Fred J. Kidd is surrounded by memories of a war he fought 60 years ago. The photos that dot the walls of his small Saskatoon apartment show him meeting with Dutch royalty and riding in military parades. Pictures of his brother, who was killed in the line of duty, are there, too.
Kidd, who was born in Humboldt, the fourth of seven children, enlisted in the Army in 1940. Now 96, he still remembers in vivid detail the events that marked his service in the Second World War.
“I landed in France at Juno Beach and it was a fight from then on. Any man that says he wasn’t scared is lying because you were. Especially those fellows who’d been hunters like myself and knew what a bullet could do,” he said. “Those that had never had experience with arms I can’t answer for them, but I know a lot of them were crying. They could hear the guns, they could see what was going on.
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“The water was red with blood and that’s when we woke up to the fact that we were under fire. A lot of men died right there. That’s the way it was.”
Kidd headed overseas this week to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Liberation the Netherlands by the First Canadian Army. Sunday is Victory in Europe (VE) day and ceremonies will be held across Canada and in Europe.
“I think it’s wonderful that I can make the trip. I was the oldest man in 1995 to go over. I don’t know whether I’m going to be the oldest one yet. But I want the man to stand up and tell me he’s older,” said Kidd, before leaving.
The commemorative trip to Holland, which began May 1 and lasts until Tuesday, honours the approximately 7,600 Canadians who died during the liberation campaign. Troops fought from the shores of France to the towns of Holland in the last two years of the war.
The 25th German Army in the Netherlands surrendered May 5, 1945 at the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen.
Earlier this week veterans on the tour visited cemeteries in Groesbeek and Holten. The burial grounds house 3,693 Canadian graves. Kidd fought at both locations.
“I look forward to see them places, but it’s a little sad. When I talk about it I kind of build up,” he said. “So many of my friends died. I want to see them places though and that’s why I want to go back.”
Kidd has returned to Europe six times since 1945. He has revisited several areas in Western Europe where he fought as a young man. He also went to the grave of his brother, a Spitfire pilot who died a month after Kidd went into action.
The sacrifices Canadian men made in order to free the Netherlands from the Nazis have not been forgotten by the Dutch. The Netherlands celebrated liberation day on May 4 and each year school children offer their thanks to Canadian soldiers by placing flowers on every grave. The relationship that was forged between Holland and Canada in the last years of the war still resonates during Kidd’s visits.
“I met some very nice people over there. In fact, the Dutch people are the cream of this earth, honestly they are. They treat us like royalty,” he said.
Kidd was trained as a tank operator in Canada before being transferred to the Royal Regina Rifles when he arrived in England. He was reluctant at first to be an infantryman because he felt safer behind the tank’s steel casing.
“I think I was about three days in action (in the infantry) and there were three tanks advancing all together in line. And one enemy gun fired an armour-piercing shell and it went right straight through the three of them. Put them out of action, killed every man in them,” he said. “I was quite happy to be on the outside then.”
Approximately 1,200 Canadian veterans went overseas for the anniversary, including an official delegation of 130 veterans and 13 youth ambassadors.
Among those veterans was Paul LeBouef. On April 25, he sat anxiously at John G. Diefenbaker airport, moments before departing with his wife Ellen and four of his eight children. The significance of this trip was evident through his kind eyes.
“I think I am lucky to be still alive because I had lots of friends that I left there,” he said between tears. “It’s kind of touching.”
LeBouef, born near Cut Knife in 1919, was also involved in the liberation of Holland. This is his first time returning to the country. He looked forward to taking part in some of the main ceremonies, including a march on May 5, and going with family members to see the graves of four cousins who perished in the war.
LeBouef was called to duty on May 20, 1941 but did not make it overseas until June of 1942 due to a bout of the German measles. His wife, who was in Vancouver at the time, was notified by telegram on their son’s first birthday that her husband had been sent to England.
It was not until June 1944 that LeBouef saw action. He was dropped at Juno Beach two weeks after D-Day as a signal corporal.
“My feeling was I’m in it now, but there was nothing to be seen. There was just a beach and nobody around,” he said. “We just landed and they transported us to Caen, which is about 12 miles (19 kilometres) inland. I didn’t know what to be scared of yet. I just took it as it came along.”
It was a friendly fire accident near this French town that sidelined LeBouef for another three months in August 1944 when a piece of shrapnel hit his shoulder. Lancaster bombers, blinded by dust, dropped shells on their own men.
“I had just had breakfast and I was watching our planes fly over head. You could see about six planes in line and then six more. They were bombing about two miles (three kilometres) ahead,” he said. “It was so dry in France that you couldn’t see anymore. It was all dust and they kept coming closer and closer and closer and finally I looked back and I could see the bombs coming out of the plane, so I hit the dust.”
After recovering from the injury, LeBouef made his way toward Nijmegen in Holland. He was there for the remainder of the winter, a miserable “Hunger Winter” as is came to be called. It was not until April 1945 that Canadian troops were able to get supplies into western Holland.
In the spring of 1945, action picked up for LeBouef and the rest of the Canadian troops. While the 2nd Canadian Corps cleared the Northeastern Netherlands and the coast of Germany, the 1st Canadian Corps swept Germans from the Western Netherlands. Nazi resistance soon unravelled.
On Nov. 27, 1945, after 1,388 days at war, LeBouef was discharged. Returning home remains his fondest memory of that time.
“My oldest boy was one year old when I went over and I hadn’t seen him since I’d left. He was just about five years old when I got back,” he said. “I was sure happy to get back home. I had to rest for about a year and then we had eight more children.”
The liberation ceremonies in Holland are just a few of the events planned around the world during the Year of the Veteran. Janice Summerby, spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada, hopes veterans who could not make it overseas can get involved in celebrations at home.
“It’s a big anniversary and it’s a very huge one in the Netherlands. They’re planning a multitude of events across their country,” she said. “But in Canada there will be more events than ever on the homefront.”
Nationally, a ceremony will be held at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Parades and ceremonies will also take place in the capital city of each province and territory in celebration of VE-Day Sunday.
With events planned across the country, Summerby hopes awareness of and respect for Canadian war veterans will improve.
“There’s no limit to what we should be doing to paying tribute to veterans and to recognize them. Some of the efforts in the Netherlands would be a good model for us,” she said. “Because they were an occupied country and we were the predominant force involved in their liberation they ensure their students know the history and are involved.”
For Summerby the best way for Canadians to thank veterans for their contributions is simple and heartfelt. She recommends, “either recognizing a veteran at an event and going over and just saying thank you to shaking their hand, to coming out to the events and applauding as they are parading.”