by Lorraine Payette, written June 12, 2013
“Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,
Cheer up, comrades, they will come …”
– “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp”
(GANANOQUE, ONTARIO) The liberation of the Netherlands wasn’t easy. The Nazis had invaded the nation in 1940, and the first city they captured was Nijmegen. Occupied and in peril, the city was mistaken for the German municipality of Kleve by the Americans, who bombed it heavily on February 22, 1944, producing over 750 casualties. But in September of that year, the Allies launched Operation Market Garden, an attempt to keep the Germans from destroying the bridge which was crucial for movement of troops.
“Capturing the bridge allowed the British Army XXX Corps to attempt to reach the British airborne troops in Arnhem,” says the World War II DataBase. “At one time, the bridge held close to 20 25lb. anti-tank guns and two anti-aircraft guns. The Germans made repeated attacks on the bridge using bombs attached to driftwood, midget submarines and later resorted to shelling the bridge with 88mm barrages. Troops were positioned on the bridge giving an excellent arc of fire in case of attack. Troops that couldn’t fit onto the bridge were positioned in a bombed out house slightly upstream of the bridge. During the shelling, the house was hit, killing 6 soldiers and wounding 1 more.
“Nijmegen was liberated from German captivity by the First Canadian Army in November of 1944 for the last time. This city would later be used as a springboard for Operation Veritable, the invasion across the Rhine River by Allied Troops.”
The Netherlands has never forgotten those events, and has kept Canada in its fondest memories ever since.
On September 14, 2010, medals were presented to four Second World War veterans from Gananoque to mark their participation in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945. Tony Steinburgen, on behalf of the government of the Netherlands, made the presentation to the four men:
• Bill Nuttall, who enlisted in May, 1941, and served in an anti-tank regiment from just after the landings in Normandy and through Belgium and the Netherlands to Germany
• Gerry Walker, who enlisted in July, 1942, and served as a stretcher bearer with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders and served throughout North-West Europe
• Bill Hale, who enlisted in November, 1942, and served in an American anti-aircraft unit from just after the landings at Normandy and ended the war in Germany
• Tom Tindall, who enlisted in May, 1944, at age 18 and served as a private in the Algonquin Regiment.
Steinburgen served in the Royal Dutch Navy from 1953 until 1965. He mentioned how difficult things were in the Netherlands at the time of the war, and how much it meant to the citizens when the Canadian troops came to help set them free. Their work will never be forgotten.
Although the Four Days Marches originated in 1907 as a way of encouraging physical fitness in the local population, they have grown exponentially and are participated in by groups from around the world. For Canadians, it is a chance to remember those who gave everything that all might be free.
Now it’s time for the latest generation of Canadians to return and walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. Every Canadian soldier and cadet participating is there as a volunteer, and each one understands how important it is to remember.
Lee Pothier, a Combat Systems Engineering Officer in the Canadian Forces, is training this year’s team from RMC.
“We’re currently in training for the international Nijmegen Marches which take place in July in Holland,” said Pothier. “We’ve been marching now for the better part of a month and a half, and we’re about 450 kms into a 700 km training schedule. In Holland, it’s four days of marching, with each day being 40 kms. It will be a total of 160 kms for the four days. This is a pretty important day in our training. We’re required to do a minimum of two 40 km back to back marches for training. Yesterday we did 42 kms out in the west end, out past Odessa and on through Bath, and today we started at RMC and made it as far as the Trinity Yacht Club. That’s 20 kms, so we’re turning around and heading back. This is our second 40 km day in a row, so there are some pretty sore feet.”
But sore feet are minor in comparison to the sense of pride in accomplishment. This team will join about 40,000 marchers from across Canada and 50 nations from around the world as they participate in this annual event. The march will run from July 16 – 19.