To find descendants of Second World War soldiers who died in the Netherlands, Jan Braakman will fly to at least three Canadian provinces, rent cars to reach people in rural areas and enlist a translator to interview a relative who only speaks French. He is making a documentary to remember the Canadians who fought for Dutch liberation.
“We are already late,” says Mr. Braakman, a Dutch journalist, noting he will travel to Canada in September to do the interviews. "Ten or 15 years ago, you would have a lot more possibilities to meet spouses or friends or brothers and sisters.”
May 5 is Dutch Liberation Day, and the documentary that Mr. Braakman is working on will be broadcast in the Netherlands to recognize the 75th anniversary of the liberation next spring. In the final year of the Second World War, more than 6,000 Canadian soldiers were killed, injured or captured during a nine-month campaign that liberated the Netherlands from German occupation. The liberation ended a period of widespread starvation for the Dutch, and the effort to make a documentary highlights their continued gratitude.
“The kind of celebration and genuine appreciation for what the Canadians did is pretty overwhelming,” says Geoffrey Hayes, an associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo. The liberation meant the Dutch could begin life again under a democracy, Mr. Hayes says. “It simply wouldn’t have happened if the Canadians hadn’t been able to fight to the very end.”
Mr. Braakman and his fellow filmmaker, Sander Jongsma, are working with Canadian genealogists to track down descendants and plan to interview 10 to 15 people. They will piece together memories of the soldiers and learn how their deaths affected people in Canada.
The footage will be screened in the Dutch village of Holten, at the information centre of the Canadian War Cemetery, where more than 1,300 Canadians are buried. It will also be broadcast on a Dutch television channel.
One potential interviewee is Raymond Switzer, 72, a nephew of soldier Cecil Switzer. Raymond lives on a farm near Fisher Branch, Man. He was born after the war ended, but his family passed down Cecil’s letters, which he plans to share with the filmmakers. In one letter, Cecil looked forward to the bird hunting season.
“He was writing it to my dad and saying that he was going to get home for the goose shoot,” Raymond recalls. “The letter got mailed before he died.”
In Saskatchewan, another descendant is Joseph Hubert, 85, a cousin of Walter Hubert, who was killed by a land mine shortly after the liberation, Joseph says. He remembers stories about Walter – sitting on the back of a farm truck with him and unravelling barbed wire fencing. Joseph and his wife will welcome the filmmakers to their farm outside Regina.
“When they come, we’ll have coffee ready for them,” Joseph says.