B.C. woman joins 'once-in-a-lifetime' tour following veteran grandfather's footsteps in World War II

Melissa McBride, second from right, and her family at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands, where three of her grandfather's friends are buried. (Submitted by Melissa McBride - image credit)
Melissa McBride, second from right, and her family at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands, where three of her grandfather's friends are buried. (Submitted by Melissa McBride - image credit)

Revelstoke, B.C.'s Melissa McBride says her late grandfather never talked to her about his experience as part of the Canadian army that liberated the Netherlands from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

To learn a little more, she and her family joined a group of veterans' descendants earlier this month on a two-week pilgrimage in Holland, walking through the villages their fathers and grandfathers had 80 years ago.

During the tour, McBride says she carried the memory of her grandfather with her.

"We were walking literally through his footsteps [that] I was thankful that the itinerary did follow," she told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South.

McBride says her grandfather, Lewis Green, who died eight years ago, enlisted at 18 while a student at McGill University in Montreal. He was wounded in Doetinchem, Netherlands, but returned home safe after the war.

Canadian army's liberation of the Netherlands

Green was one of an estimated 100,000 to 175,000 Canadian soldiers taking part in the Allied forces' operation from September 1944 to April 1945 to push back the occupying German forces in the Netherlands, part of the Allied effort that led to Germany's surrender in May 1945.

Veterans Affairs Canada says Canadian military forces played a key role in the Battle of the Scheldt from October to November 1944, clearing a region that stretched across the southwestern Netherlands and northern Belgium from Nazi occupiers, allowing British troops to take over Antwerp, a major port, securing supply lines for the Allied forces.

McBride and 89 other veterans' children and grandchildren participated earlier this month in the "In Our Fathers' Footsteps" tour organized by Ontario-based Canadian Remembrance Torch and postponed for two years due to pandemic travel restrictions.

During the 12-day journey, participants walked more than 60 kilometres through a dozen communities in southeastern Netherlands — from Magchelen bordering Germany to Apeldoom, where they met Dutch Princess Margriet, who has visited Canada several times to commemorate anniversaries of the liberation of the Netherlands.

They also walked the 15 kilometres from the municipality of Bergen op Zoom to Ossendrecht in the Scheldt region.

McBride says the Dutch welcomed the Canadian visitors who had come so far to honour their fathers and grandfathers and their legacy reflected in the war monuments scattered across several communities.

"They have never forgotten the liberation, and they've never forgotten the act of Canadians liberating Holland," she said. "We were graciously welcomed everywhere we went."

Submitted by Melissa McBride
Submitted by Melissa McBride

She says her family visited the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, where three of her grandfather's friends were buried after being killed on the battlefield.

"[We were] able to read what their personalities were like and what his relationship was like with those men. It made it all very real and a very strong experience and brought a lot of emotions for my family."

'Once-in-a-lifetime' experience to honour veterans

Executive director Karen Hunter of Canadian Remembrance Torch, who created and joined the "In Our Fathers' Footsteps" tour, says for many participants, visiting the war cemeteries was a far more emotional experience than they had expected.

"It's not until you see the row-upon-row of stones that it really hits home what a horrible battle it was and how many didn't return," she said.

Hunter says the journey was a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience.

"It's really a matter of people taking the time and interest to delve into this information and learn more about it — and it's certainly the best way that we can honour them."