June 22nd, 2024

Canadian liberators still appreciated on 80th anniversary of D-Day

By Lethbridge Herald on June 5, 2024.

Norman Gogo, who died in January at the age of 102, served Canada as member of the 48th Highlanders in the Second World War and participated in the D-Day landing at Juno Beach. Submitted photo

Al Beeber – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Ed Donkersgoed’s family will always be appreciative for the Canadian soldiers who risked their lives – and often lost them – to free Holland from the occupation and terror of the Nazis during the Second World War.

Donkersgoed, the son-in-law of late Lethbridge West Progressive Conservative MLA John Gogo, has long heard the stories of family members who struggled to survive during the Nazi occupation in their homeland of Holland. With food scarcities that worsened when the Hitler’s armies began to realize they were fighting a losing battle, the residents of Holland – and so many other European nations – were put to the test as they struggled to survive.

When Donkersgoed himself visited his family’s homeland one year, he never felt so proud to be a Canadian as he saw how the Dutch actively remember what the Allies did for them.

Eighty years ago today, the invasion of Fortress Europe began as Allied forces mounted an assault with a massive landing at five Normandy  beaches on the coast of France.

One Canadian soldier who fought to liberate the Dutch people was the brother of John Gogo, Norman who died earlier in January in his own home at the age of 102. 

Donkersgoed first met the man he calls “Uncle Norman” when the eldest brother of John Gogo was “a spry 94-year-old.”

Norman Gogo served Canada as member of the 48th Highlanders in the Second World War and participated in the D-Day landing at Juno Beach, fighting through France to Belgium and then the Netherlands.

At 94 years old, “his body and mind were incredibly sharp as he regaled us with stories of those days. He spoke highly of the camaraderie he felt then, as well as the appreciation shown to Canadian veterans during his numerous returns to the Netherlands. He spoke of marching into communities to the adulation of exasperated, hungry Dutch people. I was struck by his positive attitude in spite of what he’d lived through. He seemed to focus on the inherent good of humanity. I leaned on every word,” wrote Donkersgoed to The Herald this week.

Donkersgoed’s mother still recalls the day Canadian soldiers marched into her hometown, a day that marked the turning point in their lives, he said.

For 76 years now, Donkersgoed’s family have lived in Canada, celebrating their decades here as proud Canadians.

“We thank God for people like my Uncle Norm. We work hard to honour the principal they fought for – actively helping the oppressed, impoverished, and less fortunate. We remember, and appreciate our opportunities because of their sacrifice,” wrote Donkersgoed, a farmer near Coaldale.

After the war, Norman Gogo spent 35 years with the Toronto Fire Department and became an active member of the Royal Canadian Legion.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Donkersgoed told The Herald “listening to my uncles and aunts the level of gratitude they had, it wasn’t until I went there myself as a Canadian I felt incredibly proud as a Canadian how actively they remember what the Canadian and American soldiers had done for them.

“It’s not something how passive at all there. I never felt as proud to be Canadian as actually when I went to Holland and saw all these different ways they are remembering. I kind of have the appreciation in a couple of different ways, seeing it for myself but also hearing what it meant to my parents when they were in a bad way because of the occupation,” he said.

He said there was a decided focus on the more positive things but the more his family members talked, the more they would say about the difficulties.

“It seemed there was a point to where the Germans knew they weren’t going to win and they made it even harder on those places they were occupying,” he said.

He said soldiers handed out chocolate and candy to the Dutch kids which was incredibly special because sugar and sweets had become such a rare commodity that “it was just like the greatest thing.”

At a 50-year celebration of the Donkersgoed’s family in Canada, he recalls how emotional his uncles and aunts were about what being here meant to them.

“They were talking about the liberation of Holland and the opportunity Canada gave them because of that,” said Donkersgoed, who recalls hearing during a eulogy for an uncle that the last winter of the war was particularly awful for Holland.

“Food was becoming far more scarce and the restrictions were getting heavier on the peoples that were occupied,” he said.

An uncle who was a teenager at the time met Canadian soldiers and because of his interaction with them, he decided if there was a way to do it, he was going to move to Canada.

“The stories have been kept alive with us kids,” he said.

Canada provided opportunities for Dutch residents who also emigrated to the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and other countries.

“Canada was this great opportunity and my parents literally came to Pier 21 in Halifax, got on a train and got dropped off at Iron Springs,” his parents who were sponsored to hoe sugar beets, he said.

“All of us are all proud Canadians now but there’s a recognition of what did this come from, where did this start?,” the answer being the young men and women who chose “to go across the ocean and get involved because it was the right thing to do and that’s something I still can’t really wrap my head around today,” said Donkersgoed.

Codenamed Operation Neptune, the landings on June 6 were the largest seaborne invasion in history and started the liberation of Europe from the Nazi regime.

Normandy was one of four sites considered for the invasion with the Germans believing the Pas-de-Calais to be the most likely place for an invasion.

The initial draft of the operation plan was first accepted in August, 1943 at the secret Quebec Conference involving the leaders of Canada, the U.S. and United Kingdom.

The Allies mounted several deceptions to mislead Hitler and his military commanders about the chosen landing site.

The invasion force included nearly 160,000 Allied troops who landed by sea and air at Normandy on five beachheads. Of those 14,000 were Canadians at Juno Beach.

The naval force included 6,939 vessels including 4,126 landing craft, 1,213 combat ships, 864 merchant vessels and hundreds of ancillary craft.

The Royal Canadian Navy had 124 vessels and 10,000 sailors involved in the invasion while the air force contributed 39 squadrons.

Canadian casualties for the Juno sector were 961 which included 340 killed, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner. The 1st Canadian Parachute Regiment lost another 19 members out of a total force of 543. Another 22 members of the RCAP were killed operating with squadrons in support of the invasion.

The navy, however, managed to escape with no casualties which website junobeach.org says “is incredible considering that Canadian sailors crewed many of the landing craft that brought the assault forces ashore. The RCN did, however, suffer several wounded as many landing craft were torn apart by German shells and mines.”

A total of 11,590 Allied aircraft flew a total of 14,674 sorties supporting the landings while airborne landings were achieved with 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders.

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Southern Albertan

…and, in all of this, we should not forget about the guy who was instrumental, in all of this, who hoodwinked the people of Germany and, who said, “We will make Germany great again.” Sound familiar? Lest history would repeat itself.

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