This is a guest post written by Thulai van Maanen in the Netherlands.
Christmas eve in the Netherlands is most likely to be different than other parts of the world. On Christmas eve we remember the WW2 fallen who are buried throughout the Netherlands. In 1991, the small village of Holten started a new tradition when school children placed candles on all the 1392 war graves of Holten Canadian Cemetery, to remember and honor the ones who gave all for our freedom. The last couple of years this tradition seems to spread out over The Netherlands, with candles being placed on war graves on more than 200 cemeteries.
My daughter and I took over this tradition a couple of years ago. No more fancy Christmas diners for us, but a moment of honor, respect and remembrance. A moment of bringing light in the darkness of those who never saw daylight again. Thousands of those brave fallen are buried throughout the Netherlands. Yes, there are military cemeteries like the Canadian Holten Cemetery or the Margraten American Cemetery, but a lot of them are buried in war graves at local cemeteries like ours. Here lie 29 Allied Air Force bomb crew members, and in nearby villages there are even more buried. Since I live in a small village en route, the bombers often took on their way to Germany, all these men crashed because of enemy fire. What amazes me is their nationalities: Canada, UK, Czech Republic, New Zealand, and Australia. Words can’t express how grateful we are that these brave men, barely in their twenties, came from so far and gave their lives for so many they did not know.
One of those brave men buried on our local cemetery is Bentley Pronger, flying officer at 51st Sqdn Canadian Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was just 23 years old when his Halifax Mk.III LV774 crashed on 22 January 1944, killing his bomb crew except for one who was taken prisoner. His plane crashed just 4 miles from my house.
Last year a picture of my daughter placing candles at the war graves ended up on the internet and relatives got informed about what we did. Their reactions were so grateful and heartwarming, you can almost still feel their pain and loss. It motivated us to spend our Christmas eve at our local cemetery….again! But what an honor it is to do so.
Let’s pause a moment and think about the text on Bentley Pronger’s grave: ‘And while they lie in peaceful sleep, their memory we shall always keep’.
I’ll see you again next year Bentley!
© Thulai van Maanen/2016 World War II Research and Writing Center