Virtual Exhibit

Remembering Holland

Stories from Lacombe and the Second World War

The Second World War

The Second World War started with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on September 1st, 1939. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later, and Canada declared war on September 10th. Some of Nazi Germany’s goals during 1940 were to defeat France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. After five days of fighting, the Dutch military surrendered on May 15th, followed by the surrender of Belgium and France. By 1941, the Second World War had become a global conflict. The Soviet Union joined the Allies after it was invaded by Germany and the USA also joined after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Pita Doornenbal was nine years old and lived in the province of Utrecht when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940.

“Of the actual five-day war in 1940 that started the occupation of Holland, I remember the sirens warning us of air raids. My mother would quickly close the drapes, in case of possible flying glass, and then gather her children around her and stand against an inside wall in the house. It was very frightening as we listened to the drone of airplanes, the popping of gun fire and the whistling noise and window rattling explosions of bombs in the distance. Then something that really made an impression on me as a child was when the news came that the Dutch had surrendered to the Germans. My Dad, who was a very patriotic man, sobbed his heart out.

Then came the five difficult years of occupation. Many restrictions were put into place and became more severe as time went on. . . .We lived with a lot of fear in those years.”
Pita Doornenbal

Lacombe, 1944

By the end of September, 1944, various groups in Lacombe were already planning their Victory Day (V-Day) celebrations. A selection of different ideas were suggested for appropriate events. The main features of the plan were a parade and a Thanksgiving Service, although a bonfire, souvenir flags, and fireworks, were all also suggested. While many in the military also felt that Germany’s defeat was imminent, the war was not over yet.

Dutch Resistance

As Pita describes, life became increasingly difficult in the Netherlands under the Nazi occupation. Persecution against the Jewish people, many of whom had fled to the Netherlands to avoid the Nazis, increased. Even though it was extremely dangerous, many Dutch people chose to become involved in the Dutch Resistance, often out of patriotism or with the goal of helping the Jewish people in their midst. Some acts of resistance were dramatic, like strikes or sabotage, while others were more subtle.

Frank Zee and his family were among those who resisted by hiding a boy in their home. The Nazis found the boy and arrested Frank, placing him in an extremely small cell and eventually sent him for labour in Germany.
He survived his captivity, and several of his children eventually moved to the Lacombe area.

The western Allies began to make significant visible progress in Europe in 1943 when Italy surrendered. Then on June 6th, 1944, the Allies made a successful landing in France on D-Day and started slowly forcing their way to Berlin to defeat Germany while the Soviet military moved in from the east

Operation Market Garden

The Netherlands had been occupied for more than four years in September of 1944 when the British led an offensive known as Operation Market Garden. The goal was to deliver a fatal blow to Germany and end the war by the end of 1944. However, Operation Market Garden failed to achieve its objectives, and the Allies, who were desperately in need of a major port through which to move supplies to their troops in Europe, decided that Antwerp would be that port. Advancing into Germany would be extremely difficult if not impossible without a shorter supply line to bring necessities to the front-line troops. The difficulty was that Antwerp is an inland port and the Germans still controlled land between Antwerp and the ocean, even though the port itself was already in Allied hands.

  • Amphibious vehicles transporting troops on the Scheldt River.
    Image from the Directorate of History and Heritage.
    Scans provided by Rory Cory, Calgary Military Museums, April 2020.

During September, 1944, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Canadian Divisions had been tasked with capturing the northern coastline of Europe while other Allies drove inland to push the Germans back. The Canadians had captured cities such as Dieppe, Boulogne, and Calais, but by the time they were secured by the Canadians, none of these had suitable ports for bringing in supplies. Furthermore, the Allies were not able to capture the port at Dunkirk until May 9th, 1945. After the failure of Operation Market Garden, getting full access to Antwerp’s port became even more critical for the Allies as they sought to defeat Nazi Germany. After a short break to bring in reinforcements for the infantry, the Canadians were given a new objective: to clear the ocean access to Antwerp.

Liberating The Netherlands

The Breskens Pocket was an area on the south side of the Scheldt Estuary. The area was well defended by the 64th German Division and consisted largely of farmland that had been flooded. As part of Operation Switchback, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division mounted a two-pronged attack on this area that started on October 6th, and was not completed until November 3rd. During this time, infantry had to slog though mud as they worked from one farm to the next to clear out the German defenders. There was little to no cover for the infantry to hide behind and there were often mines set in the dykes were the Canadians were likely to look for cover.  It ended in the complete defeat of the German 64th Division, but at great cost to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.
On the east side of the estuary, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division began working their way up the Beveland isthmus on October 2nd. The Germans had flooded this area and the terrain was similar to that faced by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.

Clarence Leroy Thompson, son of Jack I. & Zerella V. Thompson of Lacombe, found himself on this part of the battlefield as a private in the Black Watch.

Born in 1925, the 19-year-old farmer had enlisted less than a year prior in Calgary on November 10th, 1943. Clarence was killed in action on the 10th of October, 1944. His two older brothers, Earl and Lawrence, served with the U.S. Army and survived the war.

The 2nd Division continued on. Walcheren Island was finally taken on November 8th by a combination of British and Canadian forces, but not before the Black Watch was sent across the causeway to the island in a brutal attempt to capture it. But the ocean access to Antwerp was opened and Allied supplies began arriving at Antwerp on November 28th.

“After devoting enormous resources to Market Garden, Eisenhower tried to reinstate the shattered broad front plan, but southern central, and northern armies were now converging on Germany in widening and diverging arcs, each lurching forward at a different speed due to enemy resistance and chronic shortages of ammunition and POL (petrol, oil, and lubricants). . . . Again Eisenhower ordered Montgomery . . . to open Antwerp as a critical objective for the continued Allied advance. But now the German Fifteenth Army was ready for a long campaign. Tens of thousands of German defenders had retreated to Walcheren Island, South Beveland, and the Breskens Pocket. It was the First Canadian Army, neglected on the left flank and now much weakened after having lost three division to Market Garden, that had the decisive role of clearing the enemy from behind daunting natural and military defences. The battle for the Scheldt would be one of the most important campaigns of the war.”
– Tim Cook, Fight to the Finish, 335.

During the battle to capture Walcheren Island, Sgt. William Mattock Ironside of the Blackfalds area dove into a burning landing vehicle that had been hit by shell fire to save the injured men inside. This already dangerous action was made even more risky by the explosions nearby caused by burning fuel and ammunition.
Throughout the day of November 1st, he continued to care for wounded men and his brave actions that day were rewarded with a Military Medal.

The 4th Canadian Armoured Division worked to liberate towns in Belgium and the Netherlands. As the Canadians continued to fight and suffer high casualties’ rates, it became clear that the war was not going be over soon. The toll on the morale of the soldiers was high and there were not enough reinforcements available for the infantry.

The Hunger Winter 

In the parts of the Netherlands that they had liberated, the Canadian were welcomed as heroes. However, the Germans maintained their hold over the entire north-east part of the Netherlands over the winter of 1944-45 while fighting continued elsewhere. Food became extremely scarce and many Dutch people died of starvation during this time, which became known as the Hunger Winter.

Pita Doornenbal recalls the scarcities that had existed throughout the war for the Dutch people, which became much worse during the Hunger Winter:

“Food became very scarce and you needed ration coupons to be able to buy anything. Clothing too became very hard to get and my sister and I unraveled many adult sweaters and ripped apart clothes to knit and sew clothes for growing children. . . . And then there was the so called hunger winter of 44/45. Food now became very, very scarce. We were sent out to glean the farmers’ fields where they had taken the grain stooks off.

Dad grew a small garden and we picked wild berries and gathered beechnuts. Anything to give us nourishment. In that way we were much better off than the people in the cities. When we were hungry something interesting happened. The German soldiers who were stationed in our village at some farms and a couple of large villas had their meals cooked at a central kitchen and then transported by truck, in barrels to these places. One day one of the barrels fell off the truck and spilled its contents on the road. My mother and some others didn’t lose a minute to grab a pan and scoop up what they could. We had a delicious supper that night of stamppot with big chunks of sausage in it. What a treat!!”
– Pita Doornenbal

Over the course of March and April 1945, the I Canadian Corps, which had been in Italy, was moved to join the First Canadian Army in Europe. Following this, the Canadians began moving into the northern part of the Netherlands, racing to liberate the Dutch people before more starved to death. Many Canadian soldiers shared their rations with the people they met.

“What a joyful day it was when we were liberated and the Canadians marched into our village. Everybody was dancing in the streets. Red, white and blue flags and anything orange everywhere. The wonderful excitement of the food and clothes dropping from airplanes. The beautiful white bread which to us was like the finest cake.
Thanksgiving services were held in the churches. How thankful we were that this dark and trying time had finally come to an end for our beloved country of Holland.”
– Pita Doornenbal

The German forces in the Netherlands surrendered on May 5th, 1945.

The Netherlands were liberated.

Lacombe’s Dutch Community

By the time the Second World War started, there were already a significant number of Dutch families in the Lacombe area. The first wave of Dutch immigration occurred during the 1920s as families moved to the area to seek better economic and farming opportunities. Even more Dutch families, who had previously settled elsewhere in Canada, came during the 1930s as they sought relief from the disastrous drought that raged across the Prairies but was less severe around Lacombe.

By the time the Second World War started, there were already a significant number of Dutch families in the Lacombe area. The first wave of Dutch immigration occurred during the 1920s as families moved to the area to seek better economic and farming opportunities. Even more Dutch families, who had previously settled elsewhere in Canada, came during the 1930s as they sought relief from the disastrous drought that raged across the Prairies but was less severe around Lacombe.

After the war was over Pita married her boyfriend, Gerry, and the two moved to Canada in 1952 – going first to British Columbia and then moving to Lacombe in 1957.
Gerry worked at the Agricultural Research Station for 32 years and together the couple had five sons and one daughter.
Sadly, Gerry passed away in 2016, but Pita still lives right here in Lacombe.

The following 35 Dutch Families came to Lacombe after the Second World War with the assistance of the Immigration Committee of the Christian Reformed Church in North America:

  • Andringa, Herman Family – Arrival year: 1949
  • Attema, Anna and Wynia – Origin: Wommels, Friesland, Arrival year: 1950
  • Bouwman, Arendina – Origin: Naarden, Noord Holland, Arrival year: 1954
  • Braaksma, Jelle Family – Origin: Hilversum, Noord Holland, Arrival year: 1952
  • De Jong, Andries and Edema –  Origin: Naarden, Noord Holland, Arrival year: 1949
  • De Vries, Bertus – Origin: Naarden, Noord Holland, Arrival year: 1954
  • Dykema, Hendrika – Origin: Zuidhorn, Groningen, Arrival year: 1953
  • Dykstra, Jan – Origin: Ulrum, Groningen, Arrival year: 1952
  • Edema, Anna – Origin: Naarden, Noord Holland, Arrival year: 1949
  • Feikens, Jeltje – Origin: Huizum, Friesland, Arrival year: 1953
  • Feitsma, ?? – Origin: Oldehove, Groningen, Arrival year: 1953
  • Godeke, Stientje – Origin: Dedemsvaart, Overijssel, Arrival year: 1951
  • Heetebry, J – Origin: Ommen, Drenthe, Arrival year: 1947
  • Huiting, Pieter – Origin: Arnhem, Gelderland, Arrival year: 1951
  • Huizenga, Roelof J – Origin: Uithuizermeeden, Groningen, Arrival year: 1951
  • Koster, Rinkje – Origin: Huizum, Friesland, Arrival year: 1950
  • Kraal, Derk J Family – Origin:Muiderberg, Noord Holland, Arrival year: 1951
  • Kraal, J – Origin: Dedemsvaart, Overijssel, Arrival year: 1951
  • Kroon, Jacoba – Origin: Dedemsvaart, Overijssel; Arrival year: 1951
  • Lugtenberg, Anette – Origin: Leeuwarden, Friesland; Arrival year: 1950
  • Meindersma, Jan W –  Origin: Driesum, Friesland; Arrival year: 1954
  • Nydam, Akke – Origin: Andijk, Noord Holland; Arrival year: 1954
  • Paal, Jan Spouse – Origin: Ommen, Drenthe; Arrival year: 1947
  • Postmus, Japke – Origin: Oosternijkerk, Friesland; Arrival year: 1953
  • Prins, Jacob – Origin: Andijk, Noord Holland; Arrival year: 1954
  • Rietema, Kornelis Family – Origin: Ulrum, Friesland; Arrival year: 1952
  • Rypema, Hendrik P – Origin: Huizum, Friesland; Arrival year: 1950
  • Smit, Albert – Origin: Exloermond, Drenthe; Arrival year: 1954
  • Stolte, Geertje – Origin: Ommen, Drenthe; Arrival year: 1947
  • Vander Wal, Bartholomeus – Origin: Huizum, Friesland; Arrival year: 1953
  • Vis, Jan P – Origin: Sassenheim, Zuid Holland; Arrival year: 1952
  • Vis, Klaas – Origin: Wolfheze, Gelderland; Arrival year: 1951
  • Vrieling, Klaas – Origin: Dedemsvaart, Overijssel; Arrival year: 1951
  • Wielenga, Elizabeth – Origin: Franeker, Friesland; Arrival year: 1953
  • Wynia, Jan – Origin: Wommels, Friesland; Arrival year: 1950

Other Dutch families that arrived around this time included:

  • Veenstra, Bob and Emmie. Arrived in 1948
    to the Bob Carlyle farm south of Bentley
  • Busaan, Jan and Trientje. Arrived in April 1951
    with 3 children, 2 daughters and a son. Jan and Tena later worked for Archie Carlyle, a brother of Bob Carlyle
  • Spelt, Gysbertus. Arrived in April 1951
    with his family on the same boat as the Busaans. They settled west of Bentley on a farm after some years of working for local farmers.

Dutch-Canadian Friendship Tulip Garden

In 1945, the first gift of 100,000 Dutch tulips bulbs was given to Canadians as a symbol of appreciation for the role Canadian soldiers played in the liberation of the Netherlands and the hospitality Canada provided to the Dutch Royal Family in Ottawa during the War. In 1945 all the bulbs were planted in the National Capital Region.

Ottawa’s first Canadian Tulip Festival took place in May 1953 and opened with an inauguration ceremony at Parliament Hill. Over 750,000 tulips bloomed throughout the Nation’s Capital. Visitors flocked to view the stunning array of tulips. The festival was a hit, and it became an annual celebration.

In Lacombe, a Dutch-Canadian Friendship Tulip Garden was planted at the Lest We Forget Memorial Park outside the Lacombe Memorial Centre in October 2015. The garden celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of The Netherlands at the end of the Second World War. Here, 700 tulip bulbs were planted by local students.

Thanks to the generous symbolic renewal of the 1945 Royal gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs by Veseys Bulbs, the Canadian Garden Council in collaboration with the Canadian Tulip Festival and the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association have distributed 700 tulip bulbs to 140 communities across Canada all connected to the symbolic garden of 7,000 bulbs in Ottawa.

Note on terminology:

The terms Holland and the Netherlands are used interchangeably at some points in this exhibit. We recognize that the name of the country is the Netherlands, and that Holland specifically consists of the regions Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland. Historically, especially in English speaking regions, Holland has been used to refer to the entire country of the Netherlands. The places in which you see Holland referring to the entire country have been retained as this is how Pita Doornenbal referred to the country in her interview. If you wish to learn more about the Netherlands, its provinces, and why the entire country has often been referred to as Holland please visit this article about the country’s recent re-branding, or this short Britannica entry.

Want to Learn More?

If you liked this exhibit, please leave us a comment and explore our other virtual exhibits such as At Home & Abroad: Stories of Lacombe and the Second World War or Lest We Forget Our Brave Hearts.


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