Today’s agenda went something like this:
DAY 4 – WED JULY 9, 2014 – AMSTERDAM – GROESBEEK – ADEGEM – BRUGES
We depart Amsterdam after breakfast and travel to Groesbeek to visit the Canadian War Cemetery. Here we pay tribute to over two thousand Canadian soldiers who lost their lives during World War II battles to liberate Holland. We also visit the National Liberation Museum (1944-1945), which brings the historical events back to life. Then on to Adegem, Belgium to visit the Canada-Poland War Museum, built as a tribute to Belgium’s Canadian liberators. We continue next to our hotel in the beautiful and medieval town of Bruges where you can enjoy the rest of the evening at leisure.
8:00 a.m. We leave the city sharp at 8:00 a.m., and soon find ourselves on the very flat flood plains outside of Amsterdam. They say Holland is the flattest country in the world, and I believe it now. Apparently the highest point in the whole country is only 321 meters above sea level, and some areas are actually below sea level. The countryside here is mostly pastoral. As I write this there is a canal running parallel to the highway. Diary cows are in most fields, and the multilane highway we are on is full of cars and transport trucks. It is very green here, and as has been the case often lately, a light rain is falling.
9:00 a.m. It’s raining pretty steady now. Traffic is thinning a bit, but it continues to be surprisingly busy on the highways here is south-eastern Holland.
10:20 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. We stop at the Dutch National Liberation Museum, near Groesbeek, Holland. It’s fascinating, but an hour is too little time to really enjoy all it has to offer. Here one finds films, posters, artifacts, and exhibits galore focused on the liberation of the Netherlands by Canadian and Allied forces in 1944-45. Operation Market Garden, (featured in the film, A Bridge Too Far,) is highlighted here, but the museum is far more than just that operation. It includes a section on Hitler’s rise to power, and the coming of the Second World War. As you’d expect, special emphasis is given to the fall of Holland in the spring of 1940, and the challenges faced by ordinary Dutch citizens during the 4½ years when the Germans occupied their country.
Operation Market Garden was the Allies attempt in September 1944 to capture key river bridges in the Netherlands and force their way into the Ruhr Valley of Germany. Although it wasn’t completely successful, it did liberate the southern part of The Netherlands. The museum illustrates the events of Market Garden on a large three-dimensional map. Since it was the largest airborne operation of the war, several interesting displays deal with the airborne tactics that were used. Also highlighted is the strikingly different fates of those in the liberated south and those in the still-occupied north during the winter of 1944-45. While the Dutch in the south celebrated their hard-won freedom, those in the north faced the terrible “Honger Winter” (Winter of Hunger) during which many Dutch citizens died of starvation.
After we’ve seen the exhibits we have a few minutes to visit the Dome of Honour. Shaped like an open parachute, it is where the museum honours the fallen Allied liberators of The Netherlands. Canadian soldiers played a leading role in those battles and they are not forgotten at the museum. Our next stop is the nearby Canadian War Graves Cemetery at Groesbeek.
11:45 p.m. The Canadian War Cemetery, Groesbeek, Holland. Steady rain. I’ve seen pictures and video of this place, but even so, actually being here is a sobering experience. The cemetery contains the graves of 2,338 Canadian soldiers killed liberating Holland and in Germany. One of these is Aubrey Cosens of the Queen’s Own Rifles. He who won the Victoria Cross leading an attack against Mooshof where he was killed by a sniper in February 1945. Interestingly, Canadian soldiers killed in Germany are buried here too because General H.D.G. Crerar, who commanded Canadian land forces in Europe, ordered that Canadian dead were not to be buried in German soil.