The day we learned Gpa Mike spoke Dutch

M.R. (Mike) Brown, 1995For people that have a great uncle or a grandparent that served during one of the Great Wars, or for those that have friends or family serving now, we don’t need just one day to think about the men and women that make the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Having said this, Remembrance Day does mark an emotional day for us. And I have found over these last several years, writing and sharing my family’s military history makes me feel great pride, but it also eases the sadness that I feel when I think about how few of this great generation are left.

Yesterday when I got home from work, I was too tired to write my daily post – as a result for today I will be writing two posts, starting first by sharing one of my favourite memories of my Gpa Mike.  For family and close friends, you will know that one of my favourite stories is the day we learned Gpa Mike spoke Dutch!

In July of 2004, Gpa had a cancerous tumor on his hand that had to be removed. The trauma of the surgery took a great toll on him and he was in the hospital for some time. He was in a semi-private room with a man named Charlie. While in the hospital, Charlie celebrated his 90th birthday! Some of his friends came to see him, including a lovely Dutch-Canadian. She came over and said to my grandpa that Charlie had told her Gpa was a War vet and was in the Netherlands leading up to VE Day.

This lady, in typical Dutch fashion, made a huge fuss over grandpa and said how much the Dutch love the Canadian soldiers for helping them. As noted in earliest posts, the RCASC played a pivotal role in the liberation of Holland and eventual defeat of Germany through their transporting of men and supplies.  One of the most famous roles played by Canadians in the Second World War came in the form of an unofficial truce that came into affect at 0800 on 28 April 1945.  The truce was formed to allow for the delivery of food and medical supplies to the Dutch civilians.  As a part of the aid, the Germans also agreed that no further flooding of the lowlands was to take place. These events occurred under the names Operation Manna and Chowhound.

Gpa drove ammunition trucks but during this time, all the ammo was dumped from the trucks and they were filled with flour and sugar. During the War, this lady was a young teenager but she said she never forgot the Canadians – in fact, she ended up marrying at the age of 16, a Canadian soldier. She was so genuine and sweet and it really made us proud to hear this lady express her appreciation for what the Canadians did for the Dutch.  Out of nowhere, Gpa pipes up and says, “I used to speak a lot of Dutch but all that comes to mind at the moment is…” and then he blurted out some crazy Dutch saying! The lady replied back, “ah-ya…..” something-something. We were shocked! We had no idea he spoke Dutch. I have NO bloody clue what the words were in Dutch that Gpa said but it translated loosely into, “the area is not secure of the Germans. Keep your things and your person safe from view.”

For my grandma, Mom, Aunt Donna and Uncle Gary, it was so cool to hear Gpa speak in another language.  He also told us at the same time that he used to speak fluent Italian from all the time he was in Italy (July 1943-match 1945).  It was so amazing to get these little pieces of information but it was also a stark reminder of how little we really knew about Grandpa’s time in the Army and that we are forever grateful for the stories that he did share with us.

Grandpa Mike's dog tags - nothing like in the movies! Notice they list his religion (Presbyterian), his nationality (Canadian) and his rank at the time of dispersement (Gunner).

Grandpa Mike’s dog tags – nothing like in the movies! Notice they list his religion (Presbyterian), his nationality (Canadian) and his rank at the time of dispersement (Gunner).

M.R. (Mike) Brown