As Etienne Brugman spoke to the audience at Stettler’s Remembrance Day ceremony, he tried to impress upon them the significance of Canada’s wartime contributions.
A native of Rotterdam, a port city in the Dutch province of South Holland, Brugman grew up hearing the stories of the blitz bombings of 1940, the resistance movement and the famine that lasted throughout the winter of 1944-45.
He also heard how his family and others were liberated by Canadian soldiers — men who came across the ocean to fight in a battle not their own.
“They were eagerly waiting for the Canadians to arrive,” he said, “because they knew it meant freedom, it meant hope, it meant that they themselves and their nation could rise again.”
Brugman — who serves as deputy fire chief for the Stettler Regional Fire Department —also spoke of the politeness and humility of Canadians, saying they are reluctant to blow their own horn.
“Allow me to blow the horn for you,” he said. “You will stand for what is right, what is true . . .You’re full of integrity and character as a nation.”
It was a message that resonated with the audience, who gave Brugman a standing ovation when he concluded his speech at the Stettler Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday, Nov. 11.
Organizers for the event had placed additional chairs on the stage to accommodate more guests, with an estimated total capacity of 400 people. However, owing to the weather, the actual turnout was smaller, estimated at around 325 guests, including members of the local Royal Canadian Legion Branch #59.
The ceremony was led by Alberta-N.W.T. District 4 commander Rosalind LaRose, who oversees 24 Legion branches across the district.
Seargent-at-Arms Lee Holman led the parading of the colours, while Marvyn Harris performed the Last Post and Reveille.
Pianist Elaine Hennel and drummer Alan Willis accompanied the singing of “O Canada,” “God Save the Queen” and “The Strangest Dream.”
Padre Rev. Carolyn Langford provided the invocation and the lesson, reading from John 15, while Kaylee Sommerville, a Grade 11 student at William E. Hay Composite School, sang a song based on the poem “In Flanders Fields.”
Comrade Ton Vanderburg, president of the Legion branch, gave his remarks. Also a native of the Netherlands, he spoke of what is called the “hunger winter” in late 1944 and early 1945 — when food supplies were cut off and thousands starved to death.
Too young to recall the experience himself, he had heard the stories of how there was no coal for heat, and some cooked soup made from tulip bulbs just to fill their stomachs.
The Canadians arrived in the spring and the official liberation was declared on May 5, 1945.
“I can tell you that the people in Holland are still thankful to the Canadians,” he said, “not only the soldiers, but also the family and friends at home, that they left behind.”
In the ceremony that followed, approximately 50 wreaths were laid on behalf of local governments, organizations, dignitaries and families, starting with a wreath laid on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II by Comrade Walter Treherne, a naval veteran who served during the Second World War.
Following Brugman’s address, Dave Goodwin sang an original song written for the occasion, “Monumental,” accompanied by pianist Barbara Lynn Goodwin and drummer Alan Willis.
Rev. Langford gave the benediction, followed by “God Save the Queen” and the retiring of the colours.
Following the service, a brief wreath laying ceremony was held at the cenotaph in nearby Sharpe’s Memorial Park.