By Moira Holden
Revellers basked in the heat as weather forecasters recorded the sunniest ever Liberation Day with 14 hours of sunshine. MOIRA HOLDEN looks at the events held on Liberation Day and Remembrance Day to commemorate those lost in fighting during and since the Second World War.
Crowds enjoyed sunny weather as they flocked to take part in festivals and events to celebrate Liberation Day across the Netherlands.Prime Minister Mark Rutte lit the Liberation Flame and then runners lit their own beacons to transport flames to start fires around the country.
Last year, the celebrations were badly hit by the poor weather, but this time 14 festivals went ahead and attracted large numbers of people.
Liberation Day is held on May 5th every year to celebrate the day in 1945 when Canadian troops accepted the capitulation of the Germans at Wageningen and the Netherlands was freed from Nazi occupation.
The Netherlands is the only country in Europe to hold a consecutive two-day event to mark remembrance and liberation. A day earlier on the 4th of May, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima led the traditional wreathlaying ceremony at the National Monument, in Dam Square, Amsterdam, on Remembrance Day. Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutelab gave this year’s speech and emphasised the need to remember that ‘’evil begins with prejudice and humiliation’’. Cities and towns across the country held a march, laid wreaths and observed a two-minute silence. Mobile phone operators had asked people to show respect by switching off their phones at the same time.At the sand dunes in Waalsdorpervlakte, the Hague, the Bourdon Bell was sounded in memory of 250 Dutch Resistance fighters who were executed there by the Germans.Mr Rutte led a service of remembrance at the National Field of Honour in Loenen, where 4,000 Dutch war victims are buried, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dutch War Graves Foundation.
But controversy marred Remembrance Day after a campaign was mounted on Facebook by Christa Noella calling for a boycott of the commemorations. She criticised the “hypocrisy of society”and said the day had no point while “the rise of fascism and hatred of Muslims” was “unchecked”. However, her call was rejected by Dutch Resistance fighter Loek Caspers, now 91, who lives in the Hague. ‘’You never forget those people who have lost their lives,” she said. ‘’As long as you live it is your duty to see they will never be forgotten.’’
Loek, who was born in Driebergen, joined the Resistance when she was still a student at the age of 18. She worked in the Utrecht chain of hills – her duties included finding safe hiding places for people and helping Allied airmen back to their countries. She also took part in missions to transport explosives to blow up German- held railways and to send intelligence back to the Allies in a bid to pinpoint German targets. ‘‘I lost 23 friends,’ she said. ‘For me, Remembrance Day is always a day of sadness. Today I spend a lot of time going into schools to talk about what happened to me during the war. I tell them I would not be able to do so if we had not fought for our freedom. I find the children are very much interested and ask many questions about what happened, and I see every year there are more people who come to our services.’’ After the Netherlands was liberated, Loek, who lives in the Hague, returned to her studies and eventually became a doctor, spending some of her career in England as an anaesthetist.
Remembrance Day was specially chosen by the British Club of the Hague to make a trip to an exhibition, at the Brandweer Museum, Wassenaar, featuring the work of firefighters during the London Blitz.Club member Sue Macfarlane recalled how her father, Henry Hayward, served as a fire watcher in the Blitz during his time as chief engineer at Westminster Bank, Threadneedle Street, London. ‘’My father told us many years later that he and his co-firewatchers worked night after night helping to put out fires in the City of London, but he was a reticent man and didn’t tell us a great deal,’’ she said.
‘’After the war was over, he and many colleagues were able to buy the blankets that they had used while on duty, and I remember very well the thrill of having a brand new winter coat, made from these blankets dyed navy blue and turned into coats by a local tailor. Clothes coupons and a general lack of everything meant that warm winter coats were highly prized.’’