November 11, 2010

The Day Canadian Soldiers Freed My Country - Jack Popjes

 We are honoured to have Jack Popjes, our InScribe President, guest post for us today.

It’s called Memorial Day in Canada, Veterans Day in the USA, and Armed Forces Day in the UK. Today is the day we honour soldiers who fought to bring freedom to subjugated nations--both those who died and those who survived.

Every time I see an elderly veteran in his uniform, tears come to my eyes as I remember the day Canadian soldiers freed my country. Here is my story of that day. I wrote it many years ago and is included in my first book, but bears repeating in honour of those who gave their lives in war so that I and my countrymen might live in peace.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I squirmed and squeezed my thin seven-year-old body through the jostling crowd until I conquered a spot on the curb. The bright sunshine warmed my face, arms and bare knees as I squinted into the light. I clutched my little paper flag, the Dutch red, white and blue, ready to wave, ready to shout and ready to sing a welcome to our rescuers. It was Tuesday, May 8, 1945.

The approaching rumble of a column of Canadian army trucks started the crowd up the road cheering and singing. The noise grew louder until huge dull green trucks blocked out the sun. Shouting, laughing soldiers waved their machine guns from the backs of the trucks. The applause and cheers of the delirious crowd lining the street nearly drowned out the singing of Wilhelmus, the Dutch national anthem.

Young soldiers whistled at the tall blonde girl jumping up and down behind me. Her homemade rose petal perfume fought the stink of the diesel exhaust fumes and the stench of close-pressed sweating bodies—bodies and clothing that had not been touched by soap for years. Camouflaged tanks grumbled past, pulling long-snouted artillery. Their thunderous booming had kept me awake for several nights. Now the cannons were sniffing the air, eager to rout the enemy from the next city.

The cheers died down suddenly as a column of prisoners of war in grey-green uniforms shuffled past. The Luger pistol holsters flapped empty on their brown leather belts. They held their now-empty hands high, or fingers laced on top of their heads. Canadian soldiers, each with his machine gun at the ready, walked alongside them.

The crowd stood silently watching the infantry prisoners go by, but then began to boo and hiss as a small column of Gestapo officers came into view. Finally! No more strutting. No more haughty looks. No more death-dealing commands. Their once-feared black uniforms glistened with the slime of saliva as people rushed from the sidewalk to spit on them.

The last trucks in the parade rolled past. I cheered myself hoarse, and waved my little flag until a soldier snatched it out of my hand and waved it high as his truck rumbled on down the road. I tasted the salt of tears, not for the loss of the flag, but for the joy of knowing the peace-bringers had arrived and the enemy would never make me afraid again.


  1. Jack, this one made me cry! Beautiful.... Precious!

    Thank you for sharing on this special day!

  2. What a fabulous story, Jack, and so well told! I'm going to link it on my blog's remembrance day post.

  3. Addy Oberlin11:46 am GMT-7

    Yes, I remember well. I was not much older than Jack when the Canadian tanks rolled into the town we were staying.
    Each year I watch and each year my eyes moisten when I see the veterans being honored.

  4. Addy Oberlin11:49 am GMT-7

    Yes, I remember well.

  5. Thank you, Brenda and Violet, High praise indeed and much valued from pros like you two.
    I just returned from the local Memorial Day service here in Spruce Grove.
    The same emotional response as always!

  6. Thanks for bringing this story to life, Jack. What a memory.

  7. Jack:

    A wonderful story. And you have brought it to life so that we can almost feel and smell and hear that crowd and those army vehicles. We read a great deal about the terrors and ravages of war, but it is so good to "experience" the joy felt when the war was over. Thanks for sharing.

  8. A riveting story, well told.


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