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Guelph father and son connect over family contributions in WWII

David and Darrin Smith recently travelled to the Netherlands as part of the event, In Our Fathers' Footsteps, organized by The Canadian Remembrance Torch

A visit to the Netherlands has been the trip of a lifetime for one father and son from Guelph.

David and Darrin Smith were two of 90 Canadians that toured a series of villages liberated by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War The trip, which they did in nine days in September, was organized by The Canadian Remembrance Torch and was called In Our Fathers' Footsteps.

A previous GuelphToday article in 2019 said the trip was initially set to happen May 2020 and was meant to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Dutch liberation from Nazi occupation, which was made possible by Canadian soldiers. The trip had to be postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

David said he initially learned about the trip through Karen Hunter, the founder of The Canadian Remembrance Torch, in December 2019. He decided to go with Darrin after a family member suggested to David that he should take him.

"It was wonderful, I found it very fulfilling," David said about the trip. "It was educational for sure, but it was very emotional, and I didn't quite expect that."

David's father, Crawford Smith, served in the Perth Regiment during the Second World War. David said his father spent five years in the Netherlands when he was a child, and never talked about what happened.

"Like most of the World War II veterans who never shared anything, my dad never talked to me about the war, so what I learned came more from asking questions from his friends," said David. "It was always a curiosity for me, so the older I got, the more curious I became."

Ten years ago, David was given a book about the Second World War, which had a photo of his father with a Dutch girl, Suzie Caulder, on the back.  David had never seen the photo before.

That photo, which was taken in Harderwijk, inspired David to try and find her. He ended up meeting Suzie and her husband in the Netherlands with his brother, Peter.

"We spent a day with them and that was delightful," said David, who took a photo with Caulder and Peter.

Unlike the trip with his brother, this tour took David and Darrin through an area in the south eastern part of Holland. Former Dutch soldiers served as tour guides and the group was accompanied by a pipe and drum band, which performed as it led the group into different villages. 

At each site, they were greeted by the town Mayor, villagers and sometimes, a choir group.

"It was like we were bringing home the Stanley Cup home, they were so excited," said David.

Darrin adds the love Dutch people had for Canadians was 'overwhelming.'

"You couldn't buy a beer or a coffee, they would just give it to you."

Near the end of their trip, David was given a special role in a ceremonial passing of the torch to the next generation, which was held at Het Loo Palace in Appeldoom. 

Being the oldest member of the group, David passed a torch designed by three McMaster students to Princess Margriet Francisca of the Netherlands. 

For David, this trip helped him fulfill his curiosity and learn about other people who also were searching for answers about a relative who had gone to war. As a result, he grew closer with other people on the trip. 

"I felt a connection to these people that they had to deal with some of the same things that I had," said David. "I didn't get that on the trip with my brother, Peter, but I got that on this trip."

Darrin said it was interesting for him to watch his father on the trip learn about the places the Perth Regiment had been. David carried the photo of his father and Caulder in his name tag, which helped provide a connection with other Dutch residents who recognized Harderwijk.

"As a child growing up, I remember him speaking a little bit about the war, and having his Dutch friends come over, that put everything in place," Darrin said about the trip.

"It was a great trip, honestly, I would do it again in a heartbeat."

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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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