Henk Dykman was just 11 years old when Canadian soldiers liberated the Netherlands in World War II, but he remembers it well.
Dykman, who now lives in Guelph, said the events of April 4, 1945 were a dream come true for his family, which lived in Leesten, a small village in eastern Holland near the city of Zutphen.
He said members of a Canadian regiment – the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders – still cautious about a possible German presence, issued a warning with a flame thrower outside his family’s home. His father, luckily, understood the warning and went out to talk with the Canadian soldiers.
“We were free … We reacted to the drama we had gone through with tears,” Dykman said, referring to nearly five years of Nazi rule in his homeland.
“We all just started crying.”
Dykman remained in Holland for 11 years after the war, and moved by himself to Vancouver in 1956, and later to Ontario in 1978.
But he never forgot that day in 1945, or the brave Canadians that died so he and his family, and countless others, could be free.
In 1983, his parents came from Holland to Guelph for a visit. His mother told him she still wondered about a Canadian soldier wounded just outside the family’s house during the liberation in 1945.
His mother’s curiosity lit something of a fire in Dykman, who began to search for that soldier – as well as other surviving members of the famous Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, known to many simply as “the Glens.”
In January of 1984, he was able to contact the family of the soldier. He was happy to find out the man did not die on his family’s doorstep, as they had feared (he was shot in the elbow). However, the man had died in 1983. Unphased, Dykman continued his search for members of the Glens.
In 1985, he attended a Glens reunion in Peterborough where he talked to about 20 veterans, at least a handful of whom he exchanged stories with about the battle of Zutphen and even his exact house in Leesten.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said of the reunion. “I never gave it much thought that they would remember anything until then.
“I didn’t realize the significance of the battle that happened in our area.”
Dykman said the veterans told him the Glens regiment lost 11 men in the battle in and around Zutphen, and about 35 Canadian soldiers in total died within two kilometres of his home. More recently, the city of Zutphen has agreed to name 11 streets after the 11 Glens who died there, he added.
Several years ago Dykman documented everything, to the best of his recollection, from beginning to end, in a small, self-published book entitled The Glens in Leesten, which also includes stories from two German soldiers captured in the battle of Zutphen.
“It’s a fascinating tale,” he said.
Dykman’s longtime friend, Ed Janzen of Belwood, obviously agreed. He decided Dykman’s tale would be a fine fit for a new book he was working on entitled Canadian Veterans’ Stories, which was first published last year.
The regular publisher of the magazine Canadian Stories, Janzen got the idea for an anthology of veterans’ stories from Darlene Lawson, of New Brunswick, who helped edit the book. And he was enthralled with the idea from the start.
“This is something that’s very important to me,” Janzen said. “I have a great interest in veterans’ stories.”
Janzen’s own uncle, Jacob Epp, was killed in action in WWII and is buried in Bournemouth, England. Janzen was touched many years ago when he became the first of his family to visit Epp’s gravesite, though his interest in veteran stories extends far beyond his personal connection.
Canadian Veterans’ Stories includes 60 tales about the Great War, WWII, and the Korean War, from Canadians all across the country.
And Janzen said he likely has enough stories left over to print a second book.
“I didn’t think it was possible to get enough material, but it is,” he said. “I had more than I could use.”
And though the material is plentiful, the process forced him to come to a painful realization: as time goes by, there are fewer and fewer veterans remaining, only a percentage of which are able to remember the details of the war.
“And some don’t want to talk about it,” Janzen said. “It’s not that easy to find veterans to write themselves, but most families want to have something down on paper to remember the history.”
Dykman and Janzen will be at Reflections Book Store in Fergus on Nov. 15 from 11am to 1pm for an author’s event. Copies of the book ($20) are available at Reflections.
Janzen is hoping the event and book, as well as Remembrance Day ceremonies next week, will motivate other local veterans and/or their families.
“If it encourages people to tell their own stories, then that’s great, I’d love them to do that,” Janzen said, noting he has received great feedback on the first book.
Story ideas can be sent to Ed Janzen at Fergus P.O. Box 232, N1M 2W8.