When Pieter Koeleman approached the Museum at Campbell River for help supporting the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands at the end of World War II, he found a welcome audience.
“We’re a social history museum,” said Ken Blackburn, the museum’s director of public programs. “The relationship between the Netherlands and Canada is extremely close. Any time Pieter comes to us we’re going to do what we can do.”
The Museum at Campbell River will host a slideshow of WWII-era images from the Netherlands April 28-30, in advance of the May 5 anniversary celebration downtown. The slideshow was compiled by Koeleman, who was an eight-year-old youth living in the small village of Noordwyk when allied troops — led by Canadians — marched through The Netherlands and displaced the occupying Nazis.
“They came up the dunes from the village south of us,” Koeleman recalls. “I remember flags on the houses and all the people in the street singing and crying. And most of the time the soldiers, in their pockets, had chewing gum or chocolate to give to the kids.”
This is not the first collaboration between Koeleman and the museum. He was one of the subjects interviewed in the museum’s exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Then, five years ago, he helped Blackburn coordinate the display of a travelling exhibit assembled by the Dutch consulate in advance of the 65th anniversary celebration.
A similar traveling exhibit has been created this year, “But they were booked someplace else and were not available to us,” said Blackburn.
So Koeleman secured digital images of the exhibit’s 23 photo panels, then visited the archives of Canada’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs and gathered almost 30 more black-and-white wartime images from The Netherlands. He has combined them into a 52-slide PowerPoint presentation that will run from 2-4 p.m. each day April 28-30, then again in a single showing at the museum May 5 that Koeleman will introduce and narrate.
The images show troops in the Dutch countryside following the D-Day invasion of 1944, as the allies fought their way toward Berlin. Additional images from 1945 show the response of residents during the actual liberation, with army tanks and trucks draped with dozens of cheering, flag-waving people.
As the bulk of the U.S. and British forces made their way east to Berlin, Koeleman says, western and northern areas of The Netherlands were liberated by Canadian units, augmented by Dutch and Polish troops who had made their way to Britain in advance of the D-Day invasion to enlist in the effort.
“For the majority of the Dutch, we say Canadians were our liberators,” Koeleman said, adding that of the 40,000 Canadians killed during World War II, more than 7,600 lost their lives in the liberation of The Netherlands. “That connection is something special.”
The 70th anniversary celebration in Campbell River takes place May 5 beginning at 5:30 p.m. with assembly of parade participants on Cedar Street, near the Community Centre. The parade will travel to 11th Ave., on to Shopper’s Row, then take the 10th Ave. entrance into Tyee Plaza and its finish at Spirit Square. In a ceremony reminiscent of Remembrance Day, wreaths will be laid at the cenotaph amid speeches, prayer and the playing of the Canadian and Dutch national anthems.
The ceremony will be followed by a social in the Royal Canadian Legion hall starting at 7:30 p.m.