Historical Overview

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by Albert vander Heide, 2010. 

Canadian veterans earned lasting gratitude from the Dutch public, in the spring of 1945, welcoming them in an unprecedented outburst of joy and appreciation.  The push to drive out the enemy succeeded at the expense of many lives.  Some Canadian soldiers, who had survived years of fighting the Nazis and their supporters, died on the eve of the German surrender.  Particularly hard-fought were the last stands in various pockets in the Northern Dutch province of Groningen, in early May 1945.

Many more Canadians already had paid with their lives clearing the very opposite area in the country, in the Scheldt estuary, in fall 1944.  To keep the Allies from gaining access to the extremely important port of Antwerp, the German military command employed a brilliant but very costly withdrawal strategy as the Canadian troops pushed forward to gain control of the Scheldt access route.  The Germans slowly relinquished territory to the Canadians, who were nicknamed ‘water rats’ by other Allied troops as they millimetered ahead in soggy, ditch and canal rich lowlands.  The terrain offered hardly any protection from enemy fire. The object of shortening the Allied supply line by taking the Scheldt estuary was hard-fought. Dutch territory north of the great rivers remained firmly under German control.

Over 7,000 Canadians were buried in Dutch soil and numerous other soldiers were wounded in action in the Netherlands.  Following the May 1945 surrender, a massive Allied repatriation campaign was launched but it took many months before the last Canadian soldiers left the Netherlands.  The command of the Canadian army during that time was located in Apeldoorn.

Victoria-based Canadian military historian Mark Zuehlke has detailed the Canadian war effort in the Netherlands in two volumes, Terrible Victory and Onto Victory. The first volume covers the liberation of the Scheldt Estuary and the Western rim of the province of North Brabant in great detail.  Onto Victory covers the Canadian drive through the region north of the great rivers from March through May 5, 1945.  In his books, author Zuehlke also pays generous attention to the help the liberators received from the Dutch resistance and civilians.  In the research for writing his books, the author, with the help of local Dutch volunteers, retraced the movements of the troops.  

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