With the Dutch marking the 70th anniversary of their liberation today (May 5), KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has flown Canadian Second World War veterans and their families from the airline’s five Canadian gateways to the Netherlands, where numerous commemorative celebrations taking place.
The biggest delegation—topping 300 people, including some 40 veterans—left Toronto on May 1. They were greeted in the boarding area by the flight crew for a pre-departure ceremony. Inside the aircraft, the airline had personalized the seat headrests with Canadian and Dutch flags. The group was acknowledged on numerous occasions during the flight with special announcements, and the crew handed out keepsake souvenirs to the passengers.
The commemorative tour arranged by Verstraete Travel is taking the Toronto group to the northern Netherlands and the actual battlefields where Canadian troops fought to liberate the country.
‘The Dutch airline KLM has been operating in Canada for 65 years. It has not forgotten the invaluable contribution of the Canadian military and it is honoured to have had the opportunity to fly the war veterans to the Netherlands for the 70th anniversary commemorative celebrations,” stated Femke Kroese, Commercial Director for AIR FRANCE KLM Canada.
The May 29, 1949 Amsterdam-Montréal flight marked the first flight between The Netherlands and Canada. The Batavia passenger list included Prince Bernhard of Holland, the husband of Queen Juliana, and Albert Plesman, the founding president of KLM.
Two of the three pilots on the inaugural flight were Canadian as, at the time, 50 of KLM’s 400 pilots were from Canada. The distinguished visitors were welcomed at the Dorval airport with a 21-gun royal salute and a 100-man royal guard from the Royal 22nd Regiment, whose marching band performed the Dutch national anthem.
Prince Bernhard’s speech underlined the bond that existed between the two countries since 1945. On a more personal note, he confided his family had a special attachment to Canada, which hosted the Royal Family for a few years during World War II.