WENDY ELLIOTT: How we remember

Wendy Elliott
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Sietske van der Worp cares for a statue in The Netherlands commemorating Canada's contribution to the country's liberation during the Second World War. Submitted

By Wendy Elliott


There is no question the bloom was off the poppy for me this year after the paper received a terse communication from Bill Maxwell at the Royal Canadian Legion’s Dominion Command. Cease and desist using images of the veterans’ poppy strikes me as biting the hand that feeds you. I kept wondering what my father, a proud North Novie, would have said.

Actually the copyright order wasn’t a surprise to me. One of my favourite actors, Julia Mackey, got grief from Dominion Command last year. She performed here two years ago in her magical, one-woman story about the importance of remembrance and a Second World War veteran's return to Juno Beach to find his brother's grave. She has raised more than $13,000 for the Poppy Trust Fund.

However, selling poppies after performances resulted in   a phone call from Maxwell telling her she had to apply to use the poppy image. She did so and was declined despite the fact 100 per cent of the funds collected went to the fund.

“We never take any money back to even cover the cost of making the buttons. We donate all the money,” she told me last week. “I wonder if RCL Dominion Command does the same thing.”

In the last month alone, Julia’s touring production has raised more than $2,300. She thinks the whole conundrum is outrageous and who could disagree with her?

I received a timely message from a man I admire in The Netherlands. Ben Zonnenberg was here a number of years ago as a visiting track and field coach. Several years later, we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon with him in Apeldoorn, after a moving stop at the Commonwealth Cemetery in Groesbeek.

Zonnenberg was only a child during the Second World War, but he is passionate about commemorating the Canadian soldiers who brought his country freedom. He has cared for a tall statue in Apeldoorn called The Man with Two Hats. An identical statue stands at Dow’s Lake in Ottawa. Together, they symbolize our two countries’ connection and the liberation of the Netherlands.

After 12 years of taking care of the monument and ensuring the Canadian flag is cleaned each month, Zonnenberg recently handed the obligation off to Sietske van der Worp.

This young woman teaches at the Apeldoorn Royal School College. When I asked about her involvement by email, van der Worp replied, “in The Netherlands there's a tradition of schools adopting war monuments, because we think it's a good thing to tell the story of the war over and over again. My school adopted this monument. As a Dutch teacher I'm always writing the speeches and I practice with the students who are going to read them. So, this is simply part of my job.”

She also sent several of the speeches her students wrote for Nov. 11.

Xyrian ten Napel believes the “two identical statues a long distance apart symbolise the connection between two countries. A connection that, because of the shared past, will never disappear. Therefore we are very proud that our school adopted this monument.”

All we can do is remember and be grateful and together ensure that the future will keep the freedom they fought for.” Dutch student Tom Huiskes

 “Every year students of our school contribute to the commemoration ceremony,” ten Napel wrote. “I think it is essential to get young people involved in these kinds of ceremonies. The children are the future, but a future without a past is not a real future.”

Daniel Spruijt wrote about the 7,000 Canadians “who left their unoccupied motherland to help people on the other side of the globe regain the same freedom they had. When they said their goodbyes at home, the soldiers knew some of them would never see their homes again.”

Tom Huiskes wrote that the Dutch students bring flowers and candles to a commemoration ceremony

to “be with them in silence. That is exactly what we do every year. The pain will not go away. All we can do is remember and be grateful and together ensure that the future will keep the freedom they fought for.”

The only ones caring for the war memorial in the town where I live is one elderly veteran and his wife. I glimpsed them recently raking leaves and debris away from the statue on the post office lawn.

We sure have different attitudes toward commemoration in Canada than our Dutch friends.

Organizations: Apeldoorn Royal School College, RCL Dominion Command, Royal Canadian Legion Poppy Trust Fund The Man

Geographic location: Netherlands, Apeldoorn, Juno Beach Groesbeek Ottawa Canada

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