A Canadian war veteran has been reunited with a Dutchman he helped at the end of World War II. Almost 70 years after fate briefly brought them together in Enschede, the two men met again in Canada. A shared memory of two chocolate bars brought their connection to light.
By Frank Kuin in Toronto
George Emmerson can still remember how he helped a starving Dutchman in the town of Enschede at the end of World War II. The young Canadian soldier prepared some food for the scrawny young man, who had been released from a prisoner camp, and gave him a couple of chocolate bars.
What Emmerson, now a 93-year-old war veteran, could not imagine, was that nearly 70 years later he would be reunited with the Dutchman. By pure coincidence, memories of the encounter brought the two men back together in Canada, seven decades after they first met in Enschede.
“I did not think I would ever see him again,” says Emmerson in his home in Whitby, a suburb of Toronto. Despite his age, the veteran is still in excellent health. “The two chocolate bars brought the whole thing to light, it was incredible. Tears were rolling down my cheeks.”
Emmerson, who joined the Canadian Army as a volunteer, was involved in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944 and 1945. He worked as a military driver, carrying out missions to deliver goods to various units.
When the war ended in 1945, he was stationed in Enschede, in the eastern part of the Netherlands near the German border. His small unit moved into a local mansion.
As Canadian troops advanced, they opened the gates of prisoner camps, Emmerson recalls. “I saw hundreds of fellows from those camps on the roads, walking home,” he says. “They didn’t have any other way to get home.”
One day in early May, one of Emmerson’s partners brought a released prisoner into the house. The young man was very skinny, and close to death, says Emmerson. “He was like a skeleton, I could put my fingers around his arm.” The prisoners had been so hungry in the camps that they had boiled grass to eat.
“I didn’t know if he would die before he got home, but I did the best I could for him”
Emmerson baked some potatoes for his guest, and heated up a can of bully beef. He eagerly devoured it. “You could tell he was starving, he took the stuff and pushed it in his mouth. He finished it and he said: ‘more, more!’” Emmerson thought that his guest might die if he suddenly ate too much.
When he left, Emmerson gave him two chocolate bars for on the road, from a package that his parents had sent him from Canada. Emmerson advised him to take a bite every now and then. “I didn’t know where he was going, I didn’t know whether he would die before he got home or not. But I did the best I could for him.”
After the war, Emmerson returned to Canada, where he worked in the insurance industry in the Toronto area, married his wife and raised a son. Two years ago, he went into a furniture store in the region to buy a new lounge chair. He struck up a conversation with the woman who worked there. As it turned out, she was of Dutch background.
The veteran told her he was in the Netherlands at the end of the war. The woman, Hillie Carnegie, mentioned that her father had been in a prisoner camp. Emmerson told her about the released prisoners he had seen, his encounter with the hungry man in Enschede, the food, and the two chocolate bars.
Hillie burst into tears. “That was my father.”
Hillie’s father, Henk Metselaar, had immigrated to Canada with his young family after the war. He always told the story of the Canadian soldier who had saved his life by cooking for him and giving him chocolate bars. He always hoped to see the soldier again one day. He settled in the Toronto region and worked at a car tire producer for many years.
Metselaar, now 95, suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. He doesn’t speak anymore. He lives in a nursing home in Oshawa, a suburb of Toronto less than a half hour’s drive away from Emmerson’s house. Emmerson has gone to visit him several times, each time bringing along a couple of chocolate bars (video by CTV news of one of the visits).
“I take his hand and say: do you remember the Canadian soldier?”
“I am very happy that they kind of connected again,” says Hillie, who was born in the Netherlands and moved to Canada as a small child. “The reason we came to Canada in the 1950s was because of that Canadian soldier.”
Hillie and her five siblings heard the story often as they grew up in Ontario. “When we didn’t eat our food, my father would say: ‘eat your food, because we were starving’. He talked about how the Canadians saved his life and that we were here because of the Canadians.”
Emmerson was keen to be reunited with his unexpected guest, he says. The veteran is proud of the role he played – even though recognition is elusive, because of Metselaar’s changed appearance and his dementia.
Still, Emmerson is convinced there is a connection. “I take his hand with my hand and say: ‘do you remember the Canadian soldier?’ So I try to get his mind back to that. And I think he knows that I am the one. He came to Canada because of that soldier, and he has found him.”
George Emmerson travelled to the Netherlands to take part in the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the liberation by Canadian forces. He is seen here during the parade of veterans in Apeldoorn on Saturday, May 9, 2015 (top left):
— Apeldoorn Actueel (@ApeldoornActuee) May 9, 2015
This post is also available in: Dutch
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