VE Day – Coincidences and Beauty

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)

Volcanoes of Iceland

Some say Iceland is a volcano. That may or may not be true, but sitting squarely as it does right on top of one of the world’s most active undersea hotspots, it’s certainly one of the more geologically exciting places to be!

As far as volcanos go, Iceland has something to suit almost every taste. Fancy a classic cone design? Take a drive to Snæfellnes to visit the (possibly) dormant but lovely Snæfell volcano, and even climb to the top if you’d like. Are you more into fissures? Go see the Laki rift which last erupted in 1782, and caused climate changes as far away as India. Hoping to see some real live flowing lava? Contemplate the majesty of Hekla or Katla, both long overdue to blow. Even if a real-time eruption isn’t on the itinerary, it’s still extremely easy to see the island’s heat in action at sulfur pits, boiling mud pots, and steaming cracks in the earth throughout the country, some only half an hour from the Reykjavik city center. Even soaking in rivers naturally heated by the same intense underground energy as a volcano is possible, bringing you seemingly one step closer to the heart of the world.

Hekla

Hekla is the appointed Queen of Icelandic volcanoes. It’s so consistently active that volcanologists the world over basically expect it to blow at any time, and especially when it shows signs of subterranean tremors like it did in 2013. It’s erupted at least 20 times since the first Norsefolk came over 1200 years ago, and was literally considered either the gateway to Hell, or Hell itself. Interestingly enough, it hasn’t caused that much damage in recorded history, though geologists can tell that from its birth around 7000 years ago until around 1000BC it caused massive damage and change to the Icelandic landscape. Since then, though, it’s lost its explosive force, and is more a pouring-lava style volcano with much less ash and smoke.

Still, the last eruption in 2000 gave only fifteen minutes’ warning, and locals know that climbing it is actually never really a very good idea. There is an 8-hour long round-trip trail to the top, but it’s for experts only, and authorization must be given for the climb.

Katla

This is another one of Iceland’s famously explosive volcanos, most specifically because of the eruption in 1918 that lasted for almost a month, but also for the nearly 20 other eruptions since the 9th century. It’s capped with glacial ice, so there’s nothing at all interesting about it visually, but it’s as well-known as its sister volcano Hekla for being highly active and basically unpredictable. Because it’s under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, the main threat it’s posed to Icelanders has been massive glacial bursts, or runs, that flood the plains below with flash-melted ice. A small eruption or heat-up of the volcano that goes otherwise unnoticed under the glacier can cause massive torrents to rush from it, causing damage and mayhem.

Like Hekla, this is not a volcano to get close to, and basically an eruption is expected any day now. Earthquake swarms have been detected near it in the past few years, and systems have been put in place to warn the aviation industry immediately if, or more appropriately, when, it blows.

Eyjafjallajökull

Our bad-boy celebrity volcano! Eyjafjallajökull had its fifteen minutes of fame five years ago when decided to blow. Locals desperate to get off the island to warmer vacation lands couldn’t, and all air traffic in western Europe halted due to the massive plume of thick ash it poured forth. Technically the name means “Island-Mountain-Glacier” (jökull means glacier) but the glacier in reference sits on top of a live caldera and gives it its name. The air traffic havok this volcano caused in April 2010 meant that its nearly impossible-to-pronounce name became synonymous with trouble, and to this day tourist shops sell vials of ash, ash ceramics, and t-shirts dedicated to our most notorious modern-day eruption

Located pretty close to Highway 1 in the south, Eyjafjallajökull is easy to see from the road, though it’s not a volcano you’d want to walk on: the ice cap is steep and full of crevices. For more experienced hikers, though, the Fimmvörðurháls trail passes close by, offering a chance to greet this world-infamous caldera from a friendly but safe distance away.

Herðubreið

If you like looking at mountains that happen to be volcanoes that look like cake, you’ll love Herðubreið (‘Broad Shoulders’). Located in the northern highlands of Iceland, it’s flat-topped, high-sided, and until the winter snow covering melts away in high summer, covered in white which looks just like frosting. When Herðubreið was born many millennia ago out of the Ódáðahraun lava field (or ‘Desert of Misdeeds’, as some translate that name) it was pressed and flatted under the massive ice sheet of the last global glacial period.

It’s virtually unclimbable, and is showing signs of waking up, so this is a mountain that’s best seen from a distance, at one of the lovely look-out points along the main highway in the north. Artists have painted it, photographers have captured it, and some say it’s a contender for the most beautiful volcano in the world.

Askja

Askja is not actually a single volcano, but a series of remote craters in the highlands interior of Iceland, just north of the huge Vatnajökull glacier. Nobody even really knew this system existed as live eruptors until 1875, when it erupted massively enough to spread poisoned ash over the whole east coast of the island, ash which was also carried by the winds over to Norway and Sweden and Northern Ireland. Livestock suffered horribly, and for many Icelanders this was seen as the last straw – thousands packed up and emigrated. One of the main calderas has filled up with water, forming a round, milky turquoise lake that though lovely to look at is nonetheless called Víti, or ‘Hell’.

It’s a popular place to visit, all stark and eerie. The roads there are usually only open for a few summer months, though, and since temblors have been measured in recent years, and because of the recent Bárðabunga eruption close by, the area is currently closed to all access.

Bárðarbunga

Iceland just gave birth to a new lava field, one of the largest spreads of magma since the Laki flow of 1783. Unofficially named Nornahraun, or Witches Lava, it poured forth over the span of six months from a newly-formed fissure in the Bárðabunga volcanic system. This system sits just under the edge of Vatnajökull glacier, and so is another example of a live Icelandic volcano that’s just not that interesting to look at. Until, that is, it starts spewing bright red magma that shoots into the air in thin, high walls and pours across the landscape in molten rivers. At that point, it’s one of the most beautiful sights on Earth.

Needless to say, the area around Bárðabunga is off-limits as is, and even in more restful times is very difficult to get to, though on clear, safe days during the eruption airplane and helicopter tours around the region were popular. Now that the glowing magma has darkened and hardened, though, there’s not much to see – until the next eruption that is!