My parents had been in Holland for the holiday season, and while there, Mom noticed that her mother was making many errors in people’s names.
She called the family physician, Dr. Casparie, who verified that indeed my grandmother was quite ill. However the possibility that she would die just one month later was not anticipated.
After the funeral proceedings, mom and I stayed with my devastated grandfather for three weeks. One Sunday, my Uncle Gustaaf, mom’s brother, a landscaper, invited us to go for a long drive.
He needed to deliver some shrubs and trees to a customer in the town of Bergen op Zoom in the province of Noord Brabant. After he had completed his business, the lady invited us to stay for a cup of tea and cake, which we happily accepted.
The weather had changed since we left my grandfather’s home, and light snow was blowing in the wind. It was damp and bone-chillingly cold. Jokingly, my uncle accused us of bringing this weather from Canada. The Netherlands seldom saw snow during their winters.
As we got back into the car Uncle Gustaaf asked us if we were interested in visiting a Canadian war cemetery nearby. Both of us indicated that indeed we’d find that very interesting.
We were proud Canadians by that time, and wanted to respectfully visit the graves of soldiers who had given their lives for our freedom. As we came nearer, we noticed a large American war cemetery close by.
The car stopped in front of the Canadian War Cemetery and all three of us debarked. My uncle pointed to a small brick building and informed us that we could sign the Book of Remembrance located there. Of course we did.
Then we walked back to the front row of graves. My mother turned right and I turned left and began to read the names and other information printed on the headstones. I was shocked to read that most of them were 23 or younger.
Suddenly, at just the third grave, I noticed the name “Clifford Thomas Donahue, Lance Corporal of the Black Watch Regiment.” He was killed on November 13, 1944, age 29, older than most.
I stopped and read it again very carefully. I had been friends with a girl named Sharon Donahue in Lively and I remembered that she had told me that her father had been killed in the Netherlands during the Second World War.
Could this be Sharon’s father’s place of rest? Had I found it by happenstance or fate? I called Mom to come and read this marker as well.
She knew Sharon too, so we took some pictures to show my friend and her mother Ann when we returned to Canada.
When I arrived home in Creighton Mine, I called Sharon’s mother, Ann Chornenky. She was married to Walter Chornenky now, and still lived in Lively. I told her of my discovery and she verified that indeed that’s where her first husband was buried.
Sharon was teaching in Ottawa, but Ann said that she would inform her of my experience in Bergen op Zoom.
Not long ago, I met Sharon’s stepfather, and he told me Sharon had visited her dad’s grave in Bergen op Zoom, and that he and Ann had been there as well.
All were impressed by how beautifully these cemeteries were kept by the townspeople as indeed they still are. When I asked Walter for Sharon’s email address, he shocked me by telling me that she had died of cancer several years before.
This memory was triggered for me when Prime Minister Stephen Harper participated in the 60th anniversary memorial service at that very cemetery in Bergen op Zoom several years ago.
I watched the ceremonies with great interest, as I had been there and unexpectedly discovered the grave of a soldier from Lively whose daughter was my friend.
Erna de Burger-Fex is a writer and retired teacher.