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Marking Remembrance/Veterans Day in the Netherlands

By Amsterdam City Tours

Being Canadian, Remembrance Day has always held a special role in my heart. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, my school would always pause classes in order to observe a minute of silence as the national anthem played over the school speaker system in memory of those who died to protect our nation in the Wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. I am led to believe that Remembrance Day ceremonies across many nations of the Commonwealth as well as Veterans Day celebrations in the United States are marked in a similar manner. In several Commonwealth countries, people purchase paper or felt poppies to wear on their lapels - the proceeds going to support veteran organizations - in order to commemorate soldiers who have perished in wars. As a result, Remembrance/Veterans Day in the country's that celebrate it rarely goes completely unmarked. Not only did we see people selling and wearing poppies on their lapels weeks in advance, most educational institutions and workplace, not to mention all government buildings and memorial sites, would commemorate the occasion with a minute of silence.

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery

Due to the very different nature of the World War experience in the Netherlands, November 11th is not marked. Instead, Bevrijdingsdag, or "Liberation Day" is an incredibly joyful event celebrated on May 5th of every year. Bevrijdingsdag marks the 1945 liberation of the Netherlands by Allied troops. Memorial services and celebratory concerts are held across the country.

Nevertheless, there are many exceptional ways anyone wishing to commemorate the Allied victims of World War II can mark the occasion while in the Netherlands. Having  played home to many of World War II's most bloody battles, the Netherlands is host to several Allied military graveyards. Over the years, many family members of soldiers who perished here in the last years of the war have made the long trek to the Netherlands to find the burial grounds of their loved ones. These days, in addition to family members, many others have come to pay respects to those killed, often laying flowers at graves and memorial sites. The largest American military cemetery in the Netherlands is located in the town of Margraten, and is home to an astounding 8,302 graves. The US Military Cemetery Margraten is administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission and was even visited by President Bush in 2005. The Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery and the Holten Canadian War Cemetery hold 2,610 and 1,393 graves  respectively. The many other Allied cemeteries include the Arnhem Oosterbeek Airborne War Cemetery (1,678 soldiers), the Bergen Op Zoom War Cemetary (1,200 soldiers), and the Nijmegen Jonkerbos War Cemetary (1,629) among several others, and are the final resting places of soldiers and civilians from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union and Poland.

The meticulously kept graveyards are a stark symbol of the overwhelming amount of lives lost during World War II, and are an advertisement for democracy and pacifism like no other. The local Dutch residents have played a large role over the years in maintaining the grounds of their local military cemeteries. Many graves have been "adopted" by local Dutch residents, and to this day thousands of local children make a habit of tending to the graves of the serviceman who died fighting for Dutch liberation. If you wish to mark this Remembrance/Veterans Day, a visit to one of Holland's many military cemeteries is a fantastic way to pay your respects to those who died fighting for freedom.

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