Campbell River veteran Carl Kolonsky was supposed to participate in last year’s celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands in World War II by travelling to Holland.
The trip, however, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, this year, the Dutch city of Wageningen – the city of Liberation – sent Kolonsky flowers and a letter from a young Dutch student thanking him for his role in the Canadian Army’s Liberation of the Netherlands in World War II. May 5 is Liberation Day in Holland.
Veteran Affairs Canada (VAC) had arranged for Kolonsky and his caregiver, Tanja Shields, to participate in the official delegation to the anniversary last year. Because of the cancellation, VAC reached out to Shields again, about an initiative by Wageningen 45 Committee. The committee wanted to send a personalized letter and flowers to Canadian veterans who fought on Dutch soil during WWII. The committee wanted to turn this into a yearly tradition with the letters being written by Dutch teenagers as part of an educational program.
This year, Kolonsky received a letter from Zeger Vogt, who wrote:
“My name is Zeger. I live in the liberation city of Wageningen. There I am a student of the school Pantarijn. This year there is, unfortunately, no parade with many veterans in Wageningen. That is because of the coronavirus pandemic, I think it will not surprise you.
“In this letter, I want to thank you for your exploits in World War II. It must have been really intense to fight in WWII, but I am very grateful to you and all your fellow soldiers. It is very important to remember the war and all its victims. I learn a lot from it and I am very grateful for that too. Every year on May 5, there is a big festival here, in Wageningen. I enjoy going there to celebrate freedom. It is very impressive to see how you as veterans are involved in this and it is good to see that.
“I don’t want to think about it when my freedom is taken away. For me, it is hard to imagine that there is no freedom, but you know very well. You fought to get it back. That is worth so much. Thank you!”
A letter from the City of Wageningen to Carl says the Netherlands has lived in peace and freedom for 76 years and “we practically take it for granted. And that is thanks to you!”
The Wageningen committee wanted to keep the memory alive of what the Canadian solders gave the people of the Netherlands – their freedom. But the challenge was how to keep that memory alive, particularly in the pandemic. That is when they came up with the idea of the letters from young people.
Shields and Carl’s son Don kept this secret until May 5, Liberation Day in Holland, in order to present Carl with the letter and flowers on this significant day.
The Liberation has special meaning to Shields. She was born and raised in Holland and both her parents were liberated by Canadian soldiers. Her father was liberated in Apeldoorn and Carl would have been a 1.5 hour drive away from him at the time.
“Every year at Remembrance Day, I reach out to Carl and thank him for his service,” Shields said. “We have become friends over the past eight years and I was (still am) so honoured when he asked me to accompany him on the official delegation for the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands event in Holland on May 5, 2020.
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