In March 1945, after several hard-fought battles, the Canadian Army freed the Netherlands. On this 75th anniversary, we are pleased to be able to publish excerpts from G. William (Bill) Streeter’s travel diary following his 2016 trip to the Netherlands and the sites of battles and cemeteries.
Streeter, whose father landed on Juno Beach on June 10, 1944 with the Royal Canadian Engineers (RCEME) and was part of the First Canadian Army all along the route from Normandy, through Belgium, the Netherlands and into Germany, has also returned from a recent trip where he started at the Belgium border following the same route.
The Canadians arrived at the border in September 1944 but it took until March 28, 1945 to reach the Rhine at Xanten.
From the very young to those who remain with their memories, the people of the Netherlands still honour the young Canadian soldiers who lie in the immaculately maintained cemeteries.
Monday September 19th
I arrived in the small city of Bergen Op Zoom in the South West of the Netherlands. My hotel was the Grand Hotel En Residence De Draak. It is a modest 62 room Boutique hotel claiming to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in the Netherlands dating back to 1397.
Tuesday, September 20th
Wybo arrived about 8:30 a.m. and we headed off in his Volkswagen Passat to Belgium about 40 minutes away. We arrived at Moerkerke on the Leopold Canal. Following the liberation of Antwerp in Sept. 44 the Canadian army headed to this area to free the west of Belgium and the Netherlands along the North Sea and around the Scheldt estuary. The Algonquin Regiment initially had some success but were driven back across the canal by the Germans and suffered significant losses.
Each year in mid-September local residents perform a Peace March to the Algonquinmemorial and lay wreaths and plant small flags for each of the Canadian soldiers that diedin the battle. We arrived a couple of days after the march and the decorations were still in place.
We visited the Adegem Canadian War Cemetery. It is another very well maintained CWGC cemetery with 1,076 Commonwealth Soldiers buried there, mostly all Canadian.
In mid-October, a larger Canadian contingent consisting of multiple regiments were successful in removing the Germans. A bailey bridge constructed during that battle is still in use today close by to a German bunker.
Close by, on the border is the small town of Eede where Queen Wilhemina arrived in May 1945 after spending the war years in England while many of her family had spent those years of war in safe haven in Canada. There is a large reproduction of the picture of her arrival with memorial plaques all located in the town square.
Next stop was Ijendije where on 19th October 1944, an explosion of nitroglycerine killed 41 Canadian and British soldiers most being members of RCEME. Then to Bierviled were the battles started to remove the Germans out of the Southern part of the Scheldt. There is a large expanse of mud flats when the tide is out. Along the shore are a number of beaches that saw battles before reaching the main town of Breskens that was freed by the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders. At Breskens there is a ferry across the three-mile opening of the Scheldt estuary to Walchern Island and its main town of Vlissingen.
It was then back to our hotel in Bergen Op Zoom after 9 hours and 355 km. We had dinner in one of the nice outdoor restaurants and were early to bed.