Column: Tulips show gratitude

In many of the social media feeds, there has been plenty of pop-ups encouraging us to purchase a limited-edition tulip commemorating the 75th anniversary liberation of the Netherlands by Canadian soldiers.

My father was one of those soldiers.  All kinds of memories have leaked into my brain of the stories he told my siblings and I. The overwhelming feelings of pride and painful memories of what he saw and experienced in the Netherlands never left him.  Today I would probably put a label of PTSD on his life after the war.

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My father enlisted in the Canadian army when he was 19 years old.  He said at the time, it felt like the right thing to do.  He was sent to the Netherlands in 1944-45 in the capacity as a secretary.  Somehow he ended up in a tank that was shot at by the Germans.

The stories he told us as very young children were accompanied by a blue covered book he obtained.  It was a photo journal of the Canadians landing in the Netherlands and horrible conditions the Dutch were experiencing at the hands of the enemy.

Dad was filled with pride and love of the Dutch when he was reliving his experience.  He arrived right at the moment the First Canadian Army (I don’t know if he was part of this group) was liberating the Dutch at a time of crisis for the Netherlands: the “hunger winter”.  Dad showed us photos of the starving people, who survived by eating tulip bulbs. 

Canadian troops gave their rations to children.  They gave blankets to the civilians and used their bombers to drop food packets to hungry civilians in German-occupied Rotterdam, Amsterdam and the Hague with permission from the Germans as long as the bombers did not fly above 200 feet.  This was called “Operation Manna”.

To thank the Canadians, the Dutch people wrote grateful messages on their rooftops.  “Many thanks” were spelled in tulips after Operation Manna. 

My father told us so many times of the feelings he had walking the streets in Holland with his Canadian army uniform on.  People rushed up to the soldiers and hugged them over and over again, gave them flowers and offered so much love to the young soldiers for the rescue.

In 1945, people of Netherlands sent 100,000 hand-picked tulip bulbs as a post-war gift for the role played by the Canadian soldiers in liberating the Netherlands.  The tulips were planted on Parliament Hill and along Queen Elizabeth Driveway.  Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, the only child to then-Queen Wilhelmina and heir to the throne, sought refuge in Canada during the war.  Princess Juliana was so pleased with the response of the Canadian government to the gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs, she decided to send a personal gift of 20,000 tulip bulbs to show her gratitude.

Every year Canada receives 10,000 bulbs from the Dutch royal family, celebrated in the Canadian Tulip Festival.

This year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands, the Canadian Tulip Festival, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the National Capital Commission have launched the Liberation75Commemorative Planting Campaign.

The campaign aims to sell 1.1 million tulips to honour the 1.1 million Canadians who served in the Second World War.

Canadians are encouraged to purchase a bag of 15 Liberation75 Tulip Bulbs for $15.  For every bag sold, a dollar will go to the Royal Canadian Legion.  The rest of the funds will go to support the Canadian Tulip Festival and its annual symbolic celebration of the role Canada played in the Second World War.

Dad always had a dream of going back to visit Holland.  He was a chemical engineer. He actually had been hired as a consultant to attend a conference in Amsterdam in 1994 on energy solutions using wood chips from the pulp industry.  He passed away before he was able to see his dream come true.

The memories of Dad’s participation in liberating the Dutch never left him.  He was unable to leave the images of horror behind.  The memories of the love given to the Canadian soldiers from the people of the Netherlands helped minimize the horror, I believe.

My husband and I were honoured to visit Keukenhof Tulip Gardens outside of Amsterdam last year.  I felt my Dad’s presence while wandering through the massive beds of the tulips.

To purchase Liberation75 tulip bulbs, visit liberation75.ca.

Lynda Pasacreta is the current president of the Richmond Garden Club.  For more information visit richmondgardenclub.ca

 

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