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Laborious searches at last reestablish Liberation Day friendship
War veteran calls Dutch resistance man a life-saver
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
LANGLEY, British Columbia Ė Jack Somerset remembers it vividly. A young Dutchman at the entrance of the old Groningen town of Warffum kept frantically waving until the advancing Canadian tanks finally came to a stop. The tank commanders listened to the excited civilian who warned them they were heading into an enemy trap farther down the road. The English-speaking man, who belonged to the Resistance, then showed them a route to attack the Germans from the rear.
The gunner of the Lord Strathcona Royal Canadian 5th divisionís B-squadron, who by then had been away from his Winnipeg home for four years, still gets emotional about the April 1945 life saving intervention by Johannes Winkel, an Amsterdam born agricultural college student, then working on an area farm.
Happy to have found someone who could speak English and who knew the area, the Canadians drafted Winkel as a uniformed liaison, and attached him to Somersetís unit.
On a personal level, Jack Somerset and Johannes Winkel soon became friends who spent time together. When Winkel wanted to go home to Amsterdam to visit his family, his parents and two younger brothers after an absence of about eight months, Jack Somerset arranged a 72-hour leave from the army to accompany him as his personal chauffeur. Somersetís visit to the Winkels is still remembered fondly.
Since then, Johannes Winkelís younger brother Willem, then a fourth-year high school student (at the HBS), has often wondered what had become of Jack, the Canadian, who had slept in his bed during the late May 1945 visit.
Unbeknownst to the Winkels, Jack Somerset had been back to the Netherlands on a number of special occasions but never was able to trace his old friends. With the years passing by, Somerset approached an exhibitor at the Dutch pavilion at the 2005 Abbotsford Airshow if he knew of a way to trace Johannes Winkel. As he had heard before from others, the answer was not very encouraging, but to his great delight produced results within weeks.
The Liberator of Warffum never got to see his Dutch lifesaver again but he did talk to him. Johannes Winkel has since passed away. After the funeral, one of Johannesí sons casually mentioned to his Uncle Willem, who immigrated to the USA in 1956, that he had noticed a letter on his fatherís desk from a Canadian war veteran. Toch niet van Jack? The nephew was not certain but could not relocate the letter. The Dutch American to his great delight also learnt that his brother Johannes, shortly before his hospitalization and death, had spoken with Jack Somerset during an hour-long telephone call one day. But with the contact information lost again, how could Willem Winkel find Jack Somerset after sixty two years?
The Willem Winkel search for Somerset somewhat resembles Jack Somersetís search for Johannes Winkel. It involved various intermediaries who checked around for information, dead-end leads and near-finds.
Then an agricultural student working in Warffum, Johannes Winkel in the intervening years had lived in various parts of the world but eventually settled back in the Netherlands, near The Hague in Zoetermeer. The Somersets left Winnipeg for the Vancouver area and Willem Winkel in his position as an international trade official for the USA, had moved around as well. Still, contact between them was reestablished and just recently, Jack Somerset repaid Willem Winkel a favour. After 62 years, Willem and his wife Joan stayed at Jack and Val Somersetís guest room and slept there in a bed. Willem confirmed that it was far better than the one Jack Ďborrowedí in 1945.