Three quarters of a century ago a world conflict we call World War II, came to an end, 60 million people had lost their lives.
Knokke-Heist on the Belgian East-Coast wasn’t saved from this tragedy.
The forced labour implemented by the occupier meant that all youngsters older than 18 were forced to work under harsh conditions in the German war industry.
Families were struggling to survive and undergoing fear, hunger and poverty during 5 years.
Fortunately for Flanders, help came from over the Atlantic Ocean, October 1944.
Young men, mostly volunteers, coming over, from far away Canada, risking their lives to liberate us, joined by Poles and Brits.
The German occupier received orders, directly from Berlin, to resist to the last man.
The Battle in The Scheldt Pocket was bloody and bitter. The sacrifice was immense and hundreds of lives both military and civilian were lost.
The brave warriors of October 1944 lie buried in Adegem Canadian War Cemetery.
Since the end of WW II, the people of Knokke-Heist have always commemorated their Canadian Liberators.
In 1974 a Canadian Liberation March was inaugurated by local history circle “Cnocke is Hier”
This yearly pilgrimage walk follows the path, the Canadians took in October 1944.
This runs from Hoofdplaat, a village along the river Scheldt in Holland, all the way to Knokke-Heist Belgium, a 33 km long walk, attended every year by more than 4,000 participants.
At the cenotaph in Knokke-Heist wreaths are laid.
Every year a unit of the Canadian Nato Forces, stationed at Brunssum, Netherlands, join the Remembrance celebrations and the March.
But no problem, the For Freedom Museum of Knokke-Heist in Belgium started a magnificent action to commemorate our liberators.
In 2008, Fred and Dan Jones, curators of the museum, started an incentive to encourage the population of K-H to hang out the Maple Leaf Flag along the fronts of their homes.
Since then more than a 1,000 flags have been bought by our civilians, this in honour of the 1,000 Canadians who sacrificed their life for our Liberation.
Our recently deceased Mayor, Count Leopold Lippens was very proud in the way we all honour the Canadian sacrifices and called our hometown” Maple Leaf City “during this remembrance period. The new Mayor will join us during the Remembrance March and is also very eager to follow this tradition.
This year no town in the world will boast more Canadian flags than Knokke-Heist, a token of respect and gratitude towards the people of Canada.
About the For Freedom Museum Knokke-Heist:
Fred and Danny Jones, sons of British Normandy veteran Dennis Jones, from Crewe Cheshire UK, are the curators of the FF Museum. Their dad found the love of his life in Flanders, just after the war. Unfortunately, dad Dennis passed away in 1984.
As dad married his wife Georgette in his military uniform, what was going to happen with his uniform? Fred had the brilliant idea to make a mannequin, this was the first step in a long stride of collecting WWII military items. Fred organised 2 expositions in the cultural centre concerning the Liberation of Knokke-Heist, always inviting Canadian veterans to the opening ceremonies.
He even flew to Canada to interview Major-General Dan Charles Spry, Commander of the 3rd Canadian infantry Division.
He became an “Honorary Life Member of the Glens’ Association”, always guiding the veterans through their battle grounds in the Scheldt Pocket, whenever they were over in Europe. In his capacity of guide, he met John Angus McDonald, who became a true friend.
In 2009 Fred and Danny opened the For Freedom Museum, which depicts the Battle of The Scheldt Pocket October 1944, Operation Switchback. All set in very realistic scenes, holding more than hundred mannequins dressed in original uniforms, both Canadian, British, Polish, and German.
A “Hidden Gem “ quoted by quite a number of Battle-Tour organisers.
Up to now, the museum hosted 90,000 visitors and is rated on Trip Adviser as Belgium’s second-best military museum and just recently was on Belgian TV.
A magnificent audio tour just installed gives the visitors a real impression of the significance of this part of WW II history. Had it been a US battle, more than 10 films would have already been produced.
As Fred and Danny are just on pension leave, more plans are being prepared to expand the museum.
This all to honour the efforts of the Canadian Forces during the 1944 campaign in Flanders. and Zeeland (Holland).
Lest we forget!