To the Editor:
Farley Mowat was born in 1921 in Belleville, Ont. At the breakout of the Second World War, he volunteered with the Hastings and Prince Edward's Regiment, "The Hasty P's." He served in Britain, Sicily, Italy and northwest Europe. In Holland, he served as regimental intelligence officer. It was here that the Dutch underground contacted him and his counterpart and said that a German general wanted to talk to the Canadians. Farley and his friend looked at each other knowing that if they went they could be taken prisoners of war and they might be tortured or even be killed.
They decided that it would be best to go and find out what this general wanted - whatever the outcome. The Dutch underground took Farley and his partner to a greenhouse behind enemy lines. Here they waited to be taken to General Johannes Blaskowitz. Finally, they were guided to where the general was staying. While they waited for the general to see them, they were served a meal. The general's aide-de-camp finally came in and said the general was ready to meet with them. At the meeting, they were the told that citizens of Holland would face mass starvation in two weeks or less. At this time the Dutch people were eating tulip bulbs and dead horses.
Farley and his friend told the general that since the Germans were the conquers of this country, that they were responsible for the wellbeing of these people. They also told the general that since he was directly in charge of this area, at the end of the war he would be found liable for what happened to the Dutch people. ??It was soon after that the general said maybe a truce could be negotiated and food could be brought across the lines. Farley and his partner quickly shook hands with the general and were taken back to the greenhouse. From there they contacted Canadian officials who then contacted the British and the Americans. Negotiations went quickly. Food would be dropped by Canadian, British, American bombers and trucked over German lines. Planes had to fly a certain route. If they did not they would be shot down. The first of the planes to takeoff and test the truce was named Bad Penny. Out of a crew of seven, five were Canadians. When she dropped her load of food, she radioed back "mission accomplished." With that being said, flights of bombers took off from Britain carrying their payloads of food bound for Holland and saving many Dutch citizens from starvation. ??
Farley Mowat and his counterpart, with not a second thought for their own personal safety, did what had to be done. In doing so, they saved the lives of many Dutch citizens. It is too bad that this part of our history is not taught in our schools.
I have to wonder if Farley and his counterpart received any medals of bravery for their action. When Canadians go over to Holland, the Dutch people with open arms welcome us. It's not simply because we are Canadians that they welcome us. It is because of that generation of Canadians who fought to liberate their country from tyranny. Many of that generation are still there today. They lie in graves that the Dutch people lovingly look after for us. Dutch children are taught about each one of them and know more about them than we do: shame on us.
So if you go to Holland, be sure to thank the people for looking after our fallen. Thank you to the people of the Netherlands for doing what we cannot do.
Operation Manna "Chowhound" took place between April 29, 1945 and May 8, 1945 - near the end of the Second World War. When I was a young man in Winnipeg, I worked with many veterans of that war. I would like to thank those veterans from Canadian National Railway (CNR) Transcona main shops in Winnipeg for telling me this story and many other stories about the war. Also I would like to thank Nick Bakker of Dalmeny whose family lived there at that time. He told me some of his family's stories and how close the Dutch people were to starving to death. I still remember the first time that I heard this story from one of the men that served with the RCAF during the war. He was a tail gunner on a Lancaster bomber. He said that the ends of their machine guns were capped with rubber plugs. They were told if that cap came off for any reason during this mission they would be answering a lot of questions. ??
Thank you, Farley, for being Canadian.
Lest we forget. Dutch schoolchildren know more Canadian war history then most Canadians. Shame on us.