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Introduction

In the early morning of May 10, 1940, the Nazi-German army invaded the Netherlands even though the Dutch foreign policy was neutrality. It was the start of five days of fighting that resulted in the occupation of the Netherlands. Any resistance was complicated by the fact that Nazi-German points of attack were so widely spread throughout the country. The Dutch army still gained small victories, however, they could not hold their positions. The Government of the Netherlands felt that the safety of Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina was at stake. By the time the situation worsened they were forced to leave and were taken by a British warship to England.

From the beginning there was bitter fighting in Rotterdam. On May 14, Rotterdam was bombed resulting in the destruction of a large part of the city and more than 80,000 people lost their homes. The city of Utrecht was threatened with a similar fate, but the Netherlands surrendered on May 15. For the next five years, Nazi-Germany occupied the Netherlands.

Even England was not considered safe from a German attack and, therefore, a part of the Netherlands Royal family departed in June 1940 to Canada. It was here that Princess Juliana and her family found a safe haven in Ottawa during the war. In 1943, Princess Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet at the Civic Hospital in Ottawa.

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During the liberation, heavy destruction occurred in the center of Groningen.
1945 – Photo Credit: Haijer en Mees
Source: The Netherlands Institute for Military History (NIMH)

At the same time, Canadian soldiers were fighting at the other side of the ocean. The people of the Netherlands had suffered terrible hunger and hardship under the increasingly desperate Nazi-German occupiers. From September 1944 to May 1945, the First Canadian Army fought Nazi-German forces on the Scheldt estuary — crucially opening up the port of Antwerp for Allied use — and then fought their way up towards the northern and western parts of the Netherlands, allowing food and other relief to reach millions of desperate people. 

During various fierce battles, such as the Battle of the Scheldt, Operation Market Garden, The Rhineland Campaign, and the northeastern part of the Netherlands, more than 7,600 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen died in the effort to free the Netherlands.

Still widely felt today, Canada is fondly remembered by the Dutch for ending the oppression under the Nazi-German occupation. Following the liberation of the Netherlands, a warm friendship was established with Canada that is still enjoyed today. It is a poignant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice Canadians made and the enduring gratitude of the Dutch in ending the reign of tyranny in their country.

For a more comprehensive overview of the battles and the role of Canadian forces, you will find a list of resources in this education guide. 

Canadian soldiers as honourary guests in a liberation parade surrounded by civilians.
1945 – Source: The Netherlands Institute for Military History (NIMH)