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Dutch-Canadian history comes alive for Ingersoll Pipe Band member

Veronica Jackson/Special to Postmedia Network

Editor's note: Ingersoll resident Veronica Jackson, who is a member of the Ingersoll Pipe Band, took part in a massed band event in the Netherlands in April, as part of the Remembrance Day and Liberation Day celebrations in that country. The following is her account of the events.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands with a group of pipe band members and their family members from several communities in Ontario. Our massed band also consisted of two pipers from Vancouver.

We were officially titled the "Phase Two" contingent of The Frank Graham Cycle Liberation Tour 2017. We flew out of Pearson International Airport in Toronto on April 25. We were invited to perform at commemoration ceremonies for those who died during the Liberation of The Netherlands, as well as take part in honouring all those who fought in the Second World War.

"Phase One" was composed of a group of Canadian youths who embarked on a cycling tour of the route of Dutch resistance during the Second World War. Seventeen youths, aged 18 to 28, began their trip in the town of Markelo in the Netherlands on April 17 where they were joined by 23 Dutch youth to make the 700 kilometre trek. The tour was created to reinforce a connection among youth, while educating them on events of the Second World War. These tours were named after Frank Graham, a Second World War veteran who was part of the Canadian army troops that took part in the Liberation of the Netherlands from the fall of 1944 to the spring of 1945.

In 2010, the Canadian government sent out the last invitation to Canadian veterans to travel to the Netherlands for Remembrance activities. Lloyd and Chester Graham, two of Frank's sons, said that their father worried what would happen to the Canadian-Dutch relationship. So with a group of determined and committed people on both sides of the ocean, the cycling tours for young people were conceived. To put a "face" to the tours, Frank Graham was selected as the veteran to represent all those Canadian soldiers who fought in the Netherlands and assisted with its Liberation from Germany.

By the end of the war, over 200,000 Dutch men, women and children had died of war-related causes. The Netherlands had one of the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe. More than 7,600 Canadians died in the nine-month campaign to liberate the Netherlands, a tremendous sacrifice in the cause of freedom. The citizens of Markelo were determined that the price of freedom would not be lost on the younger generations.

The 10-day tour of the route of Dutch resistance was the third event on the Frank Graham Cycle Liberation Tour. The first tour in 2013 took youth from Juno Beach, France to Markelo. In 2015, participants travelled to death camps and prisoner-of-war camps from Poland to Germany to Austria to Holland. For the first two tours, Frank and his wife met the group in Markelo for Liberation celebrations. This year, however, the couple was unable to travel the distance. However, three other Canadian veterans from Ontario did travel to Markelo.

Along their cycling journey, the young cyclists stopped to plant red tulips which were fittingly named "Frank Graham" tulips. They will be made available for Canadians to purchase in the fall.

Markelo is a lovely town in the Dutch province of Overijssel. It is located just over 100 kilometres west of Amsterdam. The population is about 7,000. All the Canadians who travelled there were billeted with host families. The citizens of Markelo not only opened their doors to us but their hearts as well.

As a member of the Ingersoll Pipe Band, I have been fortunate to travel to Scotland and the United States with other pipers and drummers, so when the opportunity came to join this massed band, I immediately volunteered. Winston Kooistra, a drummer with the Ingersoll Band also went on the trip with family members as he still has relatives in the Netherlands.

We had the opportunity to play at several locations in Markelo and surrounding towns and cemeteries. One of our first performances was at the Koningsdag (King's Day) celebrations on April 27. This was a celebratory event and a national holiday.

At other locations, the tone was much more sombre. We performed at several Remembrance and Liberation Day observances (May 4 is Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, while May 5 is Liberation Day). We played at - the Ereveld in Loenen: this is a beautiful, forested peaceful location where many Dutch soldiers, resistance people, and civilians are buried; at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery which is the second-largest Second World War cemetery in the Netherlands; in Markelo at three different locations honouring the casualties of war, in particular Holocaust victims and Resistance fighters; at a church service in Markelo; and in another nearby town, Leesten where a street was being named in honour of a Canadian soldier. In this small town there are 10 streets and one bridge named for Canadian soldiers.

The days when our itinerary did not have the pipe band performing, our host families showed us around the Netherlands. Some of us travelled to Keukenhof, the home of Holland's annual tulip festival and the most well known tulip festival in the world. Others visited Amsterdam, or took boat rides on the canals. We visited local dairy farms where cheese was made on the premises, cycled through the beautiful countryside, played "Farmer's Golf" (a unique croquet/golf game) and saw the lock system in the canals working as both pleasure boats and large freight container ships made their way through the waterways. With so many host families acting as tour guides, it was great fun for the Canadian visitors to compare notes at the end of each day.

The end of our visit came far too soon and we said "Vaarwel" (farewell) to all our new Dutch friends on May 7. At the final banquet celebrating the cyclists and their support team members, the organizers of the 2017 Liberation Tour passed the torch to a new committee of young Canadian and Dutch members. The challenge for this group is to organize another tour in 2020 to keep the bonds of friendship and appreciation for our veterans alive.

If you would like to see more photos and/or read about the third Frank Graham tour pleases visit the Frank Graham Cycle Liberation Tour 2017 - The Resistance on Facebook.