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WW2 sites

Hi everyone, I am in the beginning stages of helping my husband and Father in Law plan their 1 week April trip to Amsterdam/Antwerp. They are going to visit the area that my Father In Law's dad was stationed/saw action as a Canadian soldier during WW2. For the military history buffs on these boards, are there any must see/do, things that you would highly recommend seeing and doing?

I love planning trips but this one is a little out of my wheelhouse so any help is greatly appreciated!

Posted by
5010 posts

Have these gentlemen been to the Netherlands (or to Europe) before? That would certainly make a difference (to me) regarding itinerary suggestions - if they've never been there before, it would be a shame to exclude at least some of the typical tourist locations, but if they're been there done that, then I'd plan for less of the museums, canals, 'n windmiss stuff. Of course, this begs the question: have you asked these guys what their priorities are?

Finally, just a reality check: one week is a rather short trip to Europe. When you figure in travel time (and recovery form the flights) you have just a handful of usable days (as few as maybe 5 or 6 full usable days there), so 1) don't plan too much/too many locations, and 2) see if there'a any way you can extend the trip at least a bit, as they will have a much better experience if they could squeeze out two weeks rather than just one.

Posted by
8293 posts

Try contacting the Veterans' Affairs Dept. of the Gov. of Canada. At the very least they can inform you about cemeteries of Canadian dead, and which to this day are tended to faithfully by the Dutch people, including school children.

Posted by
4979 posts

I always find this question a bit hard to answer, because it is difficult to know what peoples expectations are regarding the sights and remnants of WW II.

First, in that area, and most of Europe, there are not the large battlefield monuments or defensive works some imagine with extensive museums focusing on the fighting, that is just not the legacy the war left. Yes, there is Normandy, some good museums regarding the Battle of the Bulge, various other museums, but in many places, life has just moved on.

Specifically in the area you will be in, you might detour to Arnhem where there are some memorials and and displays revolving around Operation Market Garden (A Bridge Too Far), but most of what you will find in those two countries are Cemeteries, Museums of the Resistance, and memorials to the Holocaust.

As others have mentioned, Canadian sources may trace the route or areas where troops were located that would provide some stops, there may be a small memorial/town museum, or just a look at the area may have meaning. Doing some searches on a specific unit or towns they were in can yield some possibilities.

Posted by
1168 posts

They have never been to the Netherlands but have been to Europe multiple times.

I know that 1 week is short but unfortunately all that the schedules would allow

Thanks everyone for the suggestions!

Posted by
1526 posts

We did an “Operation Market Garden” tour with Murk Dijkstra of History Trips last June. The website is: www.historytrips.eu

We’re Americans, so he bent the tour towards American involvement, but there was so much more Canadian involvement. He tailors his tour to his audience and their level of knowledge and related stories of being able to find locations where an family memberhas actually been present.

He picked the 4 of us up at our hotel in Amsterdam at 9:00 a.m. and dropped us off early evening. It was a fascinating, full day.

Posted by
1497 posts

I see that you also go to Antwerp and likely your Father in Law’s Dad was involved in The Battle of the Scheldt and if so you can contact the Bevrijdingsmuseum / Liberation Museum Zeeland. It’s located near the village of Nieuwdorp at the northern side of the Scheldt Estuary west of Antwerp. The Canadians had serious fights around the estuary. As Paul says there is not that much left, besides monuments and smaller privately run museums, hard to compare to those big ones in Normandy, but enough to make worth a visit. I know there is a military cemetery near Bergen-op-Zoom in the Netherlands north of Antwerp and one near Adegem, east of Bruges.

https://www.bevrijdingsmuseumzeeland.nl/index.php/en/

Posted by
4768 posts

Although the Steen castle (by the river, just beside downtown Antwerp) is closed, the walkway around it passes a lovely plaque thanking the Canadian regiment which liberated the port and the city. I seem to remember that Canada is mentioned on some plaques inside the Brussels Cathedral, but Amsterdam and Antwerp are much nicer city visits. Note that Antwerp has a brand-new port, outside town, so I don't know how much of the old port is still authentic. (I think this is by the MAS Museum (viewing deck on roof), but maybe that was just the fish port? There did used to be old stone urinals (out in the open) beside that port! Don't know if they are still there. There is a historic warehouse (now a mall) across from the MAS museum, and a historic sailors club, now a restaurant (?) a few steps more. I haven't been to the newer Red Star (shipping) Museum, but that would presumably have war material.

The KMSKA (major, important art museum) is still closed for renovation. But on the pavement in front (left side, I think), there is a relief plaque in Flemish/Dutch about either the bombing or the shelling of the city. I'm not talking about the huge bronze piece of art that makes a reflecting pool in front of the main entrance steps. This is a very clear war inscription I'm talking about.

If you are in Antwerp on a Sunday, and don't have another plan, you might go to the Volkmuseum Deurne, an obscure, country-barn sort of place, behind a bar. It's got so much old junk in it that there might be some things (like the Crown Cork and Seal factory material), that your FIL might rember. And you can have a beer at the bar, the something-or-other Parrot. The Antwerp town hall is only open for visits on a guided Sunday afternoon tour, tickets at the TI. Maybe there are some plaques in there. Most major buildings in town, like the post office and rail stations, have memorial plaques for employees who lost their lives.

Your FIL may have forgotten about it, but the public pedestrian tunnel (1933) under the river is a major old public work, and probably was a shelter during the war.

Sorry, this is not major stuff, but I happen to have seen it.

Posted by
4768 posts

Referring to Arnhem, I was disappointed to learn that "the bridge" you drive over is the third one on that site! I also remember that, walking around, we happened to find a big stone tablet on an unremarkable building, which said in Dutch, that this had been the location [or was it "the site" of a previous building?)] of the Nazi SS office during the occupation. It's not a vital detail, but I doubt that it's on many maps!

Posted by
3505 posts

Canadian historian Mark Zuehlke has written two books about the dreadful battles in the north of the Netherlands, Forgotten Victory and On to Victory. They are crammed with details that your relatives may find useful.
Alas, war cemeteries are central to what has lasted. All are carefully tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and all have detailed indexes to the soldiers buried there, grave by grave. Your relatives are also going to see how the Dutch remember Canada and make sure their kids know the stories. It's just about tulip time in Ottawa where the Netherlands government always provides thousands of fresh bulbs.
Arnhem is a vital experience, and easily reached by train. In Amsterdam, the Resistance museum is enlightening. It is less concerned with battles than with how the population stayed alive, and the choices they had to make. It also has a section on the guerrilla fighting in the Dutch East Indies -- now Indonesia -- that was completely unknown to me.

https://www.verzetsmuseum.org/museum/en/museum

Posted by
1168 posts

Want to thank all of your for your thoughts and recommendations.. They have built a nice itinerary and I are excited to be going soon

Posted by
3505 posts

Could you go a month later? The Netherlands marks a day of remembrance and the next day a celebration of liberation in early May. Wikipedia has some details and other worthwhile information on how the Netherlands recall WW11.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_Day_(Netherlands)

They really work hard at it, too. Every ceremony puts youngster, and young teens, at the front of the ceremonies -- now the fourth generation of their youth who understand very well how they regained their freedom.
https://www.tracesofwar.com/sights/7407/National-Canadian-Liberation-Memorial-Apeldoorn.htm

Sadly but inevitably, very few of the liberators are left.