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. (Part 1) (Part 2).
Thursday, September 22nd
We checked out of the hotel at 8:30 and after about a one-hour drive and a difficult search we arrived at Kapelshe Veer. It was here where the Oude Maas and the Bergsche Maas meet that it took many attempts to remove the German army from heavily fortified positions. Initial attempts by British and Polish battalions failed to gain the position. The Canadians used a strategy involving the use of canoes to invade the large island from a variety of angles. It was still a very bloody battle and it was here that my former work associate, Owen Borthwick was wounded and where he witnessed the brave death of Major Lambert. Like in 1945 a small ferry takes people and cars across the 300 metre expanse and that was how we crossed.
From here, we travelled to Kamp Vught, which was the only SS concentration camp in the Netherlands. It was initially a place of transit which saw some 12,000 Jewish prisoners later perish in extermination camps. Non-Jewish prisoners, held for a variety of reasons, were assigned gruelling jobs and given little food. It is believed that 421 children, women and men did not survive the harsh conditions and 329 men were executed. All of those that died in the camp were cremated in an oven that remains on display.
But the real story that I learned was that the father of my guide, Wybo was interned here for 9 months and survived. He was a lawyer and was arrested with 50 prominent people in their town for not reporting the name of an individual who had burned a German barrack. Six of the 10 were executed but he managed to use his wits by helping with administrative duties and was freed a few months before the camp was liberated.
We then arrived at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery where many of the Canadians that died in the Netherlands along the German border and in the battles in the German Rheinland are buried. Of the 1,422 soldiers buried here there are 1,368 Canadians. There is a modern information building here and the large tiered cemetery has a very quiet and tranquil setting.
At 5 p.m. we arrived in the city of Nijmegen which is a university city with, it seems, thousands of people riding their bikes amongst the cars in a very busy downtown core.
I stayed at the Mercure Hotel next to the railway station with a large 3-tiered bicycle park for more than 3,000 bicycles.