Canadian Liberation of Holland - 60 Years Ago
Canadians, Dutch honour war dead
GROESBEEK, Netherlands — The last time John McConachie saw his big brother Bill, he had driven his tank right to the doors of the Dutch hospital where he lay recovering from a leg wound suffered in the early days of the campaign to liberate the Netherlands.
Four months later, on Feb. 26, 1945, Bill McConachie and his entire tank crew were killed by German fire near the town of Nijmegen.
Today, John McConachie returned to Holland for the first time in 60 years and sat just metres away from his brother’s grave during an emotional memorial ceremony at the Canadian War Cemetery in the small village of Groesbeek.
“It’s very touching,” McConachie, 83, of Montreal, said following the sombre event held on a damp, overcast day to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands.
“I didn’t think it would be quite as emotional to see the grave as it was.”
McConachie, a veteran representing the Royal Montreal Regiment, still holds fond memories of the brother he described as a rebel, whose swagger he could distinguish from afar because he insisted on carrying two .45-calibre weapons for protection instead of the single gun most soldiers wore.
“He was like Billy the Kid,” recalled McConachie.
Today’s ceremony, which drew about 1,500 veterans and about 6,500 others, mainly grateful Dutch citizens, was held to honour the 2,338 Canadians buried there.
It was one of the biggest events in a week of activities planned to honour the survivors and remember the more than 7,600 Canadians killed in the nine-month campaign to free Holland from its Nazi occupiers.
With many veterans on the trip now in their mid-to-late 80s, Veterans Affairs expects this to be the last large-scale pilgrimage it organizes.