70 Years of Freedom – Stories by WWII Veterans

On May 1st, a rather special group of people left the airport of Toronto, Canada to visit the 70th anniversary of freedom in the Netherlands. This group, consisting of over 40 Canadian WWII Veterans, counted their youngest traveller at 88 (who was 15 when he was deployed, forging his passport so he could fight) and their oldest at 97.

You can imagine, it was quite the happening at the gate. Unsuspecting passengers watched the whole thing in awe. Everyone took pictures, smiles were exchanged, hands were shaken and hugs were given. The emotional load of this special flight to Amsterdam instantly hit everyone like a rock. 70 years of freedom, given to us by those who were deployed to fight for a country that wasn’t theirs. Left everything and everyone behind so we could live in peace. A simple ‘thank you for your service’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. We are where we are today because of them. They came, they fought and they helped rebuild the nation that we live so carefree in nowadays.


The Flight

To make this flight extra special and show the veterans how much we appreciate and respect them, arrangements were made to honour them. Both on board and at arrival in Amsterdam. There were special cakes marking the Dutch and Canadian flags. Flight attendants handed out and pinned on Carnation Flowers with gratitude and respect. Every veteran got a Delftsblauw salt and pepper shaker set, there were special headrest covers and when we landed at Schiphol airport, the plane was escorted to the gate and the fire brigade welcomed the veterans with a water canon salute, also known as the “Shower of Affection”. Just before landing, bagpipe music filled the airplane. Waking up everyone and sending chills down our spines. It was a very emotional moment.


The Heroes

For this story, I had the honour to ask a few of the veterans questions about the war, their lives now and how they were experiencing the flight. I think I have repeated the sentence “Thank you so much for your time, it’s really an honour to be talking to you” a couple dozen times. But I still wish I had said it more often. So thank you again.


George McGuire

George McGuire is from Burlington, twin city of Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. He was traveling with his daughter Sue, who explained they were on their way to Zutphen for a 10 day celebration. George worked behind the line and was stationed in four different spots in Holland. Him and the rest of his squad made their headquarters in abandoned farmhouses and helped out the Dutch people in the area. For every front-line soldier, there were 8 behind the line, helping where they could. George told me he and his fellow soldiers would leave food in empty houses for the hungry residents. “The Dutch never asked for food, but boy did they need it,” he said. He also remembers encountering a little Dutch girl. He smoked at the time, and when he put out his cigarette, she picked it up and put it in her pocket. It hit him then that she probably would try to exchange the cigarette butt for food or other needed supplies. I can’t imagine how that must have been.


John Gay

John was a cook during WWII and at 97 years old, one of the oldest veterans on board. He explained to me he was part of the artillery and helped free up the city of Caen, which took quite some time, and the Falaise Gap. Besides that he told me he cooked for the soldiers in England and Normandy, which got harder and harder because of food supplies. In England, preparing a nice meal was easy, there were fresh vegetables and meats. But by the time they got to Normandy, he had to make due with dehydrated potatoes, dehydrated cabbage and meat called “Spam”. He could cook up 6 gallons of stew and would distribute this amongst the soldiers in cans.

John is visiting the Netherlands for the 10th time this year. Travelling with his son and other family members he is looking forward to the festivities that are ahead. When I asked him how he felt being here today on this special flight, remembering the war, he responded with: “I left a lot behind when I got deployed, but I’m one of the lucky ones you know”.


Albert Goebel

Driving trucks distributing supplies and equipment to the frontlines, Albert was one of the soldiers being on the road when liberation came on May 5th. They were driving from Germany to Nijmegen when suddenly they found themselves in a foot of water. Not long after that, they saw the Germans fleeing the country and didn’t know it was the end of the war until they reached their destination. The thing that stood out to Albert the most is that after the war, he ran into 5 other soldiers from the small community (25 people) in Saskatchewan where he is from. Albert also played a role in rebuilding the Eemsbrug, hauling gravel from Germany to help the Dutch recover what was destroyed in the war.


John MacLeod

John’s story warmed every crewmembers heart when it came to our attention he was visiting the 11 year old Julie. He and Julie had met at a presentation he had given at Julie’s school last year. Julie was so impressed with his stories that she sent him a thank you card and from that moment on, John started sending her cards as well and calls her weekly. The reason Julie was so impressed by John, is when he told a story about when the war was almost over. He and a few other Canadian soldiers knocked on the door of a farm in Emmen, cold and asking for coffee to warm up to. They drank the last of that families’ coffee and John promised that when the war was over, he would come back to return the favour. And so he did. Years later he knocked on that door again, keeping his promise, returning ‘their’ coffee.


I think I can speak on behalf of everyone involved in this amazingly humbling experience that it was an honour meeting all of the veterans. Getting to hear their stories, shake their hands and show our gratitude even though we can never repay what they did for us. Know that in our hearts we are grateful to live in peace every day and that we’ll always remember who made that possible.

Posted by:   Esmee Droog  | 
Join the conversation Show comments


In the same way that all the veterans from WW1 have gone, so too will all these guys and we will lose their stories and knowledge. We owe it to their memory, and for our future generations to ensure that we never forget what happened, what they had to endure and why they had to endure it, to ensure that the world never has to do it again. Respect to all the veterans. They are often called the greatest generation ever, I think it’s true.


I totally agree.

Esmee Droog

I totally agree as well, Edward & Stephen. May we never forget.


My Father liberated Almelo in April – May of 1945. He was a Dr. with The Royal Canadian Medical Corp. He often spoke with pride but humility about Liberation Day. As an officer he drove his jeep through the town giving out chocolates and cigarettes. The war was a very life defining time in my father’s life. It made him the great man, father and doctor that he became. As his daughter he was a true hero in my eyes also. My father also was the Dr. at the only Canadian war trial ever held in Germany. General Kurt Meyer was on trial for the execution of Canadian soldiers. So much history! Lest we forget!


Thank you for your story, with deep respect for our Canadian liberators.


A really good answer, full of raoyinalitt!


Prachtige verhalen. Bracht tranen in mijn ogen. BEDANKT KLM! Beautifull stories. Brought tears to my eyes. THANKS KLM!

Esmee Droog

Same here, Aletta! Ik denk ook met kippenvel terug aan deze vlucht!

Dries Eefting

Fantastisch KLM

Esmee Droog

Thanks, Dries!


They deserve the greatest respect! I hope they all have a pleasant stay in Holland

Esmee Droog

They sure do, Femmy! I wish them the same, but with all the festivities ahead I think that will be no problem!


I Just was in Normand. That makes me even more respectfull for what they did.

Esmee Droog

That must have been an impressive trip, Jan! I have so much respect for them, also.

Gert Wim ter Haar

Prachtig geschreven Esmee; wat een helden!

Esmee Droog

Thanks Gert Wim!! Dat zijn ze echt! Geweldige mensen!


thank you KLM and Holland for bringing our Vets to your country to celebrate this special day.
our countries will always share a special bond. we shall never forget .

Esmee Droog

It was our pleasure, really. Thank you for your message, Helena!

Michael Jones

I have aften flown the YYZ-AMS route and wondered if any vets ever did. You’ve treated them well.
In the RCAF, we have an expression of respect for a job well done. KLM, you have earned it. Bravo Zulu
Michael D Jones
Captain (Retired)

Esmee Droog

Lots of them already visited the Netherlands many times before! So who knows, maybe you flew them there, Michael! Thanks so much for your kind words, too!

Andy Vanderplas

Our deepest respects to the veterans, as members of a family directly impacted by the war both as residents and members of the underground operations , our parents tell us that the arrival of the Canadians was one of the most amazing times of their life.
Because of them , we are, living free , thank everyone of you.

Esmee Droog

Thanks for your message, Andy! I share those feelings, nothing but respect for all the veterans.


Een hele eer voor de hele crew van de vlucht Toronto-Amsterdam om deze helden over te vliegen naar Amsterdam. A huge honor for the whole crew to fly these heros to Amsterdam.

Carmen Ocheda

Dat was het zeker! Zal deze herinnering koesteren.
It sure was! Shall cherish these memories.

Hoop dat ze een fantastische tijd zullen hebben in Nederland.
Hope they’ll have a wonderful time in the Netherlands.

Flores Hopman

A day to remember! So much emotion, so much gratitude and so much respect.
Thanks Esmee for capturing this very special event in a truely great way.
Best regards.

Esmee Droog

Thanks so much Flores! It was an experience I will never forget!

Colin Payne

A big thank you to KLM for honoring veterans, and for being such a great airline. We salute the people from the Netherlands who suffered so much and have such big hearts as to honor others. :)

Esmee Droog

Thank you for your kind words, Colin!

oby Baltes

Thanks to all the soldiers and especialy those who came to my place Lisse. I remebered them coming in from out of Sassenheim. on a Saturday – It was unbelieveble. That`s something you never forget.
I am 83 now. Many – many thanks!

Sue McGuire

I can’t tell you how much it warmed my and my dad’s heart to experience all the special treatment before, during and after the flight. It was something that we just weren’t expecting. Hearing and watching the Dutch give and show such an immeasurable level of undying gratitude makes me well up with tears. The deep gratitude and admiration goes both ways. I heard a story today about a tank full of Canadian soldiers that had arrived in a town in April 1945, and a Dutch family gave them milk and eggs even though they were starving and eating tulip bulbs. That incredibly selfless gesture stayed with those men all of their lives. The bond our countries have with each other is like no other. It is an honour to be here.

Esmee Droog

Hi Sue! That’s an amazing story, it really does describe how it goes both ways. Thank you so much for sharing and this lovely message. It was an honour having you and your dad on board with us. I wish both of you all the best and I will never forget meeting you!

Rob McGuire

Hello to KLM and all the personnel who made this flight such a wonderful experience. I can’t find the words to express my gratitude for all you have done. Your planning meetings must have been long and hard but your success is abundantly evident. From something as simple yet moving as waking up the weary travelers with a piper to the special cards and carnations to the ‘Shower of Affection’ and runway vehicle escort….all very special ways in which you have said thanks. It is hard for me to read this blog without the deep sense of emotion and pride that is it to be a Canadian….one who was taught the history of Canada and our relationship to the Dutch. Your gratitude helps me preserve that pride. I grew up in Ottawa, learning about the reason why millions of tulip bulbs were and are sent to my country by your country. I was born, years later, in the same hospital where your Princess Margriet was born during WW2. The stories came to me from my mum and dad, who encouraged me to learn why there was such a special relationship with Holland and Canada. And of course, dad told me several of the stories about the starving Dutch….to ensure that I would always be grateful for the meal on my plate and the freedom in my country. Thanks for taking such good care of my sister and dad; the first veteran shown on this blog. We Will Remember Them! Veel Dank! Rob McGuire

Esmee Droog

It was our pleasure, Rob. All of the things you mention can never measure up to what your dad did for us 70 years ago. It was an honour having him and all the other veterans on board and being able to talk to them and express our gratitude. I am also very aware of how lucky I am to be able to live in freedom and never have a day where I don’t have food on my plate. And I feel so so lucky I got the chance to thank these heroes for that. Thank you for your message!

Roseli Aparecida Wostog

Parabens, Veteranos pelas suas historias de vida, em exeperiencias.
Comemorar as suas Vitorias e Sucessos.
Senhores merece todos respeitos, pela suas Bravuras.
Venha respeitosamente, esta data tao Especial.
Abraços a todos, que fazem parte desta historia.
Com muita satisfaçao eu RoseliAWostog. Brazil.

Esmee Droog

Obrigado, Roseli!


Beste Esmee, wat een mooi verhaal en ik zit met tranen in mijn ogen. Die Julie wilde een Wannagive geven aan John MacLeod, maar die reisde onder de groepsnaam Holland Liberation. Het systeem kon dit niet verwerken. Na contact met een verdrietige Julie heeft KLM Inflight Retail & Media geregeld dat John toch werd verrast aan boord met een doos chocolade. Als je dan het gezicht erbij ziet van de held waar het voor bedoeld was, dan komt dat wel binnen. Heerlijk.
Gr Richard

Esmee Droog

Hi Richard, bedankt voor je berichtje! Ik moest zelf ook geregeld even slikken tijdens de vlucht. Het was allemaal zo mooi. Dat klopt inderdaad! Hij kreeg cola light en chocola, met de groetjes van Julie. Zo’n bijzonder verhaal de band tussen die twee. Hij was er heel blij mee. Thanks KLM Inflight Retail & Media!

À.Vossebelt- van der Laan

We are still thankful to our LIBERATORS.
Thankfull to them and our Lord.
It is à great privilege to live in freedom.

Esmee Droog

It is! Let’s keep remembering that!

penelope burreci

Well done KLM – an excellent, generous gesture to these brave and honorable men.
May they enjoy their stay in the Netherlands and go home again with warm and happy

Esmee Droog

Thanks for your message, Penelope! I wish them the same, let’s make sure they know how thankful we are.


What a pleasant story!!

Esmee Droog

Thank you Alice!!


20 Jaar geleden mocht ik meewerken in de organisatie Thank you Canada om 4000 Canadese veteranen naar Nederland te halen met de KLM en onder te brengen in heel Nederland bij gastgezinnen. Wat fantastisch te lezen dat nu 20 jaar later er nog steeds veteranen naar Nederland komen. Ik heb ontzettend mooie herinneringen aan die periode en ook zeker aan de samenwerking met KLM Canada. Claudia Veen

Esmee Droog

Wauw, Claudia! Dat moet ook een geweldige ervaring zijn geweest. 4000! Hopelijk zijn we het over nog 20 jaar nog steeds niet vergeten!


It’s always a relief when someone with obvious exsiptere answers. Thanks!

Earl Donaldson

Many memories of Holland , while serving with Cdn Forces in West Germany in the sixties . Bergen Op Zoom , Groesbeek , Holten , Nijmegen March 63 & 64 , Overloon Museum , Arnhem , ( The Bridge Too Far) , Oosterbeek , Zandvoort ( Dutch Grand Prix ) , The big “A”= Amsterdam , Kuekenhof .
Thanks very much KLM , for taking care of our HEROES .
The Maple Leaf Forever .

Esmee Droog

That’s so lovely you have all these great memories, Earl. Hopefully we can welcome you back one day! It was our pleasure, and a very special experience.

Alex Black

Puts the taxpayered bailout airline Air Canada to shame. Also shameful is Harper was there giving a speech of thanks when his government has cut veterans subsidies more than any party in Canadian history. KLM you are without a doubt” The aitline who cares “

Esmee Droog

I don’t know about Air Canada or Harper, Alex. But I do want to thank you for your kind words about KLM! I couldn’t agree more, it was such a special flight!


Met respect en ontroering deze aangrijpende verhalen gelezen. Esmee Droog verdient ook een compliment!

Bijzonder indrukwekkend.

Esmee Droog

Heel erg bedankt, Marianne! Het was heel indrukwekkend, krijg er nog kippenvel van!

Lori Powell

Thank you KLM for such a generous gift to our veterans. My family and I fly KLM whenever possible (we will be flying with you again this fall), and we are so appreciative of the excellent service. We get spoiled every time. This is just one more reason for us to stay loyal customers. Thank you!

Esmee Droog

That’s wonderful to hear, Lori! We look forward seeing you on board coming fall! Thanks for your kind words.

David Wright

Big respect gentlemen we salute you all !

Esmee Droog

Respect indeed, David!

Boy Eysbroek

Dit verhaal doet me goed :) . Ik heb 18 jaar op Schiphol gewerkt en werk nu als Tour guide in Normandië bij de invasie stranden . Lest we Forget ! Toppie KLM !!

Esmee Droog

Mooi om te horen, Boy! Lijkt me een indrukwekkende baan, veel succes!


Ik ben zeer onder de indruk van de verhalen en het reisverslag.
Respect for all the veterans! Goed werk KLM!

Esmee Droog

Heel erg bedankt, rene!

Arnoud Wink

Voor een ieder die toch nog persoonlijk zijn of haar respect wil tonen naar deze bijzondere groep passagiers:

Aanstaande zondag, 10 mei 2015 zal de grote groep van 300 veteranen met hun begeleiders weer uitreizen op de KL695. Uiteraard stellen we alles in het werk om ook dit vertrekproces weer een feest voor onze bevrijders te laten zijn!!

Ella Mitchell

Thank you KLM and the people of Netherland for honoring our Canadian WW2 Veterans, it”s nice to see them honoured in a way they truly deserve. Sadly, here in Canada they are not honoured enough. We are proud of them and their sacrifices, they are very precious to us but we do not often publicly display our love for them. Thanks for showing us how to do this so beautifully. We are deeply touched by the respect, honour, gratefulness and love you show to the Canadian Vets and to our country. Peace and love to you all.


Canadians served and died all over Europe — I lost an uncle in Italy — but I can’t recall of any country which has show such a commitment to honouring and thanking our vets.

In my garden are many tulips and each year when they bloom, we remember the people who served and the country they liberated.

Ed Gay

it has been a week since we returned from the Netherlands. This was our 10th visit since 2005, and the welcome by KLM and our fantastic stay in Holland was over the top. Well done. Many great memories. Dad has amazed everyone.

Esmee Droog

Good to hear the experience was so great, Ed! We have nothing but warm memories regarding the flight and your dad! Thank you!


I was on flight KLM 696 on May 1/2. It was an unbelievable flight for the start of an overwhelming and amazing trip. Thanks KLM for making this the most special flight our Veterans could have ever been on. BRAVO !!!

Stephen Carey

I have recently read a book about the starvation in Holland at the end of the war, and the air drop from UK by USAF, RCAF and RAF bombers delivering food to the inhabitants which was allowed (under threat of retribution) by the occupying German forces. Manna from heaven indeed, but I had to educate a young Dutchman about it, and also what “roof rabbit” was in those days!
See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operations_Manna_and_Chowhound

Veteran Celebration Branson

good work and great article …


That’s really thniikng of the highest order

Anna Marie Crisp (Nee King)

My father was enlisted in the Royal Canadian Artillery of the Canadian Army in Toronto, Ontario on the 18 day of July 1941. At the age of 25 years 6 months, he was discharged from service on Feb. 22, 1946. He would have been 94 when this celebration took place. He served in the United Kingdom – Central Mediterranean Area Continental Europe. During the Liberation of Holland he met and married my mother, a resident of Holland. He would never talk of the war and after he passed we found some horrific pictures from an old newspaper. If these photo’s were actual things that he had seen we understood why the war was never mentioned. I have ties to Holland through my mother, and have been to visit family on 4 different occasions. I consider Holland to be my second home. It is truly a beautiful place. I am hoping to go back again if possible. My mother had a half sister who passed away at an young age, and I just recently found my cousin, her daughter on face book. I would love to go back and reconnect with her and her family. I too am very proud of all the veterans who helped to Liberate Holland.

Gary Johnston

There was just several days ago; a Canadian contingent in respect of the WWII Veterans funded by the Memorial Remembrance of Veterans in Canada to travel to Holland to gather for The Day Holland was Liberated from Germany 70 years ago! My Great Uncle and his battalion were with the First Canadian Light Infantry to cross into Holland that day! He was: Private/L. E. Johnston of Owen Sound, Ontario/Canada. 1945.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *