Liberation story was preserved in suitcase for over 50 years

For an area so rich with Dutch history, it’s not uncommon for Mapleton families to share interesting stories dating back to the Second World War.

Stories of what life was like under German rule abound, particularly in early May, when many celebrate the Liberation of the Netherlands.

This year’s 65th anniversary in particular has surely  generated some reminiscing among Dutch descendants across Canada, including the family of Drayton’s Lucy Veenstra. Though she was born in?Canada a full 11 years after the end of the war, Veenstra remains very familiar with the story of her parents’ flags.

Wietse and Elizabeth Praamsma owned a dry goods store in the town of Joure, Friesland.

Motivated by the D-Day landing of Allied forces in Normandy on June 6, 1944, Wietse decided to make flags of the allied nations – including Great Britain, the United States and Canada – as well as Dutch flags.

“He felt that was something he could do. I’m sure it was a sentimental thing,” Veenstra said of her father’s efforts. “I think it was out of gratitude.”

But despite their success in France, it would be almost 10 months before Allied forces would liberate the town of Joure, which meant Wietse’s flag making endeavour was a dangerous one.

The town was controlled by German forces, which regularly raided local businesses. And making the flags in the sewing room on the ground floor left little time to hide the evidence if the store had unannounced German visitors.

“It was done in secret,” said Veenstra. “It was risky … he was brave to do it.”

Saleslady Ieke Blauw was a willing participant in the project, but Wietse’s father, Peter Praamsma, was rightfully concerned about his son, daughter-in-law and grandkids.

That material was very scarce during the war made the task not only dangerous, but also very difficult. But Wietse and his helpers did a remarkable job with what they had and completed six large flags.

Canadian forces arrived in Joure the morning of April 15, 1945. The rest of the nation was liberated by May 5 and during official liberation festivities on May 16 and 17, Wietse’s  flags were proudly displayed outside the store.

He continued the tradition every year on the anniversary of the liberation until the Praamsma family – including Wietse, Elizabeth and their five children (Veenstra was not yet born) – immigrated to Canada in 1954.

Wietse passed away in 1996 and about a decade later Elizabeth moved to a nursing home facility in?Palmerston, where she still lives. When Elizabeth made the move, her children emptied out the home and found the flags in a suitcase. Veenstra’s older sister Hilde, who was 7 years old during the liberation and remembered the story of the flags, wanted to find a suitable home for the relics.

After talking with a cousin who is a regional tourism director in Holland, it became clear repatriation was an option.

The Het Jouster Museum in Joure was “very keen” on taking the flags, Veenstra said, so her husband Jim brought them back to Holland on behalf of the family.

They are now on display at the museum and on May 5, to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands, two of the flags were flown at the former Praamsma store, now know as Brattingas Warenhuis.

It’s quite a story and one Praamsma family members hold dear to their hearts.

“It’s something my dad did many, many years ago,” Veenstra said. “We’re very proud of that … it’s something the Dutch people would honour.”

It’s also the type of sentiment that will likely be on full display throughout this weekend’s Drayton?Tulip Festival.