Canada Remembers – Veterans Week
In Canada we celebrate Veterans Week from November 5th – 11th, culminating in Remembrance Day ceremonies around the country. During this week we make a special effort to honour the service, courage and sacrifice of our fellow countrymen who served Canada in times of war, military conflict and peace. Today we are honouring the service of John Nosotti.
Daniel Li, a Vancouver, BC cadet interviewed John for a school history project. The task was to select and write about an event that played a significant role in Canadian history and in the life of the interviewee; John chose the 40th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland. A bit about John. While he was the commanding officer of the Toronto Scottish Regiment (The Queen Mother’s Own), veterans from the unit participated in a tour of the battle grounds they fought on during the Second World War. As part of the 2nd Division of the Canadian Army, their focus was clearing the German Army out of Northern France, Belgium, and Holland. While the tour started in England our focus will be on the visits to cemeteries for the fallen Commonwealth soldiers and the ceremony at Dam Square in Amsterdam.
The Liberation of Holland – Historical Context
The Germans defeated the Dutch in May 1940 and created a civilian government in the Netherlands under Nazi control. Many Dutch citizens resisted the Nazi’s by sabotaging railways, telephone lines, gathering intelligence, hiding Jews, and supporting and transporting allied airman to safety. While the allies fought in Operation Market Garden, the Dutch railway workers went on strike. Their goal was to stop German reinforcements from reaching the battle ground. The German government retaliated by creating an embargo on inland shipping, thus preventing food from the northeastern farms from reaching the western cities in the Netherlands. This along with a harsh winter, preventing the use of inland canals for shipping, resulting in famine and led to the death of 20,000 civilians. The successful Battles of Scheldt and Rhineland in which Canadian troops played significant roles, followed the unsuccessful Operation Market Garden. In all there were 7,600 Canadian soldiers killed, 301,000 Dutch of whom 280,000 were civilians. Of those 104,000 perished in the Holocaust. On May 5th 1945 the Canadian General Charles Foulkes acknowledged the surrender of the German forces. The impact of the war on the Dutch population was profound, as is their continued appreciation of the role of the Canadian forces.
The Canadian legacy in Holland lives on. For many of us the manifestation of the Canadian and Dutch connection is the glorious displays of tulips in Ottawa in the spring. The annual gift of 20,000 tulip bulbs is a gift from the Dutch Royal family to show their gratitude for providing safe refuge for the Dutch royal family during their wartime exile and for helping liberate the Netherlands from the Nazis.
40th Anniversary of the Liberation of Holland Tour
With all of the above in mind one can only imagine the impact a tour of the cemeteries and battlefields would have on the veterans who participated in the liberation.
“The tour in France, Belgium and Holland included visits to cemeteries for the fallen commonwealth soldiers, including Canadian soldiers. I witnessed men in their 70's and 80's breakdown in tears when they came across a headstone of a soldier that had died next to them in battle. When you arrive at each cemetery you can see headstones of the buried soldiers for as far as the eye can see. You do not get a real impression for the significance of the battles until you see all those headstones representing a soldier who died. It is hard to imagine that thousands of men died in battle attempting to move the German Army out of occupied countries. You do not get a feeling of the intensity of the battle unless you stand among all the headstones and realize this was a horrific event that took place to kill so many.”
- John Nosotti -
In Holland great care is taken to maintain the cemeteries and honour those who died, with significant contribution from the country’s youth.
“How immaculate the care for all the cemeteries in Holland and the fact that they go all the way to get their school children involved in the whole process of maintaining surrounding areas of cemetery, “keeping the grass cut, keeping the headstone clean,” it’s all part of the project the youth get involved with. So, it is the continuation of the same desire by the people of Holland to ensure that the significance of the event and the structure of the linkage is maintained and continues to grow as the youth in the country continue to grow. My personal belief is I would love to see all of the youth from Canada get an opportunity to go over to Holland and witness some of these events at the cemeteries because only then do you really get a feeling that something horrific occurred and it was so horrific that you walk away with a feeling that you never want to see something like that happen again”
-John Nosotti -
In Holland Remembrance Day is on May 4th and is marked by a National ceremony in Dam Square, Amsterdam.
“The ceremony at Dam Square was dedicated to the memory of all the soldiers that died liberating Holland. During the event, citizens of Holland went through the hundreds of veterans gathered for this event in the hope that they would find a soldier that they helped escape back to Great Britain. The people of Holland have a special place for Canadians. They devote countless hours to care for the cemeteries in Holland filled with Canadian dead soldiers. The people of Holland were so grateful that as we travelled in Holland it was rare that we had to buy a meal. Most times we would be provided with food by the innkeepers in memory of the act of liberating their homeland during the Second World War.”
- John Nosotti -
It's important we all understand and respect how difficult Remembrance Day can be for veterans.
“I should say that if you are ever talking to a veteran, you will find that they rarely ever want to talk about that issue, they are always interested in talking about something positive, they really do not want to revisit those traumatic days when they had to witness one of their own friends death. I think these two points are really the ones that should be hammered home, the fact that there is this strong relationship between Holland and Canada and the horrors of war and the scars that they leave on individuals forever.”
- John Nosotti -
In conclusion. as you pause and reflect on the contributions of Canadians who have served and those who continue to serve, I encourage you to consider the powerful words of John Nosotti,
“I think the biggest message that you would want to take from this whole event is the need to strive to use every possible opportunity to resolve issues before they blossom into something that someone feels can only be solved by implementing such a horrific result. In other words, the killing of a person, should not be the first or even close to the first, it should be not even considered. Every other possible way of resolving something must be considered to eliminate any possibility of someone dying.”
Service Courage and Sacrifice – At home, around the world and across generations.
A special thank you to Daniel Li, 47 RCSCC Captain Vancouver cadet and John Nosotti, President, Vancouver Branch, The Navy League of Canada for sharing their collaboration with us.