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BELGIUM, LUXEMBOURG, HOLLAND
TOUR OF WAR MONUMENTS, MUSEUMS AND CEMETERIES

Story and photos by

On Remembrance Day, November 11, Canadians honour soldiers who fought for the freedoms that we experience today. A tour of the battlefields, war memorials, military museums and cemeteries in Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland conveys the impact of their sacrifices.

WW I Canadian Battlefield Memorial Hill 62 on Mount Sorrel. Ypres, Belgium.
WW I Canadian Battlefield Memorial Hill 62 on Mount Sorrel. Ypres, Belgium.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Begin your Europe driving tour in Belgium, where a sign directs visitors to the Canadian Battlefield Memorial Hill 62, located about five kilometres east of the city of Ypres (also called Ieper). A road, called Canadalaan, leads to a small hill, covered with terraced rose gardens and surrounded by ferns and holly hedges.

Steps climb to a concrete monument on top. An inscription on the base of the monument reads: "Honour to Canadians, who on the fields of Flanders and of France, fought in the cause of the Allies."

The back is inscribed in English and French: "Here at Mount Sorrel, and on the line from Hooge to St. Eloi, the Canadian corps fought in the defence of Ypres, April to August, 1916."

A wreath of poppies and maple leaves, adorned with a ribbon labelled "Canada," rests on the monument.

Ypres Belgium

Also on the Canadalaan is The Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, which was built and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Belgian people gave the land for the cemetery as a free gift "for the perpetual resting place of the allied armies who fell in the war of 1914 to 1918."

The place was named Sanctuary Wood, because it screened troops behind the front line in November 1914. Sanctuary Wood was the scene of fighting in September 1915, and the centre of the Battle of Mt. Sorrel, from June 2 to 13, 1916, when the Third Canadian Division was heavily attacked and driven back. The First Canadian Division recovered much of the ground.

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery is well maintained. Row upon row of white plaques mark the burial places of 1,989 Commonwealth soldiers, of which 1,353 are unidentified. Stop by the Sanctuary Wood Trench Museum, to see artifacts from the battlefield and original British trenches.

The In Flanders Fields Museum, in Ypres, tells the stories of World War I soldiers with photos and documents. Don't miss the Last Post, played by buglers every evening at 8 pm, at the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Ardennes

The next destination in your Europe tour is Ettlebruck, Luxembourg, where a monument commemorates the famous George S. Patton, Jr., Commanding General of the Third U.S. Army. Patton's forces liberated Ettlebruck on December 27, 1944, during the Ardennes counter offensive.

A tank, used during the First World War, rests below the U.S. and Luxembourg flags.

Moro River Canadian War Cemetery near Ortona, Italy
Moro River Canadian War Cemetery near Ortona, Italy
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Italians also remember fallen Canadian soldiers. In Ortona, on the east coast of Italy, the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery has over 1,500 white tombstones marking the graves of Canadians killed between 1939 and 1945.

Zaandam Netherlands

The Dutch tell visitors that Canadians are well liked in Holland because "they saved us." Also, their beloved Princess Juliana took refuge in Canada for five years during the First World War. The daughter of Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard, Princess Margaret, was born in Ottawa.

Canadian War Cemetery sign. Groesbeek, Holland.
Canadian War Cemetery sign. Groesbeek, Holland.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

In Zaandam, Holland, a war monument commemorates the place where five Dutch boys were killed, while helping a group of Canadian and English fliers escape.

Each year, a memorial service is held on May 4. During the day, the flag is lowered to half mast, while an honour guard stands at attention. At sunset, a procession of villagers slowly walks from Zaandam to the monument. After an interval of silence for thought and prayer, they lay wreaths and flowers in front of the monument.

Groesbeek

The Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, Holland, contains the bodies of 2,500 Canadians killed between 1939 and 1945. Names of soldiers, whose bodies were not found, are inscribed on two walls at the entranceway.

The Dutch government donated the grounds, which are beautifully landscaped with rows of blossoming fruit trees and maple trees. Flowers cover the graves, marked by white plaques engraved with maple leaves.

Touching words fill the visitors' book: "Too many dead." "No comments—just tears." "Rest in Peace."

The people of Holland have never forgotten the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers. Dutch families have adopted many of the graves and adorn them with wreaths and flowers.

Overloon

One of the fiercest tank battles of WW II was fought in Overloon, Holland, in September and October 1944, following Operation Market Garden. A 100,000-shell barrage pulverized Overloon. When the mechanized attack ended, more than 300 German and Allied tanks lay wrecked in Overloon streets and surrounding fields.

Netherlands National War and Resistance Museum in Overloon, Holland. Left - German anti-tank gun used against the American Sherman tank in background. Right - German rocket cannon or Screaming Meemies.
Netherlands National War and Resistance Museum in Overloon, Holland
Left - German anti-tank gun used against the American Sherman tank in background
Right - German rocket cannon or Screaming Meemies
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Netherlands National War and Resistance Museum was established as a permanent memorial of the Battle of Overloon, in 35-acre Liberty Park.

Museum visitors see tanks, field guns, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, fighter aircraft, an amphibious vehicle, a flame thrower, a reconnaissance or Reece carrier, a mine clearer, a bridge layer, a bomber, an armoured car, a search light, a rocket cannon, a one-man submarine, a one-man torpedo boat, several mines and even a reconstructed German mine field.

Military posters

The Netherlands National War and Resistance Museum contains a comprehensive collection of Dutch and German military posters, guns, grenades, gas masks, radios, boxes with needles and morphine, first aid kits, helmets, telephones, rifles, bayonets, motorbikes, projectiles, trip wires, swim vests, lanterns, canteens, military uniforms and sirens.

Dutch and German war posters in Netherlands National War and Resistance Museum, Overloon
Dutch and German war posters in Netherlands National War and Resistance Museum, Overloon
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The military museum features an extensive collection of mines made from iron, steel, glass, Bakelite, wood, cardboard and even cigar boxes and tin cans. One is a stove mine, triggered by lifting a kettle on top.

The documentation section of the museum displays documents, photographs and diagrams outlining the history of World War II, the rise of the Hitler regime, preparation for the conflict, the Netherlands under war, occupation conditions, Dutch resistance, concentration camps, the "hunger winter" and the liberation.

National War and Resistance Museum exhibits do not glamorize war. On the contrary, they show the suffering, the hardships and the inhumanities experienced during war. A Remembrance Chapel commemorates the people who lost their lives during World War ll. It is a fitting conclusion to your tour of Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland World War I and World War II sites.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Tourist Office for Flanders: www.VisitFlanders.us

Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions: www.Holland.com

Things to do on Remembrance Day:

Northern France Tours of World War Sites