GEORGE’S CHANNEL – Just as he will never forget his military service during the Second World War, Stewart MacDonald is not likely to forget his latest trip to Holland.
With the support of Veterans Affairs Canada and his fellow members of the North Shore Regiment, MacDonald joined an 84-member Canadian contingent to The Netherlands this past May to help Holland celebrate the 70th anniversary of its liberation from the Axis forces during the Second World War.
“It was incredible – the Dutch people treated us like kings,” marvelled MacDonald, a Port Hawkesbury native who now lives in St. George’s Channel.
“Right after we got there, they took us to our hotel in Appeldorn, and it was one of the best hotels in the Netherlands…They couldn’t treat us any better. We couldn’t even dream of what they went through to help us like this.”
Greeted by crowds estimated at 250,000 and 300,000 as he participated in military parades during the late stages of his 12-day trip, MacDonald and his comrades were also humbled by memorials to those incarcerated in Prisoner of War (PoW) camps and visits to three soldiers’ cemeteries, including an international cemetery in nearby Germany.
“The cemeteries over there are like carpet in your house,” MacDonald said of his European hosts’ attention to the upkeep of these graveyards.
“The kids looked after it, and they have all the respect in the world for the Canadians.”
Reflecting on a trip that also allowed him to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Veterans’ Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole, MacDonald marvelled at the concept that this visit was spurred on by a reunion of the North Shore Regiment last year in Bathurst.
He noted that, as an infantryman destined to replace soldiers that had been lost in other Maritime regiments, he had signed up for the North Shore Regiment even though it was based in New Brunswick, because he assumed the initials “N.S.” stood for “Nova Scotia.”
Today, having made four additional trips back to Holland over his 90 years of life, MacDonald is touched by the support he and his fellow veterans received from both his hosts and the Canadian officials that accompanied them in May.
“Each time was great, but this was the cream of the crop,” MacDonald beamed.
“It was well-organized, and as far as I and all the veterans that were there are concerned, it couldn’t have been any better…We couldn’t have asked for any better from all the people from Veterans’ Affairs.”