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Prime Minister Stephen Harper lays a wreath at the memorial during a ceremony at the military cemetary in Bergen op Zoom Thursday May 6, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper lays a wreath at the memorial during a ceremony at the military cemetary in Bergen op Zoom Thursday May 6, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

65 years later, Canadians honoured for role in freeing the Netherlands Add to ...

The rows of well-kept white grave markers in the Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery tell the story of selfless young men who gave their lives in battle.

The personal inscriptions on the markers offer a reminder that a heavy price was also paid by the wives, children and parents left to mourn their loss in towns and cities across Canada.

There are 968 Canadian soldiers buried here, including C.R. Bowden of the 143rd Field Regiment, "the beloved husband of Eileen Miriam and darling daddy of Nicolette."

Another grave, marked W.M. Roscoe, brought back a rush of emotion Thursday to 85-year-old Canadian veteran Kenneth Rowland, who laid a wreath for the first time here to honour his best friend "Billy" who died in his arms from German fire not far from where he now lies.

"We worked as a team," said Mr. Rowland, who said they had enlisted together and fought their way through France. Mr. Roscoe was killed as Canadian troops liberated this Dutch town and just months before the war's end.

That the sacrifices of these men and their families is appreciated by the people of the Netherlands, let there be no doubt.

"Our liberators. Our heroes. Forever," declared Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende at a ceremony here marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi occupation.

Dutch students learn all about the key role Canadian soldiers play in their country's history. The Dutch Prime Minister welcomed the large number of Canadian students visiting the Netherlands this week who are here to learn the same.

"This week, they will walk in the foot steps of their fellow Canadians - Canadians who were not much older than they are now and they fought a battle of life and death in 1944 and 1945. They will see what a front line was and that my people lit bonfires to celebrate their liberation," said Mr. Balkenende. "They will feel the eternal gratitude from the Dutch people for the bravoury of the Canadian soldiers."

For decades now, Canadian veterans have returned to the Netherlands to mark key anniversaries and reunite with their Dutch friends who gave them food, shelter and a place to rest in between battles.

There numbers are now down to a few dozen.

Their dwindling ranks have not lessened the strong ties between the two countries. Tulips sent from the Netherlands continue to bloom each May in the City of Ottawa, a show of thanks to the city for providing refuge to Dutch royalty during the war.

In his speech at the ceremony, Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised the ongoing bond between the two nations and paid tribute to the Canadian efforts during the Second World War.

"This army, more than 175,000 Canadians reinforced by Dutch and allied forces, fought its way from Normandy to Rotterdam, field by field, canal by canal, dyke by daunting dyke," he said. "In the face of such deeds, words seem like small acknowledgment... Nevertheless, to those remaining members of this once-mighty army here with us today, we say thank you."

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