Refeeding the Netherlands

Netherlands, VE Day, Tulips, Liberation

This day…nearby tulips remind me of the Netherlands.
This day…the ceasefire 75 years ago.
(P. Ferguson image, May 2020)

The serious lack of food…

In a few days time, 8 May 2020, the 75th anniversary of VE Day will be recognized.

Prior to the declaration of peace, a ceasefire was established at 0800 HRS 5 May 1945. The people of the Netherlands were so very grateful to their Canadian liberators. The occupation of the Netherlands had brought considerable hardship. Having been invaded 10 May 1940, nearly five years had passed under the Nazis. Food was in short supply and many Dutch citizens were in danger of starvation. But in April 1945, prior to liberation the Allies had plans…

On 29 April 1945 more than 300 Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers flew at low level dropping the first food supplies to the Dutch populous. It was the first sortie of 3,100 such flights during Operation MANNA. The R.A.F. were soon joined by bombers of the United States Army Air Force in Operation CHOWHOUND, whose personnel made over 2,000 flights. Aircraft from the Royal Canadian Air Force also participated in the humanitarian effort.

From the first drop to the end of Operation MANNA, 8 May 1945 more than 11,000 tons of food was released over Dutch territory. Sadly, several Dutch citizens, estimated at 20,000 perished before food reached them. It was soon determined that the food drops would need to be supplemented by troops on the ground.

Refeeding Syndrome was also a cause for concern as the food drops, though intended for redistribution, were in some cases quickly consumed. Some of the starving souls became profoundly ill and some died from the rapid ingestion of the food. On 2 May 1945 the first food trucks arrived in German-occupied territory to assist in the distribution of food. Several Canadian soldiers were employed in the refeeding of the Netherlands. Some of those who participated in these events were recognized with awards recognizing their service to the people of the Netherlands.


Acting Major William Charles Conoche
Officer Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps
1 Canadian Army Catering Pool Group “A”

This officer as catering advisor to 1 Canadian Infantry Division during the complete campaign in Italy was greatly responsible by his energy, skill and administrative ability for the excellent feeding of the troops under many varied operational conditions. A few days before 1 Canadian Corps moved from Italy to Northwest Europe he was appointed Corps Catering Advisor and found himself faced immediately with the many catering problems peculiar to such a move, particularly in the transit camps where thousands of troops were fed away from their units. There was not a hitch in the catering arrangements during the move.

When 1 Canadian Corps entered western Holland, this officer reorganized the system of supply of food at civilian issue points and was personally responsible for a definite rise in the morale of the Dutch citizens as a result of improvement both in the quality of the food and in the speed and methods of distribution.


Sergeant Rex Cowan
Cross of Merit (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps
3rd Canadian Armoured Brigade, 83 Company

While stationed in the Arnhem area during April and May 1945, 1 Canadian Armoured Brigade Company (83 Company) was chosen, along with other Army Service Corps companies, to supply personnel and vehicles to transport urgently required foodstuffs through the German lines to the Netherlands people.

Sergeant Cowan was second in command of the transport platoon of 30 vehicles which were detailed for this task, and as such most of the administrative detail fell upon him. Supplies were drawn from Nijmegen during the day, brought back to the unit location and held over night, and then were delivered early in the morning through enemy territory to Dutch authorities at Wageninigen. Later, commencing 8 May 1945, supplies were delivered through to Utrecht.

During this period, Sergeant Cowan worked tirelessly, liaising with the depot at Nijmegen and with the authorities at the off-loading point. He worked long hours organizing the convoys, ensuring loads were drawn and properly stowed, and later checking vehicles and loads during the lay-up in the unit location. Sergeant Cowan personally accompanied each convoy through to the off-loading point, and supervised the dumping of over one thousand tons of food for the near-starving Dutch people.

Although Sergeant Cowan could have placed other Non-Commissioned Officers in charge of certain details, he did not, as he felt the responsibility was his to see to it that these most important supplies were delivered as scheduled. Despite the long hours on the road and the tedious hours of checking and re-checking, Sergeant Cowan never once complained, nor did he slacken in his resolve to do the job well.

Because of his tireless energy, organizing ability and sustained cheerfulness, Sergeant Cowan was an example to all ranks engaged in this work, and it was due in great part to him that the detail was so successfully completed.


Captain John Eric Forbes
Knight Officer Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps

As supply officer in Headquarters Army Troops Area First Canadian Army, Captain Forbes was entrusted with and responsible for the task of distribution of food and supplies to all Netherlands forces under command and cooperating with First Canadian Army. In this capacity he has done outstanding work. The problems of liaison and the great responsibility involved made his task a difficult one. It is only due to his untiring efforts that many problems were settled. His ever-willingness to cooperate under the most difficult circumstances together with an absolute disregard for his own time and comfort was an inspiration to all officers and men within the formation.


Acting Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes CB CBE DSO
Grand Officer Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Officer Commanding-in-Chief, First Canadian Army

This officer commanded 2 Canadian Infantry Division with distinction from the time it was first committed in the Northwest European theatre of operations until 9 November 1944 when he proceeded to Italy to command 1 Canadian Corps. Under his skilful leadership this Corps added to the laurels it had already won in the Italian theatre.

1 Canadian Corps was transferred to the Northwest European theatre in March 1945. Here it was given an important role designed to destroy the enemy in West Holland. Lieutenant-General Foulkes applied himself to this problem with the utmost ability and resource. The troops under his command speedily carried out an assault crossing of the Ijssel, captured Arnhem and advanced to the Ijssel Meer. Shortly after the 25th German Army surrendered to his troops.

Lieutenant-General Foulkes, both prior to and particularly after this capitulation also addressed himself to the pressing and essential task of bringing immediate relief to the Dutch people. He did everything possible to ensure that the utmost military assistance was given to the distribution of food and other essential supplies and the restoration of public utilities. He and the forces under his command not only contributed very materially to the liberation of the Netherlands but also greatly assisted in the preliminary stages of the rehabilitation of the Dutch economy.


Brigadier William Preston Gilbride CBE DSO
Commander Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps

Just prior to the capitulation of the 25th German Army in Northwest Holland, 1st Canadian Corps assumed the difficult and pressing task of supplying food to the Dutch civilians, many of whom were suffering from advanced stages of starvation. Brigadier William Preston Gilbride, Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster General, 1st Canadian Corps, was instrumental in organizing the highly efficient machinery for the speedy distribution of food and other necessities. Untiringly, this officer devoted his energy and time to solving the many problems which threatened the smooth distribution of supplies to the Dutch populace.

By numerous discussions with Dutch officials, both military and civilian, Brigadier Gilbride was able to get a very clear perspective of what was required to relieve the suffering of the civilians, and he was thus able to employ, with the least possible delay, the resource under the command of the Corps, so that they produced the required results in the least possible time.

Brigadier Gilbride was also responsible for ensuring that tools, stores, clothing and equipment of Dutch origin which had been requisitioned by the Germans were returned to the Dutch. He firmly insisted that all German troops be subjected to a strict search to locate and remove any loot, prior to their departure from Holland.

Always cheerful, cooperative and courteous in his dealings with Dutch officials, and by his ceaseless endeavours to find new ways in which he could further the rehabilitation of Holland, Brigadier Gilbride was largely responsible for the success of 1st Canadian Corps in aiding the Netherlands, after five years of Nazi oppression, to rise again towards a great and free nationhood.


Sergeant Leonard Hood
British Empire Medal (Military Division)
Corps of Military Staff Clerks

Since early 1943, Sergeant Hood, Corps of Military Staff Clerks, has been employed as Confidential Clerk to the Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster General of 1 Canadian Corps. His work has always consisted of high level policy, involving much highly secret and confidential matter. The volume of work increased greatly from the time just preceding the move of the Corps from Italy to the North-West Europe theatre. The subsequent swift advance from the Ijssel to the Zuider Zee, the introduction of food supplies into still-occupied Holland, the evacuation of the Germans and the organization and building-up of the Canadian Occupation Force have all added to this Non-Commissioned Officer’s responsibilities. It has, on numerous occasions, been necessary to entrust to his Non-Commissioned Officer work which would normally be performed by an officer. During this period, Sergeant Hood has shown rare initiative, conscientiousness, sound judgement and common sense in the carrying out of all tasks and has proven himself to be absolutely reliable. His duties have all been performed in a very cheerful and pleasing manner, and he has the happy faculty of never getting flustered nor dismayed no matter how difficult the situation. The discretion exercised by this Non-Commissioned Officer in all matters, the diligent manner in which he has applied himself and his devotion to duty are deserving of the highest praise.


Lieutenant Colonel William Scott Murdoch MBE
Officer Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Canadian Infantry Corps

When 1 Canadian Infantry Division assaulted westward across the Ijssel River on 11 April 1945, the object of the attack was to drive the enemy from Holland and thus enable food supplies to be shipped to the hunger stricken people in western Holland. Lieutenant-Colonel Murdoch, as General Staff Officer I of 1 Canadian Infantry Division, was called upon to work for very long periods without sleep and under the most trying conditions, coordinating the operational plans. During these periods Lieutenant-Colonel Murdoch’s expert organizing ability and the fact that he at all times correctly interpreted his Commander’s intentions were instrumental in the rapid collection and disarming of the enemy.

Throughout the operations in northwest Holland Lieutenant-Colonel Murdoch’s thorough grasp of situations at all times relieved his Commander of all detail and allowed him to devote his whole time to planning, knowing that his orders were always being carried out correctly. Lieutenant-Colonel Murdoch’s task was made unusually difficult during this period by the fact that the prime consideration at all times was to spare the Netherlands’s civilian life and property.


Lieutenant Colonel Philip Henry Tedman
Knight Officer Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Artillery

When 1 Canadian Corps was first detailed to be responsible for the capture, relief and rehabilitation of North West Holland, Lieutenant-Colonel Tedman, Assistant Quartermaster-General, 1 Canadian Corps, was assigned the task of coordinating the planning for the introduction of food, medical relief units, transport and other similar problems. This experienced staff officer immediately grasped the basic essentials of the previous planning and quickly adjusted them to meet the needs of the new operational plan for the capture of this area, and assessed the units and transport required for completion of the undertaking. Lieutenant-Colonel Tedman sat in on the original food talks at Achterveld and was the officer who went behind the enemy lines to arrange suitable off-loading points for the essential food convoys and arranged the details for the actual delivery and handover of these vital commodities to the Dutch organization.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tedman subsequently was responsible for all the detailed maintenance arrangements for the evacuation of 25 German Army from Holland, and the return of captured German stores to the Dutch officials, and for making available the necessary transport for the distribution of food and other commodities.

The bright cheerfulness of Lieutenant-Colonel Tedman, his imagination, initiative, willingness to accept responsibility and the esteem in which he is held by all officers he comes in contact with is worthy of distinguished recognition.


Lance Corporal Francis Roy Weatherdon
Bronze Cross (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Engineers
14 Canadian Field Company

This Lance-Corporal did very good work keeping roads open and supporting the infantry in the push across Nijmegen Island, west of Elst in March-April 1945. During the crossing of the Ijssel River (Map Reference E7878) on the attack on Arnhem, 12 April 1945, in the absence of his Section Corporal, he took over the section and cleared mines from the approaches and built bank seats for ferries, enabling the tanks and equipment to be ferried across the river.

After cessation of hostilities he was put in charge of German engineers lifting mines and clearing booby traps to make the country safe for civilians to return to their normal way of living.

After the war when ordinarily the feeling is that facing danger is over, this Non-Commissioned Officer continued doing a very hazardous job and did it efficiently and well. He knew that the job must be done in order that the people of Holland could have homes and a place to grow food.


Brigadier William Smith Ziegler CBE DSO ED
Commander Order of the Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Artillery

At 1400 hours, 11 April 1945, 1 Canadian Infantry Division attacked westward across the River Ijssel, the object of the operation being to force the enemy to leave the Netherlands, otherwise to destroy him in order to stop the flooding of the countryside and to remedy as quickly as possible the serious lack of food in western Holland. Brigadier Ziegler commanded the artillery in support of this operation.

In the initial stage, to ensure the effectiveness and accuracy of the great amount of artillery under his command, Brigadier Ziegler personally formulated the fire plans and fire support that so successfully assisted 1 Canadian Infantry Division in its final sweep westward, a task made unusually difficult by the fact that the prime consideration at all times was to spare the Netherlands’ civilian life and property. Making extreme use of intelligence information, obtained through civilian and army channels, Brigadier Ziegler personally directed the fire of the artillery with such outstanding skill that destruction to civilian personnel and property was held to an absolute minimum while effective artillery support was afforded the division in its drive through western Holland.

After the unconditional surrender of the enemy, a speedy occupation of the country and quick evacuation of the Germans became essential. The artillery group under Brigadier Ziegler’s command was given the responsibility for the largest area in western Holland. Again displaying unlimited energy and expert organizing ability, Brigadier Ziegler completed arrangements to effect rapidly the collection and disarmament of the enemy.

Throughout the entire operation in Holland, the formation policy of consideration first to civilians and civilian property, rigidly adhered to by Brigadier Ziegler, was largely responsible for the comparative immunity to Allied shell fire experienced by the civilians in western Holland.


About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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