National Treasure #131: Liberation of Holland

Today is the 72nd anniversary of the final surrender of the German Forces in the Netherlands. The First Canadian Army played a major role in liberating Holland after five years of German occupation.

Of course, it didn’t happen in a day: Canadians fought across the Netherlands for eight months, from September 1944 to April 1945. Nor did it happen easily: more than 7,600 Canadian soldiers died.

Newspaper clipping about Canadian Third Division in Holland

After clearing the northeast region, “Canadian forces were prepared to continue their push in the west of the country, however, there were concerns this would prompt the now-desperate Germans to breach all the dykes and flood the low-lying country. To ease the pressure, and allow for a truce in late April, the Canadian advance in the western Netherlands came to a temporary halt. This allowed relief supplies to reach Dutch citizens who had almost reached the end of their endurance.”

The “Hunger Winter” of 1944-45 was a terrible time for the Dutch people. Food supplies were exhausted; many people were reduced to eating tulip bulbs just to try to survive. Fuel had run out and transportation was almost non-existent. By 1945, the official daily ration per person in the Netherlands was only 320 calories, about an eighth of the daily needs of an average adult. Thousands of Dutch men, women, and children perished of starvation and cold. – Veterans Affairs Canada site

A ceasefire finally enabled food to be parachuted and trucked in, and on May 5, the rest of the Germans in the Netherlands surrendered.

The Dutch people cheered Canadian troops as one town after another was liberated. This was a memorable time for the people of the Netherlands. Recalled one Dutch civilian who was a teenager at the time of the Canadian liberation of The Hague: “As the (Canadian) tank came nearer…there was a big hush over all the people, and it was suddenly broken by a big scream, as if it was out of the earth. And the people climbed on the tank…and they were crying. And we were running with the tanks and the jeeps all the way into the city.” – Veterans Affairs Canada site

To this day, Dutch citizens maintain the graves of our war dead and teach their children and grandchildren about the Canadians who helped liberate their country. After returning to Holland from sanctuary in Ottawa, Princess (later Queen) Juliana started the tradition of sending thousands of tulips each year to be planted in Ottawa.

Blossom-level view of red and white tulips

Display at Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa


Read more newspaper clippings from that period on the Canadian War Museum site.


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