|Still saying thank you to Canada
Dutch-Canadian remembers the war on the 60th Anniversary of VE day.
by Jeff Green
Peter Brugmans was born in the peaceful town of St. Oudenrode, in NoordBrabant Holland in 1936, the son of a tour bus driver who was also a soldier in the Dutch Army.
When he was only 3 years old, his life changed forever with the German occupation of his country.
“When the Germans came my father went into the Dutch underground, until he was turned in by our neighbours. He was then sent to Germany to a work camp, but he kept escaping and coming back,” Peter Brugmans recalled this week, as he reflected back on his life during the war years.
He remembers the night his younger brother was born, in 1942, as Peter and his two brothers, along with his mother and about 30 neighbours were huddled together in the cellar of the family home seeking shelter from an air raid.
Later in the war the cellar shielded the Brugmans from a blast that destroyed their home, leaving them to live on a nearby farm in a converted chicken coup for a time.
Before being destroyed, the Brugmans’ attic was used as a way station for Canadian, British, and American soldiers who were under the protection of the Dutch underground. Much later, in Canada, Peter Brugmans met up with Tim O’Brien, from Cardinal, Ontario, one of the Canadian soldiers that spent a few days in his attic back in St. Oudenrode.
“He appreciates what my family did for him, but we appreciate what he, and all the Canadian soldiers, did for us,” said Peter Brugmans.
Once the British established a stronghold, Peter’s father put his driving background to use, becoming British General Montgomery’s driver for a time.
The war ended in Holland in September of 1944, eight months before VE day. “That was a day I still remember well,” Peter Brugmans says.
The Brugmans family stayed in Holland until 1952. They originally intended to emigrate to New Zealand, but they were turned down. Canada accepted them, so Peter’s parents brought their four boys and young daughter to Manitoba to work on a sugar beet farm for one year, which was one stipulation of being accepted as an immigrant. After a year the family moved to Morrisburg, and the boys, who were in their late teens and early twenties by this point, took jobs on the St. Lawrence Seaway with their father.
Peter’s father contracted cancer, which the family, to this day, say came as a result of chemical exposures during the war. He died in 1957, leaving the family in difficult straits.
They persevered, however, and built lives in Canada. Peter’s mother remarried in 1960, and Peter married Marion, a girl from Prescott, and moved to Oakville, where he worked at the Ford motor plant until he retired in 1994.
In 1995, Peter and Marion moved to a house on Bobs Lake, where they have been living happily ever since.
Peter is still in touch with his relatives across Canada and back in Holland, through the Internet. There is a family website, and they post news on it often.
“About 25 years ago I joined the Royal Canadian Legion in Oakville, and I’m now a member of the branch in Sharbot Lake. I wanted to give something back to Canada after all Canada had done for me,” Peter says.
Peter Brugmans managed to get a hold of some of the Holland/Canada 60-year commemoration pins that are being presented to Canadian veterans at ceremonies in Holland this weekend, and during a joint luncheon of several seniors groups in Sharbot Lake this week, he met up with Roscoe Garrett, a fellow member of Sharbot Lake Legion Branch and a Canadian veteran who was involved in the liberation of Holland.
“I’ve talked to Roscoe many times about the war and where he was in Holland,” Peter said, “and so on this day I presented him with one of the commemorative pins, and we both shed some tears.”