Sunday, May 08, 2005

May 8 and VE-Day

Today is the 60th anniversary of VE-Day and I've decided to write something that has nothing to do with privacy. This may appear to be bragging, but Canadians have a lot to brag about on this VE-Day anniversary. I just have an special memento of the occasion.

May 8 has a special meaning in my family. My grandfather, William L. Roberts, was one of 1.1 million Canadians who served in the Second World War. He was with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and fought in Italy and then joined the rest of the Canadians who were fighting the last German resistance in Holland. Sixty years ago today, on May 8, 1945 his unit arrived in Amsterdam and began assembling in a park. A Bren Gun Carrier was missing from their group, so he took a motorcycle to go and find them. While looking through the town, he picked up a few hitchhikers and, unknown to him, someone took this incredible picture.

The picture was eventually sent to the Seaforth Armoury in Vancouver, where he was recognized and the picture was sent to him. We also found out that the picture has been used in a number of Dutch textbooks to illustrate the euphoria of the liberation. It has been a great piece of family history, but the story doesn't end there....

For the millennium, in 1999, the Dutch postal service did a poll of the Dutch people to find out the most important events of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, the liberation was at the top of the list. The postal service selected my grandfather's photo to symbolize that amazing day. We found out when my cousins, travelling in Europe for the summer, saw the stamp on a huge poster in Amsterdam.

In 1999, when the stamp came out, my cousin Peter McLean put together a webpage about the photo, the stamp and some of the media coverage that the stamp garnered: W.L. ROBERTS: Home Page.

I've also found some other mentions around the web: :: WWII veteran honoured as poster boy on Dutch stamp, :: Canadian veteran depicted on Dutch stamp dies at age 88.

May 8 is a pretty important day.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Ten years on, CBC notes the following about the VE Day celebrations:

But this time there's sadness too — because we are unlikely to see its likeness again, according to some Dutch officials.

The Canadians who were mostly in their early-20s when they freed Holland from Nazi occupation will soon be too old or frail for this personal love-in to be continued, the current thinking goes.

This Saturday, therefore, you can expect the streets of Apeldoorn to be crammed with Dutch trying to personally thank those who liberated Holland in 1945.

Many will reach out to touch the old men and throw them flowers, while small children will be held up so they, too, might one day tell their own children they actually saw some of those legendary foreigners who had once come so far and risked all to save the Dutch nation.