Twenty years on, veterans of the Second World War are fading fast

Opinion May 07, 2015 by Gordon Cameron Ancaster News

As I told you last week, I took part in the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands back in 1995. I wrote about how I was surrounded by my friends and the impact that had on me. Twenty years ago we were also surrounded by a more important group — thousands of Canadian veterans who fought their way through the country half a century before.

They were a diverse group. Some were old and hunched or confined to wheelchairs, while others looked almost too young to have served in the Second World War. They were tall and short; thin and stout; French and English; sharp as tacks and starting to fade. Seeing them on the streets or in a parade their pride was palpable as was their enjoyment of the reception by the Dutch people, some of whom had lined the very same streets 50 years before to say thanks to the very same veterans.

Most of the crowd was too young to remember the liberation, yet the affection they had for our vets was deep and genuine. They had heard the stories of what life was like under the Nazis — the brutality, the deprivation, the fear — from parents and grandparents and had a deep appreciation of the sacrifice the Canadians and the other Allies made to deliver them from their oppressors.

The veterans were given the reverence due heroes and the welcome reserved for rock stars.

That special bond went both ways. The veterans took the time to stop and talk to the Dutch people, to share their experiences, to pose for photos and to accept the thanks of the liberated on behalf of those who weren’t around to accept it themselves.

But after two more decades there are fewer veterans left to be thanked.

Time marches on, and the vets who were 19 (my age at the time) when they fought their way across Europe are now almost 90. Those who were of average age for a Canadian soldier during the Second World War, 26, are approaching the century mark.

The reports that I’ve read about the 70th anniversary celebrations, which will likely be the last big gathering of Canadian vets in the Netherlands, has the total number who made the trip at a high of just over 100.

The fact that so few vets are able to travel anymore makes this final trip so poignant. When we attended a ceremony at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, we saw many former soldiers stopping among the graves to share a moment with their fallen comrades, friends to whom they had to say good bye to over five decades before. It was tough, but there was a recognition that they could be back to that place someday to visit again. Now, most know that this visit will be their last and that they are staying goodbye for the final time.

I think back on the veterans that I’ve got to know over the years and how privileged I was to know them. It is now up to me, and all like me, to tell their stories, to keep their memory alive lest we, and the rest of the world, forget.

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.

Twenty years on, veterans of the Second World War are fading fast

Opinion May 07, 2015 by Gordon Cameron Ancaster News

As I told you last week, I took part in the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands back in 1995. I wrote about how I was surrounded by my friends and the impact that had on me. Twenty years ago we were also surrounded by a more important group — thousands of Canadian veterans who fought their way through the country half a century before.

They were a diverse group. Some were old and hunched or confined to wheelchairs, while others looked almost too young to have served in the Second World War. They were tall and short; thin and stout; French and English; sharp as tacks and starting to fade. Seeing them on the streets or in a parade their pride was palpable as was their enjoyment of the reception by the Dutch people, some of whom had lined the very same streets 50 years before to say thanks to the very same veterans.

Most of the crowd was too young to remember the liberation, yet the affection they had for our vets was deep and genuine. They had heard the stories of what life was like under the Nazis — the brutality, the deprivation, the fear — from parents and grandparents and had a deep appreciation of the sacrifice the Canadians and the other Allies made to deliver them from their oppressors.

The veterans were given the reverence due heroes and the welcome reserved for rock stars.

"Most of the crowd was too young to remember the liberation, yet the affection they had for our vets was deep and genuine."

That special bond went both ways. The veterans took the time to stop and talk to the Dutch people, to share their experiences, to pose for photos and to accept the thanks of the liberated on behalf of those who weren’t around to accept it themselves.

But after two more decades there are fewer veterans left to be thanked.

Time marches on, and the vets who were 19 (my age at the time) when they fought their way across Europe are now almost 90. Those who were of average age for a Canadian soldier during the Second World War, 26, are approaching the century mark.

The reports that I’ve read about the 70th anniversary celebrations, which will likely be the last big gathering of Canadian vets in the Netherlands, has the total number who made the trip at a high of just over 100.

The fact that so few vets are able to travel anymore makes this final trip so poignant. When we attended a ceremony at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, we saw many former soldiers stopping among the graves to share a moment with their fallen comrades, friends to whom they had to say good bye to over five decades before. It was tough, but there was a recognition that they could be back to that place someday to visit again. Now, most know that this visit will be their last and that they are staying goodbye for the final time.

I think back on the veterans that I’ve got to know over the years and how privileged I was to know them. It is now up to me, and all like me, to tell their stories, to keep their memory alive lest we, and the rest of the world, forget.

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.

Twenty years on, veterans of the Second World War are fading fast

Opinion May 07, 2015 by Gordon Cameron Ancaster News

As I told you last week, I took part in the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands back in 1995. I wrote about how I was surrounded by my friends and the impact that had on me. Twenty years ago we were also surrounded by a more important group — thousands of Canadian veterans who fought their way through the country half a century before.

They were a diverse group. Some were old and hunched or confined to wheelchairs, while others looked almost too young to have served in the Second World War. They were tall and short; thin and stout; French and English; sharp as tacks and starting to fade. Seeing them on the streets or in a parade their pride was palpable as was their enjoyment of the reception by the Dutch people, some of whom had lined the very same streets 50 years before to say thanks to the very same veterans.

Most of the crowd was too young to remember the liberation, yet the affection they had for our vets was deep and genuine. They had heard the stories of what life was like under the Nazis — the brutality, the deprivation, the fear — from parents and grandparents and had a deep appreciation of the sacrifice the Canadians and the other Allies made to deliver them from their oppressors.

The veterans were given the reverence due heroes and the welcome reserved for rock stars.

"Most of the crowd was too young to remember the liberation, yet the affection they had for our vets was deep and genuine."

That special bond went both ways. The veterans took the time to stop and talk to the Dutch people, to share their experiences, to pose for photos and to accept the thanks of the liberated on behalf of those who weren’t around to accept it themselves.

But after two more decades there are fewer veterans left to be thanked.

Time marches on, and the vets who were 19 (my age at the time) when they fought their way across Europe are now almost 90. Those who were of average age for a Canadian soldier during the Second World War, 26, are approaching the century mark.

The reports that I’ve read about the 70th anniversary celebrations, which will likely be the last big gathering of Canadian vets in the Netherlands, has the total number who made the trip at a high of just over 100.

The fact that so few vets are able to travel anymore makes this final trip so poignant. When we attended a ceremony at Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, we saw many former soldiers stopping among the graves to share a moment with their fallen comrades, friends to whom they had to say good bye to over five decades before. It was tough, but there was a recognition that they could be back to that place someday to visit again. Now, most know that this visit will be their last and that they are staying goodbye for the final time.

I think back on the veterans that I’ve got to know over the years and how privileged I was to know them. It is now up to me, and all like me, to tell their stories, to keep their memory alive lest we, and the rest of the world, forget.

Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News.