GUEST COLUMN: Canadians never forgotten in The Netherlands

BY IAN ROBERTSON, SPECIAL TO TORONTO SUN

I was born three years after dad came home from England following the cessation of fighting in Europe.

A Royal Canadian Air Force paymaster, Flt.-Lt. John W. ‘Jack’ Robertson (1910-1992) never ventured into battle. If he had, we might never have met.

I thought of him while placing ‘lichtjesavond’ — night lights — on the graves of two of the 1,619 soldiers buried in the Groesbeek Canadian Military War Cemetery, 10 km southeast of Nijmegen, Holland’s oldest city.

The cemetery, whose memorial inscription ‘Pro amicis mortui amicis vivimus’ translates as “We live in the hearts of friends for whom we died,” is unique in The Netherlands, since many who lie here were reinterred from graves in nearby Germany.

Though I did not know them, such thoughts are fitting for anyone related to, or a friend of, a Second World War veteran who could, through changing circumstances and changing tides, so quickly have been plunged forever through the gates of hell.

Many of the lads buried in this and other war cemeteries in a land whose people forever extol their memories remain relatively unknown now due to the passage of time.

RCAF photo of Flight Lieutenant John W. ‘Jack’ Robertson (1910-1992).

But, most fittingly, details about hundreds have been, and continue to be, gathered for the Faces to Graves program. Their stories are considered necessary to share with current and future generations, including Canadian visitors keen to know more of our countrymen’s contributions.

Among the records, including the names of 1,000 who went missing in action, is one that tells of Alfred John ‘Jack’ Reynolds.

The Torontonian “was very happy” to head overseas, after needing three basic training courses due to eyesight problems, “before he was finally assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment,” his brother Bert, a Royal Canadian Navy veteran, once wrote. An enthusiastic participant in several remembrance ceremonies in The Netherlands over the years, he died Sept. 10 at age 91.

Private Reynolds was killed on Feb. 27, 1945 in Germany, after participating in Operation Veritable, also known as the Battle of the Reichswald — the Imperial Forest. The reference on his gravestone in Plot VII, Row B, Grave 2, notes he was 22.

“Our family was very glad he was brought back to the Netherlands and buried in Groesbeek, where he is with friends and among friends,” his brother wrote.

One of the best-known graves, which has a rare “VC” insignia, is that of Aubrey Cosens of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, a Toronto regiment.

Aubrey Cosens, VC (1921-44)

The sergeant from Latchford, Ont. was fatally shot Feb. 26, 1945 by a sniper near Mooshof, Holland, after exposing himself to direct a tank’s fire, then killing 22 German soldiers and taking the rest prisoner. He was honored with a posthumous Victoria Cross, the most prestigious British and Commonwealth forces’ award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

I stopped briefly at Plot VIII, Row H, Grave 2. At 24, Cosens was a few years older than many who lie beneath nearby rows.

“I knew so many chaps,” Dad once told me, in a rare haunting reflection in 1980, while at the British War Museum in London, during his first postwar visit to England. Some he befriended never survived missions.

I knew while looking back as Liberation Tours guide Albert “Bert” Eikelenboom drove us back to the National Liberation Museum 1944-1945 in his 74-year-old U.S. Army truck, that I shall always remember the candles flickering in the distant darkness — and the chaps they represent.

Liberation Tours guide Albert “Bert” Eikelenboom with maps of key Second World War battle sites in the Netherlands, on fender of his 1944 U.S. Army weapons carrier truck. (Photo by Ian Robertson)

Somewhere in Holland, a friend who ended up in a German prisoner-of-war camp after his RCAF bomber was shot down over Holland during the war, was buried a few years ago with crewmates who didn’t survive. He talked of being humbled at the sight of children laying flowers on their graves — and he wanted to join them.

These are surely the type of memories that will stay forever with those who venture, for whatever well-intentioned reasons, along Liberation Trail Europe.

FOREVER GRATEFUL FOR FREEDOM

Throughout each year, children in The Netherlands express gratitude for hard-fought freedoms Allied forces brought during the Second World War.

They set flowers on graves and — each Christmas Eve at the Canadian War Cemetery in Holten — many bring lit candles.

At Zoutelande, during a Nov. 2 service for long-ago Allied liberators, including Canadians, plus Dutch victims, two 10-year-old girls spoke briefly about always remembering.

“We are grateful that today we can live in freedom in a country without war,” they said on the 74th anniversary of the liberation in 1944 of their village near the city of Middleburg.

Headstone at Groesbeek Canadian Military War Cemetery, The Netherlands, of Sgt. Aubrey Cosens, of Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, a Toronto Regiment — with symbol of rare Victoria Cross awarded
posthumously. (IAN ROBERTSON)

“We are grateful for the people who considered our freedom so important that they risked their lives for it.

“We never want to forget this because peace and freedom are never self-evident.”

As often expressed at similar ceremonies elsewhere, the youngsters said standing up for everyone’s freedoms is essential.

To do so makes the world “more secure and peaceful so that old people no longer have to be afraid, so that children can play, so that the earth will be a beautiful garden in which every person feels at home and is happy.”

Ian Robertson

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies