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Canadian veteran depicted on Dutch stamp dies at age 88

Inadvertent poster boy Liberation anniversary

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WEST VANCOUVER, BC - William L. Roberts, whose photo taken shortly after the May 1945 en-trance into Amsterdam by Canadian troops symbolized the Liberation on a 2000 Dutch stamp, re-cently died at age 88. A wartime Captain with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Roberts was very surprised to learn that his joyous motorcycle ride - with three happy Dutch female passengers - had been recorded by a photographer and used fifty-five years later for a Dutch commemorative stamp.

On May 7, 1945, the Ontario native and his unit had reached the suburb of Diemen, where they camped for the night. The next morning, Roberts - on a commandeered military motorbike - went on an emergency search for a unit of bren carriers.

When riding into Amsterdam he was fêted and showered with flowers, flags and kisses. News of the ap-proach of the Canadian troops had brought out thousands who then lined the main approach into the Eastern section of the city and beyond. At one point three women managed to clamber onto Roberts’ bike.

Most important event of century

The image of a smiling Canadian liberator and his ‘passengers’ was captured on film by a spectator. It was this photograph which in 2000, the 55th Anniversary of the Liberation, was used by the Dutch Postal Service to commemorate both events. In a Dutch PTT survey that year, the Liberation was considered to be the single-most important event of the 20th century.

On the occasion of the beginning of a new millenium, the Liberation image was chosen to represent this 20th century highlight. Only then, a successful attempt was made to identify the Canadian soldier.

No recollection of ride

Through a Diemen man and a former Canadian soldier the Dutchman had befriended in 1945, the subject of the photo stamp was identified as Roberts, who in 1963 had retired from the Seaforth militia with the rank of Major. After his studies at the University of British Columbia, the West Vancouver man had been an employment officer for the university and later for the local Simon Fraser University.

The attention given in the Netherlands to the photo and the stamp carried over to West Vancouver where Roberts, his wife - they married in 1939 - and family basked in media attention as well. Although Roberts could not recollect details about his ride into Amsterdam, he remembered that his unit afterwards was stationed in a ‘big city park’ (the Vondelpark). He also was guest of honour at a 2000 reception by the Consulate General in Vancouver where he proudly displayed a large replica of the stamp.

William Llewellyn Roberts had attended Liberation festivities in the Netherlands in 1980. With the Seaforth Highlanders he had seen action in North Africa, Italy and Germany before participating in the May 1945 liberation of the northern part of the Netherlands.