December 22, 2017. After travelling through Europe for weeks, and arriving in The Netherlands for the next phase of our war memorial tour, we were delighted to receive an invitation from the Royal Canadian Legion in The Netherlands for lunch at their home base in Lochem. While we knew that the home base was in a restaurant called Mondani, we were completely astonished to see that it was a Canadian restaurant. We eagerly went inside and found a piece of west coast Canada!
Owners Berry Swarthoff, of The Netherlands, and his wife Yvonne, from Dawson Creek, BC, opened their restaurant in 1991. With a pan-Canadian menu, including a seafood cocktail from Prince Edward Island, it’s a great place to meet and enjoy a taste of Canada. They even serve Tim Horton’s coffee upon request.
The Royal Canadian Legion in The Netherlands, of which the Swarthoffs are members, is one of 5 branches in Europe. Pieter and I were invited for lunch to meet with other members of the Legion, including Branch President Gerard Hendricks and Vice-President Martin Reelick. Alice van Bekkum, president of the Faces to Graves project at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, was also present. Of the 18 known PEI soldiers buried in Groesbeek, one is on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion. Pieter intended to place flags on the graves of all 18 soldiers.
“The main purpose of the Dutch branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is remembrance. We have 40 to 50 events annually normally, and then every five years we have 65 extra commemorations” said Hendricks. “Many families had daughters who were war brides, and many Canadian soldiers were stationed in The Netherlands after the war. Plus, 85% of The Netherlands was liberated by Canadian troops. Many friendships still survive. So a Royal Canadian Legion branch here is most appropriate.”
The branch has members from the Dutch public, as well as Canadian embassy officials, Canadian expats, and even a Canadian pilot on exchange with the Dutch Air Force.
Since the Legion uses the Mondani restaurant as its home base, there are few fixed costs. Travel costs, and the costs of flags for colour parties make up the bulk of the Legion’s expenses. “We travel across The Netherlands, and in April we were at Vimy Ridge for the 2017 commemoration ceremonies” noted Hendricks.
To help with finances, the Canadian Embassy in The Hague hosts an annual fundraiser at the ambassador’s residence, plus the Legion sells T-shirts, bags, and hats to raise money.
The lunch was a Dutch one, not Canadian, but it was delicious, and we were enveloped in a warm atmosphere of friendship. After the Dutch members of the Legion left, Berry, who surely knows what Canadians like, asked if we’d like a piece of lemon meringue pie. Did we ever! And it was delicious. My mother, who was an excellent cook and baker, could not have made a better pie.
The visit to Lochem reminded us not only of home, but that so many people in Europe are grateful for the help Canada gave in the liberation of their countries. We were very much looking forward to continuing our war memorial trail in Pieter’s country of birth. As in Belgium, we would be joined by friends, old and new, who shared in honouring the soldiers who gave their lives during war.
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© Daria Valkenburg