Today is the day we remember and give thanks for the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers in times past and present. We should never forget the bravery of these countless men and women, nor should we take their efforts for granted. Our freedom has come at a cost.
Last year (on the old Xanga Yinkahdinay), I shared some of my grandfather’s wartime experiences. My Opa (W.H. Bredenhof) fought in the Dutch underground during the Second World War. Today, I’d like to share some of what he wrote about the end of the war. It’s rather anti-climactic compared to last year’s account, but it’s true to life.
In March of 1944 we slowly moved in to the front zone. Day and night there were Allied planes in the sky; not by the hundreds but by the thousands. We didn’t see German planes in the skies anymore. They were finished. Sometimes the German flak artillery was quite active. More than once falling shrapnel fell only a few feet away from me. Several people were killed by it walking in their own yard.
But now another problem started to bother me. I had a serious infection in my right thumb. Night after night I couldn’t sleep. It was a special infection where the bone grows out of the thumb. The pain was unbearable for many weeks. Of all things! We could now finally attack the enemy openly and in full force and I was stuck with a hand that was 3-4 times its normal size. Finally, I went to the doctor in Genemuiden on April 14 and he sent me to the hospital in Zwolle for an operation. In the first town there were still German soldiers, but when I came into Zwolle I saw the first Canadian scouts. Under the knife I went. Two hours later I was released and went from Zwolle back to Genemuiden to present myself for duty. It would be the crucial day. My officer thought that I wasn’t fit for duty. Well, I thought that I could persuade him otherwise. But before we got into action the pain came back worse than ever. The doctor advised me to go back to the hospital in Zwolle. On the road to Zwolle the Canadians and the Germans were fighting not that far away. A few stray bullets hit ground not too far from me.
In the hospital I had another operation and the surgeon told me my thumb couldn’t be saved and he also feared for my hand. I told him to do what he had to do. The Canadians were there and I was still alive. Thousands didn’t make it that far. I didn’t get out of the hospital that day. My ward had several wounded French Canadians as well. It was much to my surprise that I could feel my hand later. It was still a greater surprise when four days later I could feel my thumb. Then they couldn’t hold me any longer and sent me back to my unit. My trigger finger worked perfectly.
I took part in the mopping up operations. Some of the Germans were fanatical. Some were in hiding, but a light machine gun did wonders. Many Nazis tried to get away in civilian clothes to Germany. We caught many.
That is in a few words the experiences of the last few months of the war. Of course, it isn’t all. Would we put everything on paper, that alone would fill a book.