In May 1945, 25-year-old Henk was released from a Nazi labor camp. He walked all the way from Hamburg to the Dutch border, a skeleton in rags. A group of Canadian soldiers found him and took him to a cottage in the liberated city of Enschede.
One Canadian soldier, a lanky young man with a wide grin, fetched Henk a steaming plate of bully beef and potatoes, a feast to Henk’s eyes. “You best cook ever,” Henk told him. The soldier laughed, said he was just an army truck driver, no chef.
Before Henk left on the long journey to his hometown, the Canadian soldier handed him a gift. Two chocolate bars. “When you’re tired and don’t know if you’ll make it, eat these,” he told Henk. “A little at a time to get yourself home.”
The soldier’s kindness inspired Henk to move his young family to Canada after the war. In 1951, they boarded the Volendam passenger steamship, bound for their new home in Ontario. He often told his children the reason they were there, and his hope to meet the soldier again.
In 2013, Henk, then 93, was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His daughter, Hillary visited her father often in the care facility where he lived.
One day, Hillary was working at a furniture store when an elderly couple walked in looking for a new recliner: George and Joyce Emmerson from Port Perry, the town Hillary’s husband was from.
“You must know my husband Gordie’s family, the Carnegies,” Hillary said. “Gordie?” George responded. “His father’s my cousin! That makes us family!” He was a real charmer, even at 91 years old.
Hillary told George she was from the Netherlands. George said he’d served there in World War II. He told the story of a young Dutch prisoner he met. “Before he left, I gave him two chocolate bars to take with him on the road.” Hillary couldn’t believe it. Her father’s Canadian soldier!