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Canadian veterans remember their fallen comrades

Queen Beatrix joins ceremony

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

GROESBEEK Over 1,700 WWII veterans remembered their fallen comrades at the Canadian war cemetery in Groesbeek. They were joined at the solemn ceremony by Queen Beatrix, her sister, Ottawa-born Princess Margriet and her husband Pieter, and thousands of guests and onlookers.

The Canadian government had organized the commemorations with the help of the National Committee Thank You Canada and Allied Forces. The cemetery in this town just south of Nijmegen is the final resting place of 2,338 mainly Canadian soldiers.

The veterans all wore a poppy next to their medals. In most Allied countries, the poppy is the symbol of the annual Remembrance or Memorial Day, and was so chosen after Canadian Army doctor John McCrae wrote his famous In Flanders Field during the immensely grueling First World War.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Commemoration medal

The 1,700 elderly Canadian veterans attended what was the final official commemoration of the Liberation of the Netherlands. They all were given a commemorative medal, to take home along with memories of another tremendous welcome. For many it was a repeat of earlier such anniversary returns, for some it was the very first time they participated.

Groesbeek became part of the front line in the wake of the failed Operation Market Garden in September 1944 when the area around Nijmegen became a battlefield. In February 1945 it was a staging area for the final onslaught on the Germans in the Netherlands, and on Germany itself.

This final thrust, under the codename Operation Veritable, was launched on February 8, 1945. They first moved into German territory, which resulted into fierce battles, taking the lives of thousands of soldiers. After weeks of heavy fighting, the Canadians crossed into the Netherlands again, this time from Germany. The eastern Overijssel town of Almelo, near the German border, was liberated on April 5. The Canadians fought their way north to Groningen which they reached April 16. Central Dutch town Apeldoorn was liberated a day later, cutting off the road home for the remaining German troops in the densily-populated western provinces. A cease-fire was agreed to on April 28, after which Canadian and British troops moved into other towns and villages.

Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Minister of Veterans Affairs Albina Guarnieri also attended many of the ceremonies. They had travelled to the Netherlands accompanied by 130 veterans, one of each of the regiments that fought in Europe during the war.