Today I was glued to the live all-morning broadcast of celebrations in Wageningen, the Netherlands, commemorating Victory in Europe – known as VE Day. May 5th, 1945 was the day that Canadian forces stormed and defeated the Nazi troops on the heather stretch between the adjoining towns of Ede and Wageningen. It was very emotional for me to watch this for several reasons. The Lord reminded me of how he brought about one amazing coincidence after the other regarding my family during the war!
Born in 1940, I grew up in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, beside the better known sister island of Aruba. I do not remember much about the war except that at night no lights were lit. My father, who was in charge of the Home Defence League, explained that this was so that the enemy planes and boats would not detect the island. Of course I could not understand any of that at the time.
Approximately 20 years later, my first job happened to be at the Department of National Defence branch in Prescott, Ontario, Canada. As a totally unforeseen coincidence would have it, Mr. J. Sidney Barrick, the Director (I do not remember his exact title) told me how he had protected me and my family during the war! OMG, I just googled, and found out that he was on the minesweeper: HMCS Suderoy VI – J05! When he discovered that I had lived in Curacao, Mr. Barrick told me that when he was in the Navy during the war, they patrolled all around Curacao and Aruba watching for, and torpedoing German u-boats that sought to cut off supplies to the islands. What are the chances that I would ever have met one of the crew, and found out about this fact!
Not much grows on these islands as they are rocky with very little rain fall. Truly, we could have starved if it weren’t for the Canadian Forces! I was so surprised to hear that the war came that far – seemingly out of the way of where the fighting was, or that the Germans would even care about tiny islands like ours! I do remember my mother telling me that we ate a lot of rice and spinach. I also remember dancing in the street with music and laughter everywhere and people shouting: “the war is over; we are free!” Then it was packing time. My mother sent many boxes of canned food, soap and other necessities to family members in Holland.
Meanwhile, in Holland – it was not yet called The Netherlands at that time – my auntie Ann and grandmother finally returned to their ancestral home in Ede, which had been occupied by Nazi commanders. It was situated in a strategic location overlooking a little park which continued into a street culminating at the road linking Ede and Wageningen. At the top of that road still are the beautiful heather fields where the allies landed, and for weeks on end continued to “rain” down bags of food and provision. Is it a coincidence that the Germans, five years after taking over the house, would literally see their enemies swoop down on them? I don’t know, but would not be surprised that the commander in Auntie Ann’s home was by coincidence might be the very one who signed the agreement to end the war at Hotel De Wereld down the street in Wageningen – as I saw on the reportage this morning!
Our family spent six months in Holland in 1946, and again in 1951. Although I was touched to the core seeing all of the city and harbor of Rotterdam in total ruins, as well as many other ravages, I only remember how everyone was happy, warm-hearted and jovial. Virtually no one spoke about the war and what they had suffered. Only years later a cousin told me how the Nazis had taken over their farm and slaughtered all their livestock for their own consumption, while they were starving to the point that they ate rats to survive! In school I read and heard of how many Dutch people hid their Jewish neighbours and friends. I was especially struck by this love and disregard for their own safety when I visited the Anne Frank home in Amsterdam, and heard about Corrie ten Boom’s family’s outreach to the Jewish community and subsequent imprisonment themselves.
Auntie Ann told me the story of how a young German soldier suddenly grabbed her bike from her. She actually had tears in her eyes as she related: “ach, he was so very young; he could not have been more than 16!” This was near the end of the war, when they enlisted even the very young. She genuinely felt sorry for the teen, who had been so misdirected and merely obeying orders.
It was some time after VE day – at which time the war was still raging in Japan and the East – that my mother’s brother and family returned to Holland. They had been living in Indonesia – which was then the Dutch East Indies. We know that they had been interred in a Japanese concentration camp. From history and books I have read, I know that conditions in these camps were atrocious. However, even when prodded, they refused to ever say one word about what they had endured. They were always very jovial and warm at heart.
Talking about coincidences, I can’t but be amazed that the allies landed on “my” beloved heather. I just loved going there, and smelling the bright purple flowers. It is like something beautiful has covered the pain and hardship – somewhat like the poppies in Flanders’ Fields not far away in neighbouring Belgium. When talking with a shepherd on the heather in Ede on one of my trips, I discovered that, if it were not for the sheep grazing there, the heather would overgrow into unmanageable bushes! It paints a beautiful picture of sheep – the symbol of peace and humility – happily following the shepherd, unwittingly helping to restore and maintain beauty and dignity!
Holland was overrun by the Nazis without any warning in one week in 1940. But, in one fell swoop on May 5, 1945 their captivity was overturned – I am proud to say – by the Canadian forces. Was it a coincidence that Queen Juliana chose Canada as her haven from the storm? Thank you, Canada, and bless you, The Netherlands!
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23: 1-3)