops in the Netherlands on May 5, 1945.
German revenge following a failed Allied attempt to liberate the Netherlands in September 1944 condemned the small country to the Hongerwinter of 1944-1945 that killed tens of thousands through starvation, and it was not until the pending military defeat of German forces, mainly at the hands of Canadian troops, that international aid agencies could supply the population with the necessities of life in late April, early May 1945.
While not a decisive front to the overall war, Canada’s contribution to the liberation of the Netherlands at an estimated cost of 7,600 soldiers (about 18 per cent of Canadian losses during the war) has forged a strong friendship between the two countries that has continued afterwards through political and familial ties. This friendship actually began in May 1940 when the Dutch Royal Family and government evacuated to Canada following the German invasion and Princess Margriet, the third daughter of then-Queen Juliana and German-born Prince Bernhard, was born in Ottawa on Jan. 19, 1943.
And in a way, the commemorative connection between the poppy as the symbol of Canadian remembrance and the tulip as a symbol of friendship and gratitude knows no bounds. While John McCrae composed his iconic poem In Flanders Fields with its poppy reference while on the frontlines of northwestern Belgium during the First World War, the Flanders region cited in the poem extends across three countries: France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
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