21 december 2023

Christmas 1944: Stories and memories from the Netherlands

Amidst the chilling realities of war, Christmas of 1944 brought moments of unexpected warmth and generosity. From the unexpected fireworks 'gifted' by the Germans to Canadian soldiers to the heartwarming gesture of Canadian troops sharing their Christmas feast with a Dutch family, and the joyous festivities organized by The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada for the children of Elshout, these stories paint a vivid picture of hope during challenging times.

A German Christmas Gift

Ben Dunkelman of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada remembers the unique fireworks that the Germans offered as their ‘Christmas gift’: 

I remember Christmas 1944 very well. We were in a position overlooking plains along the Waal and a part of Germany, and the Germans were in heavily fortified positions opposite us. Because it was Christmas Eve, we felt relaxed. On the German side, a Christmas party was in progress; we could hear girls talking and singing, apparently having a lot of fun. It was contagious for my men, and they even started climbing out of the trenches, which was a bit too much for me. Just at that moment, the Germans began firing all kinds of tracer ammunition; it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Much better than real fireworks. And then, without any warning, they unleashed a heavy barrage on our position. Thank goodness the men were already in cover. That was our Christmas gift from Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

The Special Christmas Dinner
Doug Shaughnessy of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles was stationed with a welcoming Dutch family during the Christmas days. 

“While we were getting ready to pick up our Christmas dinner, they were sitting at their table for their own modest meal. Two pieces of bread, a bit of butter or cheese, and three or four people to share it – a scene that reflected the scarcity and hardships of that time. When we went to the mess hall for our own supper, the regiment had arranged a special Christmas dinner for us – with two bottles of beer, turkey, and various other treats specially brought in from Canada.

After enjoying our feast, we took a moment to clean our mess tins before returning to the frontline. We filled them again with turkey, potatoes, gravy, and other delicacies and brought them back to the Dutch family, a small act of gratitude for their hospitality. For me, and many others, this was one of the most memorable Christmases ever. Amid the hardships of war and the distance from home, we were warmed by the generosity of Dutch hospitality.


An unforgettable Christmas for Elshout

In an admirable act of generosity and solidarity, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada regiment organized an unforgettable Christmas party for the children of Elshout on December 17, 1944. The festivities began with a captivating performance titled “The Three Bears,” where young and old came together to enjoy an enchanting show. The children’s enthusiasm was palpable, with smiling faces lighting up the hall. After the magical performance, the iconic Santa Claus entered the stage, greeted by excited cheers from the children. The War Diary of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada regiment recorded in detail the ecstatic joy that this special encounter brought to the young revellers.

 

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