Canadian Veteran Don White recalls liberating the Netherlands

"We have liberated a number of (Dutch) towns and you never saw anything like it in all your life. Once the Germans have been driven out and you enter the town the people come out and put up their flags and royal colours. They crowd around the cars so badly you can hardly move. Your car is just one big bouquet of flowers that has been given you. The girls kiss you and the men shake your hand off. There is a lot so happy they cry.” – Mr. Don White, April 17, 1945

Don White seated on a Staghound armoured car in Italy, c.1944
©Juno Beach Centre
Don White seated on a Staghound armoured car in Italy, c.1944

Joining the Canadian Army

When the Second World War broke out, a young Don White wanted to go to Europe to fight for Canada, to stop Germany and the march of the Nazis. When he turned 18, Don signed up to join the Canadian Army in Toronto and departed straight away for his training in Dundurn, Saskatchewan. For the next 3 years, Don trained to become a Reconnaissance soldier, learning how to operate radios and how to load and fire shells from armoured vehicles. In 1944, Don was called to go to war. He fought with the Royal Canadian Dragoons, C Squadron, 1st Troop, 1st Canadian Armoured Car Regiment in Italy and the Netherlands.

Liberating the City of Leeuwarden

In the spring of 1945, the Regiment was transferred from Italy to North West Europe where it joined the 2nd Canadian Corps in forming the 1st Canadian Army. It was not until this time that it was used to its full advantage as an armoured car regiment, employing vehicles such as the Dingo, Staghound, Humber, and Greyhound and making a spectacular sweep in the Northern part of the Netherlands.

On 15th April 1945, the Dragoons liberated the city of Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. They were all involved in the liberation with a total of 177 prisoners being taken. This event is commemorated annually, Veteran Mr. Don White and the Royal Canadian Dragoons are still welcomed as liberators on each visit to this Dutch town.

Older man with portraits and pictures on wall behind him
Image: CBC Power & Politics
'I didn't win the war, all my buddies did. I just helped them,' says 94-year-old Don White who helped liberate the Netherlands. 5:26

Mr. Don White's enduring bond with the Netherlands

In recent years, Veteran Mr. Don White has found himself often at the centre of Canadian-Dutch commemorations of the end of the Second World War. He is not a stranger to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, who he first met on May 5, 2018 in Leeuwarden. Later in October of the same year they met again when Prime Minister Rutte visited Canada. Veteran Mr. Don White was present at Prime Minister’s address to Canadian Parliament where he received a standing ovation.

PM Rutte and veteran Don White
Canadian veteran Don White receives the Don White Tulip from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

The "Don White" Tulip

On April 17, 2019, in honor of the celebration of 75th anniversary, Prime Minister Mark Rutte officially christened a new tulip the “Don White” Tulip, named for Veteran Mr. Don White in recognition of his role, and of all the Canadian soldiers, in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945. The christening of the Don White Tulip took place during a ceremony in the Netherlands at the Keukenhof, one of the world's largest flower gardens. During Veteran Mr. Don White’s visit to the Netherlands for the launch of the 75 Years of Freedom celebrations on August 31, 2019, he met with Prime Minister Rutte and received a bouquet of the Don White Tulips in the presence of Governor General of Canada Julie Payette.

Canadian veteran Don White receives Liberation75 tulips from HRH Princess Margriet
Canadian veteran Don White receives Liberation75 tulips from HRH Princess Margriet

A gift of 100,000 tulips

During the same trip to the Netherlands, Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet presented a gift of ‘Liberation75’ tulip bulbs to Veteran Mr. Don White at the Royal Palace Het Loo. This gift symbolizes the 100,000 tulip bulbs that the Netherlands presented to Canada to bloom in 2020, to commemorate and celebrate 75 years since the liberation of the Netherlands.

Dutch Princess Juliana also presented 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada in 1945 to express her nation’s gratitude to Canada for providing a safe haven for her and her family during the Second World War. It was during this time that Princess Margriet was born in Ottawa in 1943. The tulip has become the symbol of friendship between the Netherlands and Canada.

75th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands

Veteran Mr. Don White would have been going to the Netherlands this upcoming April and May for the celebrations of the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands together with many other veterans. However, due to the Coronavirus crisis, they are staying home safely. He is in good in health and we hope that we can soon meet again in person.

In the words of Prime Minister Mark Rutte during his visit to Canada:

“The Dutch feel deeply connected with Canada, and we are forever grateful to those brave Canadian soldiers who carried the light of freedom to the Netherlands in its darkest hour.”