Canadian veteran Don White served in the Second World War. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons and served with a regiment in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.
White is the only soldier left from his troop to share the tragedies they faced during war. For that reason, he continues to shares his experiences, which demonstrate the undeniable impact the Canadian soldiers had on those around them.
White asks that Canadians mark Nov. 11 as a day of remembrance, not as a holiday.
“It’s hard for me to really express my feelings, but I hope you realize that what you have today and the good times all was because of what the soldiers were willing to sacrifice for you to have it. Don’t ever forget and always remember,” White said.
It has been 75 years since the liberation of the Netherlands after the Second World War — 175,000 Canadians took part and 7,600 lost their lives.
While it seems long ago, the memory of those difficult times and the loss to our country still lingers.
On April 15, 1945, White and his troop were told to proceed into the town of Leeuwarden, Netherlands as the Germans had evacuated the town. When Canadian soldiers arrived, they found a huge cement barricade with a small concrete opening. With caution, they moved through the opening and into the town. When they first entered, they didn’t see anyone but as they got about three or four blocks in, the mood changed immensely. People in the town started to appear.
White said the atmosphere that day was unbelievable.
“They came out by the hundreds, in fact so much so we could hardly advance. We had to stop temporarily so that we could observe them celebrating their first taste of freedom. It was a sight I will never forget.”
The day they liberated the town, a baby girl was born. Her father thanked the Colonel of White’s regiment that his daughter was born a free person. That man was not the only one White and his troop left a lasting impression on.
White did an interview with the National Magazine of the Netherlands about the time he spent in the town of Harlem after the war ended. A woman who read the articles was deeply touched by White’s stories. She remembered the relief she felt when the Canadian troops came into her town. She sent White a letter to express her immense gratitude for the Canadian soldiers. One of those soldiers she remembered just happened to be White.
The letter read: “Mr. White, you can’t imagine how happy we were with you. You were the opposite of the Germans — so friendly, open and generous. I will never forget the day you made the entrance to our street with all your vehicles and your big smiles.”
The woman went on to write, “You are one of our Canadian liberators who fought for our freedom, risked your life and were so very nice to us. You gave us hope and joy after those dark years and appeased our hunger. I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.”
White and his troops were stationed in a local school during the liberation. The woman who was a girl at the time remembers the soldiers being kind and always offering comfort after years of being terrified of the Germans who had once occupied the same town.
“As far as I know, we were the only Canadian troops there. So when I got that letter it really, really touched me deeply. I was very happy and pleased and next thing you know, my emotions kind of switched. Here I get this and I think, I am the only one left in my troop to share this experience with,” White said.
The woman who once lived in Harlem was not the only person White left an impact on. In 2015, White and 17 other veterans travelled back to the Netherlands to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation.
All of the veterans were asked to bring a photo of what they looked like 70 years before to see if anyone in the crowd would recognize them. Up to 15,000 people jammed into the square and watched as the photos went by and the veterans were introduced. One man in the crowd recognized White and asked to speak with him.
Seventy years before, White and his regiment attempted to approach a town called Franeker. The bridge was damaged so they couldn’t get into the town. The soldiers had to wait over an hour until the bridge was repaired. The man told White that he was 10 years old at the time and lived a couple houses down from the bridge. He remembers going to visit the soldiers and White gave him a piece of chocolate.
“Needless to say that boggled my mind because I couldn’t imagine a 10-year-old boy remembering me 70 years ago,” exclaimed White.
The interview with White was completed as part of the No Stone Left Alone special. The ceremony helps children learn the importance of Remembrance Day and ensures every Canadian soldier is honoured.
Read more: No Stone Left Alone honours Canada’s fallen
It was started by Maureen Bianchini Purvis and her daughter in 2011. Since then, the initiative has grown immensely. Now, students across the country take part in No Stone Left Alone ceremonies ahead of Remembrance Day.