January 16, 2018. After visiting the very large Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek we next went to visit a smaller Canadian War Cemetery in Holten. This is the second largest WWII cemetery in The Netherlands. The majority of those buried here died during the last stages of the war in Holland, during the advance of the Canadian 2nd Corps into northern Germany, and across the Ems in April and the first days of May 1945. After the war ended, their remains were brought into this cemetery, which has 1,394 WWII burials, 1382 of them identified. The burials are listed as the following: There are 1,394 burials: Navy 2, Army 1,378, Air Force 14, of which 1,355 are Canadian,36 British, 2 Australian and 1 Belgian.
Five of the known burials are soldiers from Prince Edward Island, two of which are listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion, and part of Pieter’s Cenotaph Research Project. William Douglas SHERREN and George Martin MCMAHON are listed on the Cenotaph. Carman GILLCASH, Frederick Charles CHEVERIE, and Daniel Peter MACKENZIE are the other three soldiers from PEI.
This was a very different visit than when we were at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, as there is a large information centre in Holten, where we met with Henk Vincent and Edwin Van der Wolf, two of the volunteers at the Centre.
The volunteers at Holten Cemetery have run a “Face to Every Name” project, in an attempt to receive a photo and learn more about every soldier buried there. The original project began in 1995, during the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of The Netherlands, with a group of friends who helped organize annual commemoration events. They called themselves “Welcome Again Veterans”. While the organization that dealt with annual commemorations began in the 1950s, the new group started actively collecting photos, memoirs and books, and stories that had been donated over the years.
In 2005, as veterans arriving for liberation events began decreasing, the group started to think of a small museum as a repository for the information that had been collected. By 2010, with funding secured from private donations, and Dutch municipal and provincial governments, plus the European Union, construction began, and the new Information Centre open in September 2011. Unlike most Dutch construction, the Information Centre is constructed of wood, “just like in Canada”, according to Van der Wolf.
Today, the Information Centre receives 25,000 visitors per year, and we were eager to be two of them. Entrance is free, with donations helping to cover the operating costs of running this facility.
Highlights of some of the displays you can see and interact with are:
· An Information wall with a map of northern and eastern Netherlands, showing where you can see where divisions entered the area, and liberation dates of different villages and towns, as well as a few important places where heavy fighting had taken place.
· The film hall, which lists the names of the 1,394 soldiers buried in Holten on its wall, then watch a 17 minute film about the cemetery.
· Three information tables that use touch screen technology:
· Information table 1 is a Database with basic data on all Canadian soldiers buried in The Netherlands. In addition, there are photos and biographies for many soldiers buried in Holten.
· Information table 2 is entitled ‘Meet a soldier‘, which features a more detailed life story for four fallen liberators using films with unique documents and photos.
· Information table 3 showcases Interviews with witnesses of the liberation, plus three liberation stories, written during or directly after the liberation days.
· Showcase wall, with a panorama photo of the entrance of the cemetery, and 8 showcases that highlight different themes. There are also 4 touch screens with films about the liberation of various villages and cities in northern and eastern Netherlands, a film about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and various photographs and films of commemorations at the cemetery over the years.
· Four Documentaries:
1. ‘Victory in The Netherlands’, an authentic film from 1945 on the liberation of northern and eastern Netherlands.
2. The liberation of cities and villages in northern and eastern Netherlands from day to day.
3. ‘Heroes Remember’, where Canadian veterans talk about their experiences of the liberation of The Netherlands.
4. The May 4, 2015 ceremony at the cemetery.
· Reading table, which includes memoirs and original newspaper articles about the liberation.
· Cemetery Map
After touring the Information Centre, we continued on to the Cemetery itself, to lay flags at the graves of our five soldiers from PEI.
Have you visited Holten Cemetery and its Information Centre? Do you know of more soldiers from PEI buried in the Cemetery? You can share your comments and stories by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg