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Dutch 1940 war veteran receives medal at 2006 Friendship Day

Thanks to efforts by son-in-law

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BURLINGTON, Ontario – Much of the attention at the Canada Netherlands Friendship Day each year is on the liberation of the Netherlands by mostly Canadian Allied soldiers, in the Spring of 1945. The 2006 Burlington city hall commemoration reached a bit further back with a 1940 Dutch army conscript belatedly receiving his Mobilisatie Oorlogskruis. The well-attended event included members of the current Canadian Armed Forces as well as WWII veterans and a range of dignitaries.

Toronto-based Consul General Jan Hesseling used the Burlington venue to present the medal to 93-year old Dutch war veteran Cornelius de Bruine who had left for Canada on April 9, 1949 aboard the Swedish ship Gripsholm. Focusing on his new life in Canada, the De Bruine did not keep contact with veteran groups. It was De Bruine’s son-in-law Allan M. Eaton, a former army reservist who checked out the medal entitlement after he became aware of the war veteran status. The Dutch officials were elated to discover another 1940 veteran, of a group which has significantly diminished due to attrition.

Born in 1912 in Kamperland, then on the island of North Beveland, Cornelius de Bruine was conscripted to the 14th Dutch Infantry Regiment in 1930 and was mobilized in October 1939, to report to Breda for service.

When in May 1940, the Germans attacked the city of Oss, Private de Bruine and other members of his regiment were sent to protect the bridge at Zaltbommel via 's-Hertogenbosch. On the way there, German aircraft fired on them. His squad returned the fire while maintaining mobility on their run toward Zaltbommel. The old and small-calibre machine gun was very ineffective and only served to draw the attention of the enemy.

The days of the German invasion were quite chaotic and very uncertain for both the military and civilians. Hard to imagine now, but communication channels too were primitive by today’s standards. Lacking most materials to defend their country, men like De Bruine constantly had to improvise. For example, he and his platoon constructed rafts to float their equipment and guns across a canal to get to Leerdam. The effort was harrowing enough, and attracted German aircraft, which strafed them. Once they had made the crossing, they continued under cover of night. When they arrived at their destination, they learned that the Dutch government had surrendered.

The De Bruines, Cornelius and his wife Cornelia (nee Hage) and their three small children, Marie, David, and Wilhelmina settled in southwestern Ontario. A widower, he also has eight grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren.