Wageningen – The 70th Anniversary Liberation Parade
In the last post I described an idyllic day in Arnhem, Holland enjoying the Netherlands Outdoor Museum, while the rest of the group was hobnobbing with Prime Minister Harper. Today we’ll all enjoy the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Holland parade in Wageningen. Please join us.
Wageningen, a small city in northern Holland might seem like an unlikely place to be the penultimate destination for Liberation Tour 2015, but the reality is that from the moment we stood on the shores of Juno Beach we were fated to end up here. Wageningen holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Canadians and the Dutch for it was here, on May 5, 1945 German troops surrendered to Canadian troops commanded by General Charles Foulkes.
Now we, along with thousands of others are descending on Wageningen to mark the 70th anniversary of that day that will forever bind Canada and Holland in friendship and gratitude. Pieter, our imperturbable bus driver, does an excellent job of navigating the traffic and delivers us to our debarkation point well ahead of most other arriving buses. The plan is to explore the city on our own and meet up in the early afternoon at our reserved seating for the parade that will start at 3:00.
The site that greets us as we leave the bus is amazing. The first thing I notice is this young man wearing this tee-shirt. This is the first of many signs we will see today that indicate just how much the Dutch appreciate the sacrifices we made to rid them of the Nazi tyranny.
Spread out before us, in what I presume is usually a park, is a scene literally right out of WWII – an encampment of volunteers wearing clothing from and acting as if we were somehow teleported back 70 years to May, 1945. I knew that these type of encampments are popular with U.S. Civil War buffs, but never really thought about them in the context of WWII.
This intrepid machine gunner lies in wait for any approaching Germans.
While these British troops gather around a foxhole.
If I ever saw a guy who could play Sergeant Rock from the old comic book series it’s this guy on the left.
It was frankly amazing how many vehicles, artillery, equipment and uniforms from the WWII era were on display here today at Wageningen encampment, most seemingly in good working order.
The old Canadian red ensign was flying proudly over one group of Canadian re-enactors.
And Andre, our always cheerful Dutch-Canadian from Calgary, was busy handing out versions of our modern flag to Dutch families who were mingling with the many Canadian tourists and vets who were starting to appear as their buses arrived at Wageningen.
We had been provided with lunch vouchers before leaving the bus and after picking up our lunch bags in a very hot and crowded mess tent ate outside at one of the many tables set up among the army tents and encampments. It was somewhat surreal sitting there and watching young men and women in WWII uniforms mix with some of the actual vets who had worn these same uniforms some 70 years before. I was pleasantly surprised at how hale and hardy many of the vets were considering that most would be in their 90’s. To be sure many were frail and and some wheel chair bound, but I didn’t see one that didn’t look happy to be here, including this moustachioed Dutch vet.
After lunch we had time to wander around Wageningen which is now a university and technology town with a focus on green energy. The older city centre had numerous stages that were being set up for the festivities to come that night, but right now all thoughts were on the parade that was to begin shortly. It would start back at the encampment and make its way into the city centre and then back to the encampment. Liberation Tour 2015 had secured reserved seating on a small grandstand and we took our places near the front row. Tour leader John Cannon and first lieutenant Lauren Alliston held out a banner proclaiming our presence at this momentous event.
The Wageningen Liberation Parade
For our part we rolled out a Canadian flag to wave as the vets marched by.
To keep the crowd amused as we waited for the parade to arrive there were flyovers by some vintage aircraft including this Stirling bomber.
And the Wageningen crowd just kept on getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It was hard to imagine that a parade could make its way through this sea of humanity.
Eventually we could hear the skirling of a massed pipe band as it led the parade our way.
And then came the vets, returning to Wageningen after a seventy year absence.
The cheering and clapping was thunderous and clearly the vets were pleased to be so well received 70 years to the day after they accepted the German surrender.
And the bands kept coming. I have pictures of ten of them, but there were many more.
Here is a Canadian band with the Nova Scotia flag, the first we have seen since the one tied to a tree at L’Abbeye Ardenne where over a dozen Nova Scotian prisoner were murdered by the SS.
As the Wageningen parade went on the crowds moved closer and closer to the passing vets who were saluting the cheering crowd.l. It was a touching sight even if I was a bit concerned about one of the vets falling out.
Others were leaning over and touching the hands of young children who were mobbing the passing vehicles. Now I was worried one of them might get run over, but thankfully there were no mishaps from vets or kids, just mutual admiration.
The old expression ” Everybody loves a parade” was never truer thaeat this time and place. About halfway through I realized that I and most others on the Liberation Tour 2015 had tears in their eyes as we clapped and cheered. But these were not the tears of sorrow that were in no shortage on this trip as we visited battlefield after battlefield and cemetery after cemetery. These were tears of joy and celebration as we feted these men who fought and survived to return here so many years later. This is the inevitable end of the road for Liberation Tour 2015 and it ends on an incredibly high note as we share with the Dutch the love of these men who offered their lives to save the people of a country thousands of miles from home.
While we Canadians like to think of ourselves as peacekeepers, we must never forget that at many times and many places we have acted as peacemakers in wars we did not start or cause. While Jesus reputedly said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”, I know that these Canadian peacemakers will forever be honoured as the saviours of the Dutch.
Liberation Tour 2015 continues on to Amsterdam where no war related activities will take place so this will be the final post in this series on the tour itself. There will be one final post summarizing the reasons why we were all so glad that we chose Liberation Tours to make this necessary pilgrimage.