Margaret Schulp travelled from her home in Rotterdam yesterday to pay tribute to the Canadian veterans who liberated the Netherlands 55 years ago, but above all, she came looking for her father.
As the huge parade of marching bands and old military vehicles carrying Canadian vets passed by, Ms. Schulp stood expectantly at the edge of the sidewalk amid the throngs, holding a sign fashioned from a cardboard box.
"I am looking for my Dad Jhonny Jhonson or his friend Harry Bertrand," the misspelled sign read.
Ms. Schulp has known since she was small that her father was a Canadian but she never dared initiate an active search until after her mother died two years ago. Now, she is determined to find out who her biological father was.
She has little to go by. "We think he was from Ontario or Toronto," Ms. Schulp said. Another good indication of her origins is the fact she was born on Feb. 13, 1946, nine months after the official German surrender to Canadian forces.
Many of the veterans marching by spied the sign and more often than not, responded simply, "Not me." Others shook their heads or pointed in jest to a buddy marching just behind, "It's him."
But this is no joking matter for Ms. Schulp and the other half-dozen postwar babies, now in their mid-50s, who held up similar signs along the parade route in this prosperous city in the eastern Netherlands. An estimated 4,000 Canadian veterans and members of their families have travelled to the Netherlands for a series of memorial gatherings to mark the liberation anniversary, the highlight of which was yesterday's parade.
Tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Apeldoorn, waving Canadian flags and shouting thank you to the veterans.
"These men are heroes to us," said Andrea Holtus, 39, who brought her two children to witness the event.
For the so-called Liberation babies, these heroes could also be their fathers.
"Twenty years ago, I found out from my mother that my father was a Canadian," said Anita Marsch, holding up a sign that read "Searching for Norman Manick." She said her father -- a soldier from Saskatoon -- and mother went out together for about six months before he returned to Canada. "In August, he'll be 80."
According to the Association of Liberation Children, a Dutch group formed 16 years ago to help people find their biological fathers, between 4,500 and 7,000 babies were born with Allied fathers following the liberation. The vast majority of the fathers are Canadians, reflecting the strong Canadian role in the liberation of the Netherlands.
"In our 16 years, we have found more than 1,000 fathers or their families," said Wolfgang Oude-Aost, the association secretary, who found his own biological father, a onetime U.S. soldier, about 10 years ago and has since visited him once a year in West Virginia.
With the help of John Boers, a Canadian of Dutch origin living in Guelph, Ont., the association searches data for the men.
In the case of Mr. Oude-Aost, neither his mother nor his U.S. father ever married. But in many cases, the soldiers left behind Dutch girlfriends because they had wives and families at home in Canada.
Mary Derr's mother told her at age 6 that her father was Canadian but she wouldn't say more. She was brought up by a stepfather.
"My mother married when I was 4, but he was never my father for me," Ms. Derr said of her stepfather. "There was never a hug or anything."
Last year, after several years of looking on and off, Ms. Derr discovered the identity of her biological father. He was Keith Miller of Thunder Bay, and had died four years ago. Last June, Ms. Derr visited Canada to see her four half-sisters. She had such a good time she returned at Christmas.
"All the sisters said that I'm the one who looks the most like my father," she said.
Helena Duran was 18 when an uncle told her that her biological father was a Canadian. She, too, was born in February of 1946. But her mother refused to talk about it until last year, when she provided her daughter with a photo that included her father's name, address and date of birth.
With that information, Ms. Duran soon found out that she had five half-brothers and six half-sisters in Nova Scotia. It turned out that her father, Wilfrid Leblanc of River Hebert, N.S., already had three children at home when he went to war. Her mother never knew of her boyfriend's other family in Canada.
She sent her newly found siblings photos of herself and a copy of the photo she had of her father. "They said I had a real Leblanc face and a real Leblanc nose."
As it turned out, her father had died, but that didn't stop her. In August, Ms. Duran went "home" to visit the Leblanc clan. When she arrived at Halifax airport, a busload of Leblancs were there to greet her. "They came with 24 people. They stood with flowers and balloons and big welcome cards. It was unbelievable."